Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Tarifa, Spain / Tangier, Morocco, Africa

After hitting up main street Gibraltar, filling up on Fish & Chips, tea, and homemade scones, we got our magnet and shot glass (Our MUST souvenirs) we crossed the border back into Spain. Everything I've read says that it's harder to cross back into Spain then crossing over into Gibraltar, maybe we were lucky, but we waited in the line up for maybe 15 minutes and drove back over without even getting stopped to see our passports. (We had to pull over on the way into Gibraltar to get our passports checked, but they didn't stamp them!)
The hotel we were staying at was located in Tarifa, Spain. Tarifa is about an hour away from Gibralter. Tarifa is where the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea meet. Pretty cool if you ask me. But that is about the only cool thing about Tarifa. It was a really nice city don't get me wrong, but it had so much potential to be better. Tarifa is the Southern most point of Europe. Here on a good day you can see across the strait of Gibraltar into Africa. The Strait of Gibraltar is what separates Africa and Europe. Wanna guess how far away the two continents are?
~32km! So about 20 miles!
How crazy is that? 
That's probably why Tarifa is the best place to ferry across to go to Morocco.
Where the Atlantic and Med. meet in Tarifa!

We arrived at our hotel around 6pm, still stuffed from Gibraltar we unloaded the car and checked in to the Meson De Sancho hotel using Hotels.com. Majority of the time I used Booking.com but this time I used Hotels.com. 1. Because they were cheaper than Booking.com and 2. Because I booked it through Ebates, which gave me 6% cash back. I love Ebates, especially with living overseas I shop online a lot more than I would in the states and I get cash back for it. Nothing too crazy, I think 6% is the most I've ever seen, but hey every little bit helps.
We stayed at the Meson De Sancho for 2 nights for 78€ total. I even paid extra for a room with a balcony that over looked the mountains. You could never get a nice hotel for one night for that price in the States.

Happy we had finally made it to our hotel, we settled in Googling the address to the Port and trying to figure out where we could park. I booked a private tour guide with Aziz Benami I chose to do the TOP VIP Day trip, which included:
Round trip ferry tickets with the fast ferry, Assistance at arrival and departure in the port of Tangier, Air Conditioned Transportation with driver, English speaking private guide, Entrance fees to museums, Drinks, Lunch, and a 30 minute Camel Ride on the beach. I found him by Googling "tours in Tangier." Google is such an amazing tool. I have no idea what I would do without it now! Aziz came with amazing reviews and even a recommendation from Rick Steves. I'm a big Rick fan, so by that alone I was sold!
I did a lot of research about going to Morocco. I read blog after blog about people's first hand experience and got mixed reviews. Some swear by doing it on their own. Others swear by getting a guide. I would suggest using your own judgment. I was glad we booked a private tour. FRS, the ferry company, does tours and they are fairly inexpensive. I think the cheapest I found was 70€ per person, which included RT tickets and a tour through the city. I know 70€ pp seems like a lot, but come to find out round trip tickets from Tarifa (which is the cheapest port to leave from) is 60€, so why not pay a little more and get a guide to show you around the city? Unless you're uber thrifty or want to adventure out on your own get a tour guide. I knew this would be our last big trip before leaving Germany so I budgeted and saved and played the need vs. want game just to have the trip of a lifetime.

The next morning we woke up bright and early. Our hotel was 9km away from the port and the ferry left at 9am. Or so we thought. We left our hotel at 8am knowing we would need lots of extra time to find a bank and get to the port. Looking back we should have lounged around our hotel because the 9am ferry had been CANCELLED. But we didn't know that until we got to the port. It took us a while to find a bank then there was a lineup at the port to park so we ended up parking on the other side of the gates, then had to walk in a mini monsoon to get to the port only to be told that the ferry had been canceled and that there was an 11am ferry but they still didn't know if it would make it. But they knew for sure the 1pm ferry would cross. 1pm! That was half the day wasted!
We walked back to the car and decided since it was only 9am we would hit up the Lidl grocery store (We love Lidl and apparently so does Europe. Drew calls it "the European constant" because we seem to find one everywhere we travel) and grab some breakfast and go back to the hotel to wait. We were going back and forth trying to decide if we wanted to wait till 1pm, or if I should try to get in touch with the guide and try to reschedule for the following day. Luckily mother-nature decided to be kind to use because as soon as we finished eating the sun came out. Drew went down to the front desk to ask them to call the ferry company to see if the 11 o'clock ferry was running. It was!
A picture from the next morning, can you spot the ferry? ;)
By the time we got down to the port we figured we would try to park at the port again. There was still a line. But some how I caught the eye of an attendant working and mouthed parking and she nodded. We scored parking right in front of the entrance. :)
We went up to the cashier with out reservation number and picked up our tickets. The attendant had forgotten to give us the paperwork the Moroccan government wanted us to fill out to enter and exit! Luckily our guide had said we got the paper work from the attendant and I went back for it. Do not board the ship without a Yellow and a White paper PER person. Everyone needs to fill one out. We went through customs before boarding the ship and I got another stamp! (Side note: Before moving to Germany, Drew and I renewed our passports, mine to show my married name, and his because he wanted a picture that showed he wasn't 365lbs anymore, and got the 48-page passport because we knew we would be traveling and I wanted passport stamps. When we got to Germany, we were told that the EU had open borders, and that they don't always stamp your passport) The fact that I got a stamp made me very excited.

