In January 2009 we were in Torremolinos for three weeks of the Classic Costa del Sol tour. We took an overnight excursion to Tangiers. It was certainly not the same as the optional tour offered on the current Spain and Portugal tour, but, for what it's worth, the following is an excerpt from my journal covering the two days in tangiers:
About a two hour bus ride from Torremolinos, beyond Gibraltar, is the village of Tarifa. I’m not sure what else Tarifa is noted for, but it is the point in Spain that is closest to Africa. That makes it a perfect port from which to take a ferry to Tangiers, and Morocco. It takes about 40 minutes to cross the Strait of Gibraltar.
Although it is an automobile ferry, and might have accommodated our bus, the bus did not go with us. We rode the ferry as passengers and were met by another bus in Tangiers. The passenger accommodations were kind of like an airplane except much larger and more comfortable. Incidentally, we normally spell the name of the city T-A-N-G-I-E-R-S. In Spanish they leave out the I and the S. It becomes T-A-N-G-E-R, like the new outlet mall in Washington (Pennsylvania). But it is still pronounced Tan – GEER, not TANG – er, as the people around here prefer to call the mall.
Tangiers has a population of about 700,000 and is, I believe, the fourth largest city in Morocco. Rabat, Casablanca, and Fes are larger. It is at the far northwest corner of Africa. It is outside the Strait of Gibraltar, so it actually faces the Atlantic Ocean rather than the Mediterranean Sea. The population is largely Arabic and Berber, and the religion is almost all Islam. But there is a strong Spanish influence, and a surprisingly strong English influence in the city. It was, for many years, an international city, not belonging to any one country but administered by a consortium of several European countries.
You no doubt have heard the expression, “Come with me to the Kasbah.” Most of us probably have the wrong image in mind when we hear the word, Kasbah. The Kasbah is a hilltop fortress that was the dwelling place for the more elite members of the society of the city. Every North African city has a Kasbah. It is still occupied by families, now perhaps not quite so elite. If you had to live in the city of Tangiers, however, you’d probably want to live in the Kasbah.
As we were waiting our turn to tour a local bakery, some neighborhood residents lined up to entertain us. As with children everywhere, they were very curious, and almost terminally cute. They are trained in the ways of tourists. When the picture taking was over the hands came out for some coins. But they were polite and not at all forceful about it, unlike some of the adult vendors we later encountered.
The baker bakes bread and other pastries in an open, wood-fired oven. We stood at a level about five steps below the street level. He was in the pit in front of the oven from which he does his work. The routine seems to be like this: The lady of the house prepares her dough at home and brings it to him. He bakes it and then the lady returns later in the day to pick it up. The baker does not prepare any dough himself. All he does is bake it.
As tourists, we had to be entertained by the local snake charmer. I don’t think I would turn my back on the cobra the way the charmer did, but the cobra was rather docile. Of course it was rather chilly when we were there, so the snake was not very active. The charmer had to harass the snake a lot to get him (or her; only another cobra would know for sure) to spread his hood.
Our friend, Marty, got to wear the cobra around his neck. Well, I’m not sure it really was the cobra, but it surely was a snake.
Our tour guide had a helper. He would run ahead to get things prepared and then bring up the rear to see that everybody stayed together. We never learned his name, and Mary called him “the Gofer.” As we were handing out the tips and getting on the bus, I asked Antonio, our Program Director, about the fellow. Antonio’s reply was, “Oh, he’s the gofer.”
Our trip to Morocco was an overnight trip, and we checked into our hotel about noon. I’ll have more to say about the hotel later. But in late afternoon we went southwest along the Atlantic to the village of Asilah. We did a walking tour of the town and visited a few scenic spots.
Then we went for a home hosted dinner. I don’t recall the name of our host. He was definitely upper-middle class for that area. It might surprise some retired school teachers, but his job was high school chemistry teacher. His income put him in the top 20%, or so, economically. We were served a delicious meal by the gentleman. It was prepared by his wife, but his wife and son did not join us until after the meal was over. I don’t recall exactly what we ate, but it was all very good.
We entered the house through a locked gate into a small courtyard, and then through another locked door into the dining room. But we did not eat in the dining room. We left our coats and shoes in the dining room and went into the living room to gather around a small, round table for the meal. The whole house was tiled, floors and walls, and I assume ceilings, but I really didn’t notice. But the living room had a rug on the tile floor, and I assume that is why we removed our shoes.
The wife and son did not talk, but she had an album of their wedding pictures which she showed us. It was an elaborate wedding. As part of her wedding attire she was covered in henna tattoos. She had them on her hands and arms, her feet and legs, and her face. They said they last about a month.
As part of our tour we went to Cape Spartel. It is the extreme northwestern corner of the African continent. Mary and I like to take pictures of lighthouses, and I think that was our first African lighthouse.
The central square in Tangiers was the entrance to the Medina. If the Kasbah is the protected dwelling place, the Medina is the somewhat less protected market place. We went there to observe the souk (suq), or market, and to have lunch.
One of our first stops was the spice merchant. We saw the spices and some of the pottery associated with spices. It was all for sale, but we didn’t buy. One shop that appealed a lot to me was the olive market. They had a lot of different varieties of olives and hundreds of pounds of each. The butcher shop was a lot less appealing, but just as interesting. While the Souk is a tourist attraction, it is the primary source of food and other materials for the people who live in the center of Tangiers. In the suburbs they have shopping malls and supermarkets that we would all feel more comfortable with.
We were greeted at our hotel by a very small band – two members. And they were not too melodic. But their uniforms were impressive. Our tour bus got right close (about 5 feet) to the front door of the hotel. At lunch in the hotel we were entertained by a slightly larger and slightly more melodic band. The violin player held his instrument in his lap as he was playing. If they have been playing since they were children, they have had a lot of practice.
Our other Moroccan lunch was at a restaurant in the Souk. It was a very comfortable location and the food was quite good. We were even entertained by a belly dancer. She was not the exact image that comes to mind when you think of belly dancer, but she was what we got and she was talented. The band at that restaurant was even larger and significantly more melodic. In fact, those guys were pretty good.