Friday, October 09, 2009

Day 2, Part 2 - Tangier, Tangiers, Tanger

We arrived in Tangier at about 9:30 on Sunday (passports in hand).
Land Ho

I read that tour guides will bombard you as you leave the ferry & not all of them are legitimate, so I arranged for a guide before we left the States. He reserved our ferry tickets & met us after we landed. There didn't seem to be too many would-be guides waiting. We were asked politely by one man if we needed a guide, but he left us alone once we said we had a guide. The only surprise with our reserved guide was that (unlike our prior conversations), we discovered it was not a private tour. Three other gentlemen were with us on the tour. Luckily for us, they were very nice & well-traveled & we enjoyed hearing their stories. Can't be sure that they felt so lucky.

Saudi residence

The first part of our tour was a driving tour through the ritzy part of Morocco where the King's mother lives & various wealthy oil magnates have second homes. Because Tanger is such a forgiving city, many wealthy Muslims like to vacation where the religious rules aren't quite so strictly enforced. We didn't see many Western tourists (the recession impacted tourism this year), but we did see several gay couples & the tour guide said that Morocco is very open & welcoming to all visitors. In fact, despite a ban on alcohol for Muslims, we were served wine at lunch (during Ramadan no less).

Where Africa Meets Europe

After the home tours, we stopped to see where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea. With 3500 km of coastline, Morocco is a beach lover's dream. The local culture really isn't into spending time sunbathing, so the beaches are largely deserted. The current King is very contemporary & savvy, I wouldn't be surprised if he starts planning resorts on the beach to attract Western tourists.
Working for a Living

After the scenic view, we headed to a tourist trap - the camel rides. But for $3, who could resist (besides Cecilia)? It was a short ride, but perfect. Just a little different from riding a horse.
Cheesy Tourists

What would you do for these lashes?
Not Just Another Pretty Face

After the dromedaries, it was off to the Caves of Hercules (you know, where he used to nap). The caves are part natural, part man-made. The man-made portions are evident from the carved out millstones (see above Nick & Cecilia's head).

Inside, the caves make a reverse silhouette of Africa (naturally). In the summer, the sunsets through this window are beautiful.

I was the one in our group pushing for the Morocco trip. After Cecilia & Ross decided to join us, I started to panic about several things - including whether pregnant Cecilia would have to use bathrooms a little more primitive than she is used to. Not to worry, after the caves, our tour guide took us on a rather extended visit to a lovely hotel.
Le Mirage

The hotel shares a private beach with the King's Summer residence. You can see the green patch of his helicopter pad in this picture.
Serenity Now

After the tour guide was done networking, we headed back into the city. Construction was booming in Tanger. Look at how they do their framing.
No Wood Frames

Friday is the Holy Day in Morocco. So Sunday, is get ready for the week day. The Berber Women come to market to sell their produce on Sundays. I would have loved to have photographed every aspect of these women - but they, like many Moroccans, don't enjoy having their picture taken. So, my photos are from afar. The Berbers speak their own dialect that is different from Arabic.
Berber Souk

Next, we walked through the fish market. Oh, to live close to an ocean! The fish market was full of men - I don't think I saw one woman inside. There were a few women in the other marketplace, but not many. And, all were in traditional dress.

Isn't this mint divine?
Among the items I wanted to bring home were these grain bags. Jessica loves them & I thought she would have fun trying to create something with them. But, I spoke up too late (the guide thought it was a weird request) & we only found one before it was time to go.

Arabic Script
After the market, we took a quick tour around the Christian church built in Moorish style.
In Moroccan culture, men and women do not socialize in public & many still have arranged marriages. The predominant (only?) religion is Islam. Though, we passed at least one synagogue (the Jews were expelled from Spain in the 1400's) and Christian churches from the French. We heard the (live) e hear the adhan or call to prayer five times - a clockwork reminder of religion, shared by an entire community. The chosen person who leads the call to prayer (muezzin) may be saying phrases similar to:
  • God is great.
  • I witness that there is no god but God.
  • I witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
  • Rise up for prayer.
  • Rise up for salvation.
  • God is great.
  • There is no god but God.
Repeated a number of different times. The prayer is performed facing East. Many people will carry their own prayer rug with them. Before the call to prayer, there is a bustle of activity near mosques. But, often people will "catch up" on a missed call to prayer on their own time.


Then, it was off to the Grand Socco - the hub of town - where our guide got his shoes polished.
Grand Socco

Then, into the medina - but no shopping yet (poor Cecilia & I were tortured & only given a very short window to shop). Before I left, I traced the kids feet & brought back slippers for them.

The medina was like most market places - lots of narrow pedestrian streets with many little shops. Some of the shops (like tailor's) were in rooms that looked more like closets. Scenes from the Bourne Identity were filmed in this area - something we were reminded of several times on the trip! One of the most unusual things were saw were young boys spinning silk threads. It reminded our travel companions of their days kite running in India. These remnants were all over town.

After what seemed like hours walking (uphill!) toward the Kasbah, we had lunch. It was Ramadan which means the Muslims don't eat between sunrise & sunset. Many restaurants close for the season. But, since no one in the group was Muslim, they were kind enough to feed us. Our tour guide answered a call to prayer during lunch rather than sit & watch us eat. A traditional Ramadan soup is Hairira (ours did not have meat). It was very good - all of lunch was amazing. In fact, it was Cecilia's (the pickiest eater in the bunch) favorite meal.

The soup is paired with shebekia - a special sweet for Ramadan.

The incredibly filling lunch was capped off with traditional mint tea - yum!
Mint Tea

After that filling lunch, we waddled through the medina & saw a community oven. The stores sold little designs "stamps" for marking your loaves of bread (for identification afterward).
Community Oven
Our new friends were dropped off at their hotel & took us to the roof for a great view of the city.
The port is very busy with cruise ships and ferries from all over.
Our group mentioned they were interested in seeing the local rugs, so off we went to an effective sales pitch. Just say no if you don't want to go home with an expensive rug. They don't let you browse in the rug shop - they are focused on the art of closing.
Fancy Moroccan Rugs
From what I read, I expected to be harassed by vendors (like you see in other countries). We were actually pestered by vendors more at dinner in Fuengirola (people came up to our table while eating trying to sell us DVD's & jewelry), Marbella (lots of African men selling all sorts of black market goods) & Granada (the Roma - yikes!) than we were in Tanger.
I also expected to receive stares since we were not dressed as conservatively as the local women. No one paid any attention to us - unless they were trying to sell us something. Even then, the salespeople were persistent, but polite. We would have been perfectly comfortable without a guide, but I felt like we received a lot of insight into the culture with his help.
The only downside to the day? We did not have enough time to shop. Cecilia & I would have loved 2 hours to just look at everything. Not that there was that much we wanted to buy - but to soak the experience in. The boys were ready to go after our late lunch.
What we bought: heirlooms (aka rugs we didn't need), traditional Moroccan shirts, saffron, cinnamon, slippers, touristy dolls, grapes, hats for the kids.
What we would do with 2 more hours: wander & shop!
Given this little taste of North Africa, I hope one day to get to explore other cities in the country.
Ok, actually, two downsides to the day. We were dropped off a bit after 5 for the 7 pm ferry. However, there is no 7 pm ferry during Ramadan so everyone has to eat. So, it was 8:30 before we left Morocco.
But, despite that, we were all pleased with our introductory visit to Africa. If you want to see the full set of pictures from Morocco, check out my flickr pics HERE. Warning - make sure you have a comfortable chair before getting started. I think this is the biggest set from the trip.

1 comment:

Poozoe said...