28.10.2011 - 29.10.2011 23 °C
Asilah, Saturday August 29th
Rather than zoom all the way to Tangier from Fez, a five hour trip, then catch our ferry to Algeciras and then on to Lourdes and Huseyn’s place all in one long day, we decided to take a small break from big city Morocco and stop in the little town of Asilah, approximately one hour before Tangier. The train from Fes stops here, and it should be relatively easy to catch the train into Tangier from here. The train, by the way, is very well priced in Morocco. Our four hour trip was 80 Dirham for one adult, approximately $10. By way of contrast, our five hour trip from Merida to Madrid was 40 Euros, approximately $56. The Moroccan trains seem to be reasonably modern, although the fabric seats were rather grubby.
We stayed in Asilah twenty years ago, when it was a sleepy little beach town. It has what appears to be the world’s tiniest, cute medina, all whitewashed houses with vivid coloured accents, surrounded by an “overly restored” wall built by the Portuguese in the fifteenth century. After being in the souk of Marrakesh and the medina in Fes, Asilah’s medina is extremely tame and delightfully quaint by comparison. There is a reasonable selection of souvenir shops, selling much the same stuff as found in the souvenir shops in the much bigger cities, and the prices actually seem to be very competitive. Asilah is supposed to be a little more laid back than its more conservative inland neighbours. It still has the same cafes filled exclusively with men, sipping coffee or tea, while the womenfolk are either out of sight or sitting in a line in the public square, watching the young children.
Apparently, the shop owners in Asilah are used to it being much busier, as some of them seemed to be much more anxious to chat politics and philosophy than they were in actually selling something. Alison and Sunny bought some cute miniature painted tajine dishes from one shop owner, and when Susan asked him the price for all three items he launched into a complicated discussion about his pricing philosophy and the state of his health and his recent retirement. This discussion lasted at least five minutes, and we were only talking about 40 Dirham in total. By contrast, when I asked him the price of an attractive but large plate, he simply stated that it was 150 Dirham, but that he could haggle a bit, and that actually we could have it for 120 Dirham. When Sunny asked for her items to be wrapped in a particular piece of newspaper with Arabic writing, he gave us a less than concise summary of the contents of those pages, an explanation of why he couldn’t give us that particular piece of newspaper, and then a slightly briefer explanation of the contents of the piece of newspaper he felt he could afford to give away. He was very pleasant and charming and a nice change of pace from the often rather more single minded shopkeepers in Fes.
According to a different shopkeeper we were talking to, Asilah has grown considerably in the past several years and is no longer quite such a sleepy little town. First, Moroccans discovered its charms, and began holidaying in significant numbers and purchasing and developing property. More recently, Europeans have begun buying and developing vacation and rental homes. This proliferation of homes that might be vacant for the off season has led to a fairly recent, new scam: unscrupulous hustlers will break into vacation homes and then rent them to unsuspecting tourists at fire sale prices. Having rented the property, they disappear from the scene, and the tourists will be liable should they be discovered. Interestingly, as we made our way over the bridge into town, we were offered a very nice place to stay, with two bedrooms and a kitchen, for a mere 50 Dirham a person. That’s about $25 total. Susan politely declined that particular offer, having already done her homework on Asilah, and we made our way into town to find a suggestion of the Lonely Planet, the Hotel Sahara, where we stayed the first night in a downstairs quad for 300 Dirham, or $37.50, qualifying it as the CHEAPEST HOTEL of our entire trip! A close runner up was our two doubles in Evora, for 30 Euros, or $43, and the bronze medal goes to the fondly remembered Premier Inn at John Lennon Liverpool Airport, 29 Pounds, or $43.50. Sadly, most of our hotels have been much closer to $100 a night.
I asked the shopkeeper what he thought about all these foreigners buying homes, and he was surprisingly philosophical about the situation. He gave us quite a detailed explanation, in somewhat broken English (but far superior to my Arabic or French), about the fact that people of all different races, religions, or nationalities are essentially the same, with the same blood running through their veins. The many factors that appear to differentiate us and perhaps divide us are illusory, as we are all human beings and children of god. This is a delightfully sane philosophy, and I only hope that the group of eleven year old boys who were leering at the girls and throwing sunflower seeds at us while we dined tonight will eventually grow into this type of mature, human centred outlook.