TANGIER PART 1.
3rd– 5th June 2015
The day began with a taxi ride from Camping Torre de la Pena to Tarifa ferry terminal. There are both fast and slow ferries from Tarifa to Tangier. The slow ferry trip takes about an hour and at the time of writing cost around Au$60 each return.
We bought our ferry tickets prior to the day of sailing so as to avoid a possible long wait and we then had time for a cuppa prior to check-in. Next to the café I noticed x-ray machines similar to airport security at departure gates. It immediately dawned on me I was wearing on my belt my Leatherman and it would definitely not get through unnoticed.
Sitting at a table nearby were two policemen and I asked them about taking my Leatherman through security and they told me the security officers at check-in would not permit me to board the ferry with the Leatherman. The Leatherman contained a small blade. Next I checked with ferry officials and explained I was not giving up my Leatherman and could they hold it for me whilst I was in Morocco. The reply in no uncertain terms was no and told me to return to the town centre and leave it there. With haste Bev and I returned to town and found a travel agent who would store it for us until we returned for a fee of $1-50 per day.
On the north coast of Morocco there are two Spanish autonomous states Ceuta and Melilla. The citizens of these two states are Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Indian Hindu. The majority of the population are ethnic Spanish and they along with the remaining population are opposed to being ruled by Morocco. The borders between the two states and Morocco are heavily fortified as African refugees often attempt to gain access into the two states, if they can they have to be accorded EU refugee status.
The Leatherman is the ultimate tool to carry when on the road. It has (listed in a clockwise direction from the top) a pair of scissors, small screwdriver for tightening glasses screws, screwdriver, can and bottle opener, Phillips head screwdriver, file, blade, serrated blade (an excellent bread knife) and in the middle a pair of pliers. Not a day goes past when I do not use it.
Leatherman’s only manufacturing facility is located in Portland, Oregon USA, where they assemble 17,000 tools per week. Leatherman tools have a lifetime guarantee.
Fortunately for us the ferry was delayed and we made it back in time for departure. The irony of this tale is that when we passed through the port security zone the x-ray equipment was not working so I could have taken it after all!
It is understandable why both the Spanish and Moroccan governments are sensitive about security as the area could be considered a spot for a possible terrorist attack. In 2003 there were a series of suicide bombings in Morocco and dozens of people were killed. The suicide bombers came from a shantytown area of Casablanca and the bombings were the work of Salafia Jihadia, an offshoot of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group believed to have links with al-Qaeda.
In an attempt to quell the fear of possible terrorist attacks the Moroccan government has placed patrols on the streets, which does give the visitor a sense of security.
All over Tangier city there are patrols comprising two military soldiers and one civilian police officer. The group of three are on the lookout for what the Ministry of Interior says are the threats facing the Kingdom. The patrols are called ‘Hadar’ (vigilance) teams. The members of the Hadar teams are rather a stern lot. I tried to make conversation with one group but they were not on for idle chat.
Tourist police are more approachable as they are on street duty to assist the visitor: They are more approachable and only too happy to help with enquiries. At the time of writing Morocco is the only North African country we consider is relatively safe to visit. We hope for the sake of non-radical Moroccans that the scourge of terrorism does not turn their country into another no-go zone.
At the moment the Australian Government advises Australians intending to visit Morocco to exercise a high degree of caution because of the threat of terrorist attacks. They also advise to be vigilant as there is a threat of kidnapping especially in the south.
Another tip for travellers to Morocco: Buy some Moroccan money in Spain before you board the ferry as it saves wandering around the vast dock area in Tangier looking for a money changer. Moroccan currency is called the dirham and understanding the breakdown of the dirham is rather confusing. The dirham is also known as a Mad and it is broken down into denominations called centimes (c), francs or pesetas.
The portrait on the above note is the present ruler of Morocco, King Mohammed VI. He is a learned man and since taking up the leadership following the death of his father in 1999 has brought social reform and liberalisation to the country, much to the content of most Moroccans. Shortly after he took the throne King Mohammed VI addressed his nation promising to take on poverty and corruption while creating jobs and improving Morocco’s human rights record. In 2004, he enhanced a new family code granting women more power and guaranteeing women civic and social equality. Naturally, some of his reforms were opposed: mostly by Islamist conservatives and fundamentalists.
Most shops, public buildings and hotels have a portrait of King Mohammed VI hanging on the wall. Some of the portraits are very plain and others decorative. The one in the photograph below below is a decorative version.
There are two points of interest re the above photograph and they are the predominance of red and the five-pointed star. Red represents to Moroccans hardiness, bravery, strength and valour.
The five-pointed star (interlaced in the above photograph) is a pentacle or pentagram. Each point represents the five pillars of Islam, which are:
1) Declaring there is no god except God*, and Muhammad is God’s messenger. 2) Ritual prayer five times a day. 3) Giving 2.5% of one’s savings to the poor and needy. 4) Fasting and self-control during the holy month of Ramadan. 5) Pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime if one is able.
*To Muslims God is referred to as Allah although it has been used by Arab Christians since pre-Islamic times.
The five pointed star can be drawn in one continuous stroke and I can remember my father teaching me how to draw it and the feeling of achievement when showing other kids how to draw it.
The five-pointed star should not be confused with the six pointed Star of David a symbol of the Jewish faith. The six pointed star or hexagram comprises two equilateral triangles, the triangle pointing upwards represents followers of the faith reaching up to God and the one pointing down represents God reaching down to his followers. The use of the hexagram star to represent the Jewish community was first recorded in Vienna in the 17th century.
