Then I saw some people going on left side of the ferry, I went there to check what was going on. At the end of the queue, I saw a desk where an immigration officer was stamping passports. I also joined the queue at the back but this queue was moving at snail's pace. While I was in the queue, I saw a very funny sign beside a plant which read; “please don’t water the plants”. I thought it was strange, why would they put something like that? When I examined the plants closely, it turned out that they were fake. Well, that sign made sense.
When I came to the immigration desk, there was only one officer. That could be the reason that why queue was moving so slowly. On top of that, a woman was sitting beside him on a chair and both were having conversation while he kept stamping the passports.
By the time vessel blasted its horn for departure, it was 7:25pm. It was only two hours late. It was late in the Evening but it was getting dark very quickly, so I decide to go out on the deck for fresh air and few photos. I went to upper deck, where passengers were allowed to go but not on the observation deck. I could see a beautiful view of Gibraltar and windmills, which I had been seeing on top of the Rock of Gibraltar. Atlas Mountains were lingering like a ghost in far distance on the African side.
Arrival at the Tangier Port
When ferry arrived at Tangier port, it was almost 7.40pm. Yup, it sounds crazy that I took us only fifteen minutes to cross the strait. Morocco uses GMT time zone as compared to the continental Europe. Once vessel was docked, we came to the car deck. There were two guys standing in front of us and they were holding a chain in order to stop people from getting off. When they got signal for all clear they dropped the chain and everyone rushed outside. There were two officers standing on one side. They were checking every one's passport for the stamp on it.
After this we were ushered into a bus. The bus got filled with the passengers in no time but it showed no intention of moving. We were inside for more than ten minutes, a guy came to the driver's seat, and this guy had been standing outside all the time. When he sat on the seat, everyone started to shout Yalla Yalla (hurry up, hurry up). He shouted back at the passengers and he started the engine. He dropped all passengers at the main building at 8.15pm. There was a security scanner for the bags. There was no concept of queue and no one was around to manage or instruct the crowd. So every man for himself or every woman for herself. They all were throwing their bags at the belt from every side. I was little concerned about my camera bag. If someone would push a heavy bag against it or throw a bag on top of it. That would bring certain death to this piece of equipment. I waited on one side till most of the crowd had passed.
After passing security scanner, I came out of the building and decided to take a taxi to the hotel. I was told it would be around 30- 40 Euros. I thought, the driver wanted to take advantage for me being a tourist and no one spoke English so I decided to go inside the building for more information. Once inside I scanned the area, there was no information desk, I saw few counters open, and they were operated by one of the ferry company. I went to one of those counters and spoke to a guy.
I want to go to Tangier city, how far it is?
It is about 54 kilometres.
Yes, it is.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
According to my information Hotel Continental, where I will be staying is next to the port. I had seen this on Google maps. I said to him in scholarly fashion.
Yes, you are right, but we are at new port and hotel is next to the old port. Only ferries from Tarifa go to the old port.
Oh, that is the case? How can I go to the city then?
You have two options. Number one, take a taxi, which is more convenient but expensive. Second option is public bus.
How much each of them will cost?
Taxi will cost you around 30Euros and bus will be around 25 Dirham (2.5Euros).
When he was explaining all this to me, a girl who was serving a customer. She asked him something and he took out his mobile phone from his pocket and searched something on the internet.
In the meantime, I started to weigh both options. If I wanted to take a taxi it would be quicker option but there was no point because it was already dark and there wasn't much to do in Tangier this late and on top of that I was very tired. So I decided to take the second option.
Then guy at the counter turned to me.
OK, I will take the bus. But I needed to change the money.
You can change money with me, brother. He said quietly.
I changed €100 with him. Even though, the exchange rate wasn't the best but I didn’t care. I thanked the guy for his time and kind advice and dragged my bag to the front of the building once more and joined a queue of people who were waiting for the bus. Few taxi drivers came over to the passengers and they were trying to negotiate a price. Then five people in front of me decided to take a taxi. The driver told two guys to put bags on the roof of the taxi and all passengers were inside in no time. Then a van pulled in on the far side. Three guys, who looked like porters ran towards it and they started to unload the bags.
While I was watching those guys unload van with great speed and strength. A minibus came to the port. Some of the passengers tried to negotiate a price with the driver but he kept shaking his head. It was hard to tell if money was the issue or his schedule. There were few dodgy characters lingering around the building. The one thing which I noticed strange was that those characters were giving people very detailed look. I didn’t know for sure if they were scanning crowd for some opportunity or just trying to recognise their loved ones. It would take lot of convincing to agree with the later one.
