It was Damany and I’s first trip together. We were to fly into Madrid, catch a train to Sevilla, pick up our rental car, and drive directly to our hotel outside of Algeciras. It sounded like alot of traveling just to get to our first destination, but we could handle it. I had tried to deal with the train tickets at home, but there was some issue with booking, so I figured we could just deal with it easily enough in Madrid.
When we touched down in Madrid, we first took the metro to the main station. Getting onto the train car, I felt a pulling at my back. Someone was trying to pickpocket me already! I hadn’t even been in Madrid for 20 minutes! Conveniently, I did not keep anything valuable in the accessible pocket, but still. The main station was mobbed with people…the lines to get up to the counter were over an hour!!!! I had not anticipated this. When we finally got up to the front to get our tickets, the next available train was at 9:30 PM. Way too late to get to Sevilla and get to my rental car before they gave it away. I tried to call the car rental office. No answer. I emailed them to let them know I would be in late. Being the nervous person that I was however, I feared them giving away my automatic vehicle (which are hard to come by in Europe). Damany spoke with a cab driver, and in a snap we were in a cab, Sevilla bound, at the rate of 1 Euro per kilometer. Crazy, I know, but we did it, and slept the whole way there (about 5 hours).
When we arrived at the station in Sevilla, they had received my email, and saved my car. “We upgraded your car, as we did not have the same model you reserved,” the woman at the desk told me. “However, it seems as though I cannot rent this vehicle to you as you are not yet 26 years of age (I was 5 months from 26 at the time). After some ranting by me about how I reserved this car 6 months ago, how it was not my fault that they upgraded the car, and how the woman at the desk was not going home to sleep until I left here with a car or they refunded the entire cost of my cab ride from Madrid, a supervisor was contacted, extra insurance in the amount of 1 Euro was purchased, and I was on my way to a hotel in Sevilla (with a car).
I contacted the hotel that I was to stay at in Algeciras to let them know that we would not make it until the next morning, at which time they told me that one night would not be worth our time at this particular hotel, so we should find other lodging. Being that they had been kind enough not to take a deposit upon reservation, I was okay with this. We went out to find some food, and walk around for a bit. The food we found was disgusting, and on our walk I stepped in dog poop, twice. I welcomed the dog poop as a sign of good luck, things would get better from here.
The next morning we were off. We went from Sevilla straight to Gibraltar. It was AMAZING!! Monkeys were running around everywhere, the views were gorgeous, the ships below the size of ants. People were playing with and feeding the monkeys, even though there were signs asking you not to. For this reason, the monkeys there associate bags with food. So much so, that a large male almost tried to jump me for my purse. Damany scared him away for me, always my hero.
When we drove into Algeciras it was dark. Completely confused by the repetative signage for hotels which seemed to bring us in endless circles of nowhere, we were beginning to get impatient. Algeciras seemed industrial and slightly ghetto in the circles we were driving. Every crappy motel like place that we found was already full, which was probably better off by the looks of them.
Finally, when we found a hotel room it was 3 doors down from the car rental drop off, right across the street from the port we needed to be at in the morning to head to Morocco, and in a more active part of town than the other flea bags we had passed. It was cheap, and sufficiently clean…all that we needed.
The ferry to Tangier was much longer than we were told (pretty much double the advertised time), but quite spacious. Our plan was to get to Tangier, eat something, and head by train to Casablanca.
As soon as we got off the ferry we met Allal. “Welcome to the mother home,” he shouted towards Damany with a large smile. Immediately he convinced us not to go to Casablanca. “It is Ramadan, and the city would be very boring,” he said “besides, the film Casablanca was filmed right here in Tangier, at the Hotel Continental. I will bring you there. Spend the day here in Tangier and go back to Spain tonight, maybe go to Portugal instead for a few days”. He had a point, it was Ramadan, and we had already diverted from all of our original plans. “Why not” we said. Beginning the theme for our future travels.
Tangier was everything we expected of Morocco and more. We had intended to go shopping for wooden goods, jewelery, and carpets. Without Allal, I doubt we would have found the quality of good that we had. While we were probably swindled a bit, he was exactly what we needed. When we walked through the Kasbah, Allal’s presence kept away the small children and annoying vendors selling fake rolexes.
With Allal we ate amazing almond sweets, and were brought to vendors with antique and handcrafted Moroccan goods. Our first stop was to a carpet and antique goods dealer. From him we purchased one Moroccan soumac (a hand knotted type flatweave rug), a wooden hand-carved chest with matching corner shelves, pillow cases, antique weights and measures, and antique jewelery. After our shopping fun, Allal brought us for a traditional Moroccan meal, where we were basically the only patrons eating, and were serenaded with traditional folk music while we ate.
Our third stop was a tour of the Hotel Casablanca, where we met Jimmy, the manager of the place. Jimmy was absolutely wonderful, and knew everyone! He enjoyed showing us his personal letters from the Clintons and other famous Americans. When I said we were from Brooklyn, he proclaimed “718″! Jimmy gave me a gift, a necklace that would protect me on my travels. Allal brought us back to the docks for the last ferry back to Algeciras, gave us his number in case we should ever come back, and we were Spain bound once again. Now on our fourth night of vacation, we had still not spent one night in a hotel that had been booked in advance. We checked back in to our same hotel across from the Algeciras port.
The next day we grabbed a bus to Tarifa. We arrived a day earlier than expected and walked around until we found a hotel for the night. This wasn’t hard, as Tarifa is a small surfer town on the southern most tip of Spain. I absolutely adored Tarifa. Small, peaceful, relaxing, with a splash of history, and a view of Morocco across the Straight of Gibraltar. The entire town was filled with Italians who spent much of the summer there. The abundant seafood and shellfish in Tarifa was a huge draw for me. Grilled prawns, prepared just as if my family in Sicily had made it, made me fall in love with the place.
The next day we checked into the first hotel we had booked before leaving. We had an apartment style room, with a few balconies, a view of Morocco from the bed, and a tub surrounded by windows. I LOVED THIS ROOM! It was expensive, but so worth the money. During the day we would walk around Tarifa, stopping in its little shops. After walking out of one craft shop, I was talking to Damany, distracted, and completely forgot about the ledge the sidewalk had ramped to. “Watch your fall,” Damany said. As I turned to him and said, “what?” I stepped off the ledge, landing straight on my leg (this move, I would find out one year later, would be the cause of a stress fracture in my right shin). On our last night in the room, drinking vino, looking out over the Straight of Gibraltar to the moonlit Morocco, I threw myself onto the bed, and “CRACK”. My skull met with the corner of the cement shelf sitting behind the pillows…giving me an immediate large knot on the head. Thankfully, I did not have to go to a hospital. A bit of ice did me fine.
We sat in the bus stop, waiting for the bus back to Sevilla. A tall, thin man, clad in silver, with a black Aussie style hat sat down next to us. He reminded me of Crocodile Dundee. The ring that Damany had just bought in Tangier caught his eye. His name was Taffe Jones, and he was a teacher of antiques from Wales. Exactly the type of person we wanted to look at the Morocco purchases. He confirmed the age and quality of the items we had, and began to tell us stories of his travels. As Taffe knew Spanish, he asked the driver of the bus that had pulled in if it was going to Sevilla. The driver told him it was not. Apparently, it really was. Again we ended up in a cab to Sevilla, this time not nearly as far and split between 3 people.
The remaining time that we spent in Sevilla and Madrid was relatively un-eventful, compared to the tumultuous, yet very fun, days prior. We ate good food, saw the sights, shopped, and caught some flamenco shows.
All in all, even through the madness, this was one of my favorite trips. With so many learning experiences, good people, and interesting twists, how could I not have had fun? And though I did not know it at the time, this trip would inspire a future in the business of antique rugs and worldly goods.
In the end…disasters usually make for good stories.