Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Morocco - Day 2 Tangier

(One of many colorful doorways in Tangier)

We slept well on our first night in Morocco. I find that it is always tricky sleeping soundly in a new place. We were awakened by the middle of the night call to prayer around 3:30 or 4 AM. We had left our bathroom window open and the minaret loudspeakers woke us immediately. But we loved it! We actually left our room and tried to get onto the roof of the riad so that we could hear more clearly but the door was bolted shut. Jet lag is such a strange thing. We were wide awake at 4:00 AM and then slowly drifted back off to sleep. We never set an alarm for the morning.

I awoke first and glanced at my tablet. The time said 7:35 AM. Awesome! This left plenty of time to get breakfast and head out into the city. Suddenly I realized that my tablet was still on NY time. I ran over to where my phone was charging and discovered that it was actually 12:35 PM in Morocco! YIKES. We had already slept the entire morning away!

(We had amazing carved and handpainted wooden headboards in our riad)

After scrambling to get ready and eating a very late breakfast we headed into town. Our plan for today was heading down to the port to see all of the fishermen. A man on our train had given us the tip of going to the port then veering off to the right where there was a place to eat fresh seafood. He told us that there were platters and platters of shrimp and fish and it was really cheap. Sign me up!

The first thing I noticed about Tangier, and Morocco in general, is that there are A LOT of men around. Just...around. Guys between 18 and maybe 35, in groups of three or more, hanging around street corners and doorways and alleyways and cafes. There is a restless energy around these men. It was unsettling until I realized that it just felt unfamiliar and they meant no harm (generally speaking). School ends for most kids around age 15 and then they are expected to help provide for their families. Only wealthy families can afford to send their children on to higher education. There aren't a lot of good jobs and as a result people either have to be very resourceful (ie: hustling travel guides) or wait out the downtime.

(Me in a doorway on the way down to the port)

I think if I had been traveling alone or just with a group of women I would have been more unsettled by this preponderance of restless male energy but because I was with Sam I wasn't as bothered by it. Still, it is something to be aware of if you are planning to spend time in Morocco.

The port was large and teeming with activity. There were NO women anywhere. I noticed this after we had been walking around for about 15 minutes. No Moroccan women, no tourist women. No women. This was one of the only times on our trip that I felt a little uneasy. Not scared, not worried; just a bit uneasy. No one bothered us; these guys were all busy doing their jobs.

We followed the directions the man on the train gave us and sure enough, we ran right into a large covered area filled with customers. Here as with most other places in Tangier it was necessary to communicate in French. Luckily it was easy and the large platter of fresh unpeeled shrimp a man brought to us was fantastic. We were able to eat fairly leisurely while people watching. It was a comfortable way to spend an hour.

Also, another note on eating in Morocco: unless you are eating soup, no one really uses utensils. You eat with your right hand and use table bread to scoop meats, vegetables, and sauces into your mouth. It is surprisingly easy to get the hang of; I found I didn't miss forks and knives at all. There is always a small sink near the dining area that is just for washing up before and after eating. Most of the time instead of paper or fabric napkins we were given thin sheets of butcher-like paper.

When we finished we walked back up into the medina. Eventually we made our way to a pastry shop and filled up on an assortment of desserts. None of them were stellar but the sweetness helped and the air con inside was strong. Again, it was a great place to just sit and people watch. I never realized how little I people watch in my daily life at home. Do you know why? Because the pull of my fancy Iphone is too strong. Wifi connects me to everyone and everything and I am so used to pulling out my phone whenever there is more than 10 seconds of downtime. For our trip to Morocco, we turned off all cellular data. Our phones only worked when we were around wifi, which usually meant we only had connection in our riads at the beginning and end of the day. This meant no Instagram or Facebook status checking or CNN or weather or blog checking while we were out and about. It was incredibly liberating after just one day. My people watching skills came back! I was in the moment, soaking up what was going on around me.

(The pastries look good but I only liked the macarons)

And honestly, I needed my brain at full capacity because I had to speak French 90% of the time while in Tangier. We spoke no Arabic except for "la" which means "no" and "selam" which stands in for "hi". After only a day or so I didn't miss the constant wifi at all. Shocking but true.

We spent the balance of our last day in Tangier wandering. Wandering is the BEST way to see any city in Morocco. It's the best way to see any city ANYWHERE, am I right? We found a local guide who wasn't pushy and spoke great English (thank goodness for a brief reprieve from translating into French). We asked him to take us to a restaurant that he liked; nothing touristy. Naturally, I didn't write the name down of where we had dinner but OH MY GOODNESS the food was sublime. It was here that we were introduced to our new favorite food in Morocco, the pastille.


After dinner we continued to wander with our guide through the streets of Tangier. We explained that we had no interest in the touristy version of Tangier; we wanted to see where the locals shopped and ate and worshipped. It was great to go off the beaten path for a few hours. Eventually, we made our way to the famous Cafe Baba.   This place is known as hash heaven, and while we didn't partake of the legendary Cafe Baba smoke culture, we loved being a part of the vibe. Funnily enough, we discovered that Cafe Baba was literally around the corner from our riad!

After a long day of walking and taking in all that Tangier had to offer, we headed back to our riad to pack up and have a good night sleep. The next morning, we headed to Fez.

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