The bus arrived at 8.50pm. The minute bus door opened, the crowd ran towards it like crazy. Porters started to load bags into the loading bay. It was chaotic; I was trying to get into the bus. A young police man came from one side. He didn’t bother to join the queue (there was no queue by the way). Quietly he was on the bus from one side. Even some people moved away to let him go first. All I could say was “fair play to him”.
The bus left port at 9pm. Along the way, there wasn't much to write about because it was all dark and I couldn't see anything from the window. Although I could say it was hilly area because the bus was going up and down and few houses were dotted along in uneven fashion. Most passengers in the bus were sitting quietly but some of them were talking on their mobile phones. When I arrived in Tangier city, it was 9.45pm. I came off the bus and waited beside the luggage bay to be opened. An old guy came over to me and asked in English if I was looking for a taxi? I replied yes. Next thing, He shouted at someone and another guy appeared from somewhere. When I moved forward to grab my bag. The guy told me not to worry about it. One of them put the bag in the taxi. I asked the driver, how much it would cost me to go to the Continental Hotel because I didn't want to be ripped off. He told me that it would be around €5. I agreed to the fare and took his sea but old guy jumped in the passenger seat at the front. It thought it was rather odd that he wanted to travel with us but it didn't bother me. The older guy told me that he was a licensed tour guide and if I was interested to do the city tour he could show me around? I told him it was too late for me to go anywhere.
After reaching the hotel, I paid the taxi driver. Then my future guide asked me if I wanted to pay him as well? Rather surprised, I asked him why would I need to pay him? He replied in very calm manner, only if I felt like it. Well, it had been a long day and I didn't feel like paying for something I didn't ask for. Although I took his number and told him that if I wanted a tour in the Morning, I would call him.
After passing through a beautifully decorated lobby, I climbed few stairs which brought me to the reception area. The guy behind the desk looked at me and said; you must be abbas. Yes, I am. I replied.
It looked like that I was the last one to check in. He took my passport and started to register all the details including immigration stamp number on a registration card. I was given a room on the first floor. This room was very hot and there was no air conditioning. I came to the reception and asked if I could get a fan? I was told that they didn’t have one. It was rather strange that in a hot country they didn’t have a fan? I came back to the room and opened bedroom window which opened in a corridor, it wasn't of much help so I opened bathroom window also for cross ventilation. After taking shower, I felt little bit better. I came to the front desk and asked the guy about the room service. I was told that restaurant was closed for the evening and only option was food outside the hotel.
I came out of the hotel and turned right, the minute I turned right. I was followed by a youth. Who told me that there was nothing available in that street and if I wanted food he could bring me to a restaurant. I told him that I was OK and I didn’t need his help. That street brought me to a small square and everything was closed. So I turned back in opposite direction.
When I was coming downhill from the Medina, I saw a music shop on my right hand side. The guy behind the counter had his both speakers out in front of the shop and music was blaring out. In front of me were two restaurants. I decided to eat in the first one, which looked OK to me. I ordered Herrera and chicken Tagine. In front of me few youths were playing football. They were quite competitive in order to get the possession of the ball. There was nothing special about the food but what surprise me was napkins, they were made of paper. I didn't believe it in the beginning but after close examination. It turned out they were indeed papers which were cut to look like napkins. After paying the bill, I started walking back to the Hotel. Youths were still sitting outside the hotel. I passed through a security cabin. He gave me a glance but didn't say anything.
New day in Tangier
I woke up at 6.30am. After writing my diary, I came downstairs and I asked for the breakfast room. One of the staff members brought me to the breakfast area. I was given the choice between indoor restaurant or outside terrace. I decided to sit outside because it was a beautiful Morning. There was a good selection of continental breakfast. I saw a guy sitting beside a juice machine, I asked him for the orange juice and he dispensed it without any fuss. After picking up some of the breakfast selection I came to one of the tables in the middle. On my right hand side was the old medina of Tangier and left hand side was ocean. Fresh breeze was blowing and sky was little overcast. Next to me was an African guy in traditional African dress, alongside him was sitting a young and tall girl. They were talking low voice. The guy would glance at me from time to time. After finishing my breakfast, I came to the reception desk and asked a guy about the train schedule to go to Rabat. He went to the computer which was sitting away from the desk and printed me a copy of all day's schedule.
After coming out of the hotel, I turned right and asked a guy about Abds Sadiq Street. He didn't understand me. I decided to use English to Arabic translator on my phone and I also showed him street on the map. He pointed towards left hand side.
