Adventure to Tangier May 2002

As part of my blog I am adding edited excerpts of emails I sent on past travels. 

In May and June 2002 I backpacked solo for 4 weeks in Spain and 2 in Portugal.  In Granada, I met up with my Monterey, CA roommate, P, who was in Spain for language study, and we decided to make an impromptu trip to Gibraltar and then across to Tangier, Morocco.  What I remember most about Gibraltar was I had the best gorgonzola pasta I have ever had anywhere in a lovely outdoor cafe.  Strange that I remember that more than the Rock and the monkeys.  At the time of posting, this one day trip to Morocco is my only trip to the country and given all the things to see in the country I do not really consider myself having visited Morocco.  Tangier is like many border towns;   the city is more about getting elsewhere than staying put.  It is a gateway to Europe for many from all over Africa.  I did not like Tangier, something I very rarely say about a place.  But it was certainly an adventure.  

In Gibraltar, my friend P and I discover there is just one boat to Tangier a week, and that it departs on Fridays at 6 pm.  Well lo and behold it was a Friday around 3 pm.  So the information people give us a map and directions to the ticket office.  I was thinking we could just take a bus to the center of town, find the office, buy ours tickets, quickly take the funicular to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar, then back down, then hop on the boat and viola, we are in Tangier!  Unfortunately, few things work out like that.

It took us maybe 30 minutes to find the ticket office as we kept walking past it because the sign wasn’t very noticeable.  We go in and ask about the boat and they are all very friendly, but they inform us the boat is broken, but we can instead leave on Tuesday!  What would we do in Gibraltar all that time?  So, we ask if they have boats leaving from Algeciras in Spain and they say they do and give us a schedule.  We thank them and leave.

Just out the door P thinks we should ask how early before departure we should check in, so we return to ask.  When we explain we want to leave the next day, the guy scowls at us and tells us in an exasperated way that the boats are broken.  Seems the whole fleet is indisposed!  We ask about other boats and the guy gets indignant telling us they ONLY know about the schedules for THEIR boats.  <sigh>

We decide to leave the next morning and get a hotel in Gibraltar for the night because we have wasted so much time finding out about these broken boats.  We find a nice place, put our things down and head to the funicular but are waylaid by a very friendly local offering a tour of the Rock.  It appears his tour only cost three euros more than trying to go up ourselves and since things are spread out up on the rock, it would save us time.  We agree and are soon whisked into our very own van with our loquacious guide.  He keeps saying things like “girls” and “love” and the like to address us.  He talked a mile a minute, but I found overall it was a good tour, we learned a lot about Gibraltar (such as it was most likely an island before, because good ‘ole Chris Columbus said when he sailed by it, it was on the LEFT, meaning he sailed between the rock and Spain) and saw the Pillars of Hercules, part of the caves dug by chisel and dynamite when Spain tried to take Gibraltar during some historical juncture, and of course the monkeys.

The guide said we could have our photos taken with the monkeys on our shoulders.  I start to protest when suddenly a 30 pound monkey jumps on me and the guide orders P to get my camera and take my photo!  And before P knew it she too had a monkey friend and I was trying to take her picture.  However, as I was taking her picture I dropped something, leaned down to get it and another monkey was on me.  Ah, the amazing fun on top of the Rock!

The next morning we were up early and out of the hotel at 7 am to catch a bus to the border. Unfortunately, we discovered the buses did not start running until 8:30 am, so it being Gibraltar, and not a particularly large place, we started walking.  Once across the border and back in Spain, we caught a cab to Algeciras.  We made it to the terminal at 8:15, we think just in time to catch the 8:30 fast ferry, except no one wants to give us a straight answer.  We kept being told to go to this one counter to get the fast ferry, only to be told at that counter the ferry is broken.  So, we are sent to another window where we are told that it is now too late to make the 8:30 ferry.  So we pay for the 9:30 slow boat.  We change money, get some refreshments, and head up to the departure lounge.

The ferry is nothing special.  It plods along slowly, taking 2.5 hours to Tangier.  But when we arrive in Tangier and go down the gangplank, we discover we need an immigration stamp which was given on the boat, 15 minutes before we docked.  It was the garbled message reminiscent of drive thru windows made about 20-30 minutes before we docked.  We were not alone back in the ship awaiting the return of the police; there were maybe 40 of us.  We had to wait maybe another 45 minutes for the immigration police officer to return and get us all stamped, and then we were finally allowed to enter Tangier.

We made it through the gauntlet of “official tour guides” and taxi drivers, probably only because most of the boat had gotten off earlier and the majority of the mob had grown tired of waiting.  We had a humorous conversation with two port policemen about how to walk up to the medina.  It was only maybe a 10 minute walk, but they thought we should take a cab.  We found some accommodation for only 50 dirhams a night ($5).  A “helpful” Moroccan (I think “enterprising” is a better word) showed us to a Moroccan restaurant.  He insisted it was not touristy.  But the waiter very confidently, in good English explained the three course meal.  It turned out that the meal cost $12 per person.  We seriously doubted many locals frequented that place at that price.  So we found bread for 1 dirham and a coconut for 3 dirhams and we were fine.  We discovered our hotel room did not have a bathroom, and the only toilet was on the first floor, a rather smelly squatting affair.  But, we figured, ok, it was for only one night.

We explored the Medina for about an hour.  Then, we explored the new town and were rewarded with a McDonalds: cheap, recognizable food, a lovely view over the town, and nice toilets!  Yippee! (especially for the toilets)  We found an English cemetery.  We went back to the hotel.  After all the trouble to get to Tangier we were rather at a loss of what to do now that we were there.  An hour before the last call to prayer, the women and children came out into the streets, and so did we.  We got ice cream and explored the streets more and watched more people.  Then back to the hotel and more people watching from our balcony, then an early bed, because we wanted to catch the very first ferry out the next morning.  (Both of us we had already had our fill of Tangier).

Of course when we arrived at the ferry terminal the next morning, the first ferry, at 8:30, had been cancelled, and we had to take the 9:30!  We needed that one, because Moroccan time is 2 hours before Spanish time, so it was 11:30 in Spain when we left Morocco, and after a 2.5 hour trip, it was 2 pm in Spain.  My bus to Cordoba left at 3, P’s back to Granada at 4.  Somehow, by some miracle we both made our buses and I was off to Cordoba.


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