The transition from European familiar to African unfamiliar is only a 90-minute sail across the Straits of Gibraltar. As with the arrival to any foreign country for the first time, there is always the excitement, yet slight trepidation of the unknown; language, money, people, food, culture, roads and everyday life.
Our initial route in Morocco took us down the Atlantic coast; after a very chilly drive through France and Spain the days were now warmer but by sunset the temperature fell sharply. A wild coastline worshipped by windsurfers, big waves crash along rocky shores and small towns nestle in sheltered bays. Our first stop, Asilah, was our introduction to a Moroccan town; the medina (the walled part of an Arabic town) is a labyrinth of narrow lanes and alleys dotted with doorways encircled by intricate, colourful tiled mosaics.
Tiny, wobbly, wrought iron balconies overlook streets so confined you could reach across and shake your opposite neighbours hand. Flowerpots bursting with vibrant geraniums adorn the small windowsills. Revving scooters veering perilously through the alleyways break the silence along with a chattering group of neatly uniformed children rushing to the cramped grocery shop to buy sweets after school.
Outside this enclosed, peaceful hive of habitation, you step onto the main street and are met with an immediate sensory onslaught. Donkey carts, cars, bikes, horses and people jostle rowdily for position on the road. Men wearing the traditional wizard-like overcoat, complete with pointed hood, congregate noisily in busy cafes lining the streets drinking mint tea and playing dominoes and backgammon. Women barter for fruit and vegetables from piled-high, rickety market stalls while chickens peck blissfully unaware of their fate on poultry ‘death row’. Distorted Arabic hip-hop blares from the stereo of a make-shift stall selling pirate CD’s, inharmoniously clashing with the Muezzin call to prayer of several nearby mosques. Locals clamour round snack stalls selling hot fried sardines, snails, smoking charcoal-cooked kebabs, sizzling, oily flatbread and sweet sticky doughnuts.
As the sun sets over the harbour, the medina walls glow varying shades of red in the fading light and we settle down into our roof tent… we’re going to like it here.