I kept going with the help of map. Then I came across a small square. I asked a guy about the direction. He told me to follow him and next thing he was walking in front of me kept saying, please come, please come. I told him that it was very kind of him and I would be fine on my own but he was very persistent.
Ibn e Battuta ‘s Tomb
He brought me to the area of Ibn-E Battuta’s tomb. It was a poor area as I was told by “my guide” that this area was inhabited by the Jews. Tomb's main door was locked with two padlocks.
When Ibn Battuta left Morocco for the first time in the summer of 1325, the young graduate had little idea that 24 more summers would pass before he would see his homeland again. For the next two and half decades, Battuta journeyed around the known world, covering nearly triple the distance achieved by Marco Polo at the end of the previous century. Ibn -E Battuta is a renowned traveller of the Middle Ages.
Battuta’s journey has passed into the stuff of legend; to this day, stories of the 14th century Muslim explorer’s adventures resonate with travellers of all ages and back grounds. Ibn Battuta was born in Tangier, Morocco in 1304. After spending several decades travelling the world Battuta returned to Morocco where he worked as a judge. Upon his death in 1369, he was interred in a tomb in the medina at Tangier. His tomb is located in the northwest quarter of the medina, between the Bab Jdida and Bab Marshan gates; one would find a plaque marking the final resting place of the pioneering scholar, jurist and - above all - traveller.
Then he took me to another direction, now I had resigned to my fate with my guide whose name was Abdul. He pointed that all the Jews' houses were marked with green colour and the Christians' with blue colour for identification purposes. This tradition had been followed for centuries. Abdul also pointed to some of the houses, where rich Jews were residing. Needless to say that he wasn't a big fan of those big houses or the owners.
The local Bakery
Then he brought me to the local bakery, where bread for the neighbourhood was being baked on daily basis.
As per Rick Steves, “in Tangier, many people can’t afford private ovens, phones, or running water, so there are communal options: phone desks, baths, and bakeries where locals drop off their ready-to-cook dough. The baker, artfully wielding a broom-handled wooden spatula, received her loaves, hardly missing a beat as he pushed and pulled the neighborhood's baked goods - fish, stews, bread, cookies, and pods of sunflower seeds - into and out of his oven”.
Then we came to a tailor shop. Taylor was busy making clothes with his hands. He would use his old sewing machine from time to time. Most of the times he would make Kaftan and Jalaba. He was a strict Muslim so he told the guide that he didn’t want to appear in any of the photos.
The Kesbah Mosque
After turning through few narrow streets, I was brought to a mosque, which was built in 1355. Then he brought me to the other end of the mosque, where ladies' entrance was located. Along the way I saw some people sitting in the street. It was mainly women folks. I was told that they were beggars and they were waiting for free food and money on Eid day which was round the corner.
We passed beside another baker's shop. Abdul wanted me to go inside but I asked him if the process was same between two bakeries? He told me that it was the case. I told him that I was happy to move on. As we were walking through the medina street. One thing which was very obvious that medina had lots of cats and I mean lots of them.
Then we came to Kasbah, the view of the ocean was beautiful. There were some rusty guns there. They belonged to the British when they had occupied Tangier. The area where guns were located was bit sketchy. There were two or three mattresses beside the wall and two guys were sitting on them with few shoppng bags beside them. It looked like that that was where they were sleeping. On the wall there were signs of smoke probably from the fire used by those guys during the night to keep them warm.
Then Abdul brought me to The Cafe Hafa. I ordered a glass of Orange juice. While sipping it slowly and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The Café Hafa, an island in the wretchedness, has become the emblem of the forgotten city of Tangier. Tangier, once one of the places that drew Western bohemians to Morocco, where the US writer Paul Bowles, the British painter Francis Bacon and the Rolling Stones followed their Tangerine Dreams, their gaze drifting from the Orient back towards Europe. And today, even more than in the past, it can be said that the future lies over the sea.
While I was with Abdul in the medina, he kept telling me about the Berber shops in the area. I told him that I wasn't here for the shopping but he was adamant that they were inside a beautiful buildings and their work was worth the visit. Then in no time, I found myself at the front of a carpet shop. I looked at Abdul and he smiled at me. Before I could think of an escape, the owner of the shop also joined Abdul and insisted to come inside. Once I was inside Abdul moved away in a corner. I saw few carpets in the shop and there was a guy who was buying some stuff. He asked one of the salesmen if he could pay by his credit card? The owner who was standing beside me said to him, “No problem my friend”. It seemed that Morocco was one place on Earth where anyone could make a friend in no time. I told Abdul that I was ready to leave.
