Friday, February 17, 2017

Morocco, between past and present - The Wandering Writer

Whoever had ever seen the movie Casablanca, surely remembers the nostalgic images of the city remaining almost enchanted, not only by Humphrey Bogart and the unforgettable Ingrid Bergman, but also by the exotic colonial times of Morocco, which seemed to bond the cultural heritage of Morocco with the one of Europe.
But Morocco is not just Casablanca, and even if those times are gone, the cultural heritage is not forgotten, and in a country as diverse and fast growing like Morocco, you can find it everywhere.
Tangier has been our destination, this time, but I am seriously thinking to visit the Country in a more thorough way, visiting not just a small piece of it, but all the historical places that make the nowadays Morocco.
As we arrived in a very warm summer afternoon, we had the first touch with what is to be feared the most, the taxi drivers/tourist agents. Those are hunting unsuspecting tourists to get a higher fare on whatever trip, either to the hotel or to some tourist site. If you are looking for a tour guide, they might be the right people to seek for, but if you are looking just for a ride to your hotel, stay away and, as usual, agree on the price beforehand, be prepared to bargain and enjoy.
We reached our hotel and as the first thing even before settling in our room was to ask the reception about the best way to book a taxi or to get a tour at reasonable prices. In this way, we had already solved the main issue.
Being Morocco, a Muslim country doesnt mean that people have to wear burqas, or being fully covered and also local women are dressed following a more European fashion. For this reason, there hasnt been any trouble for me to walk the streets in shorts. Nevertheless, the restaurants have dimmed windows, for the alcohol policy. Certainly, you can consume alcohol ad buy alcohol in the shops, but you are not allowed to be seen consuming any sort of alcoholic beverage.
The following day we had a walk in one of the most characteristic places in Morocco, the Medina, which is the old town found in many Moroccan and generally in North African cities. Those are old walled parts of the city where the traffic with cars is restricted or forbidden and are characterised by narrow streets.

The Medina is absolutely lovely, a must see and a place also where you can make a good bargain if this is the scope of the trip. Even though that was not my main idea, it was absolutely fun to visit the different artisan shops and have a chat with the people there. It didnt really matter whether we were interested in buying something or not, the main point was to get to know people and have the unique chance to have a deeper insight of the culture and have a cup of the best tea you might have ever drunk.
Most of the tourists come from Spain, but from my point of view, you cannot really call them tourists as they might come there to spend one day or every weekend. They might come to Tangier with the ferry in the morning to get better prices on certain groceries and return back home in the evening. For this reason, it is not uncommon that the personnel of the shops can speak Spanish. Being my French a bit rusty, (I totally ignore the local language) and Spanish closer to my mother tongue, this was indeed a great advantage.
For the lovers of sunbathing, this can be considered a real paradise, as there are the most wonderful beaches you might desire.

However, one thing was worth to be seen were the caves of Hercules located in Cape Spartel, close to the summer residence of the king of Morocco. There are many legends about the place, and the most interesting one is that, according to which those caves do not have a real end. They are partly natural, and partly man-made, meaning that erosion from the sea produced the original cave, and the rest was carved to get millstones. Practically, that was an ancient times stone mine.
The cave takes the name from Hercules, the mythological Greek hero, and the legend says that he used the cave to rest before the 11th Labour (steal the golden apples which belonged to Zeus, king of the gods).

The place is really something difficult to describe with words, as the light inside the cave changes with the different hours of the day, giving different emotions to the beholder. Some say that the best time to visit the caves is the sunset, and even if I visited them during the early afternoon, I can easily imagine the reason why. The place is something that makes your mind drift away in the most bizarre and incredible fantasies. It is a place for dreaming and to think. You might feel suddenly brought back in time as far as your imagination might reach, from the time where the first humans in the neolithic used it as a shelter, to the times when the Phoenicians carved the opening following the shape of Africa.

