May 14, 2006
Tarifa and Tangiers
We got up for the day around 8:00 after getting surprisingly restful sleep, despite the noise from the club downstairs. I’d braided my hair the night before in hopes that that would make it less fuzzy and uncontrollable, since I was going without my hair dryer. I left it braided for the moment, since it was so windy outside.
We stopped for breakfast at Cafe Central. I asked if they served potatoes any way other than in the tortilla de patatas, and the waitress said yes, so I ordered that with eggs.
Turned out to be French fries with eggs! But that was ok, as they were pretty tasty. It also came with what seemed like fried rye bread...and of all the things I ate on the trip, that is the thing that I remember the taste of the most distinctly! Strange!
After breakfast, we walked over to the Port of Tarifa to wait for our ferry to Morocco. Today was also Mothers Day, and before leaving home, I’d joked with my mom that my present to her was for me to be the farthest away from her that I had ever been on Mothers Day! I also ended up getting her a card written in Spanish, and I wrote the English translation under it. She thought that was pretty funny. Anyway, we were about an hour early for our ferry, so we just sat down and waited as everyone scurried around us. It was an odd cross section of society...everyone from little American kids to elderly Moroccan women with tattoos on their chins to western adventurer’s like Kevin and myself.
When it was time to board at about 11:00am, we had to all go through a single x-ray machine and metal detector, which caused a huge bottleneck. After that, we were free to board the ferry, though most people went directly for the customs line. Kevin and I opted to find seats first, then we’d go one at a time to get through customs. We sat at the very front of the ferry, which was hot because of the sun, but afforded the best view on the boat. A little ways into the trip, I got in the line, which moved agonizingly slow! The agent stamped the entry and exit stamps on my tour ticket, but I wasn’t about to ask questions! Everyone around me seemed to be Moroccan, and they were all getting their passports stamped, so I assumed it was an American thing! They also asked me more questions than anyone around me, and had taken both my going and returning tickets.
Kevin went after I did, and when he returned, his passport had been stamped, which further made me think they did something different to me because I was American. He also said that he’d met two folks in the line that were from the same city he lived in! Turns out that the girl of the couple had gone to the same high school Kevin had, only about 10 years after he was there. Orillia isn’t a big city, so to meet two people...not in Toronto, not in Disney World, not even in London...but on a freaking ferry to Tangiers was incredible to me!
Kevin says "I see AFRICA!!!"
After about an hour and 15 minutes, we were docking in Tangiers (the ferry was advertised as a 30 minute ferry, but all told, it was about 2 hours including boarding, the cruise, and disembarking).
We got the Canadian couple to take our "Look at us, we’re in AFRICA!" picture, then proceeded off the boat and onto a bus for our tour. We ended up sticking by the couple for most of the tour (y’know, I never learned their names! Kevin knew them, but I forget what he told me they were). They were in Europe for 2 ½ months after graduating from college...*sigh* what I wouldn’t give to take a trip like that...
The first part of the tour was on the bus, and we drove up the side of a hill to get some nice views of Tangiers and of the coast. The city looked relatively modern, but not quite as modern or well kept as the cities we’d been seeing in Spain. I spotted lots of conveniences from home...Shell gas stations...
...Pizza Hut and McDonalds to name a few!
There was some interesting architecture, but most seemed pretty average for big cities anywhere.
So after the bus ride came the “interesting” part of the tour. We parked the bus on the side of what seemed like a fairly busy street, and were told that we could leave any packages or luggage on the bus if we wanted. Yeah right, had I had anything with me, I would have carried it all day long before leaving it on the bus! There was also a little desk set up with a person selling postcards, stamps and film, so a few people got those there instead of trying to find them later.
Our first stop was to watch a snake charmer. Beforehand, we were warned about not giving money to children who beg, and wouldn’t you know that no sooner than the guide got it out of his mouth, a kid started begging for money from us. There was also a man following us around trying to sell us bracelets and wouldn’t leave us alone...little did we know that he was the nicest and least aggressive one we’d find all day!
Crazy man: "Want to give me a Euro and I'll put the snake around your neck?"
