**I don’t have as many photos as usual, perhaps because I was out of my comfort zone**
We woke really early, around 5 AM. We were dressed and ready within close to 30 minutes, and headed down to the garage. I was driving that morning. We were headed south two hours and fifteen minutes to the port town Tarifa, and wanted to catch the 9 AM ferry to Tangier, Morocco with time to spare. The drive was fairly easy as we followed the directions on our phone. Thankfully, we made it there without any issues.
The sun was finally up, and we were starting to gain some energy as we parked our Alfa Romeo in the paid parking just outside the terminal. We walked in to buy our tickets which took no longer than 10 minutes. We purchased the 9AM ticket with an open return time that evening, which was convenient because it meant we could take our time. From the ticket counter, we headed toward the cafe where we were able to grab our tea & coffee and a couple of pastries before boarding. Slowly, but surely, we were getting more and more excited.
The time finally came to board the ferry. Once we were on, we realized that we needed to line up to get our passports stamped since we were technically leaving the country. We made our way from the back of the boat to the front as they processed each person quickly. With our newest stamps added to our passports, we grabbed a couple of seats next to the window, towards the back of the boat. We laughed and had a great time talking and bonding as the boat began its crossing of the Straight of Gibraltar. The ride was a little over an hour, and fairly smooth. The boat did rock a little, and there were some Islamic women dressed in their traditional veils that were struggling. One of them was vomiting into the nearby trash can, and the other sat there with her eyes closed trying her hardest to hold it together, as one of her children was climbing all over her lap, and her other sat right next to her. Another little American girl, who was traveling with her parents and her little brother (who was passed out on the bench without a care in the world) was crying from sea sickness & her mom spent much of the ride with her in the bathroom. It was all hard to watch, and I was definitely feeling for them, as well. It brought me back to Cancun from the year prior when we were doing our Scuba training. We encountered some rough waters there, and i just didn’t know if I would be able to finish the day.
Finally, we arrived in Tangier all intact, with some others weighing a little bit less. We headed through customs which was effortless, a quick glance and a stamp and we were through. As we emerged from the building, it was very cold & there was a very light rain beginning to ensue. Suddenly, Morocco didn’t seem like the greatest idea, especially as we began being hounded by the local taxi drivers trying to give us a ride. We did our best to shoo them away in foreign languages… Our goal was to not let the locals know that we were American, but that didn’t last long. haha. The locals wore us down, after turning down several drivers, we had one that approached us & made us an offer than seemed reasonable, especially because my sister seemed uncertain about which direction we should be heading & didn’t want to take any risks. We told our driver, after agreeing on a price, that we wanted to head near the Medina.
As we road along in the back seat, discretely counting out our Euros to pay with, our driver repeatedly offered us the scenic city tour. We on the other hand, continually turned him down. Once we were in the vicinity of the Medina, he made his offer one more time. Upon our refusal he stopped the car so we could get out, and threw his hands up in the air in his frustration. At this point, we were a little overwhelmed and completely out of our comfort zone.
We wanted to grab breakfast & found a small cafe just in front of us. I don’t recall the name, but I remember the way it felt when we walked in. It was a building full of Moroccan men who stared at us so intently as we walked through, it was almost as if you could feel their eyes piercingly judging us wild American woman (who were modestly dressed). The man working there led us to a table in the back of the building on an screened in patio. We were inhaling the strong smell of the cigarette smoke from the Europeans just one table over. The menu was in Arabic & English, but didn’t seem completely clear. We went with the first option since it seemed the safest for breakfast. Upon arrival we were pleasantly surprised. It was toast with goat cheese & honey, olives ,and their mint tea which is very sweet and delicious! We ate all that we could, and did our best to drink up our tea that seemed to be made of pure sugar. Our breakfast maybe costs us a couple US dollars, which was incredibly exciting. We made our payment & headed to use the restrooms, which were fairly sketch. The man who tended them was very kind & attentive in getting us tissue to dry our hands.
From here we headed out in search of the Medina. We began our way through a calm area, and up a large hill. We had a man following us, continually offering us a tour, but we learned that it was important to try to avoid the locals offering tours because you can unintentionally end up in a dangerous situation. We did our best to shake him off which was incredibly difficult and somewhat unnerving, but it eventually worked. TIP: The people there are incredibly persistent, and it can be very exhausting. You just have to stand your ground & be aware of your surroundings. We tried to laugh these situation off and not let them overwhelm us too much.
