We took a ferry from Tarifa, Spain to Tangier, Morocco, in search of its bohemian and literary past.
We bought a package deal at a ferry ticket office across the street from the Tarifa port that included the ferry trip and two nights at Hotel Continental for 164 euros (two adults, 1 infant).
As soon as you step off the ferry, you will be surrounded by touts wanting to sell you tours. We looked around and thought we could see our hotel on the hill above the port but we weren’t sure if that was the right one or how easy it would be to walk there with our bags and the baby. A young Moroccan man stepped up and asked us if we needed a taxi. This sounded like a good idea because I wanted to get away from all the touts quickly so I could get my bearings. Big mistake. The guy led us over to a waiting taxi. He wasn’t a taxi driver himself, he was a tout wanting to sell us a tour or get a hotel commission. The hotel was already booked so he was out of luck in getting a commission. He kept trying to sell us a tour while we were checking in and would not give up no matter how many times we told him that we were not interested. We finally had to just walk away and go upstairs to our room while he was still talking.
The hotel was built in 1870 and parts of it look like it hasn’t changed in decades. Our room was very clean but the furniture and wooden floor looked run down. I think the rooms included with the ferry package deal are the ones that have not been renovated yet and there are better rooms available if you book directly with the hotel. Wifi does not work in all areas of the hotel and there is no lift. Parts of the hotel are beautiful. I will let the photos speak for themselves.
The Unwanted Guide
When we came out of the hotel, someone was waiting for us. He said that he was the cousin of the guide we had met earlier and wanted to know if we wanted a tour of the market. We told him that we didn’t and kept walking quickly. He called out that we were going the wrong way but we assured him that we knew where we were going. Of course he was right, the market was down the hill from the hotel gate but we had to make a quick decision about which way to go in order to get away from him and we chose to go up. This led us to a place that I was interested in seeing, Cafe Baba, so it worked out well.
Cafe Baba has attracted many artists, writers, and rock stars since it opened in 1943. I walked up the stairs to take a peek inside. It looked intriguing but it was full of men drinking mint tea and the distinct odor of hashish (kif) perfumed the air. Not the kind of place to take the baby but I was content just to see it and we moved on.
We turned a corner and there, leaning against a wall, was our unwanted guide. This guy was not going to let up. Again he tried to sell us a tour which we declined on the basis that we were on our way to dinner. This did not discourage him. “There is a very good restaurant on this street. Very cheap. Many locals eat there.” he said. I sighed inwardly. Maybe if we gave in and went to his friend’s restaurant, he would finally go away. He led us down the narrow street and around the corner to the unemarkable looking Restaurant Kasbah, which was almost empty of diners. Resigned to our fate, we went in. The owner urged us to sit at one of the many empty tables. He spoke to our guide for a few seconds in Arabic, probably telling him to come back later for his commission. The guide seemed pleased and strolled out. This was going to suck. Micheal shrugged and said, “At least he is gone. We will ask for a menu and if the prices look like a rip-off, we will just walk out”. It turned out to be a set menu: soup, some very dry chicken and couscous, fruit, honey cake, and mint tea. We each ordered a soft drink as well. The price we paid for two people was 22 euros. The meal was very average. The price was not a complete tourist rip-off but quality was well below what we could have probably found on our own. Only other tourists were eating there.
Walking Around the Medina (old city) and Souk (market)
Paul Bowles and The Sheltering Sky
The Sheltering Sky is a 1949 written by Paul Bowles, an American writer who lived in Tangier from 1947 until his death in 1999. The novel was adapted into a film in 1990 by the director, Bernardo Bertolucci. While the story is set in Algeria, there are two locations in Tangier that appeared in the film: Alcazar Cinema and Cafe Colon.
Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies is a cultural center and research library for Arabic language studies. The Paul Bowles wing hold books, photographs and other items related to the writer.
Gran Cafe de Paris
Cafe de Paris looks much the same as it did in the 1950s, when it was frequented by spies. William Burroughs, Mohamed Choukri, Paul Bowles, and Tennessee Williams have all sat at this cafe, sipping mint tea or coffee and watching the world go by. Of course, I had to play tourist and force Micheal to take dozens of photos of me there, trying to look “literary” or something. Haha. The coffee was nice as well.