When we came out of the carpet shop, Abdul wanted to show me a magic medicine. I followed him into another shop. Abdul said something to the guy and he ran quickly inside a small room and came back wearing long white coat. He looked almost like a doctor. He showed me different types of oils which were good for skin and hair. I told them that I had more than enough hair on my head so baldness wasn't going to happen any time soon but they were worried about my skin. The doctor said that my skin would glow with richness of that oil. I told Abdul to get me out of there and Abdul's face dropped. He seemed genuinely upset that I didn’t buy anything. After coming out of the medicine shop, Abdul was very quiet and wasn't calling me his friend any more.
Then we were at the front of the Continental Hotel. He wanted me to go inside and visit the place. It seemed that it was one of the landmarks in the medina. I told him that I was staying in that hotel. Then Abdul became little embarrassed. He told me it was time for him to leave and he needed money from me.
How much do you need? I asked.
Whatever makes you happy?
Well, let’s not discuss money, Abdul. I will add you on Facebook and we will stay friends forever (because he kept calling me friend until we were out from the last shop).
He didn’t like my idea of friendship.
300 Dirhams, he asked in a strong voice while looking at the ground.
300 Dirhams, it is bit too much.
No friend, this is my money, I need 300 Dirhams.
I felt little bit happier because he called me a friend after a long break.
Abdul, here is my problem; you started to walk in front of me in the square. I only asked for the direction. I asked you at the beginning, how much you were going to charge me you didn’t want to discuss and now you don't want anything less than 300?
OK, 250 then. He turned his face to other side.
Abdul, don't treat me like a stupid tourist. You are asking me too much.
OK, 200 and I will not reduce any more.
Well, you have to reduce because I am not willing to hand over 200 to you.
I told you not to bring me to the Berber shops, but, you did, in the beginning you wanted to come to the Grand Socco with me but now you have changed your story, you are not being honest with me.
He looked at me in a way that he had accepted his defeat.
OK brother, I have a wife and two children. One of them is very sick, I need money for them.
I gave him 150 Dirhams.
He wasn't happy but I wasn't happy either, especially the way he conducted his business with me. Well, this was only beginning of my adventure in Morocco.
The Jamai Mosque of Tangier
I walked downhill from the medina and came in front of Grand Mosque or Jamai Mosque.
About the building
The site of the mosque was formerly the home of several significant religious buildings from various civilizations that previously occupied Tangier, dating back originally to a fifth century Roman church. After the conquest, the church became a mosque and remained under Andalusian influence until the late fifteenth century. The mosque was replaced by a church during the centuries in which Tangier was under Portuguese and English rule, from 1471 to 1684. After Moulay Ismail recaptured the city for the 'Alawi dynasty in 1684, the church was once again transformed into a mosque. The minaret is located in the northwest corner of the mosque.
Then I walked through the bazaar on Rue Siaghine. It was a small street with lots of shops and beggars. There were few cafés and people were sitting and enjoying their Morning coffee. I saw a guy pushing a cart with full of stuff. He was bringing it to the medina; probably this was the main wheeled transport in old Medina. It was going to be confirmed later in Fes.
The Grand Socco
It was a big square with traffic going around it and making it more like a large roundabout. In the middle were palm trees and people were sitting on the benches. On the far side was Al-Rif cinema. When I came to the centre of the square, I saw few people with their tools in front of them. Probably they were day labourers, looking for some work. I wouldn't call them that they were together as a group because they were sitting away from each other. I felt like they were in direct competition with each other. On their faces, I could read the hardships and sad realities of life. I also saw a group of nuns passing the square. Then I saw a beautiful mosque of Sidi Bou Habib in front of me.
I made my way to the North side of the Sidi Bou Habib Mosque, delightful Mendoubia Garden in front of me. Before I could set my eyes on garden, I stumbled upon a guy who was sleeping with jacket on his face. He didn’t seemed to be bothered by the fast pace of life around him. When I walked further I saw another guy sleeping on the grass. There were some people who were cleaning the garden they didn’t seem to mind those sleepers on public place. One of the key features of the park is a banyan tree that is reputed to be more than 800 years old. It is not alone, however, as the park is filled with fig and dragon trees that have been around for centuries.
