Ok kids; Independent trip #2: Beach weekend in Asilah!
This place is a coastal city near Tangier, lesser known, but still home to plenty of European tourists, especially Spaniards, which was fun for me to get back to using some Spanish. Unfortunately most of the time when I tried to speak Spanish, it comes out in this bastardized stepchild of Spanish and Arabic, and then I just look silly… But that’s ok, we survived just fine, mostly due to the fact that most people in the town speak some mixture of Arabic, Moroccan, Spanish, and French.
After another (much less awkward) bath house experience as part of a program cultural activity, my group hopped on the train to Asilah, where we arrived at a train station that was unexpectedly kinda in the middle of nowhere and pretty much empty. After being offered a ride from a random guy with a big white van we happened upon some taxis that were able to take us to our hotel, which was much nicer than the one in Casa Blanca, and then we headed out into the beach town to explore. The first thing that we explored was a restaurant close to the beach, where we were able to get some French-style food, along with some more Moroccan wine. In this touristy city let’s just say that it was much more acceptable for us to have about 3 bottles of wine for the table. After dinner we headed out for a walk along the beach and the nearby area, including a small part of the old city with walls that overlooked the water.
The next day, after waking up and realizing that we had a nice ocean view from our room, we lounged at the hotel for a bit after enjoying the complimentary breakfast (which you don’t realize that you miss until you visit a city where all of the restaurants are closed during Ramadan). Some of the members of our group had heard about a really nice beach nearby called Paradise Beach, but it soon became apparent that this beach was a little tricky to get to. We realized that it was necessary to take a grand taxi to the beach, actually 2 because we were 9 in number, so we got to play the grand taxi game, which is always an adventure. In Morocco the big taxis hang out at stops in a big group, where there seems to be some kind of organizer in charge of where they go. So basically you walk up to this group of men and just say where you want to go. If you are lucky, they will know where and then start discussing things amongst themselves, I assume whose turn it is to drive. If they don’t know, they will still start discussing things amongst themselves, trying to figure out where it is we want to go. After that has been decided, you generally have to haggle over a price, which usually involves some yelling between the drivers and the boss guy; it seems like he agrees on a price without their input and then they have to deal with it, I’m not really sure what goes down. We found taxis that would take us to the beach and after some negotiating and walking away, then returning and asking more people until I am sure that the entire town knew where we were going, we finally settled upon a price for a taxi to drop us off at the beach and come back to pick us up and loaded up to head out. It quickly became apparent that it was a good thing we arranged for him to come back, because we soon turned off onto a dirt road that looked around some hills and semi-mountainside roads where we were driving with mountain on our left and a drop to the ocean on our right. After this trip we finally arrived at what literally looked like a secret beach nestled amongst some cliffs: along the mountain side of the beach there were a bunch of little restaurants with lounge chairs and umbrellas set up in front of them. The beach was pretty sparsely populated considering how crazy beautiful it was; I guess most people don’t feel like taking the taxi ride or maybe even the trip on a donkey cart (when a guy offered us that in the city I thought he was joking, but we passed like three of them with passengers on the way to the beach). There’s not a whole lot to say about the beach other than that the pictures probably don’t do it justice, but it was literally probably one of the nicest beaches that I have been to in my life: nice sand, clear water, big waves, and not a cloud in sight.
Waves, sand, and mountains
We arrived on a road along the side of the mountain to the right
After a few hours on the beach people started to get hungry. Actually it was mostly just one person; we were operating on what I like to call a Zac’s Stomach Schedule, and most of the group decided to go get some food while two of us stayed back to watch the stuff and relax. Fast forward about an hour and a half and someone comes back to tell us that they ordered a seafood platter but so far have seen no sign of the food and we should just pack up everything and join them, which we did quite happily, only to wait another 45 minutes or so before getting some watermelon slices and a promise that the food would be out soon. Probably the funniest part of this wait was when the waiter comes out and asks us “Kol shii imzian?” (Everything alright?) when we clearly had no food and nothing to comment on after 2 and a half hours of waiting. This isn’t meant to be complaining; it seems like combining Arab time and beach time makes for some seriously laid back service. But when that food did arrive, damn did they deliver. The waiter showed up with a huge plate of grilled fish of all different sizes, still completely intact, shrimp, octopus rings, and other goodies. We dove in and I was able to put my skills to use in deboning the fish, which is a skill that I have developed from the small fish that we are often served in my house. This meal was definitely worth the wait and we totally demolished all of the food, leaving only fish heads, spines, and tails in our wake.
I assume that we had to wait so long because they needed to catch the fish.
We took one last dip in the ocean before our cabbie picked us up and we headed back to the hotel to shower and relax before a fairly uneventful evening of dinner and some exploring the old city.
I think this picture is wonderfully awkward.
Did I mention that there were camels just chilling on the beach?
I’ve only got one story out of that night; it was around 1:30 am and a group of four of us was finishing up looking at the stores and getting ready to head back to the hotel when a random guy started up a conversation with one of the guys in my group. I had been scammed one too many times in Egypt so I generally avoid things like this, so when the guy offered to take us to a local artist’s house I was fairly skeptical, but the other guy really wanted to go so we decided to cautiously see where he wanted to lead. We ended up getting a decent tour of the old city, much deeper than we had gone on our own, and we got to see the guy who runs around the city beating a drum at about 2 am during Ramadan to tell everyone to eat their last meal before fasting for the day. After we walked for much longer than the guy originally promised, we finally got back to the entrance to the old city, where exactly what I predicted happened: he expected money from each of us; this tactic of acting like you just want to show off your city and then demanding/ pleading for cash afterward is pretty standard and the reason I wanted to ignore the guy in the first place. (Insert “I told you so” here) After some heated emotions from my companions and what could loosely be termed haggling we left him with a little bit of money and went back to the hotel, rationalizing that we did get to see much more of the city than we expected to.
Sunday morning was time to head back to the Meknes and work on homework and the like; at least we are getting pretty good at negotiating the train and even the trip back from the station to the suburb, which is always somewhat of a struggle.
We’re officially past the halfway point now and are on the downhill of the program. But standing between me and a return is still a buttload of classes and studying, and maybe some time for fun in between. Stay tuned next week for reports of a trip to Tangier!