On a previous occasion, I was in Tarifa and I failed in the attempt. The attempt is to get the ferry from Tarifa to Tangier. Not you might think the most difficult thing to do.
At the first attempt: I racked up at the ferry port with its little booking office with four or five people taking their ease in it. I asked for a ticket and was informed that I would be very welcome to a ticket, but, unfortunately, that there wasn’t a ferry. This didn’t seem like a very good deal to me. I asked politely why there wasn’t a ferry. They told me that it was broken, el ferry está roto. When will it be fixed I inquired, although in the back of my mind lurked the Spanish concept of manana., Soon they said. How long has it been broken I asked, three months they said. At this point, I gave up the idea of trying to get to Tangier.
But hope springs eternal. It’s funny how while sitting disconsolately on a dockside, wondering how far the walk is to get a beer, that obscure thoughts pass through your mind. I mused, is the name Tarifa anything to do with the word Tariff?
Perhaps in the olden days, they used to exercise a levy on goods going to North Africa or coming to Spain. (Apparently not). Also, I idly wondered, do Tangerines have anything to do with Tangiers? (Yes) I think that Jaffa oranges get their name from Jaffa in Israel/Palestine so perhaps this so. (Also yes)
With the speed of a winged Hermes, we come to the, relatively, present-day unless of course, you happen to be reading this in 2525 in which case it counts as a historical document.
I like Tarifa. It has a very cool old town with winding allies, Moorish buildings, a fort, good beaches, and good restaurants, what’s not to like as they say. The more modern town has a sort of surfer vibe while staying Spanish in essence. Kite surfing is popular due to the regular high winds that blow across this part of Spain. It’s good to sit on the beach to watch them but there is no way you’d get me up on one. The fortified town has seen more sieges than you can shake a stick at.
My favorite story, all be it sad, is of In Alonso de Guzmán defended the town in 1296 Guzmán held Tarifa’s castle against the siege of the Moors and Don Juan, the kings rebellious brother. Guzmán’s son had been placed under the care of Don Juan, who threatened to kill the captive unless Guzmán surrendered the city. According to legend, Guzmán rebuffed the demand with dramatic words. According to one rendition, “I did not beget a son to be made use of against my country, but that he should serve her against her foes. Should Don Juan put him to death, he will but confer honor on me, true life on my son, and on himself eternal shame in this world and everlasting wrath after death.” Guzman reportedly threw down his knife for the besiegers to use in killing his son. They don’t really make men like that these days. Maybe it wasn’t his favorite son?
So more time than I care to think about later I make my second attempt to cross to Tangier. Now the ferry terminal is efficient and works well, though you might have to queue. I did see some Americans who cut it too fine left on the quayside so arrive early. The ferries are also fine. It takes about 45 minutes. Mine was a catamaran or do they call it a hydrofoil? If it gets rough these tend to be canceled. I suppose they tend to bob about too much. As it was, it was rough enough for me. I saw someone fasten their belt around the rail on the bar to stay steady, but perhaps they’d been at the vodka.
Prices seem to hover around the 40 Euro mark. Immigration formalities for Morocco are conducted on the ferry, pick up a white form at reception or from whoever sold you your ticket and fill it in with your passport details, then look for the small police office on board to have your passport stamped with the date of entry and unique identity number. Often there is a queue, this is true for getting on the ferry as well, There seemed to be a lot of jostling and cutting in (a Moroccan specialty). Experienced ex-rugby players would be at an advantage in this scenario. I can never be bothered and usually stay in my seat until the crowd thins.
If the ferry has docked and you are still in the queue, you are now in the third world where time stands still motivated by the slow progress of officialdom, you must have your passport correctly stamped or you will be nabbed by police when disembarking the car deck and sent back in disgrace to have this error corrected!
Tangier weirdly enough was made an international zone in 1923 under the joint administration of France, Spain, and Britain. It was a tax haven and became a destination for what could be politely called the Bohemian set and less politely an assortment of drunks, addicts, and characters of what might once have been called of low moral fiber. This state of affairs lasted until 1945 when the Moroccans got Tangier’s back. for many heady decades, this cosmopolitan enclave was under international administration when all imaginable pleasures were to be had here. This has left a mark and impression on the place.
Starting in the 1950s, the demi-monde descended in droves. Errol Flynn, Ava Gardner, Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, and Francis Bacon all did their bit to establish Tangiers as the last word in louche, only for some writers to go still further with their X-rated forays into derangement (Burroughs) and depravity (Orton) These days the place has had something of a makeover. There isn’t the same amount of sleaze and it’s more than a little safer than it was, OK a little of the adventure and exoticism might have gone but perhaps that’s a sign of the times. Not that the current clean-up has erased every last trace of Tangier’s essential dissolution.
In the air, along with regular whiffs of kif hashish, there persists a distinctive quality – raffish, bohemian – which has led a new generation of creative, Francophone’s to the fore, to make their homes here. There is the slightly annoying fact that you will probably be offered hash every time you shorten your stride or trips to see the cannabis fields. Equality in this is denied to women however as they are never offered recreational drugs, often much to their annoyance.
Hash is still illegal in Morocco, though it’s often hard to tell, so take care. The Moroccan police are not known for their kid gloves. There were also countless times that I was offered someone’s virginal sister and on one occasion someone’s virginal mother as well. Now I’m pretty sure this is a rare occurrence and certainly one to be avoided at all costs. For me, one of the joys of Tangiers is North African food. I went to a restaurant in 13thC. Villa in the Kasba where the meals start with flatbread and 10 separate dips, zucchini marinade, rice with herbs, beans in garlic, sweet carrots, diced potatoes, Moroccan salad, olives, aubergine dip, and (a herb like spinach). Then comes the main course, barbecued lamb with couscous followed by dessert.
Tangier’s charm also lies in its architecture often with vibrant colors. Just immerse yourself in it and you will really enjoy it. Do’s Look at the Mosque and so on but for me even more so look at the really nice and interesting traditional house that ordinary people live in. Try the orange juice but probably a good idea to avoid the ice. Spend plenty of time in the Kasbah Track down some traditional Arab live music but belly dancing tends to be designed to extract cash from tourists.
With most attractions concentrated along the coast and in Morocco’s north-east, rail travel makes a lot of sense. Trains are safe, punctual, cheap, comfortable, and a great way to see the county. I do enjoy traveling by train.
Dont’s: With mosques, houses, police stations, and even lampposts and bins painted in an electric shade of blue, the place is a dream for photographers. Moroccans themselves don’t like to be photographed and remember it is a Muslim country so show the utmost courtesy and reticence towards women although many people are westernized. OK if you really want to buy a carpet who am I to say you nay. But taxi drivers will offer to take you to their “uncles’ carpet shop where you will be given a hard sell and lots of tea to endeavor to get you to buy a carpet. If you know about carpets fine but even then make sure you walk out with the one you looked at. Some taxi drivers seem to have hundreds of “uncles” and you can lose a day being carted around all of them.
If you want a carpet do some research, especially if you want it mailed to you, and no matter what they say you will definitely not be able to sell it for a vast profit in England or America or anywhere.
You can have a drink if you want but not everywhere and you should be discrete so as not to upset local sensibilities. It’s a trip well worth doing as with most cities employ a little caution, enjoy and ditch the diet.
By Alan Durant