At the moment all citizens in Morocco have freedom of thought, ideas and artistic expression, however in some circumstances criticising or opposing the king is punishable with a prison sentence. I asked a number of young and older Moroccans how they felt about the king and they all answered to the positive. They would, of course, if criticising the regime is punishable by law.
When travellers the likes of us arrive in Tangier the first thing we do is head for the Medina.
The reader might wonder why there are no people about and why there are no hawkers waiting to pounce on us. The reason is Bev and I were almost last off the ferry because we joined the passport queue towards the end of the crossing. We were unawares we had to have our passports stamped on the ferry before disembarking, had we known we would have got on the line as soon as we boarded in Tarifa.
A medina is a walled enclosed area within a city or town. Medinas were usually built on hill or on the side of a mountain. They are densely populated, car free and have steep narrow maze-like streets going every which way. The maze of narrow alleyways means one can get lost very easily but in the case of Tangier it’s no problem as the locals are only too happy to give directions and in some cases they will escort you to your destination.
Medinas were built with narrow maze like passageways so as to confuse and slow down invaders. Within medinas there are fountains, mosques, palaces, thousands of private dwellings, hundreds of small workshops and in more recent years many small cafes catering for an ever increasing number of visitors. To get goods in and out of medinas donkeys and mules are used.
In the photograph of Bev heading for the medina you might notice we do not have our bicycles. After reading reports of cyclists travelling in Morocco we decided we would be better able to move around the country without them so we left them at the Tarifa camping area. Reasons for not taking bikes include rough roads, no roadside verge to ride on, towns and cities are mostly located on hills or mountain tops, passageways in many cities and town are paved with cobblestones which makes for an uncomfortable ride and in addition the medinas are crowded. Also, motorists do not like sharing the road with cyclists.
Of course these disadvantages would not worry the hardened touring cyclists but for us it was better to leave the bikes and travel via public transport whilst in Morocco. Cycling enthusiasts should note that bikes are not permitted on trains or buses in Morocco.
Regardless of how unfriendly the Tangier Medina is for bikes you do come across the odd cyclist. One couple we met were from Austria. They were on a cruise ship and each time their ship docked they took to their bikes and went exploring.
From Tangier port it was a steep walk up into the Medina where we are staying. On the way up, we were approached by a young lad quoting the usual spiel, ‘I am a student and I want to practice my English’. The lad walked us to our hotel and in retrospect I’m glad he did, as finding a lone door in the myriad of narrow alleyways within the medina quarter would have been difficult to say the least. After we settled into our lodgings he returned and took us on a short tour if the medina. At the end of the tour we gave the lad a tip for his efforts. We all had a good day: he practised his English, made a few Mads and we were escorted to our hostel door.
During late afternoon children played in this area. Note how clean the street is and also note the old telephone insulators at the mid point of the arch. I’m glad the insulators were not removed, as little things like the insulators are part of Tangier’s history.
On the way to our lodgings we passed Tangier’s famous Hotel Continental. The Continental was built in 1865 and for many years it was the fashionable place to stay in Tangier.
The battered roller shutter is not the entrance, it’s a little further along the way. However the entrance was nothing flash, simply double sheet metal doors. Regardless of the hotel’s apparent detachment today there was a time when it no doubt thrived.
One afternoon during our stay in Tangier Bev and I had afternoon tea at the hotel so we could unobtrusively look around. The hotel has come down in the world since its halcyon days, however its former glory is easy to imagine. For those wanting to stay in mid-range accommodation it is a reasonably priced place to stay.
Over the years many buildings have been incorporated into the old medina wall. Incorporating a building into a wall makes sense as the wall provides a solid foundation on which to build and in the case of a house it becomes elevated at no extra expense. The following photograph shows an example of houses on top of the wall.
The Hotel Continental, although a little worn on the outside is clean and in my mind it is a grand old lady of the hotel world. I read that a beautiful woman is an act of nature but a grand old lady is a work of art. I think the Hotel Continental is a work of art.
The glazed tile sign adjacent to the main entrance of the Hotel Continental talks of better days. These days the rich and famous stay in five start international hotels outside the medina.
Our lodgings were a spot more humble but were in our opinion equivalent to five star. The interior had a distinctive Arabian look and feel and we were more than happy with our choice.
The Dar Bargach Guesthouse was once a riad (large family house) and the girls who ran it were extremely polite and helpful. They would make us mint tea and provide us with a snack anytime. Whilst at the guesthouse I cooked a number of evening meals and the girls who ran the guesthouse were rather amused that a male was doing the cooking, I think most men in Morocco consider cooking women’s work.
Our room was on the first floor and curiously some of the rooms including ours were not numbered. The way I distinguished our room was by an ornate teapot outside the door.
Bev pre-books our accommodation via the Internet and to date she has done a marvellous job. One of the criteria when booking is whether the accommodation has a rooftop area available to clients as the only way to get an overall view of a city is from a rooftop. Fortunately our guesthouse had a rooftop viewing area so up we went.
In the suburb where I lived as a child I spent a lot of time climbing over rooftops. On one occasion I fell through a corrugated iron roof cutting my leg severely as I passed through it, I still carry the scars. The lad in the above photograph was about five floors up and in climbing terms he was bouldering (climbing without a safety harness).
The beaches around Tangier look beautiful but some people say bathing in the sea near the port is risky due to high levels of pollution.
That’s the end of the first post for Morocco, the next post Part 2 will be out and about Tangiers.
Tangier is a mysterious and unique place, renowned in the past for attracting eccentric millionaires, secret agents, crooks, entrepreneurs, speculators and gamblers. In the next post I will tell you more about these characters and take you for a tour of the medina’s narrow passageways. Bev and I hope you tag along.
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