BRAD     |     EMILLIE

Saturday, December 31, 2011

At the cross roads of the sea

--Tangers, Tangiers... off the beaten path. French mumbled in disjointed bodily cues. Tourists lilting in their obvious incongruity. We swam like novices caught in the wave of people, sand and olive oil. Staring away and within at the same time.--

Finding travel advice about Tangers online was surprisingly difficult. You would imagine given the millions of tourists caught up in the Costa del Sol beach culture that there would be a few who would choose to venture on to something a bit more rich in culture... but from the sea of information on the web, I could not find out what I really needed to know.  This blog stands to correct that lack of information.


i) Algeciras
There are a number of port options, and a number of companies to choose from.  We opted to go from Algeciras because it was one port that guaranteed departures everyday.  Our way out was windy; very, very windy, so none of the fast ferries were running.  I suspect that such winds are a common occurrence, as the coastal highway is dotted with windsocks, and there is a MASSIVE wind farm along the coast between Algeciras and Tarifa.

Anyways... you could look for ferry companies and schedules on line... or you could go to one of the many road side booths advertising tickets to Tangers.... but that would be an absolute folly. Even on a good day the ferries don't keep a schedule.  On a windy day... well... all in good time.

At the ferry terminal there will be people hassling you to buy tickets from them.  Ignore them and march right to the end of the terminal where the foot passengers ticket sales are.  There you will find a current schedule (with more than half the sailings cancelled on our windy day departure) for all of the companies.  There are at least half a dozen companies to choose from.  Take the sailing that is the most convenient for you and buy your tickets directly from that company.

On a windy day, the authorities (not sure who... but we only gathered this information by overhearing other people's conversation) only allow so many boats to be crossing to Tangers at a time.  This meant that our boat had to wait 1.5 hours to depart.  We were a bit put out by that... however, we later met someone else who had to wait 5 hours to depart... so perhaps we were pretty lucky after all!

All the boats from Algeciras dock at Tangers Med.  Which means that the boat trip takes 1.5 hours... and you dock a 45 min drive from Tangers. The ferry companies offer a free bus trip on a fancy coach bus to Tangers... but getting on the bus is a massive free-for-all push, as there definitely was fewer seats then passangers. 

So my summary of that experience was: cost €20 each, total travel time >2 hours, some wind, reliable departures.
 ii) Tarifa
The ferry from Tarifa runs right to Tangers city port... literally just a 15 min walk from the Medina. It's a fast little catamaran boat that only takes 30 min to cross.  We decided to do this on our return trip.  It was a much nicer voyage... and would come highly recommended.  The ferry company even offers a free bus ride to Algeciras on the other side!  The only draw back was that it cost €36 each and it won't run on a windy day.  Even on our calm day of travel BOTH Brad and I were a bit nauseated by the tossing of the small ship.  Clearly the mouth of the Mediterranean is a turbulent place!

There are restaurants... but these only open for dinner starting at 8pm. Tangers is 1 hour behind Spain which means that it was more like a 9pm start. Proper restaurants will serve alcohol, and the food prices aren't too bad when compared to Europe (€7 a plate).

However, there are LOADS of tea shops serving food, plus many more fast food options. These won't sell alcohol (to be honest, I didn't actually see any confirmatory evidence of drinking ANYWHERE in Tangers... though there did appear to be beach side bars, these weren't ever open... perhaps it was just too wintery?).  Informal eating is much cheaper (€3 a plate) and was very tasty.  We ate veggie tangine, veggie couscous, Moroccan salad, and Arabic salad.  All yummy and no tummy issues at all. 

(On that note, I never did find out if the drinking water was good... so we stuck with bottled water, even though the locals seemed to be availing of the free tap water.)

Street food seemed popular, but we only ate a few things from the street as they seemed to involve a lot of seafood or sugar. Dairy seemed to be all goat... but there wasn't really much dairy around. 

The only real advice we would offer is:
i) Avoid the street cafes around the Grand Socco as they are 100% tourist hustlers.
ii) Tipping 10% is the norm.
iii) The mint tea you see everyone drinking is way too sweet.

We stayed in a Riad. There are hotels and they run at normal Euro pricing. There are pensions everywhere, which I suspect are cheap but not terribly well maintained. A Riad is a traditional hotel. By nature they are in older buildings and damp. The reason for the damp is that they are comprised of rooms situated off of an inner courtyard. The door of your room opens into the courtyard.

Our experience felt very traditional. The only heating for the building was the fire built in the courtyard every night. Security on our doors and windows were minimal at best, but that added to the authenticity as they were definitely historical. The outside door into the Riad was beefy, and the Riad (typically) only had 4-5 rooms, leading to a more private atmosphere.

Truthfully there isn't much to see in Tangers. A few museums and parks make up the lot. You could spend a lot of time lost in the ancient Medina, haggling with the vendors over their wares.  There's a few other markets, including a food market that surely wouldn't have passed any Western food safety regulations. The local men seem to spend all their time drinking tea and coffee in one of the many salons. I felt a bit uncomfortable joining in that part of the culture... given that I'm generally not brave enough to walk into a room full of men (who seem to like to stare). The Petit Socco has a few salons that are more tourist friendly and not too badly priced (€0.90 for a coffee).

General advice:
i) Barter. But don't expect that much from it.... it's not like Mexico or Turkey. Basically check around for prices before deciding on the value of the item. Some people will try and rip you off, but most won't.

ii) Ignore the hustlers, unless you actually do need help. The hustlers basically imagine themselves to be "guides", working for tips.  A tip of a Euro would be appropriate for having someone help you find  your hotel.  And given the general lack of appropriate maps, and the thousands of short streets, you may need to seek such help a few times.  If you look lost they will descend upon you, like flies on honey.  However, simply ignore them completely or provide a strong "NO" if they start to follow you. Our first night there I was quite bothered by them; however, by the second day it was easy to avoid feeling harassed.

iii) Dress conservatively. Most of the women cover their hair and wear more traditional clothes. Many of the men wear long robes (I particularly liked the pointed hoods of the mountain Berbers). All the men stared at me, even though I was wearing jeans and a sweater. On the same token, most men would barely address me in restaurant and shops.  It made things more difficult as my French is much better than Brad's.

iv) Don't assume everyone speaks French.  It's polite to ask.  Many people spoke as much English as they did French.  However, I would say that mostly everyone understood some French... though I will admit that their accent and my accent did make some things difficult to negotiate.

v) Don't use Euro's... it's always cheaper to pay with Dirhams.  We used less than €150 (1650 Dirhams) for our trip... (excluding lodgings) and we did a fair amount of shopping with that! The local handmade goods seem to be leather, metal working, pottery and clothes. In fact our Riad seemed to be located in the clothing district, with everyone winding thread and sewing away late into the evening.

vi) There is no siesta, but some shops do close for the call to prayer.

vii) Canadians and Americans (and I assume Europeans) don't need visas. There is paperwork to fill out at the border, but no fees to be paid. Also you don't need vaccinations or anything like that... so it's relatively easy to pop over for a short trip!

Phew!  That about sums it up!  We had a fab time... and only had to cuddle with Nikolai for 4 hours to make up for his feelings of abandonment.  (He had a great time with Grammy, Grampy and Auntie Claire... but felt a wee bit needy when we arrived back!)

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