I had a whole weekend free while I was in Algeciras so I decided to get out of town for a change of scene. Gibraltar would have been too much like being at home so instead I hopped on the boat to Tangiers for my first ever visit to Africa.
There are several ferry operators with sailings at least once an hour. You don’t need to buy tickets from an agent, just go to the main hall of the departure terminal in the port where you’ll see a large LED sign showing all the departure times. Once you’ve chosen your boat you can buy the ticket directly from one of the ferry companies who have their booths in the same hall.
There are two arrival points; new Tangier and old Tangier. If you choose to arrive in old Tangier as I did, your ferry will leave from Tarifa, just down the coast from Algeciras. I went with FRS ferries who advertise their crossing time as only 35mins but the reality was it took one hour on a bus to Tarifa and another hour for the crossing. Total cost about €70 return. You can get your passport stamped by immigration during the crossing. On the way back make sure you get to the terminal good and early as the passport check takes forever and the boat will just leave without you. Also remember Morocco is now one hour behind Spain. It used to be two hours but they changed it a while ago.
In the arrivals hall, there will be a gauntlet of potential guides waiting for you. This is just the beginning of being constantly approached on the street by people touting their services. I’m sure some of them are fine (the ones at the port carry official badges) but I find their ability to state the obvious quite irritating. E.g. ‘It’s the marina’ (while stood on the quayside looking at the boats), or ‘This is the Kasbah’ (while wandering around the stalls) and ‘This is a Riad, a traditional house’ (while relaxing in the hotel I had chosen for that exact reason). The next statement is, ‘You need a guide’, to which my inner response is unprintable.
Not that it’s their fault, just a sign of the economic differences that separate tourists from the third world people whose lives they go to stare at. This is why I usually avoid going to developing countries for holidays.
Maybe you should consider hiring one though just to keep the others away, as well as providing some employment. Personally I was quite happy just wandering around the narrow twisting streets of the Medina (old town) by myself. For me, getting lost and accidentally discovering things can all be part of the fun.
Typically for my luck on my first day in Africa, the May weather was cold and rainy! Not what I expected at all.
This place is one of several Riads in the old town that I wrote to for reservations but the only one that had rooms available a month in advance. The fact that it got fairly good reviews on Trip Advisor (except for a gay couple who were thrown out) and a mention in Lonely Planet boded well.
It’s quite pleasant and clean but not as ornate as you might expect.
The breakfast consists of juice, coffee, crepe and a few buns with jams and they do food in the evenings too. The wi-fi only worked in the bar area and not in my room as advertised.
Life will be a lot easier if you have some ability in French which many local people can speak very well due to the former colonial relationship. The proprietress and other family members don’t seem to like English people however and the junior staff look like scared rabbits whenever they have to deal with you. Friendly is not how I would describe it. The first and last sound you will hear everyday is the owner bellowing at her staff across the distance of several rooms.
I was only here for 24 hours so I didn’t let these things bother me too much. I only wanted to visit the food market, eat a few local delicacies and then get back on the boat. Next time though I’d like to stay here.
First stop was the fish market, a large hall full of shouting men and a few female customers and every kind of fish imaginable. Tangiers is after all on the border between the Atlantic and the Med so the fish must come from both waters. The whole shebang is unrefridgerated so the smell is pretty high but not unbearable.
Narrow low corridors lead off this room into the food market.
The most attractive stalls are the spice merchants with their mini multicoloured mountains of powders, and also the olive sellers with their patchwork displays of dressed and undressed fruit piled high, glistening and vibrant. Sadly I somehow deleted my photos but here are some from the web.
In the aisles and nooks between the stalls are people selling huge piles of herbs (usually coriander and mint) and Berber cheese, a soft, white, spreadable but not particularly pungent fromage, attractively displayed in small bowls on spiky green leaves. My first snack was a whole cheese (B+) with a bun (C) but I gave the cheese to the bun vendor as I couldn’t eat it all.
After the market I made my way to the Petit Socco, a square half way down the hill on Rue Smarine.
There are two famous old establishments, Cafe Tingis and Cafe Central which attract the tourists due to their history if for little else (there are more atmospheric ones elsewhere e.g. the big place on Rue d’Italia).
Still it’s a nice spot to sit outside with a glass of sugary mint tea or a fresh orange juice and watch the world go by.
They sell food too, although I wasn’t too impressed with the Chicken Brochette (small pieces of spiced chicken, grilled on a skewer and served with chips and a brown sauce made with onions) that the Tingis served me (C).
I watched Chelsea beat Bayern in the Champions League final on a big screen in the Central, sandwiched in among lots of passionate local fans without a drop of alcohol in sight.
You can drink here but only at a limited number of restaurants and bars (most of which open for just a few hours from 10). I had the Tanger Inn recommended to me but didn’t have time to go. It’s where Burroughs, Ginsberg and Kerouac used to hang out back in the 50s when Tangiers was a den of debauchery. Times have changed a lot since then, although you can sometimes still smell Kif in the air. I didn’t really fancy trying the night clubs as they are apparently attended only by prostitutes.
Hamadi’s (Advanced B+), Rue de la Kasbah 21
One of the most venerable restaurants in town, it has a colonial atmosphere with formally dressed waiters in period costume.
A band of Berber musicians serenade you throughout the meal.
I started with Harira, a spicy soup made with, amongst other things, chick peas and tiny vermicelli. It was very tasty but it didn’t blow me away (B).
For my main I had the Lamb Tajine, made in a special pot with almonds, dried apricots and prunes. I wasn’t too hot on the prunes but the meat was beautifully tender and very tasty (A-).
France has spread its viticulture to several of its former colonies and, going on the great wine I had in Viet Nam, I took a gamble on a bottle of Medallion Cabernet Sauvignon, the ‘best’ and most expensive Moroccan wine on the list at 210 dirhams. It was actually pretty good (B) and tasted nice till the end of the bottle.
I wish I had room to try some of the well reputed local pastries with some more mint tea, but I just didn’t have space. It was pretty fortunate that I didn’t because the card machine wasn’t working and I only just had enough cash to cover the meal.
I also wish I’d had the time, and the stomach capacity, to try other local delicacies like Pastille (pigeon pie), that I’d never eaten before, as well as staples such as Couscous. It was a good little trip but I was glad to get on the boat back to Spain.