Once on the ship we found seats and waited for the ship to fill. FRS, says it's only a 30 minute trip across the strait. Technically is only 30 minutes. What they don't tell you is that they don't actually leave port until 30 minutes later, we left at 11:30a and arrived at 12:00p. Not bad, except for the fact that we were on the ship before 11am. Then once we got to Tangier. We had to wait for the Moroccan Customs agents to board the ship to stamp our passports again! I think I've just gotten use to being in Germany where everything is efficient and organized, because getting my passport stamped when we got to Tangier was a nightmare. But we were finally in Tangier. We had made it to Africa!
The weather had definitely changed for the better.

After disembarkation we made our way to the port while our guide would be waiting for us.When emailing with Aziz, he had told me that he was already booked for the day, but one of the guides he had trained personally would be taking us around. In all the blogs I read I knew we would be bombarded by other guides looking to hit up some unknowing innocent tourist. I knew it was coming but we were pestered non-stop. We had a 5 minute walk from where the ship ports and the actual port building where our guide was waiting, and the whole time we were pestered and told that they needed to be our guide. But we kept walking, one guide kept up with us and kept saying that we needed a guide and that he was going to be our guide. Luckily he stopped following us and we meet up with our guide.

The Center Square where King Mohammed delivered his speech
April 9th is a very important day to Tangier. His Majesty Mohammed V came to Tangier where he delivered a historical speech which marked the revival of the national conscience and resistance to foreign occupation. So Tangier recognizes April 9th as a holiday. We started off with a ride through the old town. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and you could tell how passionate he was about Taniger and it's History. We started off the tour with an interesting drive through the new part of the city, ‘California’ that is considered to be the richest area of Tangier’s zone of villas and palaces passing via the Visit king's palace and celebrities homes.
 The view of the city and the ocean from the top of the hill!

From there, we stopped off for a visit to Cape Spartel, which is the north western point of Africa, it is the exact point where the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean meet. At Cape Spartel we stopped in at the little cafe for some mint tea and authentic Moroccan sweets. The small pastries were delicious, and the tea certainly hit the spot.
We stopped off on the side of the road just to take a picture!

Cape Spartel Lighthouse

In the itinerary sent, we were told we would be going to the Caves of Hercules, I'm still not entirely sure what was special about it, but we didn't get to go. The Caves of Hercules have been closed for renovation for over a year!
Hello Atlantic Ocean!
So from the cape, we headed down to the beach where we got to ride Camels! I've seen my share of movies where they ride camels in the dessert, and yes camels are cool, but huge! Truth be told, I was a little terrified to get up on one, but Drew encouraged me, and I hopped up. Our tour guide explained to us there are two types of Camels. Those with one hump, and those with two. The Camels we got to ride only had one hump. Apparently, these are the ones indigenous to Africa. The Camels with two humps are found in the Middle East and Asia. We got a very fun 30 minute ride along the beach on a camel and the camel herder (are they called Herders?) was funny, he sang us songs, had the camels gallop and even took our pictures. The herder spoke little English, but was able to sing Bob Marley to us, and tell us how to pose for pictures. He was very friendly, and made the ride fun and interesting. Drew had a great time, he says this was the best thing about our trip! (He's super easy to please)

See that little dot way on the top of the hill? That's where we started from!
Look ma, no hands!
Drew was petting my Camel while we rode, and she really seemed to enjoy it.
When it was over, she was very affectionate to Drew, and seemed to want some more pets! .... Just like our dogs! haha

My camel, she was such a good girl!

