Side-trek to Tangiers

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Flag of Morocco  ,
Monday, July 16, 2007

As mentioned in passing last entry, the large Moroccan city of Tangiers is just a short (35 min) ferry ride from Tarifa and the southern tip Spain. Which makes it very handy to access quickly and cheaply from Europe, for a short visit or longer stays either backpacking or car touring. Very handy indeed. So, feeling rather more up for it than the day before in Gibraltar, Alex and I decided a day-long adventure across the Straits was in order.

For a while it looked like it was going to be a pretty short trip. Alex had forgot to renew his British passport before going on holiday and for some reason the clowns at Heathrow immigration had to forgot to stamp his Aussie passport with an EU entry stamp on arrival. Which meant the Spanish authorities considered him technically illegal and were most reluctant to let him leave the EU without it. They eventually gave in but also promised that it wouldn't be easy to return in future. Still, we were now aboard the jet-cat and on our way - we'd worry about immigration discrepancies and possible detention later on.

Not long after we were disembarking and making our way into the city centre, which comprises numerous European 'quarters' dating from when Tangiers was an open, international city. All the major powers of the time had their own sector up until independence in 1955, and from the French deco architecture it looked like it would have been one cosmopolitan, swingin' town in the first half of the 20th century. Now they're trying to regain some of their former glory by hosting an Internation Expo in 2012 - every billboard and building is advertising it - but it was the (English) St George's flag atop a quite Christian looking church that summed it up recent history around here for me.

The town square is a pretty groovy jumble of Moorish architecture and giant palms, and the gateway where King Mohammad V announced independence sits off to one side, near the entry to the maze-like Casbah at the square's lower end. There is also what seems like kilometres of wide, sandy and very popular beach very close to the centre of Tangier which would make light work of the sweltering summer heat. Nice town planning guys!

Plunging into the souk brought back familiar memories of markets in far-off places like Egypt and Syria. Thinking back, it's surprising how similar these geographically dispersed places are. Olives seem to be big business here, as are strange melons and a variety of meats and poultry that hang around in the breeze waiting for trade. The poor turtles were less popular but we resisted the urge to justify the rustler's existence selling them. Bad tourist, bad!

After witnessing the source of 'fresh' meat, to enter a restaurant for lunch was more than a little disconcerting. Still, the chow was grand and served in multiple courses under some of the most elaborate lanterns imaginable. The beer went down well and my love of cous cous was rekindled during one of the heartier meals I've had in the region, which was a result for all involved.

A visit to a couple of spice and rug shops is pretty much obligatory on these tours but it was amusing to watch the gay couple in the group test their negotiating skills against seasoned professionals in the carpet store. Trippy tiles on the store wall were great too. More compelling however was a final wander through the narrow, shadowy lane-ways of the casbah with its steep stairways, overhanging buildings and huge, iron-banded doorways hiding all sorts of arcanum and mystery.

We couldn't get a beer or a G&T at our last stop, the grand hilltop Continental Hotel, but resting on the large shaded patio overlooking the port and city was a nice way to finish off the day.

There's not a lot to do in Tangier really, but it would be quite a nice place to live, and it's a good port of entry to go exploring other, more captivating parts of the country like the Atlas mountains or Fez and Marrakesh. A return visit for those one day I reckon - even Karen is talking about a holiday to Morocco sometime soon!

Epilogue: apart from a long queue as hundreds of non-EU visitors surged the immigration counter, Alex experienced no problems returning to Spain. The officer stamping passports forgot to stamp his again, so for the rest of his time in Spain and the UK, he was an illegal immigrant as well.

Eventually he made it back to Australia, so it's as though he never visited at all...
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