Yesterday, we observed how easily you can see Africa from our position in Tarifa, Spain.
Today, we prove it as we catch a ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar, from Europe’s most southern point to the city of Tangier (Tanger), Morocco – gateway to our weekend in Africa.
This Weekend’s Experience
We deal with immigration on the boat, so as soon as we arrive we’re onto our day in Tangier.
For a settlement that pre-dates the Roman Empire, Tangier is a modern, vibrant city. In fact, the population here grew by almost twenty times during the twentieth century, and its economy (as its reputation as a spy town during the Cold War) is maximised by its proximity to Europe.
Rock the Casbah
The Casbah (or Kasba) is connected to the former Sultan’s palace, and creates a protected zone at the highest point of the town.
As Westerners, here is the first place (at least, since we left Japan) where we have felt out of place. That’s in no way reflective of the locals here, who are particularly welcoming; it’s just recognition that the culture here, from architecture to religion, is more heavily influenced by the Middle East than it is by Western Europe.
English is very much a minority first language here. Even beyond the official languages of Arabic (more specifically, Darija – or colloquial – Arabic) and Berber, Morocco’s history includes governing by both France and Spain and therefore education in either French or Spanish. Compensating for this is the importance of tourism to the Tangier economy. Despite the uncertainty, here once again we found that English is today’s lingua franca and will generally suffice (when combined with patience, respect, and a smile) in most locations you’re likely to see as a traveller.
Whether it’s the welcoming disposition of the locals, or that importance of tourism, wandering through the Kasba feels safe and spacious. There is time and opportunity to breathe in the new sights and sounds that make this an experience.
We duck through an opening on the other side of the Kasba, and find this!
Of course, it makes sense that if we can see Africa from Europe then we would be able to stand on African soil and look over the Europe so easily.
Still, this is a breathtaking view – being able to witness two continents at once.
Off to Market
Tangier is a popular daytrip from Tarifa, and a key stop is the markets. Everything from spices to leather-goods can be found here – and while the prices aren’t ridiculously cheap, there are plenty of bargains to be had for those willing to haggle as aggressively as the merchants.
Better still (at least for those daytrippers) is that almost every shop here will take Euros.
Our tip for market haggling?
- Come in at 10% (yes, 10%!) of the price they suggest.
- Recognise that this is natural, and part of doing business – you’re not being rude.
- Never, ever regret a purchase. You are unlikely to find the lowest price the merchant will accept, but you will still do very well. Be happy with your price or don’t buy it, and if you buy it then forever be happy with your price!
For those of us who aren’t returning to Europe tonight, there’s even more opportunity to get horribly lost in these markets. Feel like refreshment? You’re unlikely to find a beer (easily) in this Muslim nation, but the hot mint tea is a must!
And then there are abundant opportunities to enjoy the local Moroccan spices as part of your evening meal.
Cave of Hercules
Saturday offers us a roadtrip day, as we head by car from Tangier along the 3.5 hours of coast road to Morocco’s largest city, Casablanca.
But our first stop is just out of town, where the ocean empties into a cave through an opening exactly the shape of Africa!
The Cave of Hercules – in mythology, the location where Hercules rested when his 12 labours were completed – is certainly large enough to contain his enormous strength.
With the tide rising, there’s opportunity (having followed necessary precautions) to swim here or jump from the ledge that forms part of the famous silhouette. In fact, the hardest part of the stop is finding a moment to photograph the cut-out cave so that Africa is obvious but the many other tourists are not!
Once we’re back in the car, there’s no need to rush – and plenty of reasons to stop and take in the water views. The nearby hills of Europe are gone – replaced with a seeming infinite ocean, North America not even imaginable beyond it.
Play it Again, Sam
Casablanca may be the African city most famous in the west, but for all the wrong reasons. While the film Casablanca is legendary, the tale of Rick’s Café Américain and its love triangle (mirrored by the political triumvirate of neutral USA, independent France, and Nazi Germany) bears no relation to the modern city of 3.5 million people.
Chief among today’s things to do in Casablanca Morocco is the Hassan II Mosque. The tallest building in Morocco and one of the largest Mosques in the world, a guided tour inside (and in English) is an opportunity to better appreciate and respect Islam. Sadly, the tour references but doesn’t show us the glass floor out over the ocean – this mosque was built largely over land reclaimed from the sea; 25,000 worshippers can here appreciate the Qur’anic verse “the throne of Allah was built on water”.
There are plenty more souks to visit – if markets are your thing, head over to the Habbous District of town for even more shopping. You’ll find us enjoying yet another Moroccan tea in the Square of Mohammed V where the traditional flavours of modern Morocco blend with the historical colonial buildings.
No doubt, three days is only just enough to taste Morocco – and barely to scratch the top end of Africa. Based on what we’ve seen here, however?
This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.
Want to go? Need to know!
- How quick is the ferry between Europe and Africa? With FRS (http://www.frs.es) it takes literally no time at all! (Which is to say, you arrive in Tangier at the same time you leave Tarifa, given the 1 hour time difference.)
- The cave isn’t exactly Africa, but it’s pretty close. Africa also looks a little like the human skull – is that a coincidence for the continent that was the birthplace of humanity?
- ‘Play it again, Sam’ is the most famous line Humphrey Bogart never said, a misremembering collective audiences have popularised through the 70 years since Casablanca was released. Perhaps the greatest movie of all time, Bogart’s final speech is now about 70% cliché – but the original source of all those incredible sentiments and sentences!
- Had a chance to practice your French in Casablanca? You’ll need it this week…
Have any fabulous Moroccan memories? Share them for all our readers in our comments below, or over on our Facebook page.