 Our guide took lots of pictures of us on the camel, no complaints here, we loved it!

 After leaving the beach, we headed back into town and got a tour of the old city by visit the Kasbah with its beautiful museum (The sultan’s Palace). We even got to see where the American Embassy was located. Why is there an American Embassy in Tangier? Not sure if you know this (I didn't) but Morocco was the first country in the world to recognize the American independence from the British and recognize the United States of America as a country! How cool is that? I had no idea.
Entrance to the Kasbah
View of the city from the Kasbah
The Oldest museum in Tangier, It used to be a palace!
The first map of the world (Europe and Asia) ever made

We got to see some pretty cool things, and by the time we had finished in the Kasbah I was starving! It was lunch time, well more like an early dinner. We met up with the driver and our guide told us that we would be meeting up with Aziz and he would be taking us to lunch. I didn't hear anything he said besides lunch. I was famished. We met up with Aziz and I could tell instantly why Rick Steves had recommended him. He was extremely knowledge about Tangier (He's originally from the Sahara Desert) and he knew all the little side roads to take to get us to our destination quicker.
We were dropped off in the Old town. Aziz had told us that he likes to take the people who pick the TOP VIP tour to this place for lunch. Le Saveur du Poisson also known as Restaurant Populaire or Popeye’s. But they were busy! Anthony Bourdain had done a special on this resturant and many people who visit Tangier come here because of his episode.

Unfortunately they didn't take reservations, but Aziz assured us that eating at this place was what it meant to be a local in Tangier. We trusted him this far. So I told myself I wasn't that hungry and Aziz took us around the Market. Thursday's and Sunday's are market days. Sunday's are the bigger market days, but Thursday's are great days as well. We were lucky to have been there on a Thursday. Aziz took us around the market, fresh meat, fresh veggies and fruit. It was amazing! The strawberries were almost the size of my fist! I wish we could have bought some to take back with us.
Some time had passed and we ended up back at the restaurant. A table had opened up and we were told to sit down. Aziz told us he would be back in an hour and to enjoy our meal, but no menu's were brought and I wasn't sure what we were going to eat! I didn't really need to worry, the style of the restaurant is just sit back and wait to be served. You won’t have the stress of thinking what to eat for today because they will bring it to the table. Wait to be surprised. I don't like surprises, I like surprises that I've hinted at for months, but this was a great surprise.

The most interesting was the juice of pulpy fure of figs, raisins and strawberries. Every table gets the same thing.
(I didn't take any pictures of our food, I wanted to experience the food with my eyes and not behind a camera. These pictures were found online)

We started off with some fresh olives, roasted olives and some very good bread.

Then a seafood tajine with baby shark, calamaris and monk fish with fresh mountain spinach. Tajine is cooked in charcoal in a classic Moroccan clay pot.

 The next pot that was served was a fish parade: brushed with olive oil, salt and pepper and some coriander. Apparently it was Shark!

We were stuffed by this point. But it wasn't over yet. Dessert!

We had a plate of nuts, then we were served fresh strawberries with honey.

We had finished eating. everything. It was soo good we couldn't stop. Drew is usually skeptical when it comes to eating seafood (especially when it looks like it did), but he couldn't stop eating, he enjoyed it so much. Think Thanksgiving! Ha. We had been eating for an hour because Aziz had come back and we were off again. He took us around the market one more time, and took us to a Co-op who made Rugs. When we went to Istanbul our tour took us to a Rug making store and I really wanted one! This time, it took everything in me not to say I want that one. The quality is amazing. It was so soft, easy to clean, fire proof, water proof, pet proof and it could possibly be a family heirloom. I really wanted one. But I couldn't really justify a 600-1000 euro carpet. One day though.
View from the top of the Co-Op

Once we realized what time it was we hit up a little souvenir store, got our shot glass and magnet, (we even found a little camel to turn into an ornament) and headed back to the port.
We said our goodbyes to Aziz and our guide and headed back through customs with our yellow forms and back to the ship which would take us back to Tarifa.
It was a wonderful day in Tangier! The ferry ride back was not kind to us though. I never get sea sick, but the whole ride back Drew and I were nauseated and we weren't the only ones. I would suggest packing Dramamine and taking some before getting on the ferry. The Mediterranean Sea is not always kind.

Up Next: Seville, Spain