Our cargo ferry pulled alongside a hillside arabic sign on the coast of Morocco. After much Googling we still don’t know what it says and can’t find any information on it at all, which seems rather odd. We had arrived ahead of schedule but Marco’s expression didn’t look good. “We’re at the wrong port” he said. He had accidentally booked a ferry to Tangier Med 50km away from our intended destination, Tangier. Tangier Med is a huge cargo port in the middle of nowhere. It’s the biggest port in Africa and connects 186 ports worldwide. It was jaw-dropping.
We panicked as we were stranded in rural Morocco with no local currency, no euros and no phone coverage. The sun was setting fast. We went to the information kiosk and was told to wait for the bus outside. Outside the station was full of people all waiting for one bus. Surely we were not all going to fit. “How often is the bus?” we asked. “Just wait and the bus will come” the lady at the information kiosk replied. It was all a bit chaotic. Young lads were sat on the roof of the toilet block and kept climbing over the wire fence and pestering people waiting. They were definitely up to no good.
There was a lot of security guards but the number of young men were far greater. It was all a bit sketchy so we decided to bite the bullet and pay for a taxi knowing we would be paying well over the odds. The lady at the information kiosk told us that fares are displayed on a sign outside which we though was fantastic as we all know how tourists can get ripped off. The price was 250MAD which increased to 350MAD after 9pm. It was 8:30pm. We were charged 350MAD even though we debated and pointed to the price before 9pm. We weren’t really in a position to argue.
It took just under an hour to reach Tangier. The city was hectic with people everywhere. A young boy flagged down our taxi and stated talking to the driver. We felt a little scared. He knew some English and explained that we must get out and walk as the taxi driver wasn’t from the area and didn’t know where our Air BnB was. Luckily Marco is fluent in Spanish, French and English so he was able to stand his ground and make the taxi driver drop us to the door. The second language in Tangier is French and the third, Spanish so Marco came in rather handy. He showed the driver where we needed to go on the map and the boy took his phone through the window to have a closer look. I was pretty certain Marco wouldn’t be seeing his phone again. Luckily, I was wrong.
We finally arrived at our Air BnB, a beautiful grand house owned by a French women who taught at a local French school. Exhausted, we dumped our bags and went to explore the Medina (old town). It was 10pm and I was rather hungry unlike Marco who is used to eating “Spanish time” (very late). Dinner was at Hassan’s, a no-fuss local joint recommended by our host. I had vegetable tagine. Our table seemed to double as a kitchen work top with waiters using it to cut bread and organise napkins. Dinner for two with soft drinks cost £7.
We walked around the market which was closing for the day. It was 11pm. I excitedly spotted some fantastic looking fruit stands but on closer inspection saw cats sat amongst the fruit. Blur. We found the best baklava ever down a small alleyway. Emerging from the baklava place we saw a man with a pet eagle on a stand. He wasn’t asking for money he was simply giving his eagle some fresh air. As we went back to our house Marco mistook the neighbours door for ours and walked in someone else’s house. There was a group of men outside who laughed at him and signalled to him that he was at the wrong door.
Breakfast was served on the roof terrace over looking the city. To accompany our fresh strawberries we had four types of Moroccan bread. Wanting to try them all I’m pretty sure we must have been her only guests who managed to eat the entire selection. After breakfast we took a bus to the suburbs to take a walk in the countryside. We felt a bit unsafe especially when an angry looking man approached the bus as were were just about to disembark in the middle of no where. It turned out he was just picking his wife up who was on the same bus and he was angry because she was late. He had a wheelbarrow with him to transport her bags.
It was a beautiful peaceful walk along the coast. Military camps were set up every couple of km, presumably to watch the waters. We came across a farmer with a group of about 30 goats and sheep. Marco goes mad for cute baby animals so we ended up watching them for about 20 minutes. They were such funny animals to watch, the males goats so horny!
In total we covered 10km around Cap Spartel. We walked along Achakkar beach with our toes in the sand and saw some camels, probably for tourists to ride. Tourists here are mainly Moroccans from bigger cities like Rabat and Marrakesh. We stumbled upon an abandoned resort which had a spooky feel about it. Hitching our leg over the barbed wire we went in and took a look around. It was fascinating and part of us wondered whether it had ever actually opened. Extensive Google search found absolutely no information. It was as if it never existed.
