The One with Tangier, Morocco

Friday, February 27, 2015

After a lovely day in Gibraltar we headed off to our next airbnb apartment in Tarifa, Spain. The beautiful rolling green hills and countryside of southern Spain.
I love all the white!
We stayed at Elisa's "charming house in the center of Tarifa" for $53/night. Soooooo much cheaper than a hotel! It was in a great location, just inside the old town wall in the pedestrian only section of town. 
And check out the view we got from the rooftop terrace - WOW! See those mountains in the distance? That would be AFRICA.
After enjoying the evening in Tarifa, we went to bed excited for our huge adventure in the morning: riding a ferry across the Straight of Gibraltar to Tangier, Morocco. A place I've dreamed of going for a looooong time! When we woke up, we loaded up, drove down to the ferry terminal, bought our tickets (which were quite expensive - about 30 euros a person and we even had to pay for Fox - usually the places we go kids are free), went through Spanish customs (got an exit stamp in the passport, woohoo!), and boarded the FRS ferry.
We headed up to the passenger decks and found a table seat along a window and settled in. They advertise that the crossing only takes 35 minutes but it was over an hour each way. Just sayin'. I was keeping track because the boat made me super nauseated.
Jay and Haylie are such good sports with our kids. Fox thinks Jay is the coolest. We ate some homemade sandwiches on the boat to avoid trying to find somewhere to eat in Morocco.
We found the Moroccan customs people on board, got our entry stamp into Morocco, and the boat headed out. Goodbye Spain. Hello Africa.
No turning back now!
We made it!
Unfortunately it was raining when we arrived and silly me didn't bring rain resistant shoes. My feet were soaked through and freezing within 10 seconds of stepping off the boat. But the rain was not even close to the most annoying thing we would encounter: immediately upon our exit we were barraged by person after person after person tagging along with us trying to sell us their services as tour guides. We had researched a lot about Tangier so we expected it, but foreknowledge did not lessen the experience. We turned all offers down, and down again, and again... and again, and headed towards Old Town to follow Rick Steves' recommendations.
A little about Tangier: "Artists, writers, and musicians have always loved Tangier. Delacroix and Matisse were drawn by its evocative light. The Beat generation, led by William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, sought the city's multicultural, otherworldly feel. From the 1920s through the 1950s, Tangier was an 'international city,' too strategic to give to any one nation, and jointly governed by as many as nine different powers including France, Spain, Britain, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Morocco. The city was a tax-free zone since there was no single authority to collect the taxes, which created a booming free-for-all atmosphere, attracting playboy millionaires, bon vivants, globe-trotting scoundrels, con artists, and expat romantics. Tangier enjoyed a cosmopolitan golden age that in many ways shaped the city visitors seen today."
Because of its international zone status Morocco's previous king effectively disowned the city, denying national funds for improvements. Over time neglected Tangier became the armpit of Morocco. But when the new king Mohammed VI was crowned in 1999 the first city he visited was Tangier. His vision is to restore the city to its former glory... eventually...
Us in front of Tangier right outside the ferry terminal. In Africa. Crazy.
The lower section of the Old Town.
Leaving the dock we headed up along the side of the old town towards one of the main squares in town.
Plant and flower shop.
Red steps.
First mission: find me some rain shoes. Thankfully one of the first markets we happened upon had a pair of black rain boots and miraculously they were my size! I asked for some socks too and 10 euros later I was a happy camper, ready to take on Morocco. Oh, we also bought a pair of umbrellas. Then we walked to the Grand Succo. This square is a big and bustling, acting as a transportation hub, market, popular meeting point, and the fulcrum between the new town and the old town.
Rick Steves included a handy spin-tour to orient us on the square. After seeing the sights, we dove into the old town, known as the Medina.
Tangier's Medina is a convoluted, twisty mess of narrow stepped lanes, dead-end alleys, and lots of local life spilling out into the streets (including fish heads, chicken guts, and other indiscernible animal bits). 
Tangier is divided roughly into two parts: the lower Medina including the Petit Socco, market, American Legation, and at the top the more tranquil Kasbah. We decided to start at the top and work our way back down to the dock.
See that man in the white robe walking by Jay in the photo below? Yeah, he decided to just join in on our walk, despite our protests. He seemed friendly enough, though he did have blood on the bottom of his robe... He was probably thinking he could pull one over on us wide-eyed naive tourists. Sorry, Charlie. This ain't our first rodeo. The members of our group have traveled in dozens of countries on five continents and even lived in Venezuela, the Philippines, England, and Germany. If he was looking for an easy mark, we weren't it.
Here's a building with Mickey Mouse painted on it. A universally recognized happy symbol. Maybe a nursery or day-care?
While being swamped by offers for tour guides, we were told dozens of times how many streets there are in the old town (615 from one guy, 937 from another, 782 from a third, etc.) and how we were sure to get lost. In reality, you head down hill, you'll eventually get back to the dock. Easy as that.
Our unwanted guide droned on and on about the hippie history of the Kasbah and showed us where the Rolling Stones stayed, smoked weed, and partied. Chris said we weren't Rolling Stones fans, but on he went about the Stones. I guess other tourists are into that.
My favorite part of the city was all the doors. I took dozens of pictures of doors.
Doors in the Jewish Quarter. 
The Kasbah, loosely translated as "fortress," is an enclosed, protected residential area near a castle. Originally this was a place where a king or other leader could protect his tribe. Tangier's Kasbah comprises the upper quarter of the old town.
Looking up.
This is the Morocco I came to see!

The Evans Family at the top of the Kasbah, Tangier, Morocco, Africa on Saturday February 7th 2015.
After being pumped full of unwanted knowledge by our "guide" in the upper part of the Medina, we headed back down to the dock, hanger-on in tow.
Finally, at the bottom of the old town, the dude bid us goodbye by forcefully asking for money. This was no surprise. Before coming we had researched and read about this very trick: a seemingly friendly local will accompany you, or help take you somewhere, then roughly demand money for his "services." I guess sometimes they'll even pull a knife on you if you don't want to pay. This dude thankfully didn't do that. Chris had some money ready, 10 euros, and handed it to him and said "thanks." The guy started yelling about how we should pay him 20! He was our tour guide! He showed six people around! He has six kids! Chris and Jay explained that we had never asked him to come with us, he was only with us for about 15 minutes, and that we had told him we didn't want him to come with us in the first place. He then feigned offense and said, "Fine! This is how you want me to remember Americans?!" To which we all thought, "And this is how you want us to remember Moroccans..." We told him sorry, he took the 10, and went on our way, as he muttered and cursed. Pleasant guy! Fun times! YIKES! Haylie and I were just too in shock to get involved.
Back down by the dock, guide-free, we strolled along the oceanside promenade looking for magnets. No luck. Jaylie volunteered to run back up to the market in the Medina to the only shop we had seen magnets and get some for both families and we would head back towards the ferry.
Looking back on the Medina.
And, of course, our departure from Tangier couldn't be complete without another person haggling us at the dock to fill out our customs forms for us, for a price of course. He acted like he was the police or something so we handed over our papers. Nope, he wasn't the police, just someone filling out the papers we most definitely could have filled out on our own. 6 euros later... we were back on our way.
Eventually we made it through the gauntlet and returned to the sanctuary of the ferry. Jay and Haylie made it back successfully with magnets in hand and we were all more than ready to return to Spain.
Moral of the story: I'm glad we went. I'll never go back. It wasn't particularly charming, atmospheric, or even "exotic" feeling. It was run-down, dirty, and full of unfriendly pushy conmen. If you want a good taste of Islamic culture, try Mostar, Bosnia or just stay in Spain and revel in the Moorish beauty to be found in Seville or Granada. But at least the doors were pretty!

Next stop: Arcos de la Fontera!


  1. Well, we could have just pretended it was another awesome day, but I'm glad these posts are an accurate reflection of our travels. Still, we did go to AFRICA! Check!

  2. Yikes! Those "guides" are insane!! I am glad none of you were hurt! On the bright side ... I am LOVING all the blue in their city!!!

  3. I had that same thing happen in Jamaica. The trip was fun and such a gorgeous place, but usually when I think about it, all of the pushy locals at the dock are what come to mind!!

  4. Sigh......this is on my "go to" list. Love all your door and mosaic tile photos. Your post really gives one the flavor of the city. thank you!

  5. That wasn't really the Africa I was expecting. And the swindlers! Oh my goodness! Thanks for the heads up about them, if I ever do go. :)

    Oh - and by the way you went to Africa (disregard my last question mmmk?).

  6. Ugh I still get so worked about about those touts! But hey, Africa... check!


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