According to Rick Steves, Tanger is no longer ‘the Tijuana of Africa.’ But according to the Moroccan guy in the carpet store in Tanger, “You should really spend some time and go south, because that is the real Morocco!” So, picture some place between those two descriptions. Not the cleanest, but not a complete slum; a place of interest, but not at all representative of the rest of the country.
Either way, Tanger is all you get if you want a day trip from Spain. At some point I would love to take a longer trip to go deeper into Morocco, but for now we just got a small taste.
With the high speed ferry from Tarifa, Spain, which takes about 35 minutes, we were in Africa in no time. We had done a lot of research in advance, and read plenty of reviews on whether or not to hire a *official* guide, how to do so, etc. The common thread we recognized was that no one really felt like they had done things right the first time. We heard tons of people say things like, “We did this, but if I were to go again, I’d do it this way…”
Part of the culture in Morocco is to negotiate. I don’t think haggling is one of my strengths, so part of me always feels like I’m being taken advantage of. Based on the various blogs & forums we read, I don’t think I’m the only one that feels that way.
We were under the impression that there would be hoards of guides waiting as we disembarked the ferry, and we could barter to our hearts content for the best price. However, when we arrived, we saw very few guides. Then once you eliminated the ones who barely spoke English or had some unpleasant quality (i.e., smelly, obnoxious, etc.), we started thinking that finding a guide might not be as easy as we had expected. It could be due to the fact that we took the first ferry of the morning, which had more locals returning to Morocco than tourists. Even the guide we ended up with mentioned that the 2nd and 3rd boats are much more crowded, both with tourists and guides.
So, we ended up paying 30 Euros for a private tour for 3 ½ hours, including a brief (very, very, ridiculously brief) camel ride, and a taxi to drive us around to the first few stops. I am confident that we could have done this cheaper, but inexperience comes with a price.
Our guide was a nice enough guy, but it’s pretty easy to tell when they’re full of it. Like when we needed to get a taxi, but he didn’t want to use the rows of matching, clearly marked taxis that were all lined up at the taxi station. He said, “Oh, those aren’t official. I will get us an official taxi.” So we waited in the middle of the street for some unmarked beat up old Mercedes with no meter, no license, no signage, etc. It was all included in our price though, so as long as he didn’t drive us off the side of the road we didn’t care too much. We knew that guides have “friends” and send business to their favorite drivers, shop owners, etc., so we expected a little of that.
The camel ride was one of the first things we did, as it was a bit of a drive away from the rest of the main sites. Our taxi driver dropped us off in a dirt parking lot off the side of a main road, where a handful of camels were hanging around, as well as two other tourists who were just leaving. “You, camel here. You, camel there.” So we boarded our respective camels, smiled for a picture, and we were off. Our camels stepped over the curb and turned left down a side street, walked about 15 feet, then turned left into an empty field next to the parking lot where we started, then turned again to reenter the parking lot, then they sat down and we got off. I couldn’t keep from laughing. I spent more time taking pictures of sitting camels than I actually spent on the camel. Oh well. Looking back, I think riding a camel in circles around a parking lot for much longer would have quickly lost its charm anyway.
From there we headed back into town, where we strolled through the Sunday Market, the Medina, the Kasbah, watched a lame snake charmer, sauntered through the bazaar, and everything else a tourist is supposed to do. Including, of course, stopping to see some of our guide’s friends.
Our first setup was in a shop that sold handmade rugs. Our guide took us upstairs, then left to get us some mint tea (a Moroccan specialty, which is really good), but he never came back. So we sat there and listened to a Moroccan man with an Irish accent tell us all about rugs, as his silent helpers carefully rolled them out in front of us one by one, until the entire room was covered. At first I was a little peeved, and already planning my speech to our guide that I was not going to put up with him wasting our time and pressuring us to buy stuff from his buddies. However, I couldn’t help but like the Moroccan carpet man with the Irish accent. He was friendly, interesting, and barely even made a sales pitch! I think he realized pretty quickly that we weren’t buying, so he just didn’t bother.
Next stop was the herbal pharmacy, where we sampled anti-stress oils, rose petal cream, cooking herbs, etc. It was interesting, but too smelly for me – like when you try to blend too many crayons and it all turns into an ugly brown color – it was like that for my nose.
We made a lunch stop at a traditional Moroccan restaurant, which I’m sure were also friends of our guide, but it was good food and reasonably priced, so I guess sometimes their setups work out in our favor. First course was vegetable soup. Second course was – get this – a chicken-stuffing type of mixture, wrapped in a flakey pastry, with powdered sugar and cinnamon on top. It tasted like a Cinnamon Twists from Taco Bell with chicken inside… and believe it or not, it was kinda good! For the third course, Scott had chicken over couscous and I had chicken tajine (which mostly tasted the same except that his had couscous and mine had potatoes).
The day was a whirlwind, but we got to see a lot. Like I said, there’s probably a better (and cheaper) way to do everything we did, but overall we weren’t disappointed in the way things turned out. Also, I should mention that one of the biggest benefits to having a respectable guide is that we didn’t get hassled once! We noticed a couple of times where a vendor would be out in the streets hassling every single person that walked by, but our guide walked ahead of us, and he would always speak to the vendors in Arabic, and we would pass by freely. He also helped us negotiate when we wanted to buy something. We were going back and forth with the vendor, and finally he spoke up and said, “give them the price they want,” and the vendor immediately conceded. I guess little things like that make me feel like we got more for our money than just the parking lot camel ride.