Wherever is the time you are transported to, it is a place from where, once you are in, it will be difficult to come back.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The land of Nelson Mandela - The Wandering Writer

Straight from the wonders of the Mosi-oa-Tunya in Zimbabwe, we reached Cape Town via Johannesburg. The first impression as we arrived at the airport was that we were in a very different part of Africa. It keeps very high standards equal to any Western country. The airport is the third busiest airport in Africa, and I also presume on the top three most efficient too, so we didn’t have any sort of trouble to reach the taxi station to our hotel.
It was already dark when we arrived, and we were supposed to reach a bed and breakfast in the city by 21:00. The weather seemed to be fair, and we were not too tired either.
However, the more we were reaching the city, the more the weather seemed to deteriorate; it wasn’t a question of temperature, but it seemed that there was a hurricane approaching. Now, I know that South Africa is not subject to hurricanes, but the wind can reach impressive speed, as we learned right away. Moreover, finding the address seemed to be the most challenging of all the things, and our taxi driver struggled. We knew how the hotel looked like from the pictures, so in the end, we could find the right address.
At the time, the weather was really storming, and I was wondering whether the buildings could take that storm that also made difficult to walk.
The owner of the hotel came to greet us; she was a very kind looking middle-aged lady.
“My goodness, thank God you managed to reach the place; I was so worried,” she said letting us in.
“Thank you; is there a hurricane approaching?” I asked
“No, it has been like that for days, and much probably it will continue for at least another three days, according to the forecast,” she replied. “But let me prepare you something warm, would you like a cup of tea? I will prepare it as you settle into your room.”
“That is so kind of you,” I replied, speechless about the kind reception we just had. It was just like going to visit an old friend.
During the night, the wind grew up in intensity, but since, obviously, the building was not going to be wiped away, we fell asleep.
The morning after, the greatest weather welcomed us to a new day, although, the wind didn’t seem to be satisfied with the rage it discharged the previous day. 
However, the worst of all was downtown, as even a simple task as walking was challenging, so the wind was strong.

The first day was a bit of getting to know the city and the people around, and we found ourselves having a good beer in a bar on the long street:

After one entire day spent walking around, we suddenly noticed one thing, most of the customers of the bars and restaurants were white people and very few were black customers. However, taxi drivers, street cleaners, servants at the restaurants; they were all black, if we exclude kids who were paying their education by working in a pizzeria.
Looking at the sea, in the direction of the Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of imprisonment during the years of the apartheid, I thought that his job wasn’t quite done yet. For sure the black population had conquered the same rights as the white population, but is it really so, or is it only on the paper? According to the statistics, white people, which are just the 9% of the whole population in South Africa hold the 70% of the land, the rest is distributed to the black middle class, and too many people are still living in the slums.
I didn’t have the right time to ask the right person or to get a deeper insight of the real situation, but at least the appearances gave me the impression of a job that needs to be yet accomplished. For this reason, I decided not to go and visit the Robben Island. I will be back and visit it when all the people have the same opportunities regardless the colour of their skin, I thought.
Human rights aside, Cape Town looks like a perfect place where to live, even if the presence of the high gates around every house made me wonder about the criminality rate. Is it just a question of paranoia or those fences are there for a very good reason? I thought.
I asked our landlady about it, and it seemed as she didn’t want to go into detail. She assured us that, differently from all the other African Countries, in Cape Town is not so dangerous to go out after dusk. Nevertheless, she recommended to have her telephone number with us, and in the case of any sort of emergency, we were supposed to call her.
Because of the constant wind blowing, visiting one of the biggest natural attractions of Cape Town, the Table Mountain, is very rarely accessible, and the few times it is considered safe to reach the top, is also the time where hundreds of people convey there that same reason.
Therefore, we decided instead to walk on a side path that was supposed to bring us to the top within 2 hours or more, depending on the route chosen and the pace.
We didnt make it to the top, but the view was something stunning and highly recommended:

There are plenty of places, spots and attraction in Cape Town and if you want to have a full experience, be prepared to spend there at least a couple of weeks.
Of course, you cannot miss a tour that will bring you from Cape Town to the Cape of Good Hope via Simon’s Town, where you can see the African Penguins.
It is told that during the colonial period, reaching the southernmost part of Africa was truly challenging, due to the irregular bottom of the sea and the strong winds which brought many failures and loss of lives. The name, Cape of Good Hope was given, despite the accidents, mutinies, loss of goods and lives, as a charm; something to bring, finally, good luck and the chance to find a way to successfully reach those coasts.

Africa has many faces, many cultures, and heritages; for this reason, is a destination that I will always suggest to anyone. Being away from it, it is sad, and my heart is yearning to go back every time I leave it. Africa has a bittersweet taste and, at least for me, it is highly addictive; maybe one day will happen that I will leave and never come back. 

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