Welcome to Tangier. Are you prepared to be tested travellers?
This morning we wake and discover that we have a major problem with our Airbnb accommodation at our destination city of Tanger. The apartment that we booked, and which was confirmed by the host, has been cancelled on us at 3am. The reason given by the host was having “major family issues”. He seems apologetic in his email but that doesn’t help the six of us! So while we’re packing up and getting ready to catch the train from Rabat to Tanger, Steve is manically trying to connect to the very temperamental African wifi in search of another Tanger Airbnb apartment for us to stay in. But the internet is not connecting us to the sites, which includes Airbnb. Grrrrr….
So what to do? Do we stay or do we go?
We decide to try our luck and go. We have never landed in a foreign city without something already worked out/booked/organised. Steve has found another Airbnb apartment near to where we were originally meant to stay, but we just couldn’t make the booking go through. So we are taking our chances and hope we can arrange all of this when we arrive in Tanger later this afternoon.
We walk to the train station through the old medina and out the arched gateway, which is completely empty because it’s morning time and the stalls are just organising stock on shelves, up along the main road in Rabat to the train station. We purchase six tickets for Tanger and wait again for delayed trains. We sit in a huddle on the concrete platform floor while Steve catches the escalator back up to the café and tries to connect to some wifi a final time as he tries to book another place.
The train arrives and it’s a very long one with so many carriages. It’s going to be a 4-hour journey. I’m praying there’s air-conditioning and that it then works (previous trains had AC but it didn’t work as well as expected).
We arrive into Tanger after a couple of long delays sitting out in the middle of nowhere under the extremely hot sun on the train tracks. It must be close to 45 plus degrees out here. The excruciating hot conditions causes delirium to set in amongst some of the six backpack travellers – me mainly! The girls are all watching something on their iPads and I seem to be the over-heated restless one. There’s not enough air in the carriage so I get off the stationary train to take a look outside. It doesn’t really help, as the air is hot, but I enjoy stretching the legs.
The air conditioned train seems to work at the start of the journey, but progressively, like at the half way point, it’s a stifling pit of overused warm air. The train ticketing system in Morocco is 1st class or 2nd class travel. There’s about $10-$15 difference between ticket costs. Just one or two carriages are dedicated to 1st class as there’s not as many who use it compared to second class. 1st class buys you dedicated seat allocation, consistent air conditioning in a carriage seated for six, whereas 2nd class is first come first serve seating and intermittent air conditioning within a carriage of eight.
We have some great seating scouts in our family too – Billie and Dacey – who are motivated to source the best seating for our family. So they jump onto the train first and secure an empty or almost empty compartment and the rest of us lug our suitcase onto the carriage. This compartment we’re sharing with two Moroccan women. Billie and Dacey are great at this travelling task and it’s a real bonus of having kids who are desperate for a seat!
We arrive into Tanger train station. It’s small and dilapidated as a larger train station is currently under major construction. Due to not having station cafes, wifi or space to sit down and work out our accommodation dramas in Tanger, I spot the Hilton Hotel and its external glass shimmering from the setting sun in the distance not too far away from the train station and next to it I spot a large sign displaying Tanger City Mall. So we walk over to the 5-star building that glistening in the late afternoon sun dodging taxi drivers who are haggling us to take a ride with them. The girls think the Hilton looks like a great place to stay…we keep walking by.
The Tanger City Mall is a large mall with plenty of pricey shops and a large array of cafes and food options in the upstairs food court. We find seats, give the girls some local Dirham to buy a cool drink while Steve and I go back downstairs to the Maroc Telecom shop to enquire about getting our USB wifi working (Steve purchased this a couple of days ago to avoid the wifi issues at the dorm). But it just isn’t working and the failure message says “no software is installed as there is no software on the modem”. That’s just great…and it’s just the beginning of a series of problems that turn up at the Tanger City Mall. Let’s call this problem mark I.
The man working behind the Maroc Telecom counter really has no idea what the problem is and only offers us the chance to drop by on Monday (it’s Saturday late afternoon now) when the shop manager is in to possibly swap the USB modem device. But that’s impossible as we are leaving Tanger tomorrow (Sunday). That’s just great…problem mark II. So we reload our local sim cards on our smart phones and return to the girls upstairs and start the search for Airbnb accommodation.
