That was all I wanted for about the first hour I was in Morocco. Out. If I have ever been that uncomfortable, I don’t remember. I felt so incredibly out of place and like some alien from outer space. Everyone staring at me. Which I didn’t understand because Tangier is a tourist destination. They have to be used to seeing foreign women in their city (i.e. not wearing head coverings, etc.). But they acted like they had never seen one before.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I had to get up early-ish, so I slept most of the ferry ride over. Africa is only 16km from Tarifa, so it was only supposed to take 35 minutes, but I think it took a little longer. We went through immigration before boarding the ferry (yay for a Spain stamp in my passport!), so when it was time to get off in Morocco, I did. I didn’t get very far, though. The Moroccan officer told me that I needed another stamp on the boat. I said I had already gotten a stamp in Tarifa and he said, no on the boat. So I went back on the boat and apologized to the guy. He was very nice and asked me a lot of questions. At first, I thought they were immigration-related questions and felt like I was really being interrogated. But then I realized he was just interested in my story. He kept saying, “you’re on your own? In Morocco?” And I said yes and he said, “do you have a car?” No. So he repeated, you’re on your own? And then looked at my slip and my passport and said, “so you are on your own from America to Spain and now Morocco?” I said I was on my own all throughout Europe and he replied, “you are hero!” Not sure I’d go that far, but it was funny.
So by the time I get back out there, the cars are coming off of the ferry and so I waited briefly and the officer then came over and asked was it all ok? I showed him the stamp and he waved me on. Another officer didn’t see this and immediately came running at me yelling, “passport! Passport!” I was surprised and kind of muttered, I just showed him. When the first officer saw and told the second officer that I was cleared. The second officer apologized and lunged at me to pat my arm in apology.
I was next accosted by an old man asking if I spoke English (mind you, I haven’t even made it to the ferry terminal yet). He then gave me a huge spiel about needing a guide and what was going on in Tangier that day. And then asked if I wanted to see the countryside. I kept saying no, I didn’t want a guide but he was persistent. Even taking “credentials” out of his pocket and repeating that he was an official tour guide. I finally got him to leave me alone and I went through the ferry terminal and through security. I came out of the building and was immediately asked by other men if I needed a taxi. I said no thank you and kept walking.
I was following a young couple that appeared to know what they were doing (and appeared to be local). As we crossed from the ferry side to the city side, another man ran across the street to meet me, again asking to escort me through town. I kept saying no, but he spoke such good English that he just kept walking with me and talking. Unlike with the first guy, I didn’t stop. I kept walking and repeating that I was fine on my own. He kept insisting I needed his help and that it wasn’t his real job, but he just liked practicing his languages. Uh-huh. And then he said that I could pay him $5 at the end if that’s all I wanted to pay him. I kept saying no and he finally went up ahead of me, but he had indicated that the market was that way. I wanted a DC, so I veered from the way he was going and I heard him call out, but pretended not to. There were restaurants and stores along the street, so I looked at them to see if they had DC. The next thing I know, the dude is beside me again. I finally said he should go back to where he started and find someone else because I did not want his help. This did the trick.
But now I was in Tangier without a map or a guide and no idea where I was going. I thought there would have been a tourism office or at least maps at or near the ferry terminal, but there weren’t. I knew that up (literally uphill…Tangier is a city on a hill) went to the market and down went to the water. So I just started walking up. And I was definitely out of my element and out of my comfort zone. I found an alley that had people setting up stalls to sell things (but this was not the main market, the medina) and I stopped at one that was selling beverages. The son spoke English and said they did not have DC so I asked for a water. He looked at this gallon jug of water and he said, what size? I laughed and said, not that big! He opened a refrigerator and grabbed a normal bottle of water. I asked if they accepted Euros, which they did. His father said “50 cents.” It appeared that there wasn’t a set price because he kind of thought about it before answering. But 50 cents? I’ll take it!
I then just kept walking up, up, up. I did not find the medina and was getting nervous. It wasn’t as if I ever really felt physically in danger (as I had to explain to the BF who I had texted how uncomfortable I was when I found wifi), but it’s hard to explain. I did not belong and everyone knew it. Eventually I found other streets with some vendor stalls and an old man said, “good morning.” It was the first time someone had spoken to me without wanting something from me. I feel like I did not respond as well as I should’ve, though I did say good morning in return, because I was so wary of everyone.
