Tangiers chaos and Asilah serenity
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The most common point of entry into Tangiers for nearly everyone visiting is on a ferry over from Spain. While the crossing is not long (about 40 min.) and is very convenient, be sure to acquire a seat inside if at all possible as the early morning wind off of the water can be a chilly welcome to the African continent.
Prior to arriving in Tangiers, we had been warned of hordes of men all wanting to offer guide services and employing scare tactics to ensure themselves clients, but upon arriving outside of the ferry port, I had no idea it was going to be that intense. Men literally engaged in fistfights fighting over who would get to serve as our guide around town, while others even kicked at our legs to get our attention and told us we’d be shot if we went alone without them. While feeling uneasy, we stuck to our original plan of hoofing it around alone, which is my recommendation for anyone else visiting the city. Simply push past the throngs of guides and tackle the dusty old port town on your own.
Once outside of the port area, Tangiers turns into a teeming urban marketplace with dusty hotels, modern storefronts, as well as traditional open-air fish and fruit markets. There is a decidedly brisk pace of city life permeating the air, and the gentle cacophony of taxi horns, screaming merchants, and the Arabic mumblings of daily pedestrians keep you on your toes, alert, and alive.
After spending some time walking through the open air markets and exploring some of the prominent mosques in the city, we ventured into the medina district of the city, only to find ourselves hopelessly lost. Many former Moorish cities have a section of the city known as the Medina, where the alleyways are impossibly narrow and dwellings and homes pop out from ever corner in a beehive accented pattern. Unable to see anywhere on the horizon due to the constant vertical walls of the tightly knit buildings, it is incredibly easy to find yourself lost.
Biding our time perusing all of the handcrafted items in the storefronts, a man, to no surprise, offered us his services to lead us out of the Medina and back onto the main road towards the bus station. Knowing there was a catch, we realized we were lost and it must be done, and as was expected, we followed this man directly to his family’s craft and rug market. The next thing I know, I’m sitting on a rooftop sipping freshly brewed tea looking out on the rooftops of Tangiers as handmade rugs are rolled out before my eyes. Having little money and no home to put it in, I sadly did not purchase a rug, seeing as Morocco has some of the most intricate and quality handmade rugs in the world. In the end I compromised to purchase a bead necklace from the shop downstairs in exchange for passage out of the medina. Such is life in Morocco.
Finally out of the medina and out on our own, we decided to ditch the hustle and bustle of Tangiers for the simplicity of towns a little ways down the coast. Heading south down the coast by bus, it is incredible to watch how quickly the city gives way to windswept sand and sparkling Atlantic shores. After a short 40 km drive we pulled into Asilah, an impossibly laidback beach town with whitewashed buildings resembling those of the islands in the Greek Cyclades. School aged boys played soccer on the beach, vendors sold simple merchandise without haggling, and seaside cafes served afternoon coffee and tea. Life was instantly so much better in Asilah.
If planning to head down to Asilah on a day trip across from Spain, be sure to obtain reliable sources as to the timetable of the last bus running back north to Tangiers and the port, because if you miss the last bus you must wait for a taxi to fill up for a trip up north as we were forced to do. Crammed into a rickety old Datsun with 7 other strangers, we finally lurched our way north through sand dunes under a brisk starry sky as Arabic crooning crackled on the fading radio, knowing that Morocco had served me a teaser for which I am obligated to return.