Saturday, June 05, 2010

Tetouan, Morocco

Tetouan, Morocco
Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Another day, another souk! The old souk in Tetouan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it was truly great to visit it. I took the ship tour, and it went directly from the pier in Ceuta, Spanish Morocco, the short distance of 40 kilometers to Tetouan. As we left Ceuta, which is Spain, we had to go through the Spanish checkpoint at the border with Morocco, and to keep things simple, the procedure was to give the Spanish authorities our passports and then pick them back up as we reentered Spain. That procedure caused some apprehension, as we were reluctant to give our passports to anyone else; however, the tour guide assured us that the procedure had been used for years, and was okay. It worked out fine in the end.

As we left Ceuta, the guide pointed out a long line of people on foot entering Ceuta from Morocco. He said that these people have a job, and the line is related to their job. Ceuta is a free port, so there are no taxes on items bought there up to a certain value. These people were hired by merchants to go into Ceuta and purchase certain items -- shoes, dresses, luggage, everything -- and take it back across the border to be resold by the merchants in Morocco. They made trip after trip all day every day making purchases up to the value limit, and taking the items back across into Morocco, only to return again for another load. There were thousands of people performing this service, and it appeared that most of them were women. A very interesting sight; however, I was unable to photograph the sight as no photographs were permitted at the border.

Once we were inside Morocco, the entire distance of about 20 kilometers between Ceuta and Tetouan was one long -- very upscale -- beach resort area. Club Med has the largest building on this coast, and there are many other resorts and developments all catering to people on holiday. This area is the most well known, highly regarded coastal holiday area in Morocco, and perhaps on the entire North African coast. People from all over the Muslim world visit this area on holiday. The road seemed new, and extensive landscaping was underway in preparation for the upcoming summer holiday season. The guide said that the area would be packed with people within a couple more weeks. It was a truly beautiful area, especially with all the landscaping, including a beautiful, long promenade along the coast.

Once in Tetouan, we went directly to the souk, and we spent the remainder of our time there. We had just spent the previous day in the souk in Marrakech, so the comparison was inevitable. We found the souk in Marrakech more extensive and somehow “older”, but the people selling wares in the souk in Tetouan were friendlier and more willing to let us take their photo. People on the street were also friendly, and many of them permitted me to take a photo of them. I got much better photos in Tetouan than in Marrakech.

One other difference was that many of the people in Tetouan were Berbers; they wore distinctive clothing. We did not find Berbers in Marrakech, although some Berbers do live in Marakech; in fact, Berber is one of the principal languages in Marrakech. A word about clothing. Our guide told us that only in Morocco do people wear a “jelaba”, which is a robe that has a hood. He said that Romans wore these garments when Rome ruled what is now Morocco, and the Berbers started wearing the garment at that time. The jelaba is worn both by men and women, although mostly by men. The guide said that a man’s jelaba is inexpensive, but a woman’s jelaba is very expensive because of the difference in the fabric used. A man’s jelaba is functional, while a woman’s jelaba is stylish.

One other fact about Morocco -- it is a large country, larger than Spain and France combined. Morocco has a population of over 34 million, less than either Spain or France. The new king of Morocco, who is young and was educated in Britain and the U.S., is promoting economic growth in Morocco, and that economic growth is evident everywhere, with road and building construction going on at a very rapid pace. The king has a goal of greatly upgrading the highway system in Morocco, and the results are very evident.

As we left the port, our next port of call was Cadiz, which is in a westerly direction, back out of the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea. The Captain sailed the ship directly across the mouth of the Mediterranean close to Gibraltar so we could get a good look at Gibraltar as we sailed by. It was very nice to see it. However, Gibraltar sits at one end of a bay, and all the other territory around the bay is in Spain. We noticed a yellow cloud across the bay, and we noticed a dozen or more smoke stacks billowing yellow smoke, all coming from the Spanish part of the bay.

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