A bunch of people paid a Euro to have a snake put around their neck for a photo, then we moved on.
We went around a corner, and there were these two men there playing instruments, dancing around and generally making fools of themselves, and that was supposedly the next stop on the tour. It was so cheesy and contrived that I didn’t even dignify it with a picture!
As we entered the medina, the guide started pointing out things and telling little bits about their history, follow with "Now, take picture!" hahaha That soon ended though, and the medina got dirty, foul smelling, crumbling, and borderline scary! The street sales people would surround us, trying to sell us jewelry, bags, boxes and little drums. The little kids were the one hawking the drums, walking around saying "Tambores one euro fifty!" And had I not had to carry it around with me the rest of the time, I’d have certainly bought one of those sets of drums...they were cool, and cheap!
An elderly beggar in the medina
After a little bit, we ducked into a restaurant for lunch. We’d passed a bunch of small restaurants and markets, all of which looked either scary or unsanitary, so I was really worried about what was in store for lunch! But our restaurant turned out to be very nice...as nice as any low to mid-range restaurant you’d find.
Our first course was a vegetable soup...unidentifiable at first, but after I took a few bites, it was pretty good! If nothing else, I could eat the soup, and not starve to death before getting back to Spain!
The second course was meat on skewers, and since I didn’t know what kind of meat it was, I quickly passed it on to Kevin. The waiter saw me do it, and asked if I would prefer a salad to go with the meal instead of the meat, so I took him up on that offer. Whew...two things I can eat in Morocco! The third course was chicken couscous, and once again...it was really good! I couldn’t even finish it all, I was so full by that point.
This Coke bottle written in arabic ended up being one of my favorite souvenirs from the trip.
Dessert was a ribbon shaped pastry covered in honey that was sort of like baklava, and mint tea. Being such a picky eater, I was really glad that I was able to eat lunch...I was afraid it would be all lamb and beef with onions, or other such stuff I wouldn’t eat.
We had a nice conversation with the Canadian couple over lunch, and it was so fun hearing about all their adventures all over Europe. There was also a Swiss couple at our table, as well as a very quiet couple that didn’t seem to speak much English. Soon they announced that it was time to go, and I realized that I should have used the bathroom while one was convenient to use! So I scurried to use it, and was the last person out, so Kevin and I had to do a bit of catching up with the tour.
Well, we walked and walked, with the street vendors surrounding us, and impeding our progress at times. No matter how many times we said no, they kept the same level of aggression, following us for blocks and blocks at a time. At first, they were doing it to Kevin worse, with many of them telling him to buy something for his lovely wife! hehe But once, a man had a bracelet that caught my eye, and once they saw that I had paid attention to one person’s merchandise, everyone surrounded me! Imagine a scene from a movie where you are a patient laying on an operating table with dozens of hands all reaching for your face...now imagine that with smelly, scary men all shoving bracelets and drums in your face! That moment was probably the moment when I was the most glad that I wasn’t traveling alone!
For a brief respite from the sales people, we stopped in a carpet shop for a little presentation on how they make the handcrafted rugs. It was decently interesting, and the rugs were very pretty, but very expensive! After the presentation, when they are supposed to go around giving you the hard sell to buy a rug, a man asked me which rug I liked the best. I pointed one out, knowing good and well that however much it cost, it was going to be too expensive. But instead of telling me the price, he motioned for me to go into this little room with him and another man! So very loudly I said "No! No!" over and over as he followed me back over towards Kevin. Once I reached Kevin, the man backed off, and I warned Kevin and the Canadian couple about them! Even if I wanted to buy his rug, no way in hell was I gonna be alone in a room with two men I didn’t know! Common sense should tell every woman to do exactly what I did.
After the presentation, we shopped downstairs for a bit without being hassled by the employees. I actually stumped one employee when I asked him to find me a short (as opposed to knee length) red shirt in size XL. He just kinda shook his head like he didn’t have any, and moved onto the next person! hahaha I was surprised he didn’t say “Well, I don’t have that, but look at the scarves! Look at the jewelry!” Felt nice to not be hassled!