We find an apartment overlooking the port area of Tanger, close by to the 3am cancelled Airbnb, and the owner confirms the booking immediately. Perfect. Now what is meant to happen after the Airbnb host confirms the booking by pushing that button is that the money transfers into a holding Airbnb account and a phone call/text/email is sent arranging a time to meet up to either collect the key or meet the host at the premises. But this part of the Airbnb booking process doesn’t occur. We wait an hour sitting at the Tanger City Mall food court. We wait another hour. It is 7pm and Steve has revisited Maroc Telecom shop and the man there was kind enough to call the Airbnb host’s mobile number but the phone is now switched off. Steve then texts the host, and emails him. But nothing. Nothing at all. This is cause for concern now…problem mark III. Usually when we are up to this many marks (III) things start to fall apart at the seams. But we manage somehow to hold it all together.
And then a turn for the better.
Our previous Airbnb host in Rabat, Kayizer calls Steve out of the blue to check up on how our train journey and arrival in Tanger is going. After Steve mentions the series of problems, Kayizer is in action. He said it didn’t sound right re: Airbnb host not contacting us immediately and he’d call Steve back after he works something out.
Long story short, we wait nervously for Kayizer’s return phone call. And it comes with good news – he has a friend in Tanger who would be able to accommodate us in his vacant apartment. But we have to get a taxi now. So we pack ourselves up – things and morale – and walk outside the mall to get a taxi to an address that Kayizer texts to Steve.
Problem mark IV: getting a taxi in Tanger without getting completely ripped off. Is it possible? Well yes if you have a Moroccan friend on the other end of the phone! After an exchange in Arabic over Euros (they love Euros here due to having lots of Europeans visit from Spain on the ferry) and Dirham we have a deal. Steve makes the taxi driver shake his hand on 80 Dh (A$11). We pile into the beat up old Mercedes Benz shaking our heads at how our luck has magically turned around. Thank god for connecting with Airbnb hosts and just hanging in there!
It takes us half an hour or so to arrive to our unknown destination. The taxi driver drops us off at Hotel Ahlen and we walk into the reception to work out our next move. We’re not completely certain we should be here and we look outside the hotel for a house or some clue to where we should be. But there’s nothing hinting at us. Inside the hotel foyer a lovely older man with a neatly trimmed moustache greets us and we are a little unsure of what exactly is going on and where exactly we should be staying. There is the mention of a house by Kayizer on the phone to Steve a little while ago, but the taxi has dropped us off at a hotel. Steve asks what the cost of a room is at this hotel: 1,000 Dirham (A$135). OMG and we require at least two rooms for all of us. That’s out of our budget and anyway the manager, whose name is Abdul doesn’t have our details written down in his thick reception book nor does he know our name or Kayizer’s.
So we call Kayizer again and put him on the phone with the friendly hotel manager Abdul. A piece of this crazy Tanger puzzle is still missing for us. We stare at Abdul and wonder what the heck is being said between the two of them.
Abdul invites us to take a seat and mentions someone is coming here to collect us. So we sit back down and breathe another sigh of relief. After a little wait another friendly man drives up to the front of the hotel and parks his car with his wife and kids in the car. We all go out to greet him like a saviour. It is Kayizer’s friend who has come to save the day for the Cole family in Tangier, Africa. Yay!
We follow Kayizer’s friend across the road, walking up a slope along the footpath pulling a broken three-wheeled suitcase behind us. He doesn’t speak English so it’s hard to catch his name and communicate properly. But he does point out the big supermarket and a smaller local corner shop where we can get supplies. Then we’re taken down a few steps into a white apartment block lift area. Half of us file into the cramped lift; the other half of us wait for its return from the fifth floor. We are here and are grateful to have a roof over our heads in this foreign and yet to be explored city of Tanger. But there’s problem number V looming on the horizon. As we walk around the apartment, we notice that there’s only one double bed in this apartment. Um…er…six people; one double bed. The equation just doesn’t work. I look around for other bedrooms, other beds, but there are none. Okie dokie.
There’s a lounge room with a solid wooden dining table and four chairs, a large window and Moroccan style day beds hugging the wall. I make the enquiry just in case I’m missing something here, “So are there any other beds?” Of course the answer is no and due to our level of gratitude and the complex nature of being unable to communicate proficiently with our new host about the need for more beds, I nod graciously and thankfully while the kids look on in silence and complete shock.
