It is commonly expressed in English that the opportunities we did not expect to have often become our most exciting and fruitful memories. I spent the last weekend of May in two unique, enrapturing cities: Chefchaouen and Tangier. A diverse group of students studying Arabic and French at Qalam wa Lawh and the Center for Modern Languages in Morocco accompanied me on my journey north from Rabat. Beyond the breathtaking views these cities on top of hills had to offer, I learned more about the Arabic language, important aspects of Morocco’s history, and building strong relationships with my peers and teachers as we made our way through Chefchaouen and Tangier.
After several circular rides, up and around a section of the Rif Mountains, Chefchaouen finally appeared in the distance. We were all taken aback when we stopped to take our first picture outside of the stunning blue city that rests on the face of the mountains. After checking into my room at our hotel, I made my way to the old medina for lunch, where I was surprised and impressed by the lingual talents of my peers at Qalam and the Moroccans we met in the city. Students ordered in Arabic, French, English and Spanish, and our waiter clarified our needs while switching between all four languages. On our tour of the old Medina, the foundational importance of language was also pronounced.
Our enthusiastic tour guide was dressed in a Moroccan djellaba, babouche shoes, and a pair of Ray Bans. He taught us about Chefchaouen’s history as an Islamic religious city, its Amazigh roots, and its long-held local independence from external rule. Students practiced their newly learned vocabulary from class when they asked the tour guide questions, and we became familiar with Chefchaouen’s heritage as we made our way up to the peak of the city. We ended our hike with a beautiful view of a light blue Chefchaouen after we reached the small, white masjid that can be seen in the distance from most spots in the medina.
The next morning, we arrived at the meeting place of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean: Tanja. Tangier is large, busy, and full of life. We stopped at a lovely traditional restaurant called Marhaba Palace to have lunch. The staff their served us Moroccan soup harira, salad, chicken tagine and cookies for desert while we listened and danced along to songs performed live by Marhaba Palace’s musicians.
After lunch, I headed to the old medina with my peers to learn about the “two Tangiers” as our guide referred to the city. The old and new cities of Tangier have a collective history and we learned that the Kasbah is over 1,000 years old and 2,000 families live there today. Tangier’s history and contemporary life unfolded before our eyes as we saw where James Bond was filmed, Ibn Battuta’s grave, Barbara Hutton’s home, and how merchants in the medina craft and display their linens, soaps and perfumes, metals, and more today.
Our tour guide described the view of the Strait of Gibraltar from the walls of Tangier’s old city through a Greek legend. The natural struggle between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean on the Strait are symbolic of Hercules’s struggle with the Titan Atlas in Greek folklore. We ended our trip in Tangier at Hercules’s Cave and watched the strong waves flow in and out of the cavern.
Chefchaouen and Tangier are two magical places. I will not easily forget the happiness and comfort I experienced while learning about Moroccan history, practicing my language skills, and building friendships with students studying with me in Rabat. I am counting down the days until I can return to these two mountainous cities.