Between almost getting myself stuck in an abandoned mosque, having a lighthouse caretaker show me around, and horrendous bus/train misfortunes, this weekend was slightly more adventurous than I was expecting.
With few weekends remaining and many places to see, I spent most of the week arguing with myself over where to go, and on Friday at 1AM finally decided to hit Tangier and Tetouan. This would be my first travel alone in Morocco, and I found myself feeling surprisingly paranoid. I’d heard a lot of negative things about Tangier and its hasslers, and I would be arriving late at night. I just had a feeling I was going to screw up somewhere.
Immediately after class I hopped a petit taxi to the grand taxi station, and paid 40dh for a seat to Meknes. The driver dropped me off the train station, and I purchased a ticket with half an hour to spare and a smile at my attempting to say “joosh class,” second class in Frarabic. The train before mine, the Marrakech train, was late, so when it arrived, I utilised my Darija to ask if the train was going to Marrakech, yes, not Tangier. Still, I silently freaked out until it left and the sign changed to show that the next train would be the Tangier train. However, at about 18:08, the sign switched to show that a train to Casablanca was supposed to arrive at 18:11. So of course, when the train pulled up, I assumed it was the Casa train. After a minute, the sign switched back to Tangier. I was about to ask someone again, but telling myself I needed to stop being so worried about everything worked in tandem with my shyness. As the train started pulling away, the sign switched back to Casablanca, and I cursed inwardly. Back to the ticket desk I went, and the guy shook his head at me kindly and handed me back my 90dh. The schedule said that the next train wasn’t until 22:30. Thankfully, since I’d planned this haphazardly and had vaguely considered taking the bus, I’d saved the CTM bus station to my map, and I walked over there, arriving at 18:20. The schedule on the board said the last bus of the day to Tangier left at 18:00 (contrary to the online schedule, which had said the last bus left at 16:00.) I waited antsily for my turn at the counter, and asked if the bus had departed. He gave me a ‘what are you talking about’ look and said in Darija the bus left at 19:30. In my head, I counted through my numbers, and then he repeated in English. I happily handed over 100dh.
I totally don’t believe that everything happens for a reason; I’m more inclined to believe that thinks happen because you normally lack confidence and are too shy for your own good. However, I’m totally glad that I ended up on that bus. The sunset was stunning as always, and I ended up talking with a guy my age who goes to university in Meknes and lives an hour north of Rabat in Larache. CTM buses are pretty nice and I was mad at myself for not bringing my blanket–that goes back to my weird paranoia about this trip; I hadn’t wanted the extra bag–because if I’d had it, I would have passed out. We stopped at a little city called zxxxxx and my new friend leaped out of the bus, leaving me unsure how long our stop would be for. Through the window, I watched the restaurant people–it was one of the little butchery shops set up so that you buy the meat and they cook it for you. The guy cooking caught me watching and made eye contact. When the bus moved to repark, he waved up at me, and yelled “wahed?” “one?” I figured that I should stop worrying (because the bus wasn’t going to leave without me, nope) and my shyness, so I got off and went and talk to them. I ended up being the source of entertainment for the four or so restaurant people–and one of their customers–as I used my limited Arabic in combination with their (much less) limited English. One kept giving me sunflower seeds as I waited for my meat to cook. For 25 dirham and a tip, I got 200 grams of beef and chicken cooked up freshly over fire in front of me with onions, tomato, and bread alongside some fun conversation and getting to watch kids kick a ball around in front of a gas station.
The stars were absolutely gorgeous through the bus window, but I swear I am going to write a blog post on the merits of travelling with a blanket because I couldn’t sleep. I attempted to call my hostel as the reception closed at midnight only to find that my phone was out of minutes–that explained why I’d stopped receiving texts from the phone company in French with special offers.
The caveat to arriving two hours later than intended–cursing myself, as I’d considered taking the 2am train to arrive first thing and could have saved on the hostel–was the lack of taxis around. I hopped in the first one that came along without negotiating price, and met my first Moroccan who speaks Spanish! Unfortunately, he was kind of a creep, and spent the ten minute ride asking me if I wanted a Moroccan husband and Moroccan children. He was asking me if I wanted to go to a cafe as I got out, so I pretended not to understand, shoved a 20 dirham note at him, and walked off into the medina.
The Hercules Caves were, according to google, a three hour walk, or 12km from my hostel, and the main road went alongside two huge parks. I decided I’d walk there and take a taxi back. What I didn’t realise was that Tangier is like San Francsico–set on the coast and extremely hilly, and what I didn’t consider was that google maps had mapped walking along an imaginary path in a straight line. I just remapped it and the road I took was 17.9km. Now I feel a bit more justified about how long it took me.
I departed my hostel at 8:30, and got absolutely pleasantly lost in Tangier, finding the Palais Marshan, wandering around a cemetery and walking onto someone’s private land to bother their flock of goats and encountering a box of tiny kittens and a protective daddy cat.
I’m really not sure what I encountered about a third of the way there, but there were two grand taxis parked outside and a “Tourism Van” so I decided I should poke my head in. I greeted the guard in Arabic and he smiled and waved me on, so I guess I was allowed in. The sign said it was “Residence Asharowi” and per google, it may have been “قصر الملك فهد بن عبدالعزيز ال سعود”/”King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud” the former king of Saudi Arabia but I’m really not sure what it was. Regardless, it seemed to be the home of someone terribly wealthy–there was a mansion behind another set of gates, and a garage with four doors and at least eight old and expensive looking cars. The pool had a great view overlooking the city with the sea in the background, and the gardens were beautiful. My favourite part though? They had emus. Just random emus in the back yard. Life goals, perhaps?
