Monday, July 18, 2011

Sand, Surf, and Art in Assilah

Our beach group
This weekend I was able to have a little change of pace. We packed up and headed to the coast! Our destination was the town of Assilah which is south of Tangier on the Atlantic Coast. We arrived, found our great hostel, and headed straight for the beach. The cheapest way to get to the best beach was by a cart pulled by a horse so we hopped on for the ride! We were having so much fun being obnoxious tourists and waving at all the cars and the locals just loved it. Everyone was honking and waving at us and seemed genuinely happy that we were about to have an amazing beach day. We pulled off the highway onto a bumpy dirt road for a while and then came to a cliff and saw the beach. It was an amazing sight with the huge ocean waves and the stunning rock formations and the bright umbrellas that dotted the beach. Our cart driver told us to find him on the beach when we were ready to leave and then we met up with a few friends that were already at the beach. We ran straight into the waves and swam around for a while before we were tired and just lay in the warm Moroccan sun.
            We kept seeing people covered in green mud walking around and were curious so we walked towards where the mud people were coming from and found a bunch of kids and adults alike climbing up a cliff that had muddy rocks. We joined in and covered our bodies with this green mud. We walked around feeling pretty badass while it dried and then rinsed it off in the ocean only to reveal baby-soft skin. There were really cool rock formations down the beach so we decided to go rock climbing and since none of us were wearing shoes and only our swim suits, a few of us got scratched up pretty badly but it was totally worth the view from the top. We explored a little more and found two guys to play Frisbee with and swam and ran around until it got dark and we figured it was our time to leave. The horse ride back was just as fun because we raced another horse cart and almost got hit several times by speeding cars.
            Once we were back in town we walked down to the promenade to find a good seafood restaurant. Since there are a ton of tourists from Spain in Assilah we wanted to find a good Spanish restaurant. We came across a really nice one and everyone either ordered Paella or octopus and we split a bottle of wine for the table. It was so nice to just hang out for the evening and the weather was wonderful. After dinner we made our way back to the hostel by way of the medina and hung out on the roof until we decided it was time to sleep.
            The next morning we checked out and then explored the medina. The medina in Assilah is really different than the one in Fes because it is much newer and more open. There is also an art festival that has been going on for many years so the city is filled with murals and art galleries. All the doors were painted bright colors and the crafts were so tempting to buy. I absolutely loved walking around the town and the view of the Atlantic from the tops of the walls was stunning. After we had exhausted the medina, we ate another seafood lunch and then made our way down the public beach. This beach was also really nice, but it is the place where all the locals go which means we were stared and called out to much more. After being harassed a little too much while we were swimming, we decided to build a sand castle. I know that this is a 5 year old thing to do, but we were totally in to it. We built a really big one with a lot of connecting tunnels and it was totally awesome. Some guys our age kicked a soccer ball our way and it destroyed part of the moat so one of the guys came over and helped us build it back up. We got a lot of stares of course, but we stopped caring and just wanted to have fun. We built until the waves finally came up and washed it away.
            When it was finally 5:30 pm we decided that we should rinse off and walk to the train station which was very close to the beach. We waited at the train station for a while and a train came up and stopped in front of us. A few of us thought it would be fun to put a Dirham coin on the track so when the train went by, it would flatten it out and make a memorable souvenir of Morocco. We do this all the time in the United States and thought that it was ok if it was our own Dirham. After we put two Dirhams on the track, the little boys of course wanted to take them. One of the boys ran to the track to try and grab one and my friend Michael went to try to stop him from crawling under the train. Another Moroccan boy went to pull the boy out and then before we knew it, about 20 Moroccan men had formed a mob around Michael and the boy and were screaming in French at Michael. These men were VERY angry and it made all of us watching extremely uncomfortable. At first, we thought it was because we tempted the boy. Then, we thought it was because we were wasting the Dirham. We figured it was this last one and got increasingly embarrassed as the Moroccan men yelled and screamed at us. At this point the entire train station was staring and we happened to be the only white people. One man shoved Michael and yelled something and all the Moroccans started clapping and cheering that they had “won.” Defeated and confused, we walked to the other side of the station and two men came up and calmly explained in French that the Dirham coin has the king’s face on it and by placing it on the track we disrespected the king and therefore all of Morocco. All of our jaws dropped and we were completely ashamed. I got teary-eyed at one point because I didn’t want them to think we were disrespecting them (if only I had my “na’am” shirt!!). There was nothing more we could do, so we just dropped our heads and faced the shame. I am very embarrassed that they misunderstood our intentions, but I know that we didn’t mean to do anything. I thought that I had a good grasp on the dos and don’ts of Moroccan culture, but that event made me realize that no matter how long I am here, I will never completely understand a culture that isn’t mine. 


  1. Thanks,Louisa, for painting such a rich set of images! So amazing. Beach sounded like such a wonderful break from your studies! I can certainly understand your feelings about the coin incident. Love, Auntie G

  2. You are an amazing woman, Louisa. I admire your courage and your ability to have fun in your studies. Thank God for your guardian angels!