15.12.2012 - 15.12.2012 17 °C
Why do you visit Tangier? To shop in the market of course! This means haggling; a practice as old as commerce itself but it seems to have evolved into more of a blood sport when it involves tourists in Tangier. I have no desire to slight any Moroccan, but some of the shop keepers and street sellers are quite a special breed and have long since stop seeing tourists as humans but rather as wallets with legs and perhaps too few brains. Everything they sell they say is very old, made of very precious metal and stones and handcrafted. When looking at the men’s hats that have “Made in China” labels prominently displayed would seem to contradict the man who is telling you it is all hand knitted.
A sober second examination of the rate of unemployment and the very long history of inadequate economic development and a lack of substantial resources does make one understand why such business practices have developed but I think other countries and cultures may have developed a softer and less flagrant use of deception.
Muriel has always been the one in the family to drive a deal. When we go car shopping Muriel is the one to make the bargain. She did pretty well in the medina to get prices down to at least the level of what would be a bad deal for a local but a much better price than the majority of tourists might get. We ended most transactions with the merchant shaking their head like they have been beaten and robbed.
When you enter a shop you feel it is fair game for the merchant to follow you around and hover; but on the street it seems that you should have some hope of peace. In some places in the Medina this was not to be and we were surrounded by hawkers of all things imaginable with little willingness to heed the word “no” or “goodbye” in Spanish, French, Arabic or English (we tried them all with additions of thank you in said languages and the using a variety of the displeased looks, tones and gestures). In addition to the full frontal assault by mobile pedlars, there was the practice of being followed by people who wanted to take you to their shop or the insistent offer of being your guide. It was pretty constant, not unlike when we were in Morocco 20 years ago which surprised us since we had read that Tangier had really started to change in this respect.
During our afternoon we managed to purchase a few bracelets for Muriel and one for Hannah, as well as some change purses and hats for myself and the clothing mentioned earlier by Hannah. We returned to our hotel for a bit of a break before heading out once again for dinner. We met Jimmy at the hotel who makes himself out to be the hotel owner. He showed us pictures and references to him in Rick Steves (“a personal friend”) and Lonely Planet guidebooks and pictures of him with Khoffi Anan, Francis Ford Coppola, John Malcovich, Debra Winger and Sidney Portier. He seems to hold court in his dusty “antique” shop on the main floor of the decaying yet very historic Continental Hotel. He seemed to be pining for the better days in the hotel’s history which he has been part of for over forty years. The halcyon days of the hotel were well before even Jimmy’s time. In the late 19th and early 20th century even royalty would come to stay in the hotel. We could see some remnants of the majesty in various locations in the hotel but it is in real danger of being lost forever. Before we left he gave Hannah and Abby necklaces and they gave him a Canada pin in return.
After our break we walked along the main boulevard which parallels the 4 km beach that begins at the port (which has been under reconstruction for the past 8 years supposedly) near the old city and extends to the new town. The beach is wide and was probably very beautiful at one point but was quite littered but despite this is still popular with locals and the occasional camel and horse.
When we walked the boulevard we were stopped by a group of mostly female high school (or early university students) who wanted to interview us about our perspective of violence again women. Since Hannah was our French expert she answered the question which was quite a feat considering how fast the interviewing student was talking and the complexity of the subject. Our little interview did attract a fair bit of attention. We were soon surrounded by a gang of young teenage boys who were more than just a little amused with Hannah’s purple hair. Nearing the end of the interview they started squeezing in pretty close to Abby so I gestured for them to give some space to which they smirked and moved in even closer and I then said goodbye to them in French, Spanish, Arabic and English and just got more defiance as we tried to move on. At this stage a local man intervened and we turned on our heels to head back towards the group of girls who had just interviewed Hannah. They told us the problem we experienced was not specific to us being tourists but was typical behaviour of groups of young teenage boys to everyone on the streets.
Another man came alongside of us and told us not to worry and that we should still feel welcome and safe in Tangier and pointed out a path closer to the beach to walk on that would help us avoid the group. He started to chat us up even though we said we were fine and could find our own way and needed no guidance. He said he had lots of time and kept walking with us and then started pointing out that there were camels on the beach we could get photographed on. It was immediately evident he was determined to hire himself as our guide. I told him that we did not need a guide to which he became indignant. I offered a token payment to which he scoffed saying it was not enough so we firmly told him to move on while he angrily called after us as we walked away. This was another echo of our experience in Morocco 20 years ago.
We were able to walk the rest of the beach relatively undisturbed and we watched the locals out with their children. Pastimes seem dress your girls in incredible British style woolen outfits complete with beret and to buy your child popcorn, a ride on a pony or maybe a drive in a remote controlled car that a few enterprising young men were operating. All the walking and the lateness of the day drove us to look for an evening meal. There are many restaurants on the main drag and most are aimed at the local population. Tangier being a port city, seafood featured prominently. We came across one modest street front restaurant with a friendly waiter. We ordered a seafood platter (Abby opted for the local soup that she enjoyed at lunch) which ended up being an incredible amount of deep fried squid, prawns and a wide assortment of fish which was all deep-fried and very lightly breaded. The fresh ingredients are displayed in the case at the front of the restaurant and from what we could tell looked quite fresh. They cut off the heads of the fish but everything else was left intact. It turned out to be a very tastey meal from which we suffered no ill effects health wise (in case you were wondering). We finished our meal with a good quantity of very sweet mint tea for which we have all developed a strong affinity for.
We decided to get off the streets early and seek refuge in our hotel, there is only so long that you can keep your guard and resistance up to unwanted attention. On our walk back we passed a car that had been converted into a street side escargot restaurant that the locals were hungrily and very noisily enjoying. Also during our journey home we continued to experience the regular second looks if not outright laughter or pointing at Hannah’s purple hair by the locals. It has been quite a frequent occurrence throughout our European trip so far but it seems to spark an even stronger response in North Africa-especially among the young men.
All-in-all it was quite a day. It was in no ways relaxing but we can definitely say we have lived a small adventure today.