The tricky thing about staying in one location for a long time while traveling is the risk of falling into a routine. It gets easier and easier to sleep into the afternoon and then only accomplish the things that absolutely have to get done for the day. Exploring can always be done “tomorrow” and eventually you can feel like you have seen everything there is to see. This is terrible because it causes you to fail to place yourself in situations with opportunities to grow and learn. I’ll call it a travel comfort zone.
Yesterday, I broke out of my personal routine of sleep late, eat, lounge, go to class, go to the cafe, and sleep again by heading to the town of El Jadida for the day. El Jadida is a coastal town just south of Casablanca and is famous for its Portuguese City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the first settlements built by the Portuguese in Africa back in the 16th Century.
My goals for this expedition were to break up my terrible, lazy, routine and give myself the opportunity to have new experiences and to see new sites – because that’s why I’m traveling after all. I expected to wander around the city on my own and photograph my findings while maybe having small conversations with people who I met.
Rather than having the alone time I expected, my day was instead broken up by a series of encounters from the second I arrived.
It started with the shared cab ride over where the man who I was all too uncomfortably squished up against for the hour journey to El Jadida walked with me to the beach and the city center. On the way over, he said he wanted a photo with me. This has proved to be a common theme with people I meet so I did not think anything of it. It’s rare to be hanging out with an American so why not document it? When I pulled out my camera, however, he said “no no no.” Instead, we reach the center of town and I am surprised when he leads me into a full blown photo studio, complete with lights, proper cameras, and a set-up of couches to pose on. My new friend walks up to one of the couches, sits down, and reaches out his hand out for me to hold. He wants a formal picture of us looking like a couple?
Now it’s my turn to say, “no, no, no” and leave the studio laughing and a little confused. His English is not advanced enough to explain to me why he wanted this but I’ll just assume it had something to do with showing off. The one thing I don’t understand is why it couldn’t have been a selfie on his phone. Anyway, after being taken off guard out by the photo studio, I thanked him for showing me to the center and we parted ways to continue our days.
Encounter number two began when I entered the Portuguese City walls and asked for food suggestions. One man pointed me back where I came from to eat reasonably-priced fish. I lunched and when I returned to explore the city, I entered this man’s shop out of courtesy. Rabeh, the shop owner, helped me play dress up with a Moroccan-style dress and then invited me to stay for tea. He practiced his English and taught me a couple of Arabic words. Nothing of real significance happened here except that I now have an invitation to come back to El Jadida and be shown around by car. Moroccan hospitality is impressive.
After this long encounter, I walked quickly and determinedly past the next shops so as not to be stopped again. I made it maybe half a block before I failed and stopped to speak with a man who spoke almost perfect English, complete with an American accent. Momo captured my attention because he is originally from the desert. I told him I was going to visit there soon and he sat down with me to write down some contacts. After this, he ordered tea for us and showed me items in his shop – old relics as well as unique items his makes himself. I fell in love with a “passport” necklace that he said belonged to one of the tribes in the desert. Each tribe has a symbol as identification which allows the members to travel into different areas. He suckered with the story and he knew it because I’m pretty positive I paid way too much for the necklace.
Anyway, that is not at all the most interesting part of encounter number three because encounter number three took up most of my day. During our conversation, Momo told me to make sure I ask for a Berber hand massage when I go to the desert – apparently they can fix many pains in your body all from the hands. At this, I said something like, “Yes, great, I will! I’ve had this pain in the shoulder for months now” (my left shoulder has been out of whack ever since I slept on Matt’s shoulder for almost our entire road trip from California to New Jersey). That statement was all Momo needed to spring into action.
He worked for an hour and a half or more to fix my shoulder. He knew immediately that I had slept on one side for too long and also knew exactly where else on my body would hurt from that shoulder muscle. His knowledge about the body was crazy and he said that’s what he grew up learning in the desert. I had complete faith in his ability to fix me and after, like I said, an hour and a half of pushing and pulling and massaging, we finally heard the cracks that meant everything was working correctly again. I was healed!
I left the store with my new passport necklace, a gifted pair of earrings and wooden box, contacts for the desert and the mountains, and a rejuvenated body. Oh, he also helped me to buy a Moroccan sim card from his friend so yay I can make calls now! All of this generosity took up my last two and a half hours in El Jadida and it was time for me to head back to Berrechid. Momo walked me to a cab to help instruct the driver where I needed to go and we said our goodbyes. End encounter three.
The cab from the Portuguese part of town drove me back to where I could take a shared cab back to Had Soualem. I was the first person there so I had to wait for five more people to arrive before we could leave (read how grand taxis work here). While waiting, I chatted with the cab driver in English and then surprisingly in Spanish. He has spent time living in Spain, Germany, and England during his life so he was a very interesting companion while waiting for more passengers.
When they finally showed up, we went on our way. In the front of the car, it was the driver, me and then Mohad on my right. Eventually I switch from talking with the driver to talking with Mohad. His English was impressively learned mostly from YouTube rather than formal schooling. He’s 29, works for a business that requires him to travel a lot in Morocco, and his dream is to visit New York City. He helped me to get numbers 1-10 down in Arabic and we made small talk throughout the ride. In Had Soualem, we meant to have dinner but I ended up having to wait next to the cab to Berrechid because it was the last one for the night. Instead, Mohad bought me apples from the fruit stand and waited with me until the cab filled up. A prime example of the wonderful people in Morocco.
Finally, I was on my way back to Berrechid after a long day. I was starting to get a terrible headache and the girl next to me in this last cab offered me some of her sandwich that she bought from a street food stand next to the taxis. I accepted, ate, and then almost immediately felt nauseous. It was bread filled with sausage of liver consistency that left a food film on the roof of my mouth. I spent the rest of the ride with my headache and upset stomach trying not to be sick in the car. Back in Berrechid I immediately threw up to get the sandwich out of my stomach. I’m not so sure about Moroccan street food.
Anyway, that was my eventful day in El Jadida. I met some interesting people and definitely had new experiences. I still feel like I need to go back to fully explore the city and to see the old cistern but I’m happy broke my pattern and got a taste of the beautiful town of El Jadida.
How to get from Berrechid to El Jadida: Take a shared cab from Berrechid to Had Soualem for 15 dirham and then cross the street to take another shared cab from Had Soualem to El Jadida for 30 dirham. Round trip is 90 dirham, or about 9 dollars.