February 8, 2011

We arrived in Tangier and didn’t know what language to speak.  We only speak English, so that made it especially hard.  A guidebook described the city as, ‘Certainly not European, not African, not even Morrocan.’  Considering its located in two of those places, I was confused.

But it was true.  This place does not have a typical cultural identity.  Part of it is location.  It’s in Morocco but you can see Spain from the coast, and it’s traditionally been a port or trade city.

Part of it is history.  It has a mixture of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian influence.

What this leads to is a really fascinating city that has touches of everything.  It’s a melting pot of energy and small-shop commerce, mixed in with some kids and adults who try to game you at every corner.

One kid tried selling us chiclet gum for forty minutes.  He was savvy- a showman, really – and spoke to us in four different languages before settling on Spanish. Dios Mio. There’s a real facility for multi-lingualism here, as everyone seems to go back and forth.  For fans of the Bible or that Brad Pitt/Cate Blanchett movie, it was like Babel (or Babel), only not at all.  Everyone understood everyone.

Upon arriving, our taxi driver dropped us off at the entrance of the Medina, the famous series of tangled, narrow streets.  William Burroughs lived there and apparently ran wild. The Rolling Stones passed through.  As the guidebook said, ‘They relished the place where nothing- and no one– was forbidden.’  It’s not like that now, though.  Time tends to tame.

The taxi driver gave this half-second glimpse to this other man at the entrance.  This man became our unofficial tour guide.  We read that this happens, and that they expect a tip after showing you around the confusing maze of the Medina.  We pledged to avoid it.  We are savvy travelers.

We didn’t avoid it and are not savvy travelers.  The dude showed us the Medina for a good twenty minutes and we were powerless to escape.  He knew that we needed him.  The Medina has maps- some better than others- but as our hotel receptionist told us ‘it’s nearly impossible to find this place on your first day.’  Our guide, a man who also toggled between multiple languages, helped us out.  We gave him a tip – less than he wanted but fair enough – and we were off.

We saw the Kasbah and walked along the beach.  We ate at a really delicious French restaurant (three times).  We ate a really delicious Morrocan restaurant.  There was a camel on the beach.  There were spontaneous soccer games amongst teens that seemed to break out of nowhere.  The kids were talented- one reminded me of a soccer-ish Kevin Durant- and played for hours.  We sat on terraces.  The city could feel tougher in the Medina at night, especially after that one guy spit on us.

Just asked B what she would rate it on her now famous five star scale.  She said ‘2.5, but I’m sure other places in Morocco are a four or even a five.’  Not the most comfortable spot, but we agree it’s a trip that will age well.  I’ll go 3.25, inching towards 3 and half.

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4 Responses to “Tangier”

  1. Don’t worry – Tangier is the “tourist” city of Morocco. Fez and Marrakech are much better, in my opinion. Fez …drop the guide. Wander around, get lost. It’s the best way to see the medina…

  2. PS: your going to see the hawkers and guides all over Morocco try and make money off of you. Best thingto do is be honest. If you don’t want them tell them. Tell them right off the bat your not going to give them any money. When the carpet sellers pull you into their shop, and you don’t want a carpet, tell them you are not buying anything – put it right back on them. Than they will proceed to pull out 50 huge carpets, sit you down, give you mint tea. Enjoy it …and when they are finished and you say thank you but your not goingto buy anything, and they get all upset, hey – you told them before they started. It’s all a game and I see people all over the world buy things that they really just don’t want …because they feel bad. Be honest and up front. The merchants and guides can get really annoying, if you let them, but don’t let them. Enjoy your trip. You don’t HAVE to buy anything or go with any guide. It’s your trip, not theirs!!!
    Good luck,

  3. Thanks for the comments John.

    Regarding the ‘guide:’ It wasn’t a matter of ‘tourist gets took by street-smart native,’ although that probably played a part. In every big city or tourist attraction, people are hawking stuff. We’ve seen it. It’s no problem. Hate the hustle, not the hustler.

    But I think in Tangier it was particularly aggressive, which made me curious. Obviously I’m no expert on the possible cultural underpinnings. I’d like to learn more.

  4. Ha …”hate the hustle, not the hustler”. Love that one. Morocco only gets better from Tangier, if your just starting. Have fun! I’m not sure about “cultural”, but Tangier sees the most tourists so I think its more “monetary underpinnings”. 🙂

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