Below this area I found a square, so I wandered down there and on the square was a cinema. I thought that was interesting, so I took a photo of it. I then decided to keep going up. I eventually ran into a tour group that I blended in with for a bit before we diverged. Then I found a “normal” (read western-ish) restaurant. I hadn’t eaten and it was almost noon Spanish time, so I went in. And that’s where I found wifi. I had good food and it was clear that I wasn’t in Europe anymore. The meal was a chicken wrap, but unlike any I’ve had before. It came with fries and a “salad.” There was a cucumber slice, three tomato slices, some corn, white rice, three slices of yellow pepper, and some kind of dressing. It was actually quite good! And the fries came with a dish of mayo and something else. Half and half. It wasn’t ketchup and it was BBQ sauce, but it was along those lines. I mixed it up and it was great! The chicken wrap was a thicker tortilla and a two pieces of chicken in a style I more associate with the Middle East. But it was delicious!
I then was able to look up what I was looking for: Grand Socco and the Medina. Turns out I had been there. The square I was in was Grand Socco and the Medina was through a gate in the square. The cinema? Famous. I had no idea! I also read Tangier’s Wikipedia page, which talked a lot about the men that try to scam or con tourists like I had encountered. They are called “touts.” And it said that they will follow you and continue to hound you, then expecting money from you. Unless you firmly tell them to go away. I had. Several times. But I felt so much better about myself after reading that and knowing that I had stood my ground against scammers! I no longer wanted to go sit at the ferry terminal until it was time to go home (a thought I had to keep banishing because I am not a quitter. No matter how uncomfortable I am!)
I followed my memory back to the square and now it was much busier than when I had been there before. Perhaps if it had been busy when I was there the first time I would have realized it was significant. Oh well. I made my way through the gate into the medina, or the souk. That was more like it! Exactly what I had been looking for. I had also read that boys will come up to you and ask if you’re lost, lead you out of it, and then expect to be paid. So I was on alert for that, but for the most part, everyone I met and spoke to in the souk was genuinely nice (and some times funny!). I just walked around at first, taking things in, getting lost in the back alleys and narrow roads. I decided to try some dessert type food (not being brave enough to eat real Moroccan food!). The first thing I had was gross and not really Moroccan. So I threw it away. Then I saw a shop that had round, bread-y things. Not quite a doughnut, but similar. So I bought one. (I had paid for my lunch with Euros, but received Moroccan money as change. I used the only coin I was given for my first purchase and then had several other coins as change.) The man said it was one dirham. I pulled out on the coins and asked, is this one? He smiled and laughed and said yes. He was very nice. And the treat was very tasty. He put sugar on it, too. Definitely doughtnut-like. (I also kept seeing these other bread things…round pieces of bread that almost looked like whole pitas, but decided too late to try one, as I didn’t see anymore stands before I left.)
I then found the butchershop area/building. I am proud of myself for going through it, but holy cow, I think I’m scarred for life. At first it was just whole chickens (sans head) hanging up or hanging over the counter. Ok, I can deal. Lots of olive stands. I’ve never seen so many olives! There were also fruit and veggie stands here (despite also being out in the rest of the market) and flower stands. I then started getting into some of the beef. Seeing raw beef and even ground beef just slopped on the counter was giving me the willies. I then entered an addition to the building that was all seafood. Seriously, it was Pikes Fish Market on crack. Or whatever is worse than crack. It was crazy. All kinds of fish everywhere and in all states of being. There were also boys shelling (is that the right word?) shrimp. Wish more places served shrimp like that (Liz and I had more than our share of shrimp still in their “shell.”). I started taking some photos (and guys were throwing fish at each other, but not like in Seattle). I came to one stand where the guy saw me and gave me a look and a nod at his fish like, hey see?! I realized after the fact that I think he wanted me to take a photo of his fish!
I exited the seafood room onto another hallway of the butchershop building and first thing I saw was a sprice vendor. Piles and piles of spices. The man was talking to a customer or a friend, so I snapped a photo. The friend said hello and asked how I was, so I talked to them briefly. I said, “lots of spices!!” He laughed and agreed. Then I decided it was time to start trying to purchase things. I had Moroccan money burning a hole in my pocket, after all! Many stalls sell the traditional Moroccan shoes I had read about, but decided I didn’t have room to try to purchase any. So I saw the next best thing. Keychains of them! I asked one stall how much and he said 10 dirhams. I thought that was outrageous, but then saw that he had shot glasses, too. So I asked and he said 20 dirhams. I decided this was where I should try to barter, so I offered 15. He said no, it was too nice. So I left.
The next stall had the keychains and again said they were 10 dirhams, but then followed it with, or 1 Euro. I had already been making a move to leave when I heard 10, so I still left, but then realized that those prices were pretty reasonable. But first I went to the pashmina stand I had been eyeing. This is where I met the most colorful character! I started looking at the pashminas that were hanging up high and so he started taking the hangers down (there were several hung on each hanger) and was an overzealous salesman, but in a very friendly way. He took three hangers down and was talking a mile a minute about he would give me a discount if I bought 2-3. I was still looking and hadn’t committed to anything when he told me the price in dirhams, which he said was 13 Euros. Not bad. And if I saw more than one I liked, I would get a discount!
