We boarded an early morning flight to a place unexplored, the intersection of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. After what seemed like hours tucked into a metal tube, we disembark into the hot afternoon sun, welcomed by a small outdoor terminal frequently found in warmer climates where the windows and doors are more decorative than anything else. It’s a moment of excitement and remarkable change, having escaped the rain of the Pacific Northwest and joined my daughter, having been invited to travel with her overseas.
She’s been a partner-in-adventure for many years. I reflect back upon a time long past, a U-haul journey across the western United States with a toddler strapped into her seat, a tray with a DVD player and snacks in front of her. Having pulled into a rest stop outside of Salt Lake City with her lying on my chest in the grass having a colossal meltdown unlike almost anything I’ve seen before, we bond as father and daughter in a common cause. Her understandable longing was for the comfort of home after we’d just crossed the midway point, hundreds of miles on the road, and was pivotal in so many ways. As always, things will be alright at our destination eventually but how do I explain this to a four-year-old. We’ve spent much of her childhood going to concerts and far-flung locales, experiencing the differences and depths of culture and seeing the world through the eyes of my first-born child.
This girl, now 20 and with her own life and experiences, has spent the last five months studying in Milan and wanted to travel together for spring break.
We venture forth with no relevant information, only our experiences and research, and cross through security into this foreign land and out into the hot and dry Moroccan sunshine. At the conjunction of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic oceans, Tangier has always been a meeting point for cultures looking to expand their understandings and our adventure here is no different. After multiple text exchanges, we find our driver and head to the Medina, the white-washed old city with streets closely lined with homes and businesses. I’ve seen postcards reminiscent of places like this but there’s no comparison. We meet Rida, the houseman, in the square and head down into the steep streets below. After navigating a dizzying array of alleyways and corners, we arrive at our home, a spindly four-story abode that mirrors the many houses around it. She sprints off and up the narrow stairs to find a bedroom, reminiscent of the child I once knew, as she explores the many nooks and crannies of our temporary home. After an hour to settle in, Rida is back at our door to take us around the Old Quarter and show us what we may want to know. Venturing along, I’m quickly reminded that my Americanized version of personal space doesn’t apply in many countries as I navigate my way through the maze past what many consider home. We celebrate our being back together at a beautiful dinner overlooking the city as I’m reminded of my many experiences with her and how life has inextricably changed in recent years. As the sun sets, people begin to emerge from their houses. It’s Ramadan and as tradition states, the fast is over for the day, and people resume their lives amongst the many others looking for respite from the heat and indoors.
The sun begins to shine through the windows as day breaks over the city. I’m definitely feeling the time change from the northwest US to the northwest corner of Africa. We are to meet Benemar, our guide for the day, this morning in the Kasbah Square for our tour of the city and surrounding areas. We’re both excited to see the various parts of this vital bastion of civilization and how it has changed throughout the centuries. We do the obligatory drive through some of the most prosperous neighborhoods, finding out who lived where when they were there and what their contribution to society was. I don’t find this horribly interesting, and I prefer the culture and rawness of a place, show me the nitty-gritty any day. We arrive at Cap Spartel, the famous co-joining of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, and take the prerequisite photos of both the sign and the ancient lighthouse once used to guide intrepid travelers to safe passage. It’s amusing to watch others take photos at tourist destinations such as this, and yet, I do the same in order to have the mementos to look back upon. Those memories are more and more important to me as we’ve both aged to tie together the life we’ve lived. Lilia always seems to find cats during her travels, and today is no different; she’s found another friendly stray to adore, if only for a few minutes before we continue our drive. Our next stop overlooks a stretch of coast and there are camels lazily munching on grass while tied to stakes in the ground. We’ve arrived at what I’m most excited about; we’re going to ride camels on the beach! We are introduced to our handler, told to trust him, and we all walk down the steep path to the beach. Our attendant speaks very little English so we resort to hand gestures as he lowers the camels down to their bellies and we climb onto them. The camels stand up as we’re fervently grabbing our saddles, and away we go down the beach as I’m laughing nonstop at the enjoyment and absurdity of all this. I’ve always been someone to steer away from typical tourist activities, but this is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable things I’ve done in a long time. I’m unsure if it’s because I’m riding a camel or doing so with my daughter, but I’m leaning towards the latter and the hilarity of it all. There’s a group of twenty-something tourists watching us as we slowly amble past; a group my daughter would fit in better than with her dad, especially since I can’t stop laughing. I smile at them, wondering what I must look like, and then I’m reminded that I’m happily creating memories with my daughter that’ll last a lifetime which is what matters.
