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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