Travel should excite all the senses. That’s the lesson my thirteen-year-old self took back to England from my first family holiday abroad in Tangier, Morocco.
A port town in the north of Morocco, the once international zone of Tangier is separated from Europe by twenty miles of the Strait of Gibraltar. Its location explains the cosmopolitan feel that Tangier had to my teenage self. The ambience permeated my skin, coated me whilst I walked with my parents, younger brother and our local guide, through the medina.
The medina, Tangier’s old town, is a piece of history snuggled inside old, Portuguese city walls. Every excited footstep forward took us around another hidden corner, a feast for our eyes of narrow, shaded alleys with coloured walls stretching upwards. Ornate doors with peeling paint hid the inside of the local houses from my curious eyes.
Young children with smiling eyes and lips ran behind us, calling out to us in a strange tongue. As we turned another corner shops appeared, in some cases spaces no bigger than the cupboard under our stairs at home, filled to the brim with hand painted ceramics, or traditional brown robes, red fez hats, brightly coloured, shimmering slippers or woven bags like the olive coloured one that became my beloved school bag. The haggling began as soon as there was a hint of eye contact, as soon as there was a suggestion of a pull on a shopkeeper’s skilfully cast hook.
The smell of spices rose up to meet our noses as we walked from one stall to the next, the pristine piles of yellow, orange and brown powders tempting passersby. Then out of nowhere a row of stalls with fowl hanging upside down on hooks. The souk experience was daunting, yet exhilarating. A far cry from the visits to the local market back home, which seemed drab and grey in comparison to shopping in Tangier.
The hustle and bustle of foreign tongues surrounding me left me curious and hungry for something more exotic than life as I knew it. Walking around the old town in Tangier was like abruptly switching from watching the world in black and white to HD colour, from watching with the sound off to suddenly hearing in Dolby surround sound.
And there was much more to come.
We trekked across the golden sand on a camel train. The braying of the camels was an alien sound to my British ears; the unexpected bumpiness of a camel sitting to let passengers off was terrifying and hilarious all at once.
And then there was the Moroccan wedding. From the top of the hill overlooking our hotel I stood enthralled by the shimmering of jewels and coloured beads of the wedding guests dancing magically in the afternoon sunshine as they congregated, men on one side and women on the other. Music drifted up to my ears; the sounds of a drum beating an African rhythm, a tambourine, the enchanting sounds of a flute like instrument and low male voices filling the space between them and me. Bewitching.
Morocco was the start of something.
I hope I will give my sons the same valuable gift my parents gave me – a world view, the knowledge that the world is a bigger, richer, more diverse, and colourful world than a child can even imagine.
About the Author:
Amanda van Mulligen is a freelance writer specialising in expat matters. She is British born but calls the Netherlands home where she lives with her Dutch husband and their three sons. You can read more on her blog Expat Life with a Double Buggy. You can also join her on Google+.