We walked around the Caves of Hercules which were free to go inside. Nothing mind-blowing but they are worth a visit if in the area. We still had a lot we wanted to get done that day and sunset was approaching so we decided to get a taxi back to town as the bus was at least a 5km walk away. Carlos bartered with them in French and got the price down by 70MAD. It was strange, but nice, to see all the taxi drivers coming together to make sure they got a good price and then taking it in turns to have the business. One thing I’ve noticed in Morocco (and the south of Spain too) is the bond between locals. People see each other as partners as opposed to competitors in business.
The taxi ride back was even more interesting that the bus ride there. The local taxi driver took us through the back streets and we were able to see the sheer enormity of Tangier and what reminded me a lot of Rio’s Favelas (slums). The previous bus ride took us past some impressive mansions including the royal palace, home of King Muhammad VI. The contrast between rich and poor in Tangier is phenomenal. Our French host said this has lessened in recent years with a middle-class emerging but in my eyes it was still extreme. Nearly 1 million people live in Tangier and that day I realised the city’s true size.
Unfortunately there was a problem with the booking system so we were unable to stay with our host a second night. On our way out we went for a coffee and a selection of bite-sized local cakes. A small bottle of water is given free with every coffee in every cafe, something which wasn’t offered when Marco last visited 4 years ago. Milk is poured onto black coffee by the waiter upon serving.
We moved to Hotel Rembrandt outside of the old city which was nice enough and led us to meeting some rather amusing characters. “See you later” we’d say to the old man on reception as we went out. He would reply “alligator” every time. A maid walked in on Marco laying on the bed wearing nothing but his super tight boxers. They had a conversation in French and she definitely over stayed what was considered normal when accidentally walking in to a room she thought was empty. Luckily I was in the shower when this awkward situation occurred.
Cafe Hafa is the local spot for an evening drink. The simple but very large “bar” is perched on a cliff over looking the sea. Young men walk around serving mint tea and a couple of local snacks like bread and nuts. If you wanted something else then forget it. The place was packed with locals enjoying a tea and a chat.
For dinner Marco took me to a swanky restaurant called Le Nabab which he had visited before. We enjoyed traditional dishes like lamb tagine with prunes and pastilla; a sweet/savoury pastry pie with cinnamon, sugar and chicken. Afterwards we found a rooftop restaurant which we were lucky enough to have all to ourselves. We enjoyed a mint tea and some local pastries gazing at the city lights below.
Before going back to the hotel we took a walk around the old town and were surprised at how safe we felt. It’s amazing how much you grow to trust a place and its people after just a day. The bottle of local Moroccan wine we had just had may have had something to do with it too. It was the first alcohol we had seen on the menu in 48 hours so we had to indulge.
The next morning we took it easy as it was raining, probably the only time it had rained in Tangier for months. We had 350MAD left in cash after the ATM would only allow us to take out 500MAD despite asking to withdraw 300MAD. We made a mad dash around the local market trying to spend our cash before our ferry left in a couple of hours. We spent over 30 minutes getting lost trying to find the place where I had the best baklava of my life. I was beginning to give up but Marco had an “instinct” and he was able to lead us to the tiny alleyway where the shop was hidden.
We were about to spend our last coins and chose two coffee cups, a mini tagine pot and a couple of postcards. We were counting out our coins and realised we were 4MAD short (32p) thanks to Marco misplacing the 10MAD note we had. Marco asked the shop owner if he would take all we had as we were buying a few items and only 4MAD short. The shop owner made some very bizarre expressions with his hand, scrunched up a piece of paper and threw it on the floor, shouted some things in Moroccan and said “bye bye” and signalled for us to leave his shop. We were flabbergasted! We thought bartering and getting a little discount on a bulk buy was the normal thing to do at markets. We were obviously wrong. We spent our money on medjool dates instead.
Our ferry was delayed 30 minutes but that was ok. At least we knew we were going to the correct place this time. We took the fast boat back to Tarifa in Spain to continue the rest of our trip. Morocco exceeded my expectations. The food was good, the sense of community strong and the architecture, simply stunning. I would definitely return. Now back to Spain for the last part of our travels….