Tangier – The Gateway To Africa

Looking over the Mediterranean from Tangier
Looking over the Mediterranean from Tangier

Going Back to Africa held so many emotions and expectations for me.  It’s a continent on which a year of my life has passed; not a great amount of time but it bears a great amount of significance.  I was excited, hoping the continent would instantly bring back old memories, familiar sensations, that I would feel at home, that Zach would love it.  Yet I knew, at the same time, that Tangier Morocco is a world away from East Africa, with a completely different culture, race, and self-perception.  We had a Couchsurfing host lined up and couldn’t wait to immerse ourselves in the local culture.

One of King Mohammad VI's palaces in Tangier
One of King Mohammad VI’s palaces

Stepping off the ferry from Spain onto African soil again for the first time in three years was a relief.  The FRS Ferry from Tarifa to Tangier was not at all a comfortable ride.  The first 10 minutes of the journey the huge boat rocked from side to side so violently that I thought I was going to lose my lunch.  And I have never been seasick in my life!  Apparently it was a problem of “getting up to speed” and once we got going faster the rocking lessened.

After landing, we got a taxi through the bustling medina to Hakim’s (our Couchsurfing host’s) apartment.  He immediately informed us that we got ripped off by taking the “wrong color taxi” and that we should only take blue ones because they have meters and the brown ones just name a price.  Well how were we supposed to know that before he told us?  Oh well.  Welcome to Africa.

Walking through the "medina", the old city/marketplace in Tangier.
Walking through the “medina”, the old city/marketplace in Tangier.

Tangier was, of course, wildly different from East Africa.  Almost every woman wore a hijab, many completely veiled in birkahs.  The call to prayer could be heard five times a day from a variety of different directions, mosques dominating the city.

There were remnants of a strong foreign prescence however, as Tangiers used to be an “international zone” in the years surrounding World War II, with different sections controlled by several different European nations.  It was also a popular hangout/escape for the artists/writers/druggies of the Beat generation, home to William Burroughs, Paul Bowles, and a popular touring ground for the Rolling Stones and The Clash.  Nowadays, a lot of the expats have gone home, and the city remains largely conservative.  Alcohol is nearly impossible to find and insanely expensive.  The Lonely Planet lists which bars, specifically, are okay for women to drink at, and its not very many!

We took a break from the drinking scene, as our Couchsurfing hosts were pretty devout Muslim non-drinkers.  We did enjoy a lot of “Berber whiskey”, a.k.a. the famous Moroccan mint tea, super sweet and chock full of fresh mint leaves.  Hakim and his roommates also cooked us an amazing “tajine”, basically a vegetable/meat stew slow-cooked in a special clay dish with exotic Moroccan spices.  The rest of the visit was spent exploring and taking in the beautiful Islamic architecture of Tangier!

Delicious tajine...sorry for the bad picture!
Delicious tajine while Couchsurfing in Tangier.
Classic Islamic architecture in the Tangier's "Kasbah"- castle
Classic Islamic architecture in the Kasbah – ancient walled castle section of town
Classic Islamic architecture in the kasbah of Tangier.
“Hands of fatima” symbolizing the Five Pillars of Islam
Intricate mosque ceiling on display in the Kasbah Museum, Tangier
Intricate mosque ceiling on display in the Kasbah Museum
Parts Unknown Bourdain Tangier
Café Tingis in Tangier. It’s the coffee shop in the Petit Soco that Anthony Bourdain visited on “Parts Unknown” Bonus points to anyone who can name the person Bourdain talked to on that show.  He is in this picture!!!!
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We Hate Loki

Before reading this, read yesterday’s post, because the two together are meant to appropriately demonstrate our love-hate relationship with Loki Hostel.  It was a blast running the bar.  The experience we gained because of it will definitely help us if we ever want bartending jobs in the future.  But another thing that we really like is SLEEP!  The noise around that place never stops.  It’s fine if you are working, but when you’re trying to sleep at 2am and the whole building is still shaking from the loudest dubstep you’ve ever heard, you start to go crazy.  Not to mention once the bar closes everyone runs around drunk and screaming, messed up on Blood Bombs and ready to go out to the clubs.  Headphones or earplugs are definitely necessary for sleeping in the dormitories.  Most who stay and work at Loki are just all about the partying, every. single. night.  Many people love it, and end up staying and working here weeks or months longer than intended, drinking on the cheap, day and night.  It’s like a vortex that sucks you in.  Call us old, but we just don’t feel the need to stay out until the sun rises!  We did it one time to say we had, but most nights we were the first in bed, around 2:30am.  Ha.