I finally made it to Phare Cap Spartel, the lighthouse, which was a total treat because I’d read so much Enid Blyton as a child and on the bus down I’d been reading a book about a lady living in a lighthouse. As I walked up, an old guy said hi to me, and I replied in Darija and kept walking. Unfortunately, the gates were padlocked. But then, the guy came up again and asked what I assumed meant “Do you want to go in?” He spoke a little Spanish and I spoke a little Spanish and it turns out he was the caretaker (he didn’t understand my asking how long he’d been working there) but he let me walk right up to the house. I still wasn’t able to make my way in, but it was super crazy cool to see where they mounted lamps in case of outages and to look over at the sea, at the Strait of Gibraltar over at Spain and to imagine the beams guiding ships home. Ahhhh. He was a sweet little old man, too, and I wish we’d been able to communicate a little more.
I encountered a goatherd and about fifty goats walking up the road as I continued. By around 13:30, I was down on the beach, walking in the water and admiring the gorgeous colour of the ocean (West Coast, best coast!) which was reminiscent of Bodrum, Turkey. Instead of following the main road the last part of the way to the caves, I followed the beach further and further, walking by many fisherman that reminded me of San Francisco and made me miss sunset walks on the beach with my mum and my little sister, and feeling on top of the world.
I knew I must be about 300 or so meters away from the caves when I started climbing over rocks. It was such a cool area; the rocks had holes almost like sponges and water frothed up and out of them like volcanoes each time the waves rolled in. However, there was a wall. A manmade concrete wall, just thick enough that I couldn’t safely heave myself around it. And it was blocking the way that I knew would be where the caves were.
I didn’t want to go all the way back up to the road, so I decided to follow the wall. That didn’t work so well as I ran into a random outcropping of rocks. I found a trail of debris though and followed this off the beach and up into foliage. I almost got stuck when I had to haul myself up a cliff where a large panel of rusty and sharp looking aluminium lay, but prevailed, and continued following the trail, assuming it would be a shortcut to the road. But then I ran into three or four dogs, that started barking wildly and ran off. I later realised that, duh, they were probably strays, but at the time they had startled me and though they seemed afraid, I didn’t really want to be arguing with a pack of dogs. So I turned and went my own way, headed in the direction of the road… only to hit walls, walls, and more walls. Walls that extended quite far, and seemed to be the back of old shacks and homes. I could hear people speaking over the walls. I turned to head in the direction of the caves again, thinking that the walls must eventually open up. Instead, I came to an area that seemed to be an abandoned mosque, with a crumbling brick–you guessed it!–wall with what looked like a minaret and a paved courtyard. Not exactly how I’d envisioned my first forays into urban exploring.
This mosque was the corner. Now, I have no arm strength. None. It took all of my strength to pull myself up to look over the wall, and there I saw that yeah, I was at the nicely paved area where people walk through to the caves, but a wall away. A few touristy looking people were around. Until then, I’d been pleasantly amused, listening to Dire Straits and enjoying the sun, but then I began to get rather distressed, pissed at the idea of a wall forcing me to climb all the way back down and up to the road which would take at least half an hour. Everything I attempted seemed to fail until finally I found a tree about half a meter from the wall and climbed it. From there, I got myself hanging over the side of the wall, but it was about twice as far down on the other side.
I yelled out to a passing waiter guy–somehow, “Le bes?”/”Are you good?” didn’t quite seem to fit the situation, but it had become habit–and the poor startled guy came over and helped me down, exclaiming over all the sticks that had attached themselves to me. He took me to his cafe and I had mint tea, pleased to be sitting, and tried to communicate that I’d come from the beach as he and the owner of the cafe laughed at me sympathetically. They tried not to let me pay, which I thought was sweet since, knowing me, I probably would have broken a toe on the landing without him since I am physically incapable.
The caves were worth all the trouble, huge and airy with really cool patterns all over. There’s an opening that looks out over the sea and is a map of Africa–people approaching from the sea would see the hole as being about the same shape as the continent, to the point that there’s a separate little hole where Madagascar should be. Legend has it that Hercules once stayed there during his twelve labours, hence the name.
I paid 10 dirham for my seat in a taxi back to the city, and set off to explore. For some reason, I had a bookstore saved to my map–I don’t recall saving it but it was a dangerous visit as they had a lovely collection of English language books. I ran into the Cafe de Paris, which is supposedly where a lot of famous writers had worked back when Tanger was an international zone. The American Legation Museum was closed, unfortunately, but I found the Mercado Central and the Marche Central de Poissons–the main market for food–and later, the main souq area with a lot of random goods stores and tiny cafes. I managed to get myself entirely turned around in the medina, and never quite found the Tomb of Ibn Batutta (which I had been rather excited about) but nonetheless enjoyed all of the gorgeous street art. Half the medina is in the Kasbah, the old fortress area, so I sung the Clash to myself. I was looking for a place to eat when I found a place with leather jackets on sale, and wandered in. The guy there was super sweet and we deflty communicated in Spanglishrabic (this is now a thing) and I had to remind myself that I was only buying if I was in love with the jacket, not if the salesman was one of the rare Moroccan salesmen that wasn’t uncomfortably pushy. I ended up telling him I’d think about one, and asking if he knew a good place to eat, which resulted in him walking me all the way to a little hole in the wall cafe that was rather hidden and down a flight of stairs. There was no tourists there, which had been my goal, and he helped me order before leaving.
I had an interesting evening back at the hostel, which was a good size and had other patrons with interesting stories and made for a lovely conclusion to my day.