After 18 hours of traveling – the worst of which was a 4.5 hour layover in the wee hours of the morning in Madrid – we finally touched down on Moroccan soil. We climbed out of the puddle-jumper plane onto the tarmac in Tangiers, blinking in the bright sunlight and groggy on 2 hours of sleep apiece, and shuffled in to the modest airport. Customs, luggage, and withdrawing curency took all of 10 minutes – proving my belief that JFK and Newark exact uncessary torture on those unfortunate enough to pass through them – and soon we were whisked off in a taxi to our hotel. Our driver was Mohammed. (Of course.) He spoke about as much French and English as I did Spanish and Arabic, but we cobbled enough together to figure out where we were going today, and to also agree he would take us to our next stop tomorrow, Chefchaouen.
The Continental Hotel
When we arrived at our hotel, the Continental, it fulfilled every single hope we’d had for our first hotel in Morocco, and some we didn’t even know to wish for. With a stunning view of the old port, the hotel is an enormous labyrinth of tiled staircases, quiet courtyards, and colored-glass windows. It has the air of having once been resplendant, but is now a bit run down and dusty, though perhaps all the more charming for it.
Our window opens out onto the port, and if you crane your neck around you can see the town as well. There is a charming terrace where we will breakfast in the morning, and where we ended our first day with hot mint teas.
The view from our window, if you crane your neck around
After poking around the hotel for a little while, Keith and I headed off for the medina, determined to find a restaurant recommended to me by the same friend who had recommended our hotel.
Le Saveur de Poisson had come highly recommended – not only by my friend, but also Anthony Bourdain, who featured the eatery on his series Parts Unknown. Unfortunately, that meant that when we arrived, there was a line 20 people deep.
We decided to move on to another recommendation, but kept getting waylaid by “helpful” locals who always seemed to want to lead us back to the same. Freaking. Restaurant. First it was Osman, the sweet 15-year old looking to practice his English.
Then it was Toothless Old Man (we’ll call him Tom for short), who annoyed us so thoroughly I was afraid Keith was going to hang him up by his jelaba outside the restaurant doors. Finally we gave in to fate and ate at the restaurant everyone seemed so keen that we go to (I’m sure because the owner would give them a cut of profits.)
The streets of Tangiers, teeming with life. Closed toe shoes recommended, if you like your toes.
It was perfectly fine – not exactly what we had been looking for – but good solid Moroccan food with an awesome bastilla (flaky almond chicken pastry with cinnamon and powdered sugar) and of course, mint tea.
After lunch, we finally shook Tom with a firm “Non, merci” and at last set out to explore Tangiers on our own. At every turn though, we encountered the “helpful” local – “This way to the Kasbah, madame,” “Do you need a tour of the souk?”
And this was really difficult for me, because my tendency is to believe the best in people, and I do know that Moroccans are hospitable and may well go out of their way to help you. However, I also know a tourist trap when I see one, and I’m struggling against my own cynicism, which is probably, ultimately, rightly placed.
A local market we found tucked away near the Grand Socco
Sigh. Anyway, we zig-zagged through the medina, peering down alleyways and in open gates. We saw two mosques, the Grand and Petit Soccos (like a village square, only it’s not square-shaped).
Panoramic of the Grand Socco
Using our selfie stick for the first time (yes, we were THOSE tourists) in the Grand Socco. See the white entrance gate behind us.
One of the coolest things we stumbled upon was St Andrew’s Church, an Anglican church nestled in to the city near the Grand Socco. The moment we entered the gates, the clamor of the city died away, and we were surrounded by rustling plants and dozens of graves, some quite recent, some from WWII, some before. To the back of the church, we came upon a brush pile burning (with no one to tend it, but clearly under control.) The smoke, late afternoon sun, palm trees, and grave markers combined to make an ethereal atmosphere, and I captured a few shots.
We took a different route back through the medina, towards the hotel. “This way to the Kasba!” several locals called to us. “Yes, we know, thank you!” we replied.
Young Moroccans overlooking the port.
The Grand Mosquee de Tangiers
As we sipped mint tea on the Continental’s terrace, I took stock of my time in Morocco so far…
Hotel = success
Lunch = a wash, but at least we ate and did not get sick
Lessons learned today:
#1: if someone offers to lead you somewhere, don’t worry about being rude. Yes, there is a small chance they were doing it out of the kindness of their hearts… but 95% of the time that is not the case.
#2: Pull in your toes if you do not wish them to be run over. Streets are narrow and drivers brazen.
#3: there are millions of street cats, and they recognize human food. If you are eating something in the street, they will follow you, and you will look like the Pied Piper of Tangiers.
Hopefully I’ll have more insightful observations tomorrow, but for now, my bed is calling. Good night, Tangiers!