Weekend in Tangier

On Friday September 16, at 6:45Am I boarded a train to Tangier along with Shady, Ray, Glenn and Alex. I was so excited to visit the North that I could not sleep more than two hours that night. I imagine myself walking around Tangier just like Sira had done in the Time Between Seams. Sadly I missed the view on the train ride because I fell asleep within minutes of boarding the train.

Some four hours after boarding, we finally arrived to Gare ONCF Tanger Ville. The first thing that struck me as we approached the station were the white and beige houses that covered the landscape. The image brought to my mind a memory from the trip to Greece with my family. The sky was cloudless, the sea a deep blue and next to the ferry flew several sea gulls hopeful of receiving a snack from one of the tourists. I stood at the helm of the boat and ahead I could see the approaching bay completely covered in small white houses. These were the sort of houses that cover the hills of Lima. Little squares, probably built by the owners themselves, some with no windows, others with iron beams sticking out from the roofs. Further down the hills, nearing the coast, towering apartment buildings covered the sight of the sea. The contrast created between the two types of structures serves as a good representation of the division of class that exists in Morocco. The poor live next door from the rich. The Moroccans live next door to the Europeans.

As I walked towards the beach, I could hear the roaring of the huge engines of the ferry that crossed from Tangier to the Port of Tarifa next to El Parque Natural del Estrecho in Spain. I wondered how Sira must have felt when she saw arrived in Tangier with beloved, but soon hated Ramiro. (El Tiempo Entre Costuras) I have never been to Las Vegas, but I imagine that Tangier at the time must have been the same way. The luxurious apartment buildings filled with rich Europeans who were looking to escape the escalating tensions in Europe, Moroccans running around the nearby Medina like usual and alcohol flowing like in no other city in the country. In fact, Tangier is the only city that we have been to where I have seen a liquor store. A fully stocked liquor store like you would find in the US, stading proud next to the Avenue Mohammed VI for everyone to see. I imagine that the constant inflow of Europeans to the city is a good enough excuse to set up a liquor store just like the it is for the Hashish farmers of Chefchaouen. The store was surprisingly run by Moroccans and a few Moroccans walked in when we walked by. Of course, this country is much more liberal than other Muslim nations where the owners of the store would run a much greater risk. Although, Islam only prohibits the consumption therefore a devote muslim could sell alcohol as long as he does not consume it. Surprisingly, alcohol consumption rates are increasing in Muslim countries, probably as they become more and more liberal like Morocco.

In my opinion, La Plage Municipale resembles Miami Beach. There must be about 50m of dark, coarse sand between the avenue and the bay. It’s nice to see the dromedaries and horses offering tourists rides up and down the beach, but they fill the sand with their waste. I guess that’s one of the downsides of tourism… Regardless, this beach is perfect for a morning run during the sunrise.

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Running towards the sunrise at La Plage Municipale de Tangier

On the second day we looked for a taxi ride to Grotte d’Hercule and ended up hiring a tour around Tangier for about $60, $10 per person. The taxi driver called his friend and we split into the two cars. Rey and I took the cab driven by Abdeslam. Abdeslam, a Moroccan from Tangier, shared with me his opinions on the influence of the French and Spanish in Morocco. We talked a little about identity and he shared with me the disappointment that he felt for his cousin who moved to Belgium and never taught his children how to speak Arabic. I think he is right to feel that way. Regardless of where the children were born they should learn to speak the language of the family or else they could never communicate with them. There is no better way to create a complete separation between generations of a family than no longer sharing the same mother tongue.

Our little tour took us across Tangier, past the Cap Spartel Natural Reserve, past the massive beach houses of the Moroccan and Saudi Arabian kings to Plage Achakkar. The beautiful beached seemed almost abandoned, which might be because it is an open sea beach posing much more danger to bathers.

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Next we arrived to the fascinating Grotte d’Hercule where it is said Hercules came to rest after completing his twelve duties. The main attraction of the cave is the opening towards the sea that resembles a mirrored map of Africa.

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Map of Africa in the Grotte d’Hercule

We also toured around what our taxi driver claimed where the… sex chambers of Hercules!

This is the definition of a man cave.

Next we continued to tour the rest of the white city and eventually ended up atop a hill from which we could see the entire city from above.

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The city of Tangier – Towards the lower right, a Plaza de Toros

Looking closely you can see what used to be a Plaza de Toros during the Spanish rule. I think that this is proof of how invested the Spanish were in the protectorate. They brought their customs and traditions over to accommodate those Spaniards who decided to make Morocco their new home. The plaza no longer holds toreadas, they are haram in Islam, but the stadium remains standing like the Colosseum in Greece.  A reminder of a time long past.

The tour ended at the Medina Kerima, the old city, where we walked around for a while before heading back home. The medina of Tangier is not the most Arabesque. It is heavily influenced by european architecture and it is also much more modern than the one is Rabat or Chefchaouen. So if you are looking for a more “authentic” tour of an old city try Rabat, Casa or Chefchaouen for a truly unique experience.

My trip to Tangier finally came to an end as I entered the train once again. Sitting in first class, we were assigned a booth with six seats and a small table. On arriving to Morocco we were told that very few things were ever on time: The train and the Adhan. Scratch the train part. We left about an hour and a half late.

The train ride was beautiful anyhow. Now I understand why some people say that they would love to go on a long train ride in Europe. I want to go on one too. The hilly landscape was covered in dried grass the same tone of greenish brown as that which grows in the highlands of El Parque Nacional Huascaran in Peru.

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Parque Nacional Huascaran

The yellow melons in the farm patches near the tracks stood out between all of the dried land like ducklings in a pond. Halfway there the sun began to set and I recalled the train ride between Cuzco and Aguas Calientes. If there is one place that I would visit again it is Machu Picchu. To be honest there are hundreds of places that I now wish I could revisit. I feel like only now, at the age of 20, I am able to truly appreciate what I am seeing and experiencing. I feel like now I constantly make connections to previous travelling experiences and feel much more awe when looking up at a hand carved wooden ceiling like this one:

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Than I did when I looked at the carved ceilings and columns of Spanish built churches in Peru.

It took a long time, but I am finally there.

The trip to Tangier was definetely worth every cent and hour we spent waiting for our AirBnB host to show up. I would definetely visit Tangier again. I think that it is a destination that needs 2 full days. One day to tour around the city, the old medina, visit the Grotte d’Hercule and the light house and another day to enjoy the beaches of the western side.

 

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