Day 20 - off to Tangier, Morocco !

Trip Start Jul 21, 2010
Trip End Aug 26, 2010

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Today we take our first excursion on Spain's bus lines. They are a very popular mode of transportation and fairly easy to navigate. ... A couple of nights ago, Janice and I went out for a night on the town and walked to the bus station in the center of Torremolino and discovered it was quite a walk. So today, we decide to pack up for our 3 day trip, hop on the train near our apartment north towards Malaga, and catch a direct bus to Tarifa ... where we catch a ferry over to Tangier, Morocco. (phew!)

My dad has connected us with a new friend of his, David, a man who has deep roots in Tanger. Five generations+ back! ... A jewish man (one of 60 in Tangier's population of 2 MILLION PEOPLE!), who is very fond of my father and Marita. ... He meets us inside of the customs control (nobody is allowed in there, but he KNOWS PEOPLE) and waves to us as we disembark from the boat. He is wearing a crisp, clean white hat and is easy to spot amongst his Arab countryman. He takes the lead straight away, welcomes us with hugs and kisses, and directs us to his car ... waiting just beyond the customs center. As we hop in and head towards the hotel, David takes a turn up through the center of town and we collapse in to bumper to bumper traffic. As it turns out, our trip to Morocco comes just as the Muslim country is celebrating Ramadan, an annual holy time celebrated by Muslims around the world ... ... ... marked by fasting from sunrise to sunset which changes the entire landscape of the country. In this case, its resulted in the fasting population coming to life as the time for breaking the fast is nearing. People are walking every which way to get groceries and goods for tonights post-fast feast! ... It also means that the streets are packed with pedestreans with no respect for traffic whatsoever, much to the chagrin of our host! He yells and honks at every person who cuts him off ... it was nearly comical. :) ... but as soon as the traffic breaks, so does the tension in the car and we are on our way! ...

We are DEFINATELY in a different country. A different WORLD it seems. This is my first visit to an arab country, a muslim country ... and even though it is absolutely the most moderate of the arab countries (along with Turkey) ... everywhere we go, we draw stares from the locals who are dressed head to toe in the traditional Muslim garb. Its a trip. Here we are, obviously American. Being led around by a powerful Jewish man ... amongst a population of mostly poor, arab, Muslim people. Its not an unsafe feeling that I sense. Just an extreme sense of not belonging. ... As it turns out, we have nothing but pleasant interactions with every local we connect with (with the exception of constantly having to work around the seemingly unsatiable urge the locals have to rip off tourists by charging double the going rate ... grrrr ... very frustrating!) ... ... Thankfully, David is there to make sure we don't get charged a penny more than we ought to be, and he guides us to honest, high quality vendors that he knows personally.

After ten minutes of driving, we pass a small market and David asks if we want to take a peek ... "YES!" I reply ... and so he parks, we hop out, and trek in to the local farmers market just as its shutting down. We stick out like a sore thumb ... but find our way to the most amazing olive stand that has ever existed in the entire history of the universe i swear on all that is good and holy. Seriously, DROOL. ... ... With what seems like a thousand suspicious eyes upon us, I'm hesitant to take out the camera like I normally do, but here, I make an exception. Had to document it for memory's sake.  We bought a couple of pounds of olives ... well, let me be accurate here ... DAVID bought them for us. (he turns out to be ridiculously generous, buying us olives, lunch, dinner, and giving us gifts of home made fruit jams on our departure!!) ....

Next, we head to the International Hotel situated just across the street from David's home. They know him by name and greet us all at the door and show us to the room where we relax for an hour or so, eating olives and fresh fruit brought to us VIP style by the hotel management as David's guests. Its great, friendly service ... and it definately pays to be David's friends. Anybody knows that we are his guests seem to go the extra mile in taking care of us. The hotel itself is 8 floors tall, has a beautiful pool (that the kids eventually convince us to let them swim in with their regular clothes since we didn't bring their bathing suits on this trip) ... and has a restaurant, a lounge, a workout center, and free internet (for us anyhow!) .... .... Its funny, since we were going as David's guests, we had no idea what hotel we'd stay at, so we didn't know what to put on the customs forms upon our arrival. Here we were, with no cell phone, no local dirhams (money), and no idea where our reservations were for ... just a name, David, a man we'd recognize at the dock with a white hat ... .... ... and yet, it all worked out great!

An hour later, David comes and gets us and we pile in his car for a trip to a nearby favorite restaurnt. However, at 8:30pm, the place is dead quiet. When the city celebrates Ramadan, the general course of events is a slow, tired population/city during the day ... then everybody goes nuts around 5:30/6pm to get food, then REALLY nuts in the streets getting home for the 7:30pm sharp prayers and feast ... and then around 9 or 9:30pm, after eating a ton, they head out for tea and coffee (well, at least, the men do) ... which means, at 8:30pm, NOBODY is in the place. David talks to them and the open up just for us! .... 

Apparently the owner started as a busboy for a neighboring restaurant, then bought his own place, then his own fishing boat, then another ... and now serves the daily catch in his shop and sells the unused portion to the neighboring restaurant the NEXT DAY! Ha! ... only with David would we know which place to go for the freshest, bestest stuff. And it was THE BOMB. Particularly good was the special Moroccan dipping sauce, and this herb coated, fried sardine dish. SOOOoooo good. Loving it. David treating us all on the dinner tab ... EVEN BETTER!  Double Ha! :)

Back to the hotel ... we are EXHAUSTED. We didn't realize it in planning our visit, ... we gained two hours in the day by coming here, which means by the time we hit the hay around midnight, its actually 2am. A long day indeed. (the first of many!)
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