“I wouldn’t spend too much time in Tangier,” she said with her Minnesota accent “it’s disgusting. It’s so crowded and poor, and it’s dirty and smells bad. And every kid on the street is trying to sell you something. ‘Rolex watch, miss? Wooden camel for the lady?’ Kid, I don’t want your stupid camel.”
Damany and I looked at each other confused. A prayer rug, carved wooden goods, jewelery. These were the items that we wanted to purchase in Morocco (not Rolexes, but real handcrafted jewelry). I couldn’t wait to make my way to a market. I anticipated the experience of the different smells (both good and bad) of this new place, yearned to walk through the streets of a completely foreign culture, to meet new people, learn new things, and eat amazing food.
We originally planned to go to Casablanca for a few nights, spending only a few hours in Tangier in between. However, we decided to pace our trip a bit slower than initially planned, opting to go to Tangier for one day and return to Algeciras on the last ferry out that night, despite the negative response we had gotten about the place from others.
The first person we met off the ferry was Allal. “Welcome to the mother home” he exclaimed to Damany as we loaded into a taxi with him. Allal, like many others in this part of the world, make their money off of tourists. Touts like Allal do this by bringing the tourists to their friends shops who give them something for bringing the business. Without a local (like Allal) to really show you around, I believe you can miss out on the beauty of the place. Be aware when you travel, not afraid. We dropped our bags so we could be free to roam and then we were off to the center of the city, and into the Kasbah.
Amazing! I absolutely loved it in the Kasbah. Immediately we were met by rows of spice vendors, each with colorful piles of various spices. We tasted amazing almond cookies which the vendor would take no money for! Allal warded of any children trying to sell us fake watches in the streets, and led us through the narrow alleyways of the Kasbah which we would have been lost in alone.
Our first stop was the carpet shop, where we were brought to the roof of the building first to see a panorama of the city. Buildings, built one on top of the next. All with laundry or carpets. There was something so colorful and alive about this place. I breathed the air in deep. It didn’t smell.
We were served the best mint tea ever as we looked at rugs. Damany and I chose a very geometric soumac, which to this day I have seen nothing like (and I sell antique rugs now). The additional items we came home with for our collection were a large carved wooden chest, two carved wooden corner shelves to match, 4 pieces of late 19th century silver and brass jewelry (which was verified by an antiques teacher we met in Spain just after), a pillow case made from kilim scraps, an antique knife inlaid with ivory details, and some antique weights and measures. While this was our first trip in a country that bargaining is the norm, and our skills at the time weren’t the best, we still spent only a small fraction of what we would of spent at home.
After our shopping expedition we ate at a restaurant with a very Moroccan, decor. Again, it was in a building that we never would of found on our own. We were one of two couples in the place, and were serenaded with Moroccan music while we ate. We even took pictures with the players hats and instruments. The food was AMAZING! Meat, soup, cous cous, vegetables, all things I love, cooked to perfection. And of course, more mint tea.
Our last stop was the Hotel Continental, where the film “Casablanca” was filmed. The hotel is absolutely spectacular, with insane amounts of decorative detailing on every inch of almost every space available. There we met Jimmy, the hotel manager. Jimmy is super friendly, and has met all kinds of people from all over the world. When I told him I lived in Brooklyn he said, “718!”, my area code. When we left Jimmy gave me a necklace which he said was to protect me. It’s one of my favorite necklaces to this day.
Allal asked us if we would break fast with him and his family, but we thought we should get back so that we didn’t miss the ferry out for the night. We returned to Algeciras full off of our day of amazing shopping, great food, new cultural interaction, and the wonderful giving people whose company we enjoyed. Because we were open to new people, cultures, and experiences, we had an amazing day.