We left Cadiz after breakfast on Sunday to choppy waves and a fair bit of wind- about 15 knots. As Cadiz slowly receded behind us, the wind dropped off to 10 knots and shifted so it was now coming from behind, which was lovely. We tried poling out the jib so we could sail goose-winged, but annoyingly we weren’t quite downwind enough, and the jib kept wanting to backfill, so we ended up just leaving it.
It wasn’t long before we saw Morocco. Our first glimpse of Africa was very exciting, and we could also see the rock of Gibraltar as we crossed the Gibraltar straight. We were finally leaving Europe! Dolphins joined us to celebrate, which was a bonus since we hadn’t seen them since Biscay. The water was beautifully clear and blue, and we passed the day reading and enjoying the odd nap in the lee berth.
We enjoyed a dinner of bolognese before Nick retired to bed for a quick sleep before his watch at 10pm. I was left to enjoy the sunset by myself. The clouds turned into a dusty paprika and ochre colour above a fiery orb; even the sunset seemed to be celebrating our arrival to this new and exotic country.
I had planned to let Nick sleep (what a loving girlfriend I am!) but he woke up at 10pm sharp and ordered me to go to sleep. I didn’t stick around to argue, and jumped into the lee berth we had set up for sleeping. The aft cabin is, to be honest, not the most comfortable place on the boat to sleep when under sail (or, under motorsail, which is what we were doing at the point- the winds had dropped off completely). The engine is incredibly loud, but not as loud as the bleeding autopilot which is installed right underneath where our heads lay. Additionally, when it’s a bit rolly, you tend to roll around also, since there’s nothing to stop you on a queen-sized bed. So, the lee berth it was.
For those who have no clue what I’m talking about, when I say lee berth I mean our couch (or settee if you’re in the UK!) next to which Nick has installed a removable canvas curtain that creates a little cot. Essentially, you’re prevented from rolling around with the motion of the boat, which makes things very comfortable indeed!
So, in short, Nick and I slept exceedingly well when we were off-watch, which made the whole thing a lot easier. I woke up and did 3am-7am (by which time the sun still hadn’t risen! The stars were lovely though). I had been worried about doing the night watch because in my paranoia I assumed there would be all sorts of boat craft, fishing nets and lobster pots that would be floating around without lights or AIS, but nope. Lots of fishing boats were about, but they were sticking to the 100 metre contour line and also had AIS, so we were able to avoid them easily.
The next day we finally arrived into Rabat about 2:30pm. The pilot book said that we needed to call up for an escort down the river, so we radioed the marina. No answer. We tried calling. Not connected. Hmm, what to do? After about half an hour of continuous attempts, we gave up and turned on our 3G to look up the number of the marina. £7 in roaming charges later, we got in contact with them, and they sent the pilot boat out to meet us. Excellent.
The Rabat kasbah dominated the riverfront, followed by a modern-looking promenade of cafes. Fishing boats were tied up to various pontoons along the river, and we could also see a beach. We couldn’t wait to get off the boat and explore this city.
After following the pilot boat up the river to the marina, we were directed to a waiting pontoon. There was already another yacht there, obviously newly arrived like ourselves, and we both waited for customs and immigration to come and complete the entry formalities. We had heard this was a long and complicated process, but perhaps they had sped things up here in Rabat because the officials (of whom there were about 5) were on and off the boat within 20 minutes. We were then directed to our berths and tied up.
The marina here is very cosmopolitan. It is brand new and surrounded by a new development of apartments, shops and up-market cafes and restaurants. The landscaping is lovely, with rows of potted plants and palm trees along the walkways. It’s a very relaxing, laid back place.
Our first day in Rabat was spent exploring the medina and kasbah. The kasbah, which dates back to the 12th century, is very picturesque, with blue and white houses and tiny laneways leading who-knows-where. We also stumbled across a beautiful public garden, called the Andalusian gardens- it seems we haven’t quite left Spain behind yet!
We walked back through the medina, which was all a bit mad. It is obviously set up for tourists to a certain extent, because a lot of shops were selling things like teapots, tagines, and a plethora of random nic-nacs, but there was also plenty of workshops making beautifully designed doorways, arches and other woodwork, or perhaps a blacksmith banging something into shape, or a carpet… maker? A guy who makes carpets? Anyway, there were lots of traditional looking moroccan wares, and in stark contrast there were also plenty of shops selling fake nikes, MK bags, clothes, etc. There is also the food market, which was… interesting. A lot of the food actually looked really good, except that it was almost all covered in flies. We kept walking and found a Carrefour. “Excellent! We can stock up in a proper supermarket!” Er, no. The Carrefour was even dodgier than the marketplace- think cockroaches, food on the floor, etc- so we picked up some milk and yoghurt for breakfast, and continued on our way.