I know these moments will be something she remembers forever, and I’m struck with gratitude because, like every parent, I’ve looked back over her life and lamented the fact that I could’ve done more with her, no matter how hard I’ve tried in the past to let her know she’s loved and appreciated. Our camels want to frolic in the waves with us on their backs, splashing in the shallow water, and they remind me, once again, about the subtle joys in life, how she’s splashed in waves in different parts of the world. We capture a photo of both of us, one of very few during our travels, taken by the herder at the halfway point with us sitting atop camels smiling and happy to experience this, if only for a fleeting moment. We finish up and continue our drive, headed to a place called Hercule’s Cave, another tourist spot that’s beautiful but crowded and only mildly interesting. On our return journey, Lilia expressed the idea that she’d like to cook dinner at the house and that she would like to go into the Medina to shop for chicken and veggies for tonight. At this point, I’m tired from a day both sitting in the car and walking around at various spots and it’s going to be a challenge for me. It becomes all the more apparent as she walks along with our guide through the streets and gets further and further ahead of me. Things are busy, as usual, with people everywhere, and I find a corner to my left and scan the narrow street ahead of me. I see what will soon become a lasting memory for me, her waiting at the next corner, slightly taller and differently colored than everyone else and looking back to make sure her father knows where she’s headed. This moment would turn out to be more prophetic than I would understand, her going ahead into her own life without fear or reservation and yet simply taking a moment to make sure her old and out-of-shape father knows where she’s going. We make multiple stops at different stalls, one with chicken behind glass in an unrefrigerated case and another with baskets of assorted vegetables cascading into the alleyway. We enjoy dinner together that night and she shares stories with me about friends at University making connections over meals. This isn’t something I understand because I never went to college as she has, my early years filled with struggle. She tells me that cooking grounds her somehow and gives her a sense of purpose, and I’m happy to oblige. I’m reminded at this moment that this is probably the first time she’s ever cooked for me. I was always the one to cook in the house, it being a way to communicate my love for my family and share in their lives.
Having made different trips with her over her lifetime, I know it’s essential to build in days of less, times when we don’t have too much going on and today is one of those days. We’ve hired a car to take us to Asilah to walk around the walled coastal town as a way to see a bit more of what life is like there without having to do a tour or something more extravagant. It’s a somewhat uneventful day, a welcome reprieve since yesterday was so full. We find a turret that overlooks the crashing waves and children playing on the rocks below, seeing which one will get wet first and I ask her to take my photo, which isn’t something I often do for two reasons. The first one being I’m usually the one taking pictures, and secondly, I’m uncomfortable in my skin, the last few years being a challenge after ending my relationship with their mom. This makes my time with her all that more valuable and reminds me of what I have and what I’ve lost. Once again, Lilia finds a kitten along the street, this one is tiny, maybe a few months old and appears to be blind, and we have no idea what to do.
If she could, she’d bring home every cat she’s found and it’s a constant point of contention as to why she doesn’t need a pet. She has a big full life, wants to travel, and having a pet of any sort would jeopardize that. We leave this one alone and hope that there’s someone responsible for it and continue our meandering. We have tea at a cafe on one of the squares and watch children playing soccer; it’s good to be reminded of everyday life when I travel; I sometimes wonder what we look like to the locals. Do visitors to my hometown see me going through my day and make up stories about my life like I do when I’m traveling? We watch a horse with a cart attached casually stroll by the cafe as the day slowly unwinds into the evening.
It’s now evening time and I’m discussing ideas with her. What about going to Cafe Baba? We’ve been told it’s a “hippy cafe” and I’ve read that it’s famous for its history in Tangier. It’s only a few blocks away, so it’s not hard to convince her to venture out, although she’s hesitant and I’m not sure why. We walk in and find it full of men sitting around drinking tea, watching soccer on a big screen, and smoking. We are the only foreigners in the place and Lilia is the only woman, not that the other patrons notice per se, but we can feel that we’re slightly out of place. A Moroccan in a track jacket and jeans, someone I thought to be a customer, comes over to take our order. We both order mint tea, and Lilia proceeds to ask him if he has anything to smoke. We’ve been told that this is a hash bar, and while marijuana is illegal in Morocco, the authorities look the other way in the northern part of the country. His response was, “yes, how much do you want?” And she responds with “10 Euros?” and away he goes. He returns a short time later with a cellophane bag and our teas, and so here we are, a father and daughter sitting in a famous hash bar in Tangier as my daughter rolls a joint. I should probably take this moment to explain that I’ve been sober for 27 years now, so partaking with my daughter is out of the question but denying her this experience would feel unjust, given the circumstances.
So, here we are, I’m sitting against some open windows feeling the evening breeze as my daughter partakes, and we enjoy yet another mint tea together. We discuss memories from the trip thus far, the camel ride being my highlight, and she comments that this is definitely one for the books – smoking hash in the same cafe as The Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and many other renowned figures that have graced this dingy cafe. We’re part of history now and I reflect on how, at some distant point in the future, she’ll possibly tell this story to her kids the same way I’ve shared stories of my adventures with her. Will she look back on this fondly and remember her good ole dad and the things we shared like I reminiscence of times past? It’s my hope that, given the tumultuous moments we’ve had, those moments such as this are what she thinks of as the years fly past.
