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We made our first visit to an African town. Tetouan is an ancient Moroccan market town some 30km from Ceuta. We set off early in the morning and took a bus to the border. It took a while to get our passports stamped. While we were waiting for clearance a tall Arab approached us with a card confirming that he was an official government-appointed guide. We accepted his offer of assistance for the day and he told us his name was Nuri. He told us that we were very lucky, today (Thursday) there would be a special market in Tetouan when traders from the mountain villages would be in town. Strange, as other people we knew who had come to Morocco had been told that they were very lucky, on Tuesdays (or Mondays or Wednesdays) there would be a special market in Tetouan when traders from the mountain villages would be in town.
From then on, we were rather wary whenever Nuri told us we were lucky, or when he talked about buying and selling, or when he took us to a "special" sale that was only for that day. In all other respects we were very pleased we had accepted his services and we are sure we would not have had such a trouble-free and interesting first visit if we had not had him with us.
Tetouan is close to the Rif mountains and many market traders come from Berber villages to sell their goods. They live in diverse circumstances. Some traders have stocks of Western goods, others have secure displays of fine jewellry, gold and silver. Many though, are trying to make just pennies, sitting on the ground in the street selling a few tomatoes or a basket of green beans.
We went straight to the Medina - the old town. It is a maze of winding passages. Most are lined with market stalls but some are quiet - they are often residential areas. Low doors opened off the passageways into dim rooms where craftsmen plied their trade. Narrow stairways climbed up onto other levels.
We went carefully up a steep flight of stone steps to find a carpet-weaver's workshop. Half a dozen men worked at hand-looms that might have been hundreds of years old. Westerners are often hassled endlessly in the busy streets of the Medina by merchants, touts, beggars, children and other dubious characters. Nuri kept us moving at a brisk pace all day and we were seldom bothered. He seemed to carry a certain authority and if we were approached a few words of Arabic from him were always enough. He did, however, take us to a carpet salesroom (an almost unavoidable experience for westerners in Morocco) where we were subjected to the most intense sales pitch we have ever heard. It was almost irresistible but we had neither money nor credit cards with us and we told the salesman the situation. He continued, undeterred and showed us a bewildering range of beautiful carpets, insisting that each was handmade and dyed with natural colours. Despite his objections, we resisted and made for a restaurant in the middle of town.
We had a four-course Moroccan lunch: lentil soup, kebabs, chicken with kuskus then shortbread. Alcohol is forbidden in this Muslim land and we drank mint-tea with our food, made with hot water, fresh mint leaves and lots of sugar.
Although some tourists do visit Tetouan it remains a typical Moroccan town. There is no traffic in the Medina and daily life is more or less the same as it has been for hundreds of years. Although the weather was warm, we all wore long trousers and long-sleeved shirts in keeping with Muslim traditions.