Today we went to Salé. Now, yesterday’s trip to the medina in Rabat was a bit of an eye-opener, but nothing we hadn’t come across before when travelling through Asia. So, today we decided to explore this side of the river, which the tourist map we picked up yesterday didn’t even bother including. Obviously not many tourists come over this way (something I suspect will change when the marina development is completed). Indeed, after several hours in the medina and its surrounds, we didn’t see a single other foreigner.
Walking through the Salé medina was quite possibly the biggest culture shock I’ve ever experienced. Sadly, I didn’t have my camera with me- I’ll just have to go back another day! In the meantime, you’ll have to use your imagination.
The parts of the medina selling shoes, clothes and quite possibly every other household item you could care to name, was one thing. The wares weren’t usually confined to the store itself, but displayed on trestle tables in the street, or simply on cardboard on the ground. There’s also plenty of shops selling dried fruit, nuts and dried herbs, all displayed in beautiful pyramids.
We reached the fresh food section, and, since this was where the action was, continued on through the throngs of shoppers. This was when it got interesting. In a narrow alleyway, people simply spread their produce on the ground, or perhaps on a table if they were lucky. Produce is weighed with old-fashioned scales, cats and kittens sniff around hopefully before being shooed away, flies buzz everywhere, the ground is sodden (with what, I don’t know: it hasn’t rained since we arrived, and probably not for some time before that), a cart laden with a recently butchered animal of some kind forces everyone to move to one side, another cart pushes through, this time with neat piles of fresh bread. We pass pens full of live (but probably not for much longer…) chickens, as well as stalls selling meat of all kinds, not much of it identifiable to my Westernised perception of what qualifies as edible meat. Sheep seems to be popular, in particular sheep heads (which are layed out in neat rows, like all the other meat) and sheep feet (hooves?) which hang from the ceiling. The scent in the air seems to alternate between body odour, cat’s piss, mint and coriander, and fish. The phrase ‘assault on your senses’ seems to be bandied around far too much, but that pretty much sums up the experience.
We finally emerged into an open square selling fruit and veggies, and we walked around the perimeter of the medina and through the more suburban streets. We also stumbled across the jewellery quarter and the, for lack of a better word, IT quarter on our travels. Eventually we found our way back to the marina, where we enjoyed a well-earned smoothie at one of the cafes. No beer here!
So, I realise this is turning into one of my longest posts yet, but I’m not quite done. Allow me to sum up our first impressions of Morocco. In short, I think we love it. It’s a little bit bonkers, and we’re beginning to feel seriously concerned about our chances of buying meat that meets our hygienic requirements. It’s dirty and smelly and all those things. But, it’s also incredibly enchanting and beautiful.
However, the thing that’s blown us away the most has been the pure kindness of the local people. Waiters and shopkeepers sort of have to be kind. It’s expected that when you buy something, you get a warm smile in return. However, it’s the local people- the people passing us in the street- that we’ve been utterly amazed by. We’ve only been here two days, and I already have too many examples to fit in here. But every time we stop and a junction and wonder which way to go, we are immediately offered help by a random passer-by. Today as we walked down a little suburban street a middle-aged gentleman walking past smiled at us in some surprise. He said (in French), “Hello! Have you visited the (insert name of some lovely old house that we’d just come out of)? Yes? What about the Grand Mosque? No? Oh, you must go there. Enjoy! Goodbye, and have a good day!” Then he just kept walking. We’ve had that happen to us at least four times in two days. Just random people spotting us, walking up and telling us the good places to go. Initially, we were not only taken aback, but downright suspicious. In fact, I think that suspicion will be hard to shake off, but we’re trying. We keep assuming that the next thing to come out of their mouths will be a request for baksheesh, or an offer to take us to their brother’s friend’s uncle’s carpet shop or whatever, but that never happens. They just smile, say “Bonjournée!” and walk off, leaving us feeling not a little bewildered.
However, the most touching moment happened today as we were passing a small group of children playing on a street corner. They spotted us, and suddenly grinned at us and waved. “Monsieur et madame! Bonjour!” We laughed and said hello back. Then, I saw a girl out of the corner of my eye following me. She was probably eight or nine. She grabbed my arm, and as I stopped and turned towards her (thinking, bitch that I am, “Is this girl about to try and grab my bag or something?”) she gave me a big, shy smile, then reached up on her tiptoes to kiss my cheek. Then she ran off back to her friends.
We’ll be staying here for quite some time, I think.