A Travellerspoint blog

December 2012

Morocco Day 1 (Part 2)

By Ben

sunny 17 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Tangier: Medina

Tangier: Medina

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.

Tangier: Hotel Continental Our Room View

Tangier: Hotel Continental Our Room View

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.

Tangier: Dinner

Tangier: Dinner

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.

Posted by KZFamily 10:18 Archived in Morocco Tagged morocco tangier Comments (1)

Morocco Day 1 (Part 1)

By Hannah

sunny 17 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Tangier: Hotel Continental Our Room

Tangier: Hotel Continental Our Room

We woke up much earlier than we would have liked today, about six in the morning. We were told this was necessary in order to catch the nine o'clock ferry over to Morocco. However, I mourned the half hour of sleep that was lost as we sat in the waiting room, letting the ferry dock. The ride over was rocky, but otherwise quiet and uneventful, which provided a stark contrast to the world we met on the other side. As soon as we exited, we were approached by various "guides", asking us if we would like a tour. Having experienced this before, my mom and dad quickly said no thank you and kept looking for a cab big enough to hold our luggage. However, a man that seemed to actually be a guide, or perhaps a friendly taxi driver, told us that our hotel was in walking distance of the terminal, and was nice enough to point us in the right direction. Arriving at the hotel, we found the decor both palatial and dilapidated. Most of the walls, floors and ceilings were covered in colourful mosaics and stained glass windows, but had fallen into disrepair. The hotel had been built in 1888 and was once one of the most impressive in Tangier, providing lodgings for people such as Queen Victoria's son. It has lost much of its former glory. We made our way up to our room, which was large and minimally furnished, and decorated with an ornate archway and mosaic'd ceilings. The porter, who had carried our one bag up before us, stood waiting as we set down our things and inspected the room. My dad finally gave him about 60 cents, which he looked less than pleased with. After settling down and preparing ourselves for the day ahead, we set out into the streets of Tangier.

Tangier: Medina

Tangier: Medina

The hustle and bustle of the town swept us up as we headed down the main road. After a bit of walking around, we sat down to people watch. All of the different outfits and activities were a lot to take in. Abby, Mom, and I were a rarity with our uncovered heads. There were a lot more men out and about than women. We were approached by a man trying to chat us up, asking us where we were from and how we liked it here. Seeing we were reluctant to get into a conversation, he simply told us to give him something. I was a little taken aback, but my parents were expecting something like this, and sent him on his way. Another good natured man came up to us a short while later, apparently very impressed by my hair. He told me that I would be worth a dowry of many camels, and parted by saying "may God bless you forever" without trying to sell us something once. Shows that you really only know what kind of person you were talking to after the exchange has finished, as my mom told me earlier. We had drinks at a cafe, where we suspect that tourists and locals get handed differently priced menus, and then went to visit the Medina fish market, a sizeable marketplace where meat, produce, and spices were sold in addition to a wide variety of fish. There were chickens everywhere you looked, hanging from various ceilings and window ledges, with their neck skin drooping from their bodies. They definitely weren't the freshest we'd seen. Heaps of sausages, pig legs, and offal were everywhere. We'd never seen so many butcher shops in place. Though it was definitely something to look at, we refrained from buying anything, as hygiene didn't seem to be in the forefront of any of the shopkeepers' minds. Lining the paths through the market were mounds of fruits and vegetables, artfully arranged and much more appetizing than the limp, headless chickens. We didn't purchase any of this either, for the same reasons concerning sanitation. There were also stalls selling spices and olives, all piled in seemingly precarious ways. At the other end of the market was the fish, the abundance of which was almost as overwhelming as the smell. Squid, crawfish, prawns and shrimp were among the few that we could identify. We saw a massive swordfish, just laying on the ground, perhaps waiting to be prepared or bartered for. On our way back through the marketplace, we had to duck as men carrying whole cow legs on their backs swung to turn corners. The atmosphere was loud, exciting, odorous, and exotic.

Tangier: Medina

Tangier: Medina

Stepping out of the market, we headed for the streets, preparing ourselves for the onslaught of merchants trying to sell their wares to us. The ambush was immediate. It seemed we couldn't go anywhere without being assailed by a man clutching anything from watches to teapots. We were followed by one guy who tried to lead us to his shop, and was so persistent that my dad had to turn around and tell him that we weren't going anywhere near his shop if he didn't stop pursuing us. He let up after that. My mom bought a couple of bracelets, showing off her bartering skills, and I got a sort of dress/robe, which wraps between the legs and over the shoulders, with a belt around the middle. I'll try to post a picture of me wearing it sometime soon. It was a little intimidating to shop for clothing there, as I had to follow the shopkeeper up into the next level of his store (accompanied by family, of course) and try on the various garments with his help. It all worked out in the end, however, and I ended up with a striking black and silver one, the price of which my mom whittled down from 500 dirham to 200. I'm going to do my best to find an occasion when I can wear it.

Tangier: Luxury Lunch

Tangier: Luxury Lunch

We kept our eyes open for a restaurant to stop at, hoping for a more traditional Moroccan place than a sandwich shop. As luck would have it, one of the many people employed to drum up business for restaurants found us and led us to a beautifully tiled and decorated one. We sat on couches and stools, and were given a choice of two different meals with various courses. After choosing one, we were quickly presented with bowls of harira, a tomato-based Moroccan soup with herbs and noodles, and a basket of flat, soft bread. Though we found this to be tasty, it was average in comparison to the bastillas we were given next. The triangular phyllo pastry looked like a samosa, and was filled with chicken, onions and saffron. It was topped with, of all things, icing sugar and cinnamon. Surprisingly, the combination was really quite delicious. I think it was the best thing I ate while in Morocco. Next came our main course, a large bowl of couscous made with saffron which contained chicken, carrots, turnips, potatoes, chickpeas, and cabbage. The couscous was light and fluffy, and we ate our fill with more still left over. The meal ended with the traditional sweet mint tea that my mom is so fond of, and crumbly shortbread-like biscuits. While we ate, we were serenaded by a group of musicians playing Arabic music, and watched by a couple of skinny stray cats, who seemed to have gotten in through the open doors of the balcony. We were able to see the winding, shop-filled street from where we were seated, and the environment made us feel as though we had stepped into a movie. The Moroccan experience is definitely worthwhile, if you're up to it.

Posted by KZFamily 10:18 Archived in Morocco Tagged market morocco barter tangier Comments (3)

Off to Tarifa

By Ben

overcast 15 °C
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Tarifa: Our lodgings

Tarifa: Our lodgings

We finally left Luz to see more of Europe. We headed back to Spain to get to the port city of Tarifa from which we will set sail to Africa (sounds adventurous doesn't it?). Our car travel was uneventful. The weather was less than stellar but the temperature stayed at around 15 or 16 degrees. We see that both Spain and Portugal have invested heavily in wind power especially in the south. Tarifa being located where the Iberian Peninsula gets very close to Africa experiences constant wind throughout the year making it the wind surfing capital of Spain if not Europe. Even with nasty weather the long beach front was dotted with all modes of windsurfing.

Tarifa: Our Place

Tarifa: Our Place

We like our accommodation which we booked on-line a few days before. It looks like it would be quite the tropical paradise in the summer. It is supposedly more typical of the Andalucía region.

Muriel and I headed into Tarifa to check into details about getting to Morocco. It is not a very pretty looking town; it seems like your typical gritty port town with a lot of surfers and wind surfers thrown in. It is early to bed so we can get to Tarifa at 8:00 am and catch a 9:00 am sailing.

Posted by KZFamily 10:03 Archived in Spain Tagged spain tarifa Comments (1