Camel ride!

I was just a little kid when I saw Lawrence of Arabia, but the images in that movie had a huge impact on my young, imaginative and impressionistic mind. The memories of those images would only be further distorted by oriental fantasies conjured up by movies like Jewel of The Nile, The Mummy and even more recently Salmon Fishing in Yemen (which I highly recommend btw). All those movies featured a beautiful landscape of desert, valleys or dunes and all were coincidently filmed in Morocco.

As I board the boat to cross the Straight of Gibraltar, I think about the possibilities of what I may see. I envision camels, sand, the medina filled with narrow alleyways filled with people in traditional garb, baskets and donkey carts. My stereotypical mental images of Morocco are ingrained deep by years of Hollywood influence!

Narrow alleys of the medina

Morocco is easily visible from the other side of the straight in Spain and the crossing from Tarifa to Tangier goes very quickly despite the rough seas churned up by the confluence of the Mediterranean and Atlantic. We arrive in Morocco and as we leave the port we are immediately besieged by an insane flurry of tour guides all vying for an opportunity to show us around. The scene left me feeling like a movie star being besieged by the paparazzi!

I was traveling with my dance teacher and 15 other ladies in our flamenco/bellydance intensive and so we had a private tour already arranged. We board a bus that will drive us to a few landmarks on the outer edges of the city, after which we continue our tour on foot through the medina. Our guide is fluent in French, Spanish, Arabic and English. It’s very impressive how easily maneuvers between the different tongues. I envy his self taught skills!

Our first stop is an overlook over the Straight of Gibraltar where vendors hang out selling tourist trinkets for more then their worth. We make a stop at a camel overlook, where for 2 euros you get to ride a camel around a small dirt cropping, that overlooks the neighborhoods surrounding the crowded and busy port town. It’s very metropolitan and modern, unlike the images in my mind. The city is busy, people are going to and from and I’m surprised by the wide range in dress and styles, from traditional galabeya, to more modern clothing.

Vendors overlooking the Straight of Gibraltar

Our bus tour ends at the top of the hill overlooking Tangier, where the Punic-Roman necropolis of Hafa sits. Tangier was occupied by the Romans in 1AD and the burial grounds were built on the outskirts of the then city. It provides a great overlook of the straight and of the port. However, much of what remains of the tombs is nothing more than the rectangular shaped holes in the ground, after having been pillaged in the subsequent centuries. From there the tour proceeds on foot.

As we walk our way into the medina, we are greeted by children, locals and followed around by the ever present trinket peddler. We see children playing in the street and people going about their daily lives of shopping and taking care of business.

We visit the Place de la Kasbah, a museum showcasing the rich history of Tangier. The building is beautiful, with lots of ornate tile work and a pretty garden. It’s small and can be see fairly quickly. Which is fine because the medina is huge and exploring all the shops, alleys and cafes is where the fun is!

The medina is a total rat maze and very crowded! It’s very easy to get lost and I’m glad to not only have a guide but a group of folks who can speak French to wander with. The shops have lots of interesting trinkets, but for the most part it’s a lot of the same stuff from one tourist shop to the next and a lot of it is overpriced, as one would expect in a touristy area. Regardless, it’s still fun to look!

Shopping in the medina

All the walking and window shopping makes up for a huge appetite and Morocco definitely doesn’t disappoint when it comes to food. We stop for lunch at Restaurant Hamadi. The food is amazing and it’s a huge feast! The band Orquisetera Taktouka Aljabalia play beautiful music as you dine and the ambiance is bright and festive. We all feast on a huge spread of fresh salad, kabab, chicken tangine, couscous and more. We end our meal with mint tea and we’re ready for our siesta!

As we wind down our day we wrap up our shopping at el Zoco Chico, which is the center of the medina and rush to buy as much as we can as we push our way through the crowded streets. I exercise restraint and buy a lot less than I expect. My one big regret is that I wish I had bought a big bag to shove a bunch of kitties in, as the customs check points headed back to Europe were quite lax. I think I could have brought home at least 2 kittens!

On the boat ride back to Tarifa we all sit exhausted, but we have fun sharing and comparing our treasures found in the medina. Morocco lived up to the expectations that had been built up by years of Hollywood influence. I saw camels, donkeys, sandy beaches and lots of dark narrow alleys like I had thought I would, but I also found a very modern, crowded and metropolitan city. I only got a small taste of what Morocco is like and I can’t wait to explore the rest of it!

Modern and crowded city streets

For full album of sights from Tangier visit my Flickr page:

Featured Posts