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May 25, 2012 | Tangier, Morocco
We took a very early bus to the town of Tarifa, which lies on the southern tip of the coast of Spain. Along the way we were given instructions, tips and our agenda for the day trip to Morocco. First we had to board the ‘fast jet’ boat which carried passengers, cars, cargo and a lot of vendors and their wares because Thursday was market day in Tangier.
It took about an hour to cross the waters where the Mediterranean and the Atlantic become one; the Straits of Gibraltar. Here two continents and many cultures both collide and live harmony; less than an hour away from each other.
The Straits are critical from both commerce and political perspectives and that made Tangier a pawn for many political battles over the years. The mixture of cultures was evident as we traveled through the city; France, Spain, Africa and several other nations all had a finger in Tangier, making it what it is today. It is simple, earthy, exotic, glamorous, and in need of repair in areas; truly a mixture of its own history. BMWs rolled past donkeys and camels and business people in suits shared the sidewalks with those dressed in traditional Muslim attire. It is truly the definition of cultural shock.
Primarily a Muslim country you hear the call to prayer throughout the city several times a day; something I had heard only on TV now caught my attention as residents entered the mosque.
Our trip took us through the country side where we saw a beautiful, brand new stadium standing on one side of the street while camels grazed on the grass directly across, on the other side. Our first stop was the Grottes d'Hercules (Cave of Hercules), famous for its beautiful gaping hole leading to the sea, the James Bond movie, From Russia with Love and of course the 1995 tri-continent tour of Def Leppard.
Lunch was served in a beautiful tent that had gorgeous hand woven rugs covering the entire floor. We were treated to a typical Arabic meal of a vegetable soup, which is eaten during Ramadan, chicken, couscous and watermelon. It was delicious. The live entertainment included musicians and a belly dancer.
Next it was shopping, Wednesday was the big market day in Tangier and they weren’t kidding. It was pure organized chaos; a cacophony of sounds, sights and smells that both delighted and shocked the senses. From the beautiful produce stands lined up along the walls to the meats hanging from the ceiling and the breads spread out on the tables… Chaotic and amazing at the same time.
We made our way to the small alleyways where the real fun and challenge began. In Morocco, street vendors sell aggressively and Tangier was no exception, the street vendors where everywhere, literally everywhere and of course they were ready, willing and able to bargain; probably more than any of us really wanted.
Earlier in the trip, I had mentioned to our guide the idea of looking at some hand woven rugs and that’s all it took. While the rest of the group made their way through the world of vendors, Paul and I were whisked away through several tiny alleyways into the bowels of city. (Honestly I never could have found my way back out if it were not for our trusty guide. There we met Abdul, the rug guy. There was no lack of stunning rugs of every size and shape and it certainly didn’t take long to find the rugs that we wanted….now the bargaining challenge.
I believe that the key to this wonder of bargaining is that you have to be willing to walk away; and I was. With that attitude made known we started the battle of negotiations. After one and a half hours, both Abdul and we were happy. Now we await the arrival of our rugs…yet another amazing experience. Our guide came back to collect us and off we went to join the rest of the group.
Getting back to the bus was yet another challenge with the vendors knowing this was their last chance…it was hysterical. To quote a lovely British lady that we met, Ruth….”
I sat down for a cup of tea and ended up with a bloody basket that I don’t even want”…yup those vendors came be pretty pushy.
Next we will visit the Eastern coast line of Spain; Alicante.
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