Tangier – Morocco

Yesterday we drove to Tarifa which is about 50 minutes from where we are staying to catch the ferry to Tangier in Morocco. The stretch of water between the two countries at this point is only about 36km. The ferry was supposed to leave at 9am and take 35 minutes. It left not long after 9am but it took over an hour by the time it moves slowly out of the port at Tarifa and into the port at Tangier. A little bit of false advertising me thinks – fast ferry – 35 minutes or perhaps just the Spanish way : )

Anyway it was a smooth trip and we followed the travel agents instructions re filling in the customs forms and getting our passports stamped on the boat by the Moroccan police before disembarking the boat. The passports were then checked again by the Moroccan police as we got ashore. I noticed that the policeman stamping the passports on the boat takes a bit of time looking at the passports of the Arabic looking people but didn’t give us a second glance – stamp, stamp and handed it back. The good old NZ passport : )

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We had organised a private guide for the day – Hamid. Hamid met us at the port with his driver and we were off. We drove out of the port area and through the new city before heading to the Atlantic coast. Hamid pointed out various things along the way including the King’s palace and other properties belonging to Saudi Arabian royalty. We drove through the Californian district or the Beverley Hills of Tangier where the 1% live – Hamid’s name for the wealthy.

On our way to the most north western tip of Africa where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean we had a photo stop to admire the Atlantic Coast – Morocco has some 3,000km of Atlantic coast down it’s western side. We then drove to see the lighthouse at Cape Spartel which is the most north western tip of Africa and had morning tea. Mint tea, naan with honey combined with argane oil (Moroccan oil) and ground almonds accompanied by fresh banana – absolutely to do die for. This is my sort of food – the honey and argane oil had a peanut butter taste and consistency. The mint tea is also delicious and by the end of the day it is amazing I didn’t look like a mint leaf I drank so much. Every glass I had differed – some they sweetened a lot, some they didn’t, some was more minty than others but all good : )

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After refuelling we drove along the Atlantic coast where we stopped so I could ride a camel. Leila, the camel I choose was sitting down but I still had to stand on this wooden stool to get on her. She then stood half way up and I thought it was fairly high up so when she stood up fully I felt very high up. They certainly move in an odd way and Leila wasn’t too keen on going too far so the camel boy had to coax her along. Steve wasn’t fussed on having a ride so he was cheif photographer. He also made a video and as he went behind Leila he can be heard saying “let’s see who has the biggest arse”. Still as charming as ever : )

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Steve and I then wandered down to the beach. The water was still really warm – Hamid said it was probably about 25 degrees. It was very inviting and given the air temperature was about 30 degrees it was tempting.

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We drove back towards the old city and past a lot of apartment blocks – Hamid called them social housing – a lot of one bedroom apartments that cost about EU35,000. The average monthly wage is about EU500.

Our driver then dropped us at the entrance to the Kasbah which is the ancient fortification that sits high above the Medina or old town. We wandered through the narrow alleys which were originally only built for horses and carts and pedestrians and ended up in the Medina. There are little shops selling all manner of things from shoes, leather bags, woven items and trinkets.

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Hamid then took us to the traditional supermarket where they sell meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, flowers, herbs and spices and bread. We saw row upon row of plucked chickens. Hamid showed Steve up by buying me a little bouquet of roses which grow prolifically in the region.

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After our tour of the traditional supermarket we wandered back through the Medina where Hamid pointed out where some scenes from the movie The Bourne Ultimatum was shot. Hamid has a photo in his wallet of him and Matt Damon – he is very proud of it.

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We stopped off at the herbalist who gave us a presentation of all sorts of remedies. I love all this stuff so couldn’t resist a few purchases – I now have 5 green lipsticks made from Hemp that go pink and taste of strawberry when applied – much better than conventional lipstick. I also bought some herbal teas and Moroccan oil which is about a third of the price that you pay at home.

It was then time for lunch – we went to a traditional Moroccan restaurant and had a typical Moroccan meal. The midday meal is the main meal, except during the holy month of Ramadan. A typical meal begins with a series of hot and cold salads, followed by a tagine. Bread is eaten with every meal. Often, for a formal meal, a lamb or chicken dish is next, followed by couscous topped with meat and vegetables. A cup of sweet mint tea usually ends the meal. Moroccans often eat with their hands and use bread as a utensil. The consumption of pork and alcohol are considered Haraam, and are prohibited per Muslim dietary restrictions.

We had some starters followed by a chicken Pastilla. A Pastilla is a traditional Moroccan dish inherited from the Andalus, an elaborate meat pie traditionally made of squab (fledgling pigeons). As squabs are often hard to get, shredded chicken is more often used. It is a pie which combines sweet and salty flavours; a combination of crisp layers of the crêpe-like werqa dough (a thinner cousin of the phyllo dough), savory meat slow-cooked in broth and spices and shredded, and a crunchy layer of toasted and ground almonds, cinnamon, and sugar. It was delicious and my favourite part of lunch apart from the mint tea of course.

We then had a chicken Tangine with couscous followed by fresh fruits for dessert – we were pretty full by this stage.