After a few minutes, we headed back out into the streets, where a crowd of the salespeople were waiting for us. I spotted a bracelet that one man had that I liked, and he said it was 15 Euros. I said I’d give him 5 euros for it, and eventually he said he’d sell me two for 10 euros. Thinking that a second one would make a nice gift for my mom (who’d been overly insistent on a gift from Morocco!) I said I’d take them if he had change for my 20 euro note. He didn’t, but when he stopped to get change, the tour guide shuffled us into a spice shop. I dropped the bracelets on a nearby pile of shoes, telling the other sales people there to give them back to him.
The spice shop was actually very interesting. I’m not sure how much of it I believe, but all of the herbal remedies the man was selling were fairly inexpensive, so it would be no harm no foul if the stuff didn’t work. He had about 15 or 20 products, and he explained what each did, where it came from, what it was made of and how much it cost. We sampled a few hand creams (one of which Kevin had a mild allergic reaction to the next day), smelled some scented things, and sniffed a big bag of menthol somethingorother that was supposed to clear your sinuses. When the presentation ended, we opted to buy a few things...we got three blocks of musk (to combat some gamey luggage smells!), Kevin got some muscle relaxer oil, I got a little tin of stuff that is supposed to clear up acne and soften your lips (I dunno about acne, but it actually does really well on my lips!) and I also got a small bag of saffron for my mom. The bag was packed tight, weighing a few ounces at least, and I only gave 7 euros for it! It would have easily sold for $50 or more in the States. Thinking back, I should have bought a few more and resold them hehehe Since she watches Food Network a lot, I knew she’d appreciate a bag of saffron a lot more than a bracelet.
When we left, of course, the same group of salespeople were there waiting for us, including the man wanting to sell me the bracelets! Since I’d already gotten the saffron for my mom, I was really only wanting one bracelet for myself now. So as we walked, I kept saying I wanted one bracelet for 5 euros, and when we got to our next stopping point (which was on private property, and the last stop in that area of town) he agreed to sell me the one I wanted for 5 euros. Nice. When we entered the hotel for the next stop, all the salesmen stopped right at the edge of the property, so we could wander around inside freely without being hassled.
The hotel was quite nice, and is one that is mentioned in the Rick Steves guidebook as one of the only reputable places to stay in Tangiers! When I saw that they offered overnight tours to Morocco, I thought that would be an interesting experience. But by about halfway through the tour, we were very glad that we’d opted for only the day trip! Had I stayed overnight, I’d have stayed in my room, too scared to go out and possibly get lost! The guy who ran the hotel was very nice, and didn’t pressure us to buy anything. I thought he was being charming when he made a flattering comment about my freckles, but it turns out that he said the exact same line to the Canadian girl too! hahaha I found two nice silver boxes in his shop, and since he was so nice, I paid the 3 euros a piece for two of them without haggling because I thought that was a fair price. My plan was to split the saffron in half, and keep half in a box for myself, and give the other box to mom.
During our break, a henna artist was there, and for 5 euros, I got a henna tattoo that covered most of my left forearm. It was really pretty! Little did I know that it was the crappiest henna ever. After it dried and I flaked it off, you couldn’t really make out any detail in the tattoo. The next day, it just looked like a big patch of my arm was discolored, and within three days, there was no trace of it left. Had it lasted the three weeks to a month like I was told, it would have been a great value, but as it was, I felt ripped off.
Kevin also took the chance to enjoy another lemon Fanta during our break.
For the final part of the tour, we were taken back out through the medina, past the absolutely relentless vendors one last time, and back onto our bus to finish the tour. On the way, some kids selling bracelets were following us out. They kept lowering their prices and lowering their prices, until one kids said we could have 5 bracelets for 5 euros. We got back on the bus and pondered the offer, figuring that those could be souvenirs for all our female family members for a euro a piece! So I went back out and talked to one kid, but he only had three bracelets left. I offered him 2 euros for 3, and when he said 2 and a half euros, I took them for that price. An even better deal than 5 for 5! I kept two of them for myself, and Kevin took one for his mom.
Once on the bus, more than one of us commented that we had never been so happy to see a bus in our entire lives! We drove around a bit, then made the obligatory "Ride a camel for a euro!" photo op stop. I didn’t ride...
