Arrived late in the day in Tarifa but still before sunset. When Jordan saw the beach from our apartment, she immediately begged to go. Her dad and mom were game enough to take her out to the incredibly windy beach since I wasn’t in the least bit interested in cold wind whistling in my ears. I could see them from the window pushing against the gusts trying to gain a few feet of distance while walking. Windsurfers were sailing and having the time of their lives.
It didn’t take too long for The Kids to come inside from the blustery beach with a big appetite and raring to hit the town for dinner.
The best part of Tarifa, from what I could tell in the short time we were there, is contained within the old city/fort walls. We wandered around a bit until finding a not really kid-friendly place to eat. The food was great and the owner treated us to a shot each of Lemoncello (a nice liqueur which I haven’t had since my last time in Italy). Jordan made it through dinner with her Leapster nearby for entertainment. We also found where the ferry terminal was located and a good parking lot to keep the rental car for the following day’s trip to Tangier.
The next morning we arrived at the terminal about 9:30 only to find out the ferry was at 11, not 10 as we were led to believe. Note: Some online information and travel books, we carried Lonely Planet and Rick Steves, may not always be completely accurate with ever-changing transportation schedules. As we waited for the hour and a half, we went across the street to have some coffee and a juice for Jordan.
The ride across the choppy Atlantic was very crowded! I can’t imagine what it would be like during peak tourist season if it is this crowded at the end of April. Poor Kelly spent most of the hour crossing either in or very close to the “water closet” due to seasickness.
Upon landing, Christopher became quickly engaged in conversation with Ahmed, a smartly dressed man in his 40’s who was born and raised in Tangier. They agreed on a price for a full afternoon guided tour of the town; we did not want to go outside of town and ride camels as he had suggested. This seemed to disappoint Ahmed slightly but he recovered quickly enough. I also asked him if he got commissions from any stores as we didn’t want that kind of tour. He assured me this would not be the case.
We all piled into the backseat of a taxi with the cabdriver and Ahmed up front. Jordan thought it was funny for all of us to be in the back seat as daddy usually road up front with the cabbies. First we were driven to an overlook where we could see the Spain we had just sailed from. We also saw the beginning of what would turn out to be a multitude of feral, mangy cats, and young bored men, one of whom was hanging upside down from a tree when we arrived.
Ahmed took us through the hills of Tangier where the sultans hang out in mansions and presidents and/or kings come to stay for vacations in their summer palaces. We stopped at a mansion to stretch our legs and for Ahmed to show us the antique cars the owner of this lush land, with several nice homes behind gates and with a guard, collected. I could care less (actually none of us cared), so I wandered a bit and took photos until the sky broke open and we had to take refuge under the entry gate waiting for our driver to turn around to pick us up so we didn’t get saturated.
A quick drive into town and we were let off at the Grand Souk. We exchanged some currency and followed Ahmed into a courtyard where he pointed out the 500 year old Banyan tree. Jordan was getting restless and tired, which I couldn’t blame her for as by that time it was already about 2 in the afternoon. I just wanted to see some markets and buy a few mementos. We walked over to the food markets which were an array of beautifully displayed fruits and vegetables. As we navigated down the narrow rows, a man handed me a fig which I promptly ate not considering the warnings you always hear about not eating foreign market food that you can’t peel. I didn’t get sick.
Poor Jordan was escalating her frustrations and making her mom even more frustrated trying to keep her from touching everything. We had to get out of this noisy, narrow, fragrant market ASAP. There were too many distractions for a 3 year old who was obviously feeling extremely overstimulated. Criminey, I was feeling my nerves get frayed and I am supposed to know how to keep in control. I also wanted to get back outside. I felt we were all being watched by some preying predator who was waiting to pounce and devour us along with our American lifestyle.
Out in the street, now sunny, and waiting for Ahmed’s next instruction of what direction we were going in, I went to put my sunglasses back on. My travel habit is to wear my sunglasses with the crystal beaded “leash” and my eyeglasses on me or in the hard shell case I carried in my pack. As I put my sunglasses on, and was about to put my brand new $400.00 prescription eyeglasses into their case, I realized I didn’t have my glasses. They weren’t on my head, a possible temporary resting place, either. Jordan’s impatience with the day was escalating and Kelly had had it with her whining and impertinence. I was looking through my bag and on my person over and over hoping to find my glasses. Ahmed went to retrace our path only to return without them. I was bummed.
It was evident I had to just carry on without my glasses and be thankful that I had the presence of mind to have brought a spare pair, of my old prescription, which were in my suitcase back in Tariifa. Meanwhile, Jordan was being put into a time out in the corner of the street while we were all standing looking like idiots as I patted my head and dug into my daypack about 50 times over hoping the glasses would appear.
From that point on everything is a metaphorical blur. Ahmed took us up hills, down narrow calles, into neighborhoods which see few tourists, all the while venturing up the steep hills. We saw beautiful old tile work, feral cats galore, children coming home from school and playing in the streets, teenagers milling around favorite hangouts, and clusters of ancient shops where merchants had beautiful products to sell. I was beyond tired and so was poor Jordan. But she was a trooper, to say the least. Sometimes she and I fell back from everyone and soaked in the different colors and smells with a variety of not always positive comments. We both trudged up yet another hill with aching legs, and in my case, sometimes labored breathing. Was this fun? Not so much. Was it fascinating and an experience of a lifetime? Definitely.
We stopped in a small shop with hundreds of colorful leather shoes and scarves. Kelly and I bought scarves and she also bought herself and Jordan matching pairs of blue leather slippers, something she had never gotten around, but had wanted, to buying in the bazaar down the road from us in Granada.
Considering this as a successful buying spree, as we continued down the path of Tangier madness, I made the mistake of casually looking at some kaftans an older long haired, bearded, and kaftaned man carried around in his arms. Ahmed was whisking our group ahead and I had to keep up so after hearing the price and giving the fabric a cursory look, I said no. This man was relentless.
In something I read of Rick Steves’ about Tangier he learned to say “No” in Moroccan which is “La” so Rick said he basically sang “La la la, la la” to keep away the hawkers. Well, Rick, it may have worked for you, but in this case, the guy was singing it back to me, practically in harmony, as he followed at my heels shoving the kaftans in front of me! He was starting to really annoy me.
As we were all swirling behind Ahmed at a breakneck pace, and I’m trying to steer clear of Kaftan Man, we followed Ahmed into a beautiful four level (God help me with more climbing) store with antiques, hookas, furniture, hanging lanterns, and jewelry on the first floor; vibrant painted pottery on the second; amazing carpets on the third; and a view of Tangier on the roof of the 4th floor.
Ater this seemingly innocent view, we were led to the Carpet Floor, asked to be seated, and endured a 45 minute sales pitch. The owner’s “boy” flung out carpet after carpet which, granted, were beautiful, but not something any of us were going to buy. Each time I tried to wrap it up, he’d have another one flung down for me to inspect. The only one who fully enjoyed it was Jordan who laid on top of the rugs and was even supplied with pillows!
What was even more unbelievable than the prices on the rugs was that the same merchants, who were following and harassing me 45 minutes prior to our escape into the store, were outside the door waiting for me! I was not happy about this as the tension from the sales pitch, Jordan’s exhaustion (and mine), was thick enough to cut. My sing song “La/no” turned into a harsh reprimand verbally while silently saying, “Leave me TF alone…now.” They got the message.
We were taken to an herbalist shop where I bought rose oil and an orange blossom tincture for Kelly which was said to cure seasickness. The merchant gave Jordan a tube of lipstick which was to turn a natural color on your lips. This was soon confiscated by her mom along with a disapproving look from her father. What fuddy-duddies they can be! Luckily Jordan forgot all about it.
We headed into another area sporting a luxurious looking cafe with an awning over beautiful dark bamboo chairs and tables. From such poverty on one hand to opulence on the other. It must be so difficult to grow up poor here wanting to have more. Perhaps that is why the man dripping gold at the table next to us looked like a successful drug addict with his shaking hand and nervous eye movements searching the passerbys for who knows what.
We ordered coffee and I ordered a sweet pancake-like pastry with a chocolate glaze for Jordan and I. We needed a reward, big time!
Again into another twisting array of calles and I glanced into the window of a shop with silver jewelry. Ahmed asked me if I wanted to go inside to look, which I stupidly said yes. I just wanted a silver chain. I was shown silver chains for exorbitant prices and said no while walking out. This man started shouting lower prices as he stood in the middle of the road. The desperation was sad and the idea I felt they all had was that we were travelers from America who would pay them whatever they asked. When it comes to the Scots blood we have in my family, how very wrong they were about us. (Instead of paying €60 to that guy, in Lisbon, the following week, I paid €2.)
Things went literally downhill from there as all any of us wanted was to get to the ferry dock and be on our way. Christopher whispered that he wanted us to head for the Continental Hotel at the base of town, which was not far from the ferry dock, pay Ahmed, and wait the extra hour for our 6 pm crossing. Which was exactly what we did. And, even though we were on the terrace of this cool hotel, no one ever questioned us nor did they ask if we would like to order anything, which, actually, we did. Not thinking, I asked the reception desk about how we could order a drink, maybe a beer, and he raised his eyebrows as if I had just asked for absinthe saying they did not serve alcohol and if we wanted anything else, please go be seated inside at the restaurant. We weren’t interested in being cooped up inside a restaurant so we wandered around the hotel where the decor was mosque-like in a colorful, artistic fashion along with a huge open section housing a warehouse full of curiosities. Everything from paintings, furniture, fossils, jewelry, and some old guy in the back watching a portable tv while barely noticing our existence (who, it turned out, was just babysitting the shop while the owner was elsewhere for awhile). Now this is the way I like to shop! No one over my shoulder while taking my time to just look at some really unusual and sometimes beautiful things that I have no need or room for in my home. Too bad I was too wiped out from the day to even want to open a bargaining session as I could have at least found some gifts.
We also all had in the back of our minds that we had to travel light until after we flew the Ryanair flight to Porto, Portugal. We were very limited on how much baggage we could carry.
We made it to the ferry thinking we had plenty of time only to learn that people had already boarded and we were some of the last passengers on the boat. The ferry was packed to the gills but we found a four-top in the cafeteria section. I saw the San Diego couple who wanted to share a cab and guide with us, on the previous ferry ride to Tangier, before they knew there were 4 of us. Looked like they were all settled in comfortably with a couple I saw they had hooked up with earlier, so looked like a happy ending for them. Hope their day was a success and a little less strained than ours. I realize that the difference between my similar activities in Cairo, as in Tangier, was the demeanor of our guide. Our guide in Cairo was very calm and not a chatterbox like Ahmed had been, and we were not put in the position of walking for miles up and down hills during what turned into a hot day.
At least the orange blossom tincture worked for Kelly as she was able to stay with us for the entire crossing with nary a glimpse of seasickness. It was a good way to end the day.
I will never forget Tangier.