Morocco: Tetuan Market

Posted on November 24, 2010 by

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One of the side trips on our “must do” list was a visit to Morocco (Marruecos). Given the wholly different language and culture we decided it would be wise to take a guided tour. Having done so, and after experiencing the old market in Tetuan, we can certify that a guided tour is a must — at least if you do not wish to disappear and never be seen again!

Tetuan served as our base of operations. You take a fast ferry from one of two ports on the Spanish coast across to one of the two Spanish cities on the coast of Morocco. (Yes, there are actually two cities in Morocco that are still Spanish.) Crossing the border into Morocco on a Friday night is an incredible experience in and of itself. The jumbled mass of people, bikes, motos, cars, trucks, and buses made the US-Mexico’s worst entry point look like a model of proverbial Swiss or German efficiency and order.

We have never seen vehicles and people squeeze through such narrow “spaces” in traffic like that before. People cross into the Spanish city to buy all manner of goods and then by whatever means they can invent they take the goods into Morocco for resale. I’m not talking about shopping bags of goods; I’m talking about huge bundles! Unfortunately, we have no pictures to show for two reasons: first, Moroccans do not like having their pictures taken; and second, the border police will throw you in jail if they see you taking pictures on the border. Our guide assured us that we did not want to land in a Moroccan jail cell!

Having picked up a Moroccan local guide with an assistant whose job it was to keep us from disappearing, we headed the next morning for Tetuan and its ancient market place. As we entered through centuries old gates I noticed someone following close behind me and got both vigilant and “protective” of my wallet.  Later on I learned that he was actually a plain clothes police officer providing an extra bit of protection. Phew!

We walked very narrow “streets” just a few feet wide that defined a labyrinth that you could never find your way out of if you got lost.  That was proof of what the guide had told us — that if we got separated from the group we

should not try to find our way but instead just stand there until they found us!

There were hundred upon hundreds of vendors working out of impossibly small spaces, many no larger than a standard American closet. I’m talking about bakers, carpenters, butchers, spice merchants, weavers, metallurgists and the like. We stopped in a relatively open space that was close to a plaza as you can get in this zone.  There were some delightful woman who dressed up several of the women in our group in traditional clothing for fun (and tips). We stopped at a restaurant hidden up several passageways. It was beautiful inside, proof positive of the interior orientation of Arabic style architecture. It was as if you entered a wholly different world once you exited the alley-ways.  We had a great traditional meal, which was especially appreciated by everyone after experiencing truly bad, cold, non-traditional food at the hotel the night before.

Tetuan itself is a beautiful and interesting city — highly recommended for a visit. Next we were off to what many people refer to as the “blue city.”

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Posted in: Morocco