Our friend Kim got it in her mind that she would like to go to Tangier, Morocco while we were in Estepona. At first the idea of going to Morocco seemed incredible, but then again it really is not far from Spain.
There is a day trip tour offered, so we went to the British run catch-all store to book it. This shop, owned by two Brits, has a variety of souvenirs, greeting cards for the extensive British ex-pat community here in Estepona, plus they provide Internet, printing services and tour booking. This was our one stop shop for English needs.
The tour set us back €85 each for a full day. It seemed reasonable, though honestly we would never have done it on our own. Part of me wanted to accommodate Kim who came all the way from Portland, OR to be with us. Ron and I had been to Marrakesh in the past; as exotic as it is, it was not really my cup of tea. Yet for a day, I could live with the cultural differences. Marrakesh is also spelled Marrakech before anyone tries to call me out on this. On that note, Tangier is also sometimes spelled as Tangiers.
We had to meet the bus at the McDonald’s at 8 am. They said it was easy to find as it was the only one in the city. Concerned about timing, our taxi delivered us in the parking lot at 7:30 am, where we froze until the bus arrived. The restaurant does not do Happy Meals out until 8 am, so we were not too happy about being so early.
An hour on the bus brought us to Tarifa, Spain for the ferry crossing. Once through Passport Control on this side, our guide led us to the procured business class seating for our group. Ferrying across the Mediterranean Sea on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other through the Strait of Gibraltar we landed on Terra Firma for Passport Control once again.
Before boarding another bus, we met our local guide. His name escapes me, but he was a fast and fluent, but heavily accented English speaker. Some of what he mentioned during the day actually stayed with us. The rest is floating in the air like the scents from the spice market.
The presence of civilizations and cultures dating from before the 5th century BCE bring to light the rich culture and history of this area. In more current history, the guide mentioned several times that Tangier was given international status, which he claimed meant it had autonomous power by foreign colonial powers. In 1912, apportioned Morocco was shared by France and Spain. In 1923, Tangier became an international zone, but this was not really clear what it entailed. My curiosity lasted as long as the tour.
One interesting fact that we learned this day was about The Treaty of Morocco. Due to a number of American ships using the port of Tangiers during the American Revolution, the Continental Congress requested recognition from the “Emperor” of Morocco to begin worthy relations. It was granted in 1777, making Morocco the first country to recognize the United States of America. “Negotiations on a formal treaty to establish ties between the two countries began in 1783. The Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship was signed in 1786. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both future U.S. Presidents were the signatories for the United States.” (Embassy of Morocco).
Our tour included a fifteen minute visit to a snake charmer. Both the charmer and the cobra looked bored performing yet again for a gaggle of gawkers. Next steered to the herd, flock, caravan of camels, all terms are used for the collection of these animals, we were encouraged to ride the animals. However, we soon discovered these were not camels at all, but dromedaries. Camels have two humps, dromedaries only one. I wouldn’t walk a mile for a camel and I certainly would not ride a dromedary for a mile or less. Been there, done that! We tried to convince Kim to do it, but she adamantly refused.
Back on the bus, we were run through the city, through the souks, through the streets narrow and winding like never-ending labyrinths where we were convinced we would be lost for months if we separated from the group. It was a whirlwind tour with the guide disseminating information all along the way to the group of 40 or so.
We passed through every possible stand that offered some treasure missing from our lives with such speed the merchants ran after us with goods in hand and the mantra “Make me an offer.” Young boys that have yet to experience puberty were by our side for great lengths of time trying to sell us packages of gum: two for one Euro. They did not seem to understand the word ‘No’ in multiple languages, but my Arabic is weak.
It really does penetrate my soul when people beg for us to purchase their goods, but for the most part, it is not worth it. Our local guide had warned about which products were mass-produced in China and which were authentic Moroccan. Even forewarned with this knowledge, the pace in and out of the streets was too fast to accomplish anything but catching one’s breath and watch where we stepped on the uneven cobblestones.
At some point beyond the traditional hour, we stopped at the restaurant for lunch. I had to laugh at our guide who pointed to a man selling magnets at the entrance to the restaurant. The guide turned to us and said “These are what they call refrigerator magnets.” The restaurant had that Arabian Nights theme going on. Oh right, this is Morocco and not Disneyland.
Lunch was tasty, though one of those typical mass-produced, feed a mob at a time meals. There were three courses of skimpy portions; the second course was only two skewers of chicken. In the next room Moroccan musicians played hoping to receive our tips while we tried masticating and digesting. This really was digesting on the run as we were running behind schedule. After all, what would a trip to Morocco be without the stop at a carpet store.
In addition to carpets, they had numerous other items, most of which would not fit in an overhead bin on an airplane, but cause an extra baggage fee once at the airport. However, for many the salesmen are as charming as the snake charmer and the tourist is the snake who gets hypnotized quite often. Once we were corralled in the second floor showroom, we were presented with the vast selection of their ‘high quality’ carpets. “Please be assured that we can get these home for you. First we ship by camel, but since our camels do not swim, we have other friends who do. They are called FedEx, UPS and DHL.”
My mind was going ka-ching, ka-ching with the dollar signs ringing up on the register in my head. The cost of shipping would be equal if not more than the cost of the carpet itself. For once I have to admit; there were carpets there that I could live with. When in Egypt or Turkey my usual ‘get out of jail card’ is “If you can show me one carpet with absolutely no red in it, I will consider it.” This is where they throw their arms up in disgust and we leave. Here it would not have worked. They had many without red and a few were quite beautiful. Overhead luggage racks and shipping costs kept me sane and my wallet safeguarded.
As we were leaving the shop, there was a mob of merchants waiting to pounce on us. “I give you a very good deal” was repeated by a dozen voices as they pressed various goods in our face ranging from cheap T-shirts to camel bone ashtrays. As the old cartoon slogan goes “Exit stage left!”
This was the end of the tour. We were managed back to the bus, through Passport Control and then onto the ferry once again. The day ended as it began, in front of McDonald’s, but this time it was open and we could use the bathrooms.
*This is a backdated post due to lack of Internet connections.