Chefchaouen, known as the blue city, with walls throughout painted a unique shade of indigo is our destination today. We’ve been excited about this for months, and it’s finally here. Achraf is our guide for the day, and we load into his Volkswagen and head out of Tangier. It’s a long drive, so we have plenty of time to hear about various aspects of Moroccan history and culture. He’s both knowledgeable and friendly, definitely an advocate of the country and its people without being a salesman, thankfully. As we approach the city, we see a beautiful enclave wedged into a mountainside, colored in the various shades of sky that I’ve seen around the world, both daytime and evening, cascading down like a waterfall flowing into the valley below. We arrive in the town center and we’re introduced to Mr. Sellam, a soft-spoken older man that is to be our guide for the day. I first notice his age, He must be in his late 70s and soft-spoken, which makes it a bit difficult to hear him over the hustle and bustle of the crowds. He’s wearing a Djellabah, the long outer dress with full sleeves that many men wear, and walks with a cane, but what really jumps out to me is his brown leather dress shoes, they’re older, and a bit wore out, but take him all the places necessary. I find myself, again and again, watching these old shoes shuffling ahead of me as they carry him through the old city as I trail behind him. We walk what seems to be aimlessly through the streets but always ends in a place that Mr. Sellam wants us to see, showing us a street lined with flowers or a fountain that has fed the populace for generations.
The locals are excited to see us walk by, inviting us into their shops and occasionally hawking their wears to us on the street even though we’re not shoppers and have very little interest in souvenirs. Lilia, once again, finds various feline friends throughout our adventure to pet and even cuddle, much to the amusement of passers-by. She would take home every cat if she could, she’s always been a compassionate person and that doesn’t change wherever she is. We arrive at our lunch destination and are seated, by ourselves, on a rooftop patio overlooking the city colored the many shades of blue. It’s interesting to look below and around us and take in the wonder of this city in all its different faces. This is one of the many destinations adversely affected by Covid and the devastation of the tourism industry. Everyone seems to carry an undercurrent of excitement at the return of money and tourists in their city, even for a day, and their enthusiasm is apparent. After our leisurely lunch, we continued our tour with Mr. Sellam, and he inquires if there was anything we wanted to purchase? There are the prerequisite rug sellers along our route, and I’m sure he’s negotiated for his benefit if we were to purchase such things. I try my best to explain that the last thing I need is more stuff, especially a rug. My life has been one of simplicity and minimalism, so acquiring even a trinket seems like overkill to me. The memories are what is most valuable to me. Lilia, on the other hand, wants a magnet showing the city so we find a simple carved one for her best friend back at school. It’s both adorable and simple, the perfect knick-knack to bring back. I’m reminded of how big her life is and yet, that she’s still only 20, which slips my mind when I watch her in the world. We arrive back at the square, it’s much busier now that the city has come to life, and Achraf is waiting for us. I always wonder what tour guides do while they’re waiting for their guests. I should’ve asked but as we load back into his car, I think better of it, and we begin our journey back to Tangier. With the warm afternoon air, we have the windows down and the breeze blowing through the car.
I glance back to see Lilia with a pink scarf around her head. She’s wearing it to be respectful of the culture and has had it on throughout the day. I noticed it briefly at lunch, but now with her large black sunglasses, she radiates a sort of glamour and timelessness that makes perfect sense at this moment. It’s been another long day and we arrive back at the house to decompress. Lilia has some hash left, so she rolls a joint to smoke on the patio and FaceTimes with her friends. Connection with both the destination and origin seems to be an intrinsic part of travel dating back to when explorers wrote letters home to share their many exploits, now, it’s simply digital and instantaneous. I find her after her calls and we watch the sunset over the city from the rooftop deck, embracing the moment together.
We have reservations tonight at The Morocco Club, a renowned spot in the Medina that royalty frequent when they visit Tangier. It is our last night together and we’ve decided to celebrate with an extravagant dinner, at least by local standards. It’s a beautiful restaurant, appointed in reds and golds, with waiters in bow ties and impeccable service. Lilia orders a mojito and I’m once again reminded that she’s no longer my little peanut. It comes to me out of the blue, once again, how both of our lives have changed, and yet I’m grateful that I’m close to her at this moment. I snap a photo of her to remember this time and possibly have a memory for her to share with her kids if that’s her choice. I’m not attached to her having kids but I have enjoyed sharing photos from my youth with her throughout her childhood, it’s been a meaningful way for me to connect her with her family’s history. We spend our meal reflecting upon the last few days together and the moments that stand out for us. Our highlights are different, mine is obviously the camel ride, and hers is the hash bar, which I find amusing and can appreciate it from her perspective. Hearing them, above all, reminds me that any time together is time well spent.
It’s our last morning and our flights haven’t aligned to go to the airport together so our goodbyes are as compacted as our hellos, always quicker than I would like and somewhat nonchalant. I suggest to her that she take the day to explore a bit more of the Medina and it suddenly dawns on me, she’s concerned about being a single woman walking around the city. I’ve never thought about this. Personally, I’ve been in some pretty sketchy situations in my travels but rarely have I felt concerned for my safety. She decides to spend her last day basking in the Moroccan sun before her departure. As always, I ask her to text me and let me know when she departs the house and when she’s safely on her flight to Paris. It’s the father in me that I’ll always need to know that she’s safe, wherever she is, and today is no different, even though she’s very much an adult now. Reluctantly, I head out the door and into the hilly streets en route to the square to go to the airport.