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We stepped out of the restaurant and saw this guy sitting backwards on a bicycle peddling away – he was using peddle power to operate his knife sharpener.

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Hamid then took us to the communal oven – these are very common in the Medina. The woman make their bread in the morning and then take it to the communal oven to be baked. They pay the baker a weekly or monthly fee. In days gone by they would make an extra loaf and that would be the baker’s payment but today it is all done with cash. They will also cook trays of vegetables or anything else that you desire.

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A visit to Tangier without a visit to a rug shop just wouldn’t be right so off to the rug shop we went. They plied me with mint tea and showed us many rugs of which some were lovely and inexpensive by NZ standards. Unfortunately I couldn’t quite visualise any of these rugs in our new house. Steve had a great time testing the rugs out – always looking for somewhere to have a siesta : )

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We then went to a weaving place where they were making scarves and bed throws etc… We met up with another private guide and his four Canadian tourists all of who were female. We entered the shop together and the guys in the shop thought Steve had five wives – he of course played up to this and there was great hilarity. One of the guys in the shop took a shine to me and wanted to trade his wife for me – Steve said he was keen! They were quite a laugh and three scarves and a bed throw later we were on our way.

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It was then time to say goodbye to Hamid – he walked us to our hotel and got us sorted. He was great fun and as the other private guide we met told us, his nickname is Ocean of Knowledge. He was born and grew up in the Medina so he seemed to know everyone. The Arab men all greet each other with a handshake and a hug – they are a very affectionate race and like human touch. This is very different to the world we live in. It is also very common in this part of the world for groups of men to be sitting around together in the middle of the day chatting and drinking tea together. The woman are to be found elsewhere usually working hard. They wouldn’t survive too long in my world.

We were staying at Dar Chams Tanja which is a traditional Moroccan guesthouse with the indoor garden and open space all the way to the roof. We checked out the view over the town from the roof and then decided to go down to the port area to have a drink and do some people watching. Not many places sell alcohol but we found a bar that did – Steve sampled a Moroccan beer while I enjoyed more mint tea. We also had a meal there. We had memorised our way back through the narrow alleys so before it got too dark we headed back to Dar Chams.

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We woke about 5.40am to the sound of the call to prayer. We had a beautiful breakfast on the roof top before having to meet our driver who was taking us back to the port to catch the ferry back to Spain. We had to queue to go through passport control and we noticed that the locals don’t think twice about getting in your personal space. I think it is common to have to fight for a space and it is just the way they operate. We found it a bit disconcerting to start with and I was very aware of our personal possessions but once I realised that is just the way they are I stood my ground and kept my place in the queue. Again the customs officer didn’t look twice at us – stamp, stamp and handed our passports back.

Tangier, as it is called today, has been under Roman rule, in first Century BCE. Along came the Vandals, who started their move across Africa from here. Between the fourth and fifth centuries, Tangier was part of the Byzantine Emipire. The Arabs arrived in the early 700s. Portuguese laid claim to the area in late 1400s. Spain and Portugal held Tangier together for about 60 years, becoming Portuguese again in the mid 1600s. Catherine of Braganza (Portugal) was to marry Charles II of England. Tangier was given to Charles as part of the Princess’ dowry.

The British ruled the city until Sultan Moulay Ismail imposed a blockade which forced the British to withdraw. Upon leaving, the British destroyed the city and its port. Although partially reconstructed, the city declined to around 5,000 people in early 1800s. Because of its geographic location, many European countries have vied for control.

France was the most influential when the Kaiser of Germany said he was in favor of Morocco remaining a free country. This nearly triggered a war between France and Germany. Morocco was divided between France and Spain. Tangier. In the 1920s, Tangier became a international zone, held by France, Spain, Britain and Italy until World War II. Spain held control of Tangier until Morocco gained its independence. She was reunited with the rest of the country.

Tangier has a checkered past. Once known as a safe haven for international spies and a meeting place for secret agents. Tangier is used as the location for many spy novels and movies. It, also, had quite a reputation as a smuggling center. Tangier attracted many artists such as Matisse and Tiffany. Authors like Choukri, native to the area, and Burroughs wrote about the city and surrounding area.

Today, Tangier is the second largest industrial center in Morocco with its Tangier Free Zone. Construction should be completed shortly on the second Tangier-Mediterranean port. Fishing and agriculture are two smaller industries adding to her economy. Tangier is connected to the rest of Morocco by rail and new expressways. Ibn Batouta International Airport is 15 kilometers from the city’s center. Even with all the modern industries, Tangier still has an old medina were artists ply their wares. Leather goods are the specialty along with traditional clothing, shoes, silver crafts and wood items. The entrance gate to the Medina is found near the Great Mosque and it connects with the beaches.

Tangier is a fast growing city population wise. In the last twenty years, population of the city has quadrupled – it now has a population of about 1.8 million.

About SUNGRL

This blog was originally set up to share our 9 month adventure around Europe and the USA with friends and family in 2014. On returning to NZ in January 2015 I decided to carry it on so I could continue to share any future travel adventures - it has become my electronic travel diary. I hope you enjoy and get inspired to visit some of the wonderful places we have visited.
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