I crossed the road and on opposite side of the garden was a small market. It was full of crowd and energy. The people were selling their wares. There were few Berber women in their traditional dress, who were selling mainly vegetables. As I wondered around I saw two Berber women just rolled their cloths and decided to leave the market. It looked like that they were heading back to their home, probably somewhere in the mountains. In the market, I also saw colourful small cacti. They were of yellow, green and blue colours and they were put in the same coloured vases. I had never seen those types of cacti. Were they real or fake, I was unable to tell.
Back to the Hotel
I walked back to the Grand Socco, I saw a money exchange shop. I decided to change some Euros into Dirhams. While I was walking back to the hotel I came across Burj Al-Hajoui. I was met by a guy at the stairs, who asked me if I was interested in a guide? I told his request politely. There were two guns installed on each side of the Borj. On the left hand side was a cat coming out of the hull of the gun while on my right hand side was a guy sleeping inside. Sleeping in public seemed to be the favourite thing to do in Tangier.
When I was going to enter the hotel from the street. I heard someone shouting India, India. There were few youths sitting where I had seen them last night. Probably what they meant by India was that if I was from India?
Once inside the hotel, I wanted to have a look at other parts of the hotel. This hotel was being renovated. It opened its doors in 1865. Those parts of the hotel which were already renovated looked beautiful. There was also an antique shop inside the hotel. I asked the guy at the reception about the taxi price to the train station. He told me that if staff was going to call a taxi for me it would cost me fifty Dirhams but I could catch one at the bottom of the medina for fifteen Dirhams. He told me that those drivers were coming to the port with the passengers but they would return empty. So they would accept anything. I thanked the guy for his practical tip.
I wanted to catch train at 1:17pm. There was still enough time in train so I decided to take a taxi from the street. After collecting my bag, I brought it down to the reception area. The guy at the reception asked a porter to help bring the bag out of the hotel because there were still two flights of stairs to be dealt with.
I didn’t mind a bit of assistance as I was going to drag the bag all day. He brought the bag at the front of the hotel. After getting his tips he thanked me and went back inside. I came downhill and hailed a taxi, I asked the driver about the price? He told me that it would be fifty Dirhams. I told him that I was only going to pay him fifteen Dirhams. He had no objection to accept that amount.
Tangier Train Station
The driver dropped me in front of the train station, which was in newer part of the city. As I approached the front of the building, I realised that entrance was cordoned off and it was manned by two guards. One of them looked like police officer while other one was in civilian dress. One of them asked me something in Arabic, which I didn’t understand and I told him that I didn't speak Arabic. He let me go through the barrier. There were few people coming behind me he told them to go to the right hand side of the building. I joined one of the queues for the ticket. I purchased the ticket for 190DH. After looking around and seeing that station was full of people. I realised that it was going to be a busy train. So I decided to upgrade the ticket to first class. I went back to the queue again. While I was waiting there, a young guy came and stood behind me. He was approached by one of the staff members and told him to go to the opposite side of the queue. I didn't understand the logic of it but there were many things I was going to learn about this mysterious country and its people.
I told the guy at the window that I wanted to upgrade my ticket to the first class. He informed me that there was no extra fee to do upgrade the ticket but I still needed to pay him for the first class fare, it was another fifty Dirhams. After upgrading the ticket, I went to the one of the ticket checker at the door to the platform. I asked him that how much time would I need to catch a train? He told me that 30 minutes would be enough.
I had more than one hour on my hand so I decided to pay a visit to a McDonald which I had seen while I was in the taxi. I entered McDonald from the side door and went to the counter and noticed that there was a big portrait of the king above the counter. I had seen this portrait in the station as well but I didn’t pay much attention to it because it was Government building, but having this photo in a private building was a something new to me. May be, it was fashion in Morocco or their love for their King? Only a Moroccan could answer that. After ordering my lunch of burger, fries and milk shake, I felt guilty because Morocco was known for its good cuisine in the West and I was having lunch at the McDonald. The guy at the counter told me that he would bring food to the table. I took a seat beside the window so I could enjoy the view of ocean and palm trees which were looking very green and full of life as their leaves sway in the air. The price of lunch also reflected good views so I thought it was fair to keep looking through the window while I was munching my American lunch.
I still had 40 minutes to the train so I decided to go to the station. Both guards were still at the entrance but this time, they didn't ask anything and let me in, but they were still refusing entry to the Moroccans.
When gate for the platform opened, everyone ran to the gate. I stood on one side and let this drama unfold. Amid this running and shouting, one of the passengers dropped his bag on the floor. The guy was trying to pick it up but people weren’t giving him a chance. They were all rushing even some of them tripped over the bag but no one seemed to care.