During this exchange he kept telling me how they were two-sided, which made them more expensive, but he had the one-sided less expensive ones as well. So I would look at the scarves on the hanger and find the other side, but he always grabbed them and took them off of the hanger, telling me I couldn’t properly see the colors and designs if I didn’t take them off of the hanger. I told him but then it was ruining his folding. He said, “I do this all day, all day! I am only happy when you are happy!” Then he asked me if I was American or Canadian and when I said American, he, very excitedly, asked “Are you from California??” I laughed and said, “no, I’m not from California!” He then asked where I was from, so I said Minnesota. He got very excited and said, “I have a friend who lives in Minnesota!” I couldn’t help but laugh out loud and I said, “you do not!” He said, “I do! His name is Mike! I’ve known him 35 years! Minnesota, you are by Canada!” Ok…dude that works at a pashmina stand in a souk in Tangier Morocco knows that Minnesota borders Canada, I will believe him that he has a friend Mike who lives in Minnesota!
So before I had even decided to purchase anything, the price lowered to 10 Euro. I’m sure I could’ve used Liz’s negotiation skills and bartered down, but I thought it was a fair enough price, so I took it! He then told the other gentleman working to get me a “pretty bag”, so they put the first plastic bag into a purple bag. And then he tried to get me to go to his brother’s stall. He sells leather goods! As I was “checking out” he told me to come back to Morocco one day. “We are democratic! And good friends!” It was a great time!
So I decided to go back and get that keychain and shot glass from the guy who told me that 10 dirhams equaled one Euro. It was another interesting interaction, as he was a young guy, but spoke less English than my pashmina friend. I forgot what their currency was called, so when I handed him money that required change and he didn’t appear to be giving me change, I was asking what the amount was in “your money”. He thought I was saying “Germany” and I said “your money” and we went back and forth a bit before he realized I was asking about dirhams. We had a good laugh.
I sat out in Grand Socco for awhile taking it all in. It was definitely a unique experience. It was all so chaotic. Narrow roads, cars everywhere, people (pedestrians) everywhere. I would totally have run someone over if I had tried to drive there! It was crazy.
But you know what else was everywhere? CATS. Seriously. Some stray dogs as well, but stray cats everywhere. I took pictures of the first two or three before I started noticing a trend. They were just hanging out, sleeping on the ground wherever. And they were left alone. I don’t know. Are cats to Morocco like cows are to India? It sure seemed like it. It was bizarre.
Eventually I made my way back down to the ferry. I was a little early, but wanted to make sure I had enough time to get down there and I knew I didn’t have time to try to see the Kasbah. Which was a huge bummer, but given the way my day started, I am just happy with what transpired. Having succeeded in the market like I did was worth missing the Kasbah. And who knows. I want to go back to southern Spain (maybe to Algeciras, a larger city between Tarifa and Gibraltar, which I think is less windy!), so maybe I will make it back to Morocco one day!
I relaxed in my room when I got back. I was going to take a nap, but I did that on the ferry. I slept 45 mins before we actually left Morocco! So I just did a bit of relaxing before heading back out to the beach to explore down another coast that I hadn’t explored previously. (Also, on FB, I noted that I was at the southern tip of Spain. Which is true, but Tarifa is also the southernmost tip of Europe. So I’ve been to the westernmost…Aran Islands, and now the southernmost. Must find north and east!) I found a beach bar and decided to have a mojito as the sunset on the beach. It was lovely. But the mojito was brown. It tasted very good and not too different. But it was brown.
Finally, I found some restaurants in the area that I hadn’t previously checked out, so I found one with a yummy looking seafood pasta. So I chose that one. It said it had mussels, clams, prawns, and courgettes. I had no idea what courgettes were and the server could only tell me it was a vegetable. So I went with it. When it came? I was frightened. The prawns were WHOLE!!! Not only in their “shells”, but tentacles and eyes and everything!!! GROSS!!! I picked them all off my plate. I don’t eat things that are looking back at me. So gross. The pasta was small round discs. No idea what kind of pasta it was, but it was very good. As was the rest of it (once I removed the scary prawns, and continued to pick tentacles out of my pasta). When I got home I googled courgette. Zucchini. Well, why didn’t you say so?!?! Ha!
All in all, a great trip to southern Spain. I am sad to be leaving Spain after Barcelona, but I know I will definitely come back!