...but Kevin did!
It was pretty funny, and while it only lasted about a minute, it was definitely an interesting way to spend a euro!
Kevin, riding tall and proud!
One of the many, many relentless salespeople
We snaked back through the city a bit more, and eventually ended up back at the port, with our ferry waiting there.
The nicest thing we saw in all of Tangiers!
Construction photo! Not as cool as coaster construction photos though :-(
The guide went around checking everyone’s tickets, and it turned out that everyone in the tour had had their tickets stamped instead of their passport except Kevin! So the guide whisks Kevin away to handle the situation, and I was left by myself. Of course, every doomsday idea went through my mind..."Oh my god, Kevin’s gonna be stuck in Morocco"..."I’m gonna have to cut the trip short because they’re not gonna let him back into Spain"...etcetera. It was also a bit unnerving being separated from my travel partner, even for just a little bit. When I boarded the ferry, I sat where I logically thought he would look for me, and after about 5 more minutes, I was in the first place he looked! Do I know him or what? :-) He didn’t really know what the tour guide had done, but somehow his passport was stamped and he was ready to head back to Spain.
The trip over had been relatively smooth, with a little turbulence, but not too much. But on the way back, the boat was rocking really heavily...so much that warnings came on the TVs about staying in your seats. It was fun to watch people try to walk around because they were just falling all over the place. And the wind out on the deck was so hard that it was almost knocking people down! I don’t get motion sick very easily, so I was fine, but plenty of people all around us were throwing up into the seasickness bags! I thought the motion was relaxing at first, then fun the harder it got.
Kevin wasn’t enjoying it quite as much, and was very happy when the boat came to a stop!
Needless to say, we were both pretty happy to be back in Spain. I’m sure that if you visit the bigger cities like Marrakesh, Fez or Rabat, they are very nice places to spend time, but not Tangiers! It was very dirty, very run down, it smelled very bad, a lot of the people smelled very bad, and it was the only place that I felt unsafe during the whole trip. I had this odd combo of pity and disgust over the street salespeople...I pity them because I know that they are just trying to support themselves and their families in the only way they know how, but I think it is disgusting how they exploit their children to prey on tourists. I’m sure it’s a vicious cycle of poverty, and during those tours, we either have to support it or we have no souvenirs of our visits. Needless to say, the little slice of Morocco that I saw was not all shiny and friendly like in Epcot! In short, it was definitely an experience I will remember forever, even if it’s not one that I ever care to repeat!
Yay for being back in Spain!!!
After doing a little happy dance because we were back in Spain, we dropped off our purchases in our hotel and went a couple of stores down to check our email. As Kevin checked his email, I sat outside on a stool and watched everyone pass by. I’m not sure when the last time was that I slowed down enough to watch a dog sniff the ground for about 10 minutes, but that’s exactly what I did that day, and I considered it a constructive use of my time. When Kevin was done, I checked my email, then purchased a postcard with a map of Spain on it from the shop the computers were in. I dropped off the postcard in the room, then we headed out to find some dinner.
I’d spotted a fish place in the main plaza the day before that looked pretty good, so I suggested that we go there. The menu looked pretty good, so I ordered the fried shrimp, while Kevin ordered the gazpacho and paella. The shrimp I got was whole shrimp cooked in oil, not the shelled and battered ones I was expecting, but that was fine. But the taste...oh god, they tasted horrible. I ate a few, but had to stop eventually because I thought they just tasted too bad. The best comparison I can make is that they tasted the way a very dirty fish tank smells. Of course, Kevin said he thought they tasted fine, and attributed it to my not having truly fresh fish that often. Nothing about that shrimp tasted fresh or even appetizing to me, so my expensive plate of shrimp sat uneaten. When the waiter asked why I hadn’t eaten them, I told him in Spanish that they tasted dirty, for lack of a better, more precise way to describe the flavor in Spanish.
We walked back to the hotel, and still hungry, I stopped in the bocadillo shop next door and got a chicken, cheese, tomato and egg bocadillo, which turned out to be great. I ate it while Kevin showered, then I showered, and we both retired for the evening.