19.05.2012 - 19.05.2012
We left our hotel in Algeciras and walked to the port where we caught a free transfer bus to the port of Tarifa and hopped onto our 11am ferry to Tangier. As you can imagine, we were very excited to be heading into a new continent but also nervous about getting back into the swing of backpacking after 6 weeks of European comfort. Plus we would now be taking long bus journeys in the heat again, quite daunting after driving around Andalusia for two weeks! The boat was nicer than expected, especially compared to the ones we took to get around the islands of Thailand. It only takes half an hour to get to Morocco from Spain, so it’s really striking how different the two places are. It was a rainy and unsteady ride over.
We checked into our hotel in the new town of Tangier, a modern place but with old-fashioned prices, and then made our way to the old town and medina area of the city. With its history of foreign control and its proximity to Spain, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Tangier still has a traditional way of life and hasn’t become westernised/commercialised for tourists.
Our first stop was the Grand Socco, a large, palm-fringed plaza with a central fountain, and with a keyhole shaped gate into the medina. It was a hot day, and we sat for a while and enjoyed our first images of Moroccan life. One of the most notable things is the traditional, and sometimes colourful, clothing worn by people of all ages called jellaba and their pointed leather babouche shoes. The sound of throaty Arabic being spoken all around was also quite remarkable. Throw in a couple of goats, the call to prayer and a distant beat of drums and the scene is set. Welcome to North Africa.
We went into a yellow building at the side of the square that houses DARNA, a women’s institute. They have a small community-run restaurant where we ordered a lunch of tangy Moroccan salad and a chicken tagine. The meal was delicious, especially the caramelised currants with the chicken, and we were surprised that eating salad can actually be this enjoyable!
Refuelled and rested, we decided to brave the medina, having read that it is a ‘labyrinth of alleyways’, which is contained within the 15th century fortress walls built by the Portuguese. We were lucky not to get lost and whilst exploring the maze of lanes we were rewarded with fleeting glimpses of ancient ways of living as local life unfolded around us. We reached the Grand Mosque, once a Portuguese church, where afternoon prayers were taking place. This building with its colourful minaret overlooks a square called Petit Socco, a small place with cafes and outdoor seating and is welcoming to tourists. However, this was once a notorious crossroads of the city where drug deals and prostitution was rife and visitors would not have ventured here. We also found the fresh produce and fish markets which were a hive of activity and full of pungent aromas!
After exploring the medina, we entered the area of the kasbah and walked the streets looking at all of the little doors in all shapes and colours. A local man appointed himself as our unofficial tour guide and although that sounds nice, we knew at some point he would start demanding high levels of cash, so we made efforts to shake him off! We explored the kasbah museum, which is housed in the former sultan’s palace and has a nice courtyard and exotic garden too.
After some Moroccan sweets, we wandered back to the Grand Socco and whiled away some time at a street side café drinking sweet mint tea and people watching.
We also called into St Andrew's church, nearby, that was built on land granted by Queen Victoria. It is an Anglican church but Moorish in design and so has the Lord's prayer written in Arabic and also has some Islamic and Jewish elements to its design so is quite unusual!
In the early evening we walked to the ville nouvelle, built by the French, with its Riviera architecture and colonial ambience. So far here, we have had to communicate with the locals in French as they do’t speak English as much. We sat in the square called Terrasse des Paresseux where we had a great view of the port and even over the water to Spain. In the new town there were lots of young, modern looking locals hanging around, it seems that the streets get busier in the cool evenings here. We had a nice dinner that was inexpensive and happily wandered back to our hotel for a good night’s sleep as we planned to travel by bus into the Rif mountains the next morning….
Our little update would have ended there if it wasn’t for the fact that Sully woke up in the night with a giant black moth fluttering on his face. How could we not share this story? He woke up, turned on the lights and called “Sophia…the room...is infested…with moths” (Now there’s something you don’t hear every day). Sophia sat up in bed and as her eyes adjusted to the light she found Sully jumping around the room with a Nike trainer in his hand swatting at giant moths and swearing at them in Guajarati as they dive bombed towards him! It would have been funny if we weren’t so tired. Luckily the hotel guy was sympathetic and once he saw the whole floor nicely decorated with moths and that there were more still lingering in the light shades, he moved us to a new room. Oh la la, as the French would say.