I experienced my first sip of wine at the luxury hotel El Minzah, located in the heart of Tangier, Morocco. I was sitting at dinner with my best friend Jenn who was an international traveler well before this celebratory college graduation excursion. But Northern Africa was new to both of us, and our surroundings were unlike anything we'd ever seen. We spent our first day with a guide who led us through the long, narrow, winding streets of a city bustling with people. A small group of children followed us around wherever we went, attempting conversation with "hello" and "where are you from" in many different languages. Our private walking tour led us to spice shops, jewelry stores, antique rug showrooms, and boutiques filled beautiful scarves and shawls. These were clearly destinations for the Western tourist with fancy lodging, but authentic nonetheless.
Our second day we lost ourselves in a bazaar so rich with colors and smells and that four hours had passed before we realized the sun was about to disappear. We slipped into a small restaurant near the hotel and enjoyed a five-course meal, too tired to talk, and more interested in watching the passersby than our own conversation. The community drinking fountain, visible from our dinner table, was a vase waist-high with a long ladle inside for each person to scoop fresh water into his or her mouth. I also remember the owner of the restaurant asking us many many questions about California, a place we had temporarily forgotten.
The final day we lived it up at the hotel, basking in the sun by the pool, writing postcards home, and plotting our return to this stunning land. We also decided to splurge on our final meal by dining at the Minzah's uber-fine restaurant. So that night, shedding our traveling gear for dresses we'd purchased in Spain, we settled into cushy seats adorned with lavish pillows and ordered off the menu like queens. Jenn smartly suggested we have some wine to accompany our feast. College parties were stocked with kegs, cheap vodka, and bottles of spiked punch. I had yet to drink something so sophisticated, so grownup.
We toasted to a friendship that started in 9th grade, to a life of travel filled with adventure, and to the amazing (yet uncertain) careers that awaited us back in the States. And with that first sip of wine, thousands of miles away from home, I embraced finally feeling like an adult.