Thursday, October 6, 2011

Conquering Tangiers like the Portuguese

We wake up at the butt crack of dawn in Tangier, not by choice, but by a combination of a shift in time zones, the port coming to life outside our window, and the call to morning prayer. Our immediate aggravation was immediately subsided when we were treated to the sunrise itself. It had started maybe thirty minutes earlier, but there's a lapse between the horizon and the hill that dominates over the eastern view of the city. "Good morning" the sun said... "why the hell are you up so early?"

Breakfast was not even being served yet, so we spent the morning reviewing the tour guides we had contacted the night before. Of the ones who had written back, some were too expensive, some had poor reviews on trip advisor and some didn't really offer much. The idea began to bubble that we could just do this ourselves. Surely there was a free walking tour map of Tangier on the Internet? After thirty minutes of searching, surely there was not.

Plan B?

We decided that after breakfast we'd check up on our lead in Tangier and see if they could recommend a guide, and if not, we'd go with one of the guides we found online. Breakfast itself was a disappointing pre packaged version of a continental breakfast, but it didn't matter, we were too in awe of the intricately decorated dining hall where we were eating. The time traveling feeling was in full effect again... Until we realized that the television in the background was playing in German and just a little too loud. It was soooo close to being a magical experience. Like you went through the trouble of lighting candles and incense around the bedroom, with fine silk sheets on the bed and Teddy Pendergrass playing in the background, and just before you start to make sweet, sweet love to your woman, the baby starts crying. In other words, close, but no cigar.

We finish breakfast, grab our bags and head out for the day. When we arrive at the shop of our friend's dad's friend (who is probably friends with Kevin Bacon), we learn that he is away traveling. We leave him a greetings from said connection and exit the shop to ponder our next move out in the streets.

Plan C?

To get a guide would involve going back to the hotel, emailing the guide, negotiating a price, coordinating a pick up, and so on. Basically, a fucking hassle. Now what? Well, we had a list of attractions, a map and a strong desire not to spend any money on a guide. How hard could it be to explore Tangier on our own? No misdirection here, my writing is not that great and I'm not a magician. Turns out, it wouldn't be that hard at all. 

First things first. Claire had a new obsession with snail man. Our exploratory trekking conveniently was not planned out. This resulted in traversing April 9th square several times. The real name is in French but je n'ai parle pas francais. Anyways... Every time we pass through the square, claire would look for snail man in the spot we had seen him in yesterday and sigh a slight disappointment when he wasn't there. More on this later. 

The first thing we "found" was St. Andrews church. Inside we learned from the caretaker the history of the church, but more importantly, deciphered the location of the casbah from one of the Matise prints he showed us. Can you guess where we went next? That's right, to see if snail man had appeared. After which, however, we headed to the casbah. 

Once in the casbah, we killed three birds with one stone because killing only two birds is less efficient. The gate to the sea offers amazing views, but the crying baby this time took the form of a jack hammer so we had to tune it out. The Dar el Makhzen is worth skipping unless you speak French, as I didn't feel there was anything there I haven't seen in other museums. Quite frankly, we were starting to suffer from museum fatigue which would later rear itself again at the Louvre, but I digress. The third bird killed was lunch.  I was literally hoping to kill a bird (then eat it) in the form of pigeon pastilla, a local specialty my excitement for was only matched by Claire's excitement for snail man. Sadly, it wasn't on the menu, but what they did have was some of the most amazing toubouli and marinated sardines we have ever had. The place seemed a little pricey when we looked at the menu, but reckoned we were paying for the view as it had a rooftop terrace. In retrospect, the price here was also a clear indication of quality and well worth it.

After lunch we headed toward the Medina to do a little shopping. To get there we walked, quite inefficiently, back the way we came. Wether it was a fear of getting lost or a diabolical plot by Claire is irrelevant. Either way, we had an opportunity to check up on Snail man who again wasn't there. Maybe he only works on weekends? Doubts were starting to build...

Once in the medina, we were able to find the fabled winding roads that are amazingly narrow, stacked with shops selling anything and everything a tourist could want, hidden from the sun, and no inkling of street signs to be found anywhere. Clearly our route here was a diabolical plan as we meandered the medina without concern for direction or location. Adventure wasn't out there, it was right here. Every store elicited oohs and aahs from the both of us, however Only one of us knows how to use our inner voice and I'll leave it at that.

One store was a bazar unto itself. Jewelry, things, more jewelry, crap, more things, and so on. The things and the crap were pretty though and we haven't completely disassociated ourselves from the accumulation of possessions as means of fulfillment (yet). After walking around for a hot minute, the shop keeper came up to us and started talking to us in Spanish. Que? Exactly... We had just spent four days in Malaga on top of three weeks in Ibiza not to long before. Additionally, it turns out a lot of people in Tangier speak Spanish which helped our unguided adventure tremendously. We were still in Espaniol mode and had said "Hola" to the shop keeper when we entered.  He immediately thought we were Spanish and comedy ensued. 

Ultimately we overpaid for a mirror that we are now carrying around the world as it would be too expensive to mail back. My negotiating skills were no match for their centuries of haggling experience. The best I could get was a measly 8% discount. The ego bruise was later compounded when I realized I had converted to Euros instead of dollars and didn't inspect the item closer to examine it's quality. In the end, we paid about $75 for a particle board framed mirror with a wood facade. We later received a consoling anecdote from friends father that he once watched his handyman argue for an hour over one durahm on the price of a hammer. One durham is about twelve cents. Clearly we never stood a chance.

Magically we found our way back to Snail Man Square (April 9th sq). He wasn't there, but we figured out we had managed to see the Mendoubia, Teatro Cervantis, the grand socco and the petit socco over the course of the day, but just didn't realize it at the time. Sadly, it was time to give up on the snails so we went back to the hotel to deposit the days spoils and plan our evening.

After a quick regroup at the hotel, we decided to walk over to the Minzah Hotel to make dinner reservations. On the way, we gave snail man one last chance... And he was there! 14 durhams delivered the most delicious snails we had ever eaten. Eating from a street vendor in Tangier just added to the allure, but don't worry, the ciproflaxin was on stand by just in case. We polished the snails off with random pastries from a local shop. Point, pay and eat. We didn't know what they were called, but we were rewarded nonetheless. Dinner was three hours away, this may have been a mistake :(

The day ended with a traditional dinner of tajine and couscous at an elaborately decorated restaurant inside a five star hotel. Don't let that fool you though. I had the feeling we were in an overpriced tourist trap as the food was mediocre and the entertainment felt kinda meh. They band was so so and the belly dancer might as well have been wearing training wheels. In hindsight, that would have been hilarious and far more entertaining.

We had made it through a day in Tangier on our own. Plan A worked after all. Maybe it wasn't a Portuguese level conquest, but a triumph by our standards. Turns out comfort zones are more about confidence than conditions.

- Bill

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