We officially had escaped 2 people trying to wear us down into their overpriced tour that could possibly turn into a robbery (you never know over there) and we were now trying to find the Medina. Little did we know, we were inside, and at the very top. We wandered around a bit, and found ourselves near a couple of small shops in the street markets. They had opened earlier than the rest, and the owners were very pleasant and polite, and just wanted to show us their items for sale. We looked briefly, but wanted to continue on our way since they didn’t really have what we were looking for: POTTERY!
From here we began wandering the streets in all directions… We took in the beautiful views overlooking the ocean, and we wandered the markets. We both wanted to pick up some artwork while we were there, and found some in one of the shops. We also found a sweet little vase to bring back for our mom. However, once we were ready to make our transaction, the shop owner told us that our total was going to be 90 USD (881 Moroccan Dirham) for a small vase and 3 small paintings. We were taken aback by the high price, and we didn’t know who should take the lead on the negotiating, so naturally we panicked. We decided to create a diversion, because we knew we were getting “scammed”. This was our first attempt at purchasing stuff here, and we didn’t know what to do. haha. We decided that we needed to go to the ATM. The shop owner instructed his son to guide us. Our problem was, we wanted to ditch this guy, but also, actually get cash. When we got to the ATM, Erica waited to get the money, and I tried to communicate to the guy that we would meet him back at the store. It took a couple tries, but finally he understood that our plan was to head back to the shop shortly, once we had the money.
Once we were free, we headed over to the center of a round-a-bout to very discreetly count our funds, and then we headed back into the market. We wandered into a small well-lit shop right off the main road, where we were able to find a small & beautifully painted white and blue vase to bring home for our mom. We negotiated the price down 5 Moroccan Dirham which is the equivalent of 50 US cents. It cost us $2.50 USD. From here we spent the rest of the afternoon shopping. We were in and out of several shops looking over all of the beautiful ceramic pieces & browsing the large stacks of old rugs looking for new homes. Everything was so beautiful & colorful! It was hard to say “no” to all of the lovely treasures surrounding us. We were in and out and found ourselves lost in the market while buying our goodies to bring home. We had hand-painted bowls, bone-inlay boxes, and I picked up a beautiful rug. We stopped in at a cafe where we got another glass of hot mint tea. We drank it slowly as it was searing hot. While we were sitting in the warm and wore down cafe, a young Moroccan boy came in trying to sell us Fez hats. We continually told him “Nein” (German for “No”), until he left frustrated and somewhat yelling. We were uncomfortable from the situation of a child trying to force us into buying souvenirs, and the strong aroma of cigarette smoke from a couple tables down. We decided to wrap it up fairly quickly, as we felt slightly choked from the smoke.
We headed back out into the market and wandered aimlessly for a while, popping in and out of additional shops & enjoying each others company and the bold adventure we were on. We wanted a new way to carry all of our new belongings, and decided that we should buy woven basket totes to carry instead. We wandered into one of the shops and made inquiries about the prices on the plain tan straw baskets. The price he wanted was too high to justify, so we walked out toward the shop next store where a man had baskets with a hints of purple woven through out. As we were working on making a deal, a man on the street knew what we were looking for & decided that he wanted to sell me his baskets. He started to put everything I had in his baskets, and it created an uproar since we were already in the process of making a deal with another shop owner. All of a sudden, the men were all yelling at each other over selling us baskets. We took the ones from the street owner, the ones with hints of purple, and put our things inside, and left as quickly as we could to avoid the uncomfortable drama.
We didn’t know what else to do, so we headed toward the wall of the city, and found ourselves making our way down to the main road that sits right next to the docking point for the ferry. (Yes, we were only minutes away this whole time, which we had laughed about earlier that day when we first were taking in the magnificent ocean views.) We found ourselves staring at a wall infused with a small hotel & private homes, with immaculate views, that extended back towards the markets. It was truly awesome. Still plagued with uncertainty of what to do next, we climbed back up the wall part of the way and took a seat on a ledge overlooking the street and the water. We were wishing we could drop off our bags so we could explore the beach, but with the amount of weight we were lugging around from our previous purchases, it didn’t seem practical. Instead, we sat for a while immersed in conversation about what we had been experiencing.
After 15 minutes or so, and after the fear of a local wanting to come & try to sell us some form of tour or souvenir, we decided that we wanted something to snack on and headed to the Continental Hotel which was up a set of stairs along the outer wall. It brought us up onto a small patio which led us indoors. We requested a table, and were informed that no food was available to order, but we could get drinks, so we just got a couple of waters & relaxed on the balcony. We enjoyed the time to sit in an actual chair as the weather began to turn once again. At one point we had the lightest drizzle interrupting our break, and the temperature began to drop once again, but it didn’t last long, thankfully.
We spent about 45 minutes hanging out and talking to another tourist couple who was heading over to Spain the following day. We informed them of the present cold front that had been viciously attacking our trip, and that they needed to be prepared for the weathers brutality. Eventually, though, the time to move on came again. We tried to maneuver our way out the front of the hotel to the market streets, but that didn’t seem possible because a man came after us quickly and ushered us back out the way we came.
Finally we were on the main streets, but didn’t know which way to go. We were hungry, tired, and our hands were full. We wanted a good meal since we knew we wouldn’t be able to get one in Tarifa, nor on the road back Sevilla, The task was difficult since we hadn’t seen many nicer restaurants or cafes along the way. As we tried to navigate our way back through the city, which seemed impossible, we ended up stumbling upon a small Moroccan restaurant called Restaurant Rif Kebdani. It is highly ranked on TripAdvisor, and I can attest that everything we got was exquisite!!! I, now, am always wanting to eat Moroccan food. haha. We each ordered a soup and we shared chicken couscous. The flavors were amazing & the appetizers which they bring (free of charge) were so tasty… I couldn’t get enough. It comes with bread and the dipping dishes were unforgettable. If you are going to make a stop in Tangier, check this place out. The food is on point, and the atmosphere is truly enchanting. It will make your vacation so much more exciting!
The time came for us to start making our way back to the boat for the 7 PM departure. We had plenty of time, but we were unsure of what it would be like trying to get back on the boat, and unclear on how to find our way back down and out of the “walled” city. So, we started out and, sure enough, we felt a bit like we were going in circles until, finally, we were able to get a vantage point & maneuver our way down. Once there, we watched the cars & found the perfect time to cross over to the port. We headed in and showed our passports & tickets and then were shuffled into the customs line where if felt like it took way longer than it should to have our passport processed. From here, we headed into a waiting area where we took a seat for a short amount of time before they called everyone out onto the tarmac. The clouds had mostly taken over as the sun was setting, and it was windy and became cold again. We were ready to board. However, protocol had to be taken, and we were required to wait until the boat was cleared & they checked our documents.
Once we were back on board, we were able to grab a seat without any further document processing (unlike on the way there). We grabbed a couple of seats by the window where we crammed in with our baskets full of finds and my new old rug. We were able to watch as the storm progressed over the ocean. The water was far rougher as we sailed from one continent back to the other. We both tried to rest a little bit before the drive we had ahead of us.
It was raining and much colder when we reached Tarifa. We got inside the building & waited calmly for our passports to be stamped. My impatient little sister, left me behind as she made a quick run to the car. In the heat of the moment she slipped on the slick sloped ground exiting the building, and, from inside the building, you could hear her brand new ceramics inside smack the ground along side her. I was in the process of preparing my own exit as I saw this happen, and thankfully a couple of guys were quick to help her up and collect her things. She was perfectly fine, with nothing more than a big old bruise on her leg. But her brand new hand painted bowl from Fez & her fun aqua vase that she fell in love with had broke. While she was discovering this tragedy, I was attempting to pay our parking ticket. TIP: Trying to pay for parking on a machine is a foreign, non-English speaking country is usually a challenge, even when you use the English setting because it still doesn’t always translate properly, so be prepared to take your time figuring it out. When I got back to the car, Erica showed me her damaged bowl & I assured her that it could be repaired. It would never be perfect, but it could be repaired.
Finally, it was sorted. Between both of our frustration & our exhaustion the drive back was off to a rough start. and didn’t get much better. It didn’t help that our GPS was slightly lagging, so we kept missing turns and having to reroute.
We eventually got back to our hotel very late. Erica attempted to pull into the parking garage and park, but ended up gently grazing the side of the car along the wall. It clearly happened on a regular basis based on the amount of paint and marks in that area. It was a tricky bend to navigate, especially for an American since everything is bigger.
We were in bed well after midnight, and were fast asleep within minutes. We had an incredibly spontaneous journey that day, and despite the small hick ups & uncertainty of what to expect, it was probably one of our favorites. We had many laughs about our time in Morocco.
For instance, I tried to help my sister buy her pretty aqua vase (the one that broke) by negotiating the price down. I was being very reasonable buy trying to drop off about $1 USD to 50 cents, but the man claimed that I was insulting him when he “has a nice shop full of nice things”.. or that time the man who sold us our stunning bone inlay boxes joked about trading me for camels, and my sister, misunderstanding what he was saying, said she would be willing to take one camel for me… Yes, apparently, I am only worth one camel. haha.
Despite the headaches and frustrations that come with being in such a country, we met some truly lovely people while we were there & it was an absolutely pleasure to able to partake in their culture & their food for just a day. I cannot wait to visit Morocco again!
…to be continued…