Also, everyone who works at Loki is always just a little bit sick.  That’s because the staff room is usually in a general state of disarray and filth, and you don’t tend to take care of yourself very well living this lifestyle.  As of now, everyone has this horrible cough that gets worse and worse.  And there is no chance of getting better when you sleep no more than 10 feet away from the next sick person.  We’re hoping that we will be magically cured soon now that we are far away from Loki!

Loki is also not what we would consider an “authentic” South American experience.  It is made up almost completely of Europeans, Australians, North Americans, and other English speakers.  We think our Spanish actually suffered due to lack of use while here.  Some of the foreign staff members who’ve been here for over one year don’t even speak Spanish because they never leave Loki so they don’t have to learn!  The Loki vortex…it doesn’t really encourage you to get out there and immerse yourself in the wonderful culture of Cuzco.  It just tells you that it’s about time for another Blood Bomb.

There is one last thing that I have to complain about.  If you stay in a hostel, it is inappropriate to have floor-shaking sex in a dorm room.  I can’t tell you how many times I was woken by strange sounds from one of the beds next to me.  Like we said, it really is kind of like a freshman dormitory, full of drunk and horny travelers.

All in all, we did have a good time a Loki.  But we were SO EXCITED to get as far away from that place as possible.  Maybe we are too old, or maybe we are just a little more mature than you should be to be a proper Loki employee.  I guess Loki did make us realize how much we have grown up since college.  If you want to spend some time in Cuzco, live for free and have fun, I’d say to do it.  Just don’t expect anything about it to be relaxing.

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We Love Loki

’80s Night at the Loki bar

“LOKI LOKI LOKI!” someone shouts as we all raise our glasses.

“Oi oi oi!” we respond in Aussie fashion, slam our glasses down on the bar, and proceed to chug our Blood Bombs.  A Blood Bomb consists of a shot of mostly vodka with a few drops of grenadine dropped into a half-glass of Red Bull.  Totally beneficial for your heart and brain; it’s the signature drink of Loki Hostel.

We first heard of Loki from a Couchsurfing host in Ecuador who recommended we stay at the Máncora location.  We ended up staying elsewhere, but we remembered him raving about Loki as an awesomely fun party hostel with opportunities to work and stay for free.  We wanted to try a different volunteer (not WWOOFing) opportunity, so we decided to give Loki Cuzco a try.  As soon as we walked into the bar and offered our help to the manager, we were given bartending jobs and asked to start the next night!

The weekly activities board.

Loki Cuzco is the original of the four Loki Hostels (the others are located in Máncora, Lima, and La Paz, Bolivia) and was opened in 2005 by a group of backpacker friends.  It’s a HUGE hostel (capacity over 200) in a 500-year-old amazing historic building.  The owner and staff are all friendly and bilingual, and the hostel includes free breakfast, a book exchange, a full restaurant and bar, a tour booking office, and daily activities and parties.  It basically has everything you could ever need so that you don’t even have to venture outside if you don’t want to!

Dancing it up on Zach’s birthday night

All of the bartenders are volunteers at Loki.  We worked four shifts a week (either 1-7pm or 7pm-2am) in exchange for a free dormitory bed, one free meal a day, and 40% off on everything at the bar/restaurant.  It was definitely an awesome deal, and we had a lot of fun.  The bar staff during the four weeks we worked at Loki consisted of travelers from Ireland, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and a few more of us from the U.S.  We all got along great and every night was a party.  Working behind the bar is not really work; it’s more like serving some drinks while drinking some drinks.  By the end of the night there were always people dancing on the bar, and most of the staff usually went out dancing until the wee hours after our bar closed.  Highlights of our time at Loki included dancing like crazy on the bar at Groove Nightclub, going out for pizza for Zach’s birthday, and all the random hilarious conversations in the staff room.  Being at Loki was kind of like living in a college dorm again, except with the added fun of people from all different countries and none of the hassle of class!

Before you judge us as nonsstop-partying alcoholics, please wait for tomorrow’s other-side-of-the-coin post:  WE HATE LOKI

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