We work out the payment before Kayizer’s friend departs. It’s 400 Dirham per night (A$54 per night) to stay here. This is a cheap and lucky-to-find stay even though we don’t have enough bedding. The kind man hands over extra sheets and departs and we are left looking at our current situation of having one less bed than required to sleep us all comfortably if we use the lounges. The only solution is to think outside the box and somehow create a sleeping space for the four girls in this lounge room.
After initial outrage, we get thinking clearly. My idea is to pull the mattresses off the shoe-shaped lounge and place them side by side on the ground with a large blanket over the top tucked in to keep them from moving apart. There are a few lumps and bumps but it’s workable. The girls agree and we start rearranging the lounge room to suit us.
After the big bed is created, Steve and I head off to the little store down the road to buy some supplies – yogurt, milk, Kit Kats, and water (the essentials) – and return to make a much need calming Chamomile tea. There’s no internet in this accommodation either which is another shock-horror moment for the girls.
But we are okay. We are out of the Tanger City Mall. Now we all need is a good night’s sleep.
Due to the issues surrounding yesterday’s accommodation debacle, we now have only today to get out and explore Tanger. So we revisit the hotel and chat with Abdul again, the friendly manager to see if he can assist us with getting a taxi to explore and the costs of doing so. We plan on going to the Atlantic coast to see the Caves of Hercules.
But first breakfast. We walk past a decent looking cafe that offers coffee and a variety of breakfast items. No one speaks English so it’s back to pointing at items on the menu. We order waters, coffees, omelette and toasted kebabs. What appears is quite different. Steve and I ordered an omelette but we receive a whole range of different types of breads with tiny pots of jam, Nutella, oil and olives on the plate. We ask the man what this is and he just kept gesturing that the omelette was still coming. Was this part of an omelette meal?
Anyway we’re served something we didn’t order, the omelette arrives along with a lukewarm coffee. Afterwards Steve and the café manager work through the bill trying to communicate the fact that we didn’t order the breads. It seems that many customers were unhappy with the quality of food and service here today, and left their coffees sitting on the table. We don’t pay for the extra dishes due to the mix up with the ordering.
Abdul, the hotel manager, was at the reception desk and also another friendly Moroccan man with an amputated leg who spoke very good English too. The girls happily sit down in the hotel lounge area and connect to the wifi while Steve and I discuss getting to the Caves of Hercules. The man with one leg speaks four languages (Moroccan, French, English, German) and we discuss going to the caves. These men are more than happy to assist us even though we are not guests at this hotel which is lovely and such a relief. They order us a taxi and once the taxi driver arrives they discuss price and drop off and pick up in Arabic. We simply stand there humbly and watch the deal occur.
So for 150 Dirham (A$20) the six of us pile into the Mercedes taxi – Steve and Dacey in the front seat; Charlie, Ash, Billie and me in the back seat and we’re off to the Caves of Hercules. Our hotel contacts aka translators work out 150 Dh there and 150 Dh back and we’re getting dropped at one point and collected from another a few hours later. Perfect. We get to explore ourselves. We take the opportunity to get a photo with our helpful one legged hotel man.
It turns out to be a great day. The Mercedes taxi smoothly cruises down the three-lane road towards the Tangier coast. We are really living the Moroccan life, see pic below, as we pass other taxis also piled up with local Moroccan beach goers just like us. The weather is not too hot, and there’s a beautiful cool breeze off the coast.
The Caves of Hercules are a major tourist attraction so the place is teeming with people. The cave is famous as it has an opening from the land side as well as the sea. We stay in the cave for a bit, see the cave opening and get out of there as soon as we can before it gets too cramped inside this dark cave.
We walk out along the rocks and then along the sandy beach. There are lots of boys jumping off and diving into the ocean amongst the rocks. It’s a great day for it. There are no girls jumping from the rocks. It’s a boy’s domain. Although we see some girls swimming further along the beach, many of them are fully covered from head to toe in their clothes and plunging themselves into the cold refreshing water. There’s no Moroccan female skin shown here in Tangier. It’s a culture that unfortunately seems to repress girls and women from participating freely and enjoying this type of self-expression and physical activity without being stared at by men.
Charlie and Dacey decide to push the boundaries, and take the plunge into the ocean but they’re very aware of the male eyes staring at their every move. It’s noticeable and unsettling for them and they really don’t like it. The girls go in quickly: Dacey in a t-shirt and Charlie with her long cotton skirt. At least they’re cool and refreshed.
We continue walking along Achakar Beach, stop a vendor selling icy cold water and negotiate a price for three waters. It’s expensive but we’re in need of it so we pay the Dirham. We pass some camels sitting on the sandy beach and then a funky beach lounge-café area playing music and serving drinks (non-alcoholic of course) and food.
We climb up a rainbow coloured walkway of steep steps to the road to make our way along the coastal walk to the lighthouse that overlooks the water and the place where two waters collide: Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. We are at Cape Spartel and it’s a beautiful view up here looking down.
The walk along the coastal road is up hill beside the road. The only thing that gets us through the walk is a strong ocean breeze that drys our sweat and cools us instantly. There’s been a bushfire that has come through this hill and wiped out the green foliage. It’s so black and dead. We continue walking towards the lighthouse. There are a few complaints but there’s no going back – it’s walk on or sit and stay behind on the atrocious wind swept coastal day.
We’ve been out exploring for three hours and Mohammad (all first born boys are named Mohammad; girls Fatima) our taxi driver arrives to pick us up at the agreed time at the agreed place. We breath another sigh of relief that we are in fact at the correct pickup location and we pile into the Mercedes taxi and head back to the hotel.
On the drive back to Tanger I ask our taxi driver to stop at the top of the hill so I can take a photo of the impressive view of this sprawling city. Again there is the black evidence of a recent fire as the trees and hills are back and scorched all the way down the winding road but on the other side it’s a white walled city.
Our friendly and helpful hotel duo are not at the hotel when we return but there’s another manager there who assists us with finding a good place to enjoy a authentic traditional Tanger dinner tonight. We are able to create another arrangement utilising this new manager. So taxi driver Mohammad is called again and we are given the message that he will meet us at 7:30pm at the hotel and take us to Tangier city to a recommended restaurant that the hotel manager knows of. In the mean time we walk back to our apartment, have a shower and a rest.
The drive out to Tanger city is interesting. The sun is setting and this is the exact time when the Moroccans come out to enjoy the day. It’s too hot to be out in the heat, so at sunset the people come out onto the green and well watered lawns throughout the city. It’s a way of life and the best way, only way, to survive the heat. It’s a beautiful sight to see so many people out.
Dinner is lovely at Annajma Restaurant. We eat like royalty and order quite a few dishes to share amongst the six of us. Two calamari dishes (divine), a chicken tagine (hearty), beef and chicken skewers (tasty), two salads (refreshing), bread and olives. We want to order a couscous dish but like most of Morocco we have seen so far it seems to be couscous is especially set aside for one day in the week: Friday. So we order more skewers and enjoy the real Moroccan meal.
Steve pays the bill. The dinner tonight costs less than what it costs us as a family to eat crappy fast food at McDonalds – 253 Dh (A$34). We depart the restaurant as we have an hour before we are collected by Mohammad and walk around this lively part of Tanger under the stars. People are out at cafes, walking the streets, and sitting on the green lawn areas dedicated in many parts of the cities of Morocco. It’s so cool sitting on the green grass on a summer night and looking up at the twinkling stars.
There are cafés lining the streets which we have worked out operate more or less like pubs back home. They’re full of men drinking tea, coffee or water and they sit at a small outdoor table facing out to the street enjoying the word go by, catching up with friends or reading a paper. It feels weird and a little unnerving walking by these cafes as we can feel all male eyes staring at us. Tonight this part of the city is alive with golden lights and we enjoy the spare hour we have to walk around this part of the neighbourhood and soak it all up.
Mohammad arrives to pick us up from the restaurant. We are licking ice creams as he arrives but pile in anyway. We cruise down the roads back to the hotel and notice a truck in front with extra passengers. Four young boys are riding on the back of the truck. Not on top or inside but on the anonymously on the back. It’s going quite fast along the motorway and they boys shuffle their feet along the narrow edging and hold on for dear life.
We arrive back to the hotel, thank the manager for his restaurant suggestion and walk back to our apartment. We depart tomorrow for a very long journey back to Casablanca where we will met up with my brother Jarrod and finally return to the Berrechid dorm house for the start of Term 3.
Although we have had quite a few problems to solve on out two-day stay in Tanger, we have enjoyed the little time we’ve had exploring the place and meeting the people. A very special thank you to Abdul and his one-legged friend at the Ahlen Hotel who without their kind help and assistance we would not have had the experience we did.