From al-Andalus to al-Maghreb, and Beyond

Thursday, July 30, 2009 | Malaga, Spain (map)

The break in Portugal and southern Spain has been good for us. Here, tourists take a carriage across one of Ronda's many bridges.
Before returning to Morocco, Jacqueline and I spent the last days of our Iberian roadtrip kicking around Andalucia.

In Zafra, we discovered Secreto Ibérico. At a café in the old town's main square, both of us ordered the mysterious "Iberian Secret", left unexplained by the menu, on the waitress's recommendation. It turned out to be a tender pork fillet, seared to juicy perfection—perhaps our best meal of the entire trip.

Our next stop, Ronda, was a picturesque stone-and-mortar town split by a deep chasm, its sandstone cliffs housing the swallows that swooped through the evening skies.

We wandered between tapas bars, shopped for espadrilles, sampled local wines and prosciuttos, and climbed the city's ramparts for a view of the surrounding horse pastures.

A short drive outside the town, we found the Cueva del Gato, a cave out of whose mouth spilled a gush of frigid blue water. Beside the shaded pool, we picnicked on fresh figs and local cheeses.

In Málaga, our departure point, a fleeting second wind of touristic ambition propelled us to the summit of the city's prominent Moorish castle, the Alcazaba, and to the Museo Picasso, where we mulled over the hometown hero's works.

In short, we did our best to wring out every ounce of enjoyment from our last few days in Spain, before the less-than-anticipated return "home" to Morocco. At this point, we are some ten months into our North African experience, and have at least six more to go (Jacqueline's grant ends in mid-December).

In truth, though the Iberian vacation has been great, we have little reason to dread our return. Our time in Morocco has included both stellar ups and miserable downs, but of late has settled into a rather banal middle ground. In our little bubble in Rabat, the country's frustrations seem fewer. I work long hours, while Jacqueline juggles her research and the law school application process. Groceries, laundry, our jobs, a few good restaurants, and most of our friends are all within walking distance. Life is easy, and sometimes we think it might not be such a bad idea to stick around; we're considering prolonging our stay into 2010.

But then, travel possibilities, American attachments, and life's responsibilities beckon. So it's back to Morocco for now, with no idea what's next. And that's just fine with me.

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