Per usual for my life, our trip to Morocco was (mostly) unplanned and happened something like the following: “We’re going to be so close to Morocco, which is Africa you know, we should go.” And scene.
What would we do in Morocco? I don’t know. Was Morocco safe? I don’t know. Was Morocco worth visiting? I don’t know. All I knew is Bob Dylan mentions Tangier and that’s good enough for me. Honestly though, I wanted to see it and I wanted to make it country 31 so I figured it was worth a few hundred bucks to hit, and I think it definitely was.
THE DRIVE FROM MALAGA
I’ve already covered this a bit in my Malaga post, but the drive is SO fascinating. The Spanish countryside is beautiful and there wasn’t much traffic. The drive from Malaga was about 3 hours, but when you’re jamming to the Strokes and Radiohead with your love in a foreign country, it doesn’t seem that long. As you get towards southern Spain, particularly Tarifa, it’s so interesting to see everything start to change, much more of a Middle Eastern feel with lots of Arabic and women wearing hijabs. I don’t know how to fully explain it but it’s awesome and fascinating.
I’ve gone through this ad nauseam in pretty much every post, but I HATE looking at 12 different blogs/sources to figure anything out. And it seems everyone has an opinion on what port to use to get to Tangier, but let me be the authoritative source: USE TARIFA! From what I read, Algeciras might have a bit cheaper ferries (not sure but that’s what people said online) but I also read you have to take a train or a cab to get into the city which negates the cheaper cost and takes more time. Plus, I booked a hotel right next to the ferry in Tangier which is served by the Tarifa port, so whatever, that’s what we chose and I have no regrets over it. I had also read that it was cheaper to book in person at the port rather than online, so we basically just showed up thinking we’d figure it out when we got there…which we did.
PARKING IN TARIFA
Yet another topic I’d spent wayyyyyyyyy too much time on is where to park in Tarifa. See, this one-day/night trip was already getting pretty pricy, and I didn’t want to waste a bunch of money on parking, but I was also a bit paranoid because Autos Lidos sucked big time and I was certain if the car even got touched in a parking garage they would try and charge me €27462 or something. So yeah, there are a bunch of secured lots and I think they range from like €20-30, and that was our plan going in. But as we got to the port, there’s a road right in front of the port and a bunch of cars parked on the curb, and as we pulled in, a car was leaving. Lucky us! So we saved the money and just parked on the street, which turned out to be perfect. There was actually quite a bit of parking further up the street too, and no issues with theft or vandalism for us. The only bad thing is we headed to the port and some old guy kept telling us something that we couldn’t understand…alas, our car window was completely rolled down and we had left it that way. Thanks, old guy, you saved us!
BUYING FERRY TICKETS/FRS FERRIES
The good thing about Morocco itself is things are pretty cheap. We got some cool threads for a decent price, along with amazing food, pastries, and a souvenir. The bad thing is actually getting to Morocco is fairly expensive. We didn’t shop around for ferries, I think there’s a couple different options, but we just walked into the first office we saw and bought tickets. It was FRS Ferries and was a perfect choice, although expensive. I think it was something like €65 each or something, but whatever, totally worth it. Which reminds me…WHEN YOU GET ON THE FERRY, GET YOUR PASSPORT STAMPED IMMEDIATELY OR REGRET IT FOREVER
To get into Morocco, you have to have this little paper, kind of like an entry card. But to get it officialized, you have to have one of the immigration officers stamp it. The ferry doesn’t really publicize this very well (at least ours didn’t), but I had read online to do it and do it as soon as you get on the boat. Yes, do this!
There’s a little desk near the food with a couple guys stamping the cards. When we first got on, there was almost no line and it just took a few minutes (side note: bring a pen…we filled out in pencil and had to do it again) to get through the line and back to our seats. By the end of the trip, the line was quite long, and I was so stoked to be in Africa that I was glad we could get right off and on with the adventure. Just get it done when you get on.
THE FERRY AND THE DOLPHIN…
Also, once you get on the ferry, get a window seat. There’s a smoking deck at the back of the boat where you can stand in the breeze and watch for animals, but the amount of smoke there made me feel sick and I couldn’t find any other outdoor decks, so a window seat was the next best thing. I had heard you could often see animals on this ferry ride, and so I was watching like a hawk. Back in the days when I used to live in New Zealand, taking the ferry from Wellington to Blenheim was rad because not only was it gorgeous and cool to see the north and south islands at once, but we saw some cool dolphins a couple times.
This time, we were also lucky. Unlike our stupid waste-of-money whale watching tour in Maui, we actually saw more than a stupid fin on this boat. Several times on the trip we saw this adorable little dolphin. It looked black and way smaller than any dolphins I’ve ever seen, but it kinda followed the ferry and kept jumping alongside the boat, pretty close to our window. Very cool stuff. The ferry ride is just under an hour, so it wasn’t tedious or anything, it was very enjoyable.
EXCHANGING MONEY TO DIRHAMS
As soon as you get off the boat, it’s much like any other port where it’s just a gaggle of shops, hustlers, cab drivers, and everyone’s yelling at everyone. We just ducked into a place close but not too close to the port and exchanged $80 (I think) into Moroccan dirhams and that was probably too much, because we obviously couldn’t use it anywhere so we spent it all lavishly at the end of the trip. The exchange rate seemed decent, but I have no idea. I didn’t want to go wandering around looking for a better rate so we just changed the money and were off. Which led directly into one of the greatest moments in my life.
CAITLIN YELLS AT A CHILD HUSTLER AND MY LIFE IS FULFILLED
Getting hustled isn’t anything new. It’s probably one of the world’s oldest professions, hustler, and I have said many times that everyone has to make a living and for that I don’t judge. What happened in Egypt, for instance, I feel went beyond just getting hustled for a few bucks and turned into actual robbery. But yeah, if you want to try and sell us something or point us towards “the best shop in the city” which happens to be run by your brother, all good.
Anyways, there was some tourist stand hawking tours and maps that we walked past and suddenly we had 3 members of our party instead of 2. This kid, who was actually nice and probably 13 years old, had been waiting for us to pass, I had seen him ages before, and is suddenly by my side talking. I talk to him for a minute so as to not be a total jerk, then try and nicely say we’re heading the other direction and goodbye. Which is where it got awkward and annoying. I was nice and he was nice but I’m not dumb. After a few minutes where it became clear he was following us I asked what he needed or wanted. He told us how there are lots of bad people in Tangier but he wasn’t one of them. Ok, cool. He said this a lot. And I asked what he needed from us and he said he was just practicing English and would keep us away from bad people. I told him I understand but we are heading the other way, so goodbye, and he kept following us. I have no idea how or why I told him our hotel name, but he says he will take us there and immediately leads us down a side street (which Google said was not the correct way). Once again, I ask him what’s going on and what he wants and tell him I don’t have money so thanks and bye. I’m also frustrated because he’s leading us the wrong way and I’ve tried to be nice but it’s getting very uncomfortable.
So yeah, we’re tired and hungry and a little on edge being in such a foreign place and I’ve tried so hard to be nice and suddenly mama bear Caitlin emerges for pretty much the only time I’ve ever seen.
“I need you to go away. Now. We have tried to be nice. Please leave. We don’t have any money and we don’t need anything. Thank you for your help but please leave us alone.”
Ok so she didn’t yell, she was just forceful. The young man turned to me and said one of the great lines of all time, “Sir, you are a very sweet man. She’s not good, why are you with her?” To which I told him yes, I am very sweet, but she was frightened and we needed to part ways with him. (And oh yes, I have used this line on Caitlin almost every day since. Because I am a very sweet man).
We weren’t overly mean or anything but it was not super fun being followed by a kid for 20+ minutes, so I was relieved when he left.
After backtracking and finding the place where our young friend led us astray, we found our way to Hotel Mamora and, to put it nicely, the place is rad. It’s a very cool Arabic-style architecture (cool Moorish windows, etc.) and it’s inside Tangier’s old city. The lobby is cool, a bit retro, but cool, and there’s a nice concierge dude dressed to the nines right inside the door. He was really helpful and awesome and check-in was a breeze. The ONLY things I will say that weren’t ideal about the hotel are as follows: For one, the location is RAD. Like, if you want something in the middle of this old-school Middle Eastern feeling city, Mamora is your place. It’s fun and is just between a bunch of shops and mosques and stuff. The problem being, there are a LOT of calls to prayer from several mosques. Like, lots. And some of them are early morning…so take earplugs. I had earplugs in and still was awoken by at least 2 prayer calls early in the morning. Not ideal…but whatever.
Secondly, it’s got that European-style bathroom portion of the room where there’s no separation between the shower and sink and such, so basically one shower and your floor is drenched for the duration of your trip. Not a huge deal, but sucks trying to go to the bathroom at 3am and soaking your socks in the process. Whatever. The rooftop café and AMAZZZZZING free breakfast make it a totally sweet place to stay. Do it.
OLD TANGIER AND SITTING IN THE PARK
As usual, we had no plans and that’s the way we wanted it. We ditched our bags at the hotel and set off to see whatever Tangier had to offer. And yeah, I’ll probably repeat this sentiment like 8,000 times, but Old Tangier reminded me a LOT of Old Jerusalem. I guess they’re the only 2 cities (maybe Old Cairo too) I’ve been to with these massive stone walls and cobblestone streets and narrow passageways that make you feel lost as soon as you step into them. Tangier streets seemed particularly narrow and since it was raining, there were shop owners outside every bloody shop trying to lure us into the shop and out of the rain. Pretty awesome, actually, and we had a great time just window shopping and wandering, wondering how many times we’d passed this or that particular place. It was perfect.
CHEAP STUFF AND SHOPS
One thing we noticed immediately is how much cheaper Morocco was than Spain. We ate like queens (more on that later) and got dope clothes (more on that later) and awesome souvenirs (not more on that later, that’s it about that) and groceries and oh the food the food oh the food. Spain wasn’t Iceland-expensive or nothin, but Morocco was much cheaper. We loved looking through the cool shops and ended up wandering through the town square and checking out the big Grand Mosque. Hotel Mamora is kinda up on a hill, so there were some sweet views of the city from there and we wandered through a bunch of cool old streets and neighborhoods. Not sure if it was the safest option or not, but we made it out unmaimed. There are a couple cool mosques and I don’t know etiquette (like, I don’t know if it’s rude to look inside or gawk outside or whatever) but we enjoyed walking by and around them.
Speaking of cheap, we wandered into the town square and found some amazing French pastries. The shop had so many things and literally everything looked amazing, and I ended up with the second-best Napoleon (or whatever this thing is called) I’ve ever had. (The first best was in Paris, naturally). They were phenomenal and SO cheap, and we just sat in the public square on a bench taking in all the sights and sounds and smells of this cool city. Some cool old dude sat by us and we kept thinking the hustle was on (yet again) but really he just invited us to his friend’s shop but didn’t pressure, which was nice. We actually quite enjoyed the people we met in Morocco as a whole.
MOROCCAN CHICKEN OH THE MOROCCAN CHICKEN
Ok, so the pastries were good but oh man. Oh man. The chicken. The chicken! See, at this fancy grocery store near us in Utah (sup Harmons?) they sell “Moroccan chicken,” and so I assumed it must be a thing, and if it’s a thing and I’m going to Morocco I guess I have to find authentic Moroccan chicken, right? Right. And oh my was it worth it. I am not going to try and explain it because I’m no food critic but it was amazing. Moist and amazing spices and flavors I’ve never had, plus some great flatbread and peas and yellow rice and couscous. It was absolutely phenomenal, one of the best meals I’ve ever had. And it was SO cheap, something like $4 I think. It was a cool tiny café with an upstairs where they brought us our food and it was just fun to be out and about in this crazy city. 1,000% recommended. Between that and the pastries Tangier was some of my favorite food I’ve ever had.
LOUD CALLS TO PRAYERS AND LIGHT SLEEP
I already mentioned this, but my one friend who’s been to Tangier (sup JD) had told me there were lots of loud calls to prayer at many different times and he was right. It startled me a couple times and especially since Hotel Mamora is right in the old city kinda in this alleyway, it’s extra loud. Take earplugs, just trust me. I didn’t sleep great because of that but whatever, still a cool authentic experience.
FINISHING THE NIGHT AT… THE MALL
Like two millennial Americans (wait, wouldn’t millennials only shop online or at a vegan boutique or something? Whatever) we ended our wild night in Tangier at…a shopping mall. We had stayed out all day in the old city and seen everything we could, mostly just wandering aimlessly like I’m so good at. But as dark came, shops started closing and it was still sprinkling rain so we figured we’d hit up the Tangier City Mall because it was open a bit later and we wanted to see if we could get any cool African stuff for cheap. The walk to the mall was longer than expected, took probably 40 minutes, but we walked along the harbor and it was well lit and safe and I love the ocean so it was cool with me. And the mall was, in terms of malls, awesome! It’s brand new and cool looking inside and out and has a bunch of shops and brands that (I assume) are only in Morocco. There were several SUPER cheap suit places, and since I still regret not getting one in Thailand, I was stoked to get one…until I realized I’m too fat. No seriously, my gut made it impossible to find a good fitting suit. It’s actually incredibly depressing and demoralizing but that’s a different conversation. Earlier in the old city, Caitlin had bought a really cool colorful full-body dress (it seems very African to me and I love it) for a good deal (hint: haggle) and I went into the Morocco version of H&M and got a SWEET jacket for something like $17. Not to brag (humblebrag coming) but I haven’t worn it yet without someone asking about it. We also hit the supermarket in the mall (why don’t American malls have supermarkets inside? It’s so convenient!) and got some essentials for the trip back (i.e. cheap candy and somehow we ran out of toothpaste so thanks Morocco for the $.25 tube) and headed back to the hotel.
THE CHICKEN OH THE TERRIBLE CHICKEN BUT THE AWESOME TAGINE
As we walked home, we figured we’d get one last good meal since we had a bit of cash we needed to spend. We had passed a ton of little cafes and stuff but everything looked closed or closing, so when we walked past this (seemingly) nice-ish restaurant we figured let’s do it because it was the only place open. The old dude serving was super nice and Caitlin got this traditional dish called Tagine which is a cool clay pot thing with gravy-like sauce and meat and vegetables. It was pretty good. Maybe it was because I was comparing my meal to earlier, but I got the exact same thing I’d had (Moroccan chicken, yellow rice, bread, couscous) and it sucked. Just super dry and absolutely no flavor. It was, to put it mildly and without hyperbole, the worst thing that’s ever happened to anyone ever. Oh well, ½ ain’t a bad ratio for great meals.
BACK TO MALAGA
And that, dear reader, was pretty much it. Hotel Mamora has a cool rooftop café, and the views, if you ignore all the apartments around filled with rooftop garbage, are pretty sweet as you can see the Grand Mosque and the ocean and lots of the city. The breakfast is AMAZING and included in the price. There was heaps of variation and everything was delicious. It was quite enjoyable just sipping our hot chocolate looking out at the ocean.
From there, we just walked back to the port, making sure our little hustler friend wasn’t at the kiosk on the way back (he wasn’t) and took the hourlong ferry back to Europe. We didn’t see any dolphins this time and even though Morocco wasn’t life changing or anything, I’m very glad we did it. And, by some divine intervention, we realized as we got back to the car that Mitch hadn’t booked a hotel for the upcoming night (doesn’t sound like me, I know) which led us to my favorite part of the trip and one of my favorite places we’ve ever been: Gibraltar.
(PS…I had wondered if we should get a car for Tangier, the answer is an unequivocal NO. We walked everywhere without any issue and it seems like driving might be crazy anyways).