Tuesday 14 Jun, 2011

Interview With EF Tour Director Rafi Martinez

Rafi Martinez

A recent trip to Barcelona to watch some soccer (don’t ask, it went badly) gave me the chance to catch up with Spanish TD Rafi Martinez. Rafi hails from Barcelona and has been leading tours in her native country and beyond for eight years. One of her favorite destinations to take groups to is Morocco, so I took the chance to ask her a few questions about EF day trips there.


So, why go to Morocco?

When visiting the south of Spain, a visit to Morocco makes for a very interesting and different side trip. Just a short ferry ride will take you across the Strait of Gibraltar. How often do our groups have the opportunity of visiting a North African country? It is definitely a must to experience Morocco on a day trip from Spain. It lies just on the other side of the Mediterranean, but feels like a world away.

Which part would groups visit?

We visit the north east tip of the country, the city of Tetouan which lays 25 miles south of the Spanish city of Ceuta and the Strait of Gibraltar. Tetouan is located in a fertile valley full of orchards near the Rif Mountains and by the sea.

What do we see?

An early departure is needed for a scenic drive along the Costa del Sol to the Spanish port of Algeciras. From there, travel by high-speed ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to Ceuta (around 45 minutes). In Ceuta, we our greeted by our local licensed Moroccan guide and our journey continues by road for one hour along the coast until we reach the historical city of Tetouan.

Farmers market in Tetouan

Farmers market in Tetouan

During our walking tour of the city, we visit the ancient medina (old walled town) of Tetouan, listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The medina is very well preserved and full of old whitewashed buildings. All around you will find farmers selling their fresh produce and artisans performing their craftsmanship. Fruit sellers, fish dealers, weavers, jewelers, leather workers, they all get together along the narrow streets full of colors and smells for the daily morning market. We also walk near Hassan II square where the Royal Palace is located just outside one of the entrances to the medina. We also discover the Kasbah (citadel), the souk, the bakeries, the schools, the mosques… Most importantly, we do not only learn about Tetouan’s past history and art, but also about its vivid traditions and present daily life.

As part of our program, we visit an artisan cooperative where we learn about the famous Moroccan carpets. You can watch the weavers at work while admiring the natural materials of this ancient handmade art. We end our visit at a traditional pharmacy where an apothecary tells us out about the use of natural remedies, plants and spices. And, as you can imagine, during our visit, we obviously have the chance of practicing a little bit of the national sport of haggling. Bargaining is unavoidable and a very important part of the Moroccan culture and whenever you are interested in purchasing any souvenirs for home you have to be ready to start the game of negotiating. This is the reason why we always prepare our groups with some fun role plays and tips prior to the action.

What is your favorite part of the trip? 

I love visiting Morocco, and I always recommend a visit to our fascinating neighbor country even if it is just for only few hours. When in Tetouan, it is a real pleasure to walk around the maze of streets which formed the ancient medina; it is like stepping back in time. I never get tired of looking at the students open eyes willing to take in everything around them.  Photography lovers are able to take amazing pictures while getting to discover a whole new world. This optional excursion is, without a doubt, one of the most enriching and eye-opening activities our students can join while on tour in Europe.

serving morocco mint tea

Moroccan Mint Tea

What’s the food like?

Delicious! In Tetouan, we have lunch inside the medina, in a very nice local restaurant called Palace Bouhlal. As its names suggests, the building used to be the residency of a noble family and it is nicely decorated with glazed tiles, lamps and carpets. We enjoy a four-course meal accompanied by live folk music and dancing. The menu is composed of typical Moroccan food: harira vegetable soup, shish kebabs, vegetables and chicken couscous, and to top it off a hot glass of sweet mint tea with cookies. A pleasure for the senses.

When did you go for the first time?

I visited Morocco for the first time when I was a teenager myself. My parents are from the South of Spain, so we took advantage of one of our summer family holidays to join one of these one day trips to Morocco. That was more than ten years ago, and I feel lucky I have been able to go back and travelled around the country many times since then. Now, as a Tour Director, I have the pleasure of helping many groups to discover Morocco for the first time.

Anything else you want to tell us?

Our one day trip to Morocco ends up being one of the highlights of the tour for most of our travelers. It is, indeed, a truly exotic and enriching experience, a really educational memory, a memory that will stay with them a lifetime. I encourage everybody to abandon prejudices and stereotypes and not to hesitate if given the option of visiting Morocco.

(Editor’s note: Add Paul on Google+ If you have a question about for EF Tour Director Paul Mattesini, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Paul here, and he will answer readers’ questions in future blog posts.)