Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Across the Straits of Gibraltar, Ceuta Spain

Ceuta is one of two small spanish enclaves in Morocco and is situated on the opposite side of the Straits of Gibraltar from Aljaciras. The town sits on a peninsula with water on two sides. It has a couple of interesting sites like the Arabic baths and fortifications and some buildings with unique architecture, but it is the gardens and statues on the main promenade that makes Ceuta so charming. It is a great way to enter Africa and is convenient to move on from here to other destinations in Morocco. We crossed through the border here on route to the Rift Mountain town of Chefchouen about 1.5 hours away.

Around Morocco with Our Baby Girl, The How to Guide for Families

After traveling almost 2 years around the world visiting over 30 countries, Cara and I  considered ourselves proficient backpackers. So when our daughter, Abigail, came along there was no question that we would share our wanderlust with her. The first questions, when and where, came soon after her birth. We decided to wait until she was  a year old and to visit Morocco, a country we hadn’t explored but has a reputation of being “child-friendly”. More questions followed. Does she need special immunizations, how will she tolerate the flight, travel days, and heat, what equipment do we need, how are we going to carry everything (bottles, diapers, ...Abi), can we really pull this off?

Morocco has something for everyone from water sports to camel safaris, ancient roman ruins to medieval islamic cities, long beaches to long mountain trails.  With Abi, however we had cut back our normal adventurous inclinations and simplify things.  So our main goal was to enjoy the many ancient medinas across the country, soak up the culture, enjoy the beaches and find whatever adventure came our way.

Riads are traditional Moroccan houses with a central court yard.  They are life savers for families.  Spacious, comfortable, and quiet, riads are a retreat of relaxation from the hectic street just outside their walls.  Most are immensely accommodating to travelers with toddlers and provide cribs.  Breakfast is the best meal for children.  In the riads breakfast is complimentary and healthy with fruit, cereal, homemade yogurt, juice and pancakes.  We tried to maintain her routine as much as possible.  The chores also became routine, washing dishes and clothes.

As for food, Abi was still using formula which is available in pharmacies and larger supermarkets in the new parts of town.  Jars of baby food are also sold here but the selection is limited to Moroccan flavored beef or chicken with vegetables.  Much of Moroccan food is rather soft.  Tajines are basically stews of slowly cooked meat and vegetables easily chewed by those with little to no teeth.  Couscous is a common staple which is easily eaten by toddlers as well.  And the fruit shakes were marvelous for all.  

We really were not sure what to bring.  There is only a limited amount that we could carry.  We brought a two week supply of baby food and several sets of utensils.   We brought only three books and a few toys for Abi, including cups and some balls, these seemed sufficient.  All across Morocco diapers were in plentiful supply, wipes less so, bring your own and use sparingly.  Stick with the name brands.  Large strollers will not negotiate busy narrow streets or fit on trains and buses.  Use a small and light umbrella stroller.  Sometimes the streets are too bumpy or hilly and a small carrier, like a baby bjorn is useful and doesn’t take too much room in the pack.  The big backpack carrier wasn’t as useful to us although it was amazing how cool our carrier kept Abi in really hot conditions.  Bring a good hat and sunscreen for everyone. Binkies, snacks, and a small toy or book are indispensable for travel days. Diapers and wipes-available, recommend using name brands as the cheaper ones are of poor quality. Always use bottled water.
The temperature in the cities was not as hot as we had expected.  The compact medinas with their thick and tall mud-brick walls are incredible air-conditioners and trap the cool night air throughout the day.  Many streets are also covered.  We even had several thunderstorms to cool things off.  The coastal towns were actually cool, especially Essaouira which had a fierce wind for several days.  So bring layers.
Traveling around
Getting from point to point was the hardest part.  The Supratour buses are good and the trains are efficient and comfortable, except sometimes the air-conditioning doesn’t work.  If you are taking a small jaunt a grand taxi is better than a bus and is  a good deal.  Taxis are good in cities, just make sure you know the right price before agreeing.  We were traveling in Morocco for 7 weeks, but if you are traveling for only 3 weeks or less we would recommend renting a car.  Use a company that can provide child seats.

Interests for Children
There were plenty of interests for Abi in Mororcco.  The beach was a big hit, it gave her confidence to walk.  She was endlessly fascinated by the multicolored lanterns and lights; and the call to prayer.  Horse rides received lots of clapping.  She loved watching the cats, which out number dogs considerably;  birds intrigued her, and well she didn’t know what to think about the poisonous snakes.  Neither did we.
The best part about the journey were the people.  Moroccans are very family oriented and love children.  People of all ages and genders were eager to meet Abi and wiggle her feet or kiss her.  In any one day in Morocco, Abi had been kissed by more people than her first year of life in the States.  It was very sweet and genuine.

Our time in Morocco was exhausting with little Abi, however, our experience was overwhelmingly positive and our first of many memorable family trips.

What's to come
We will post our journey which can already be viewed on YouTube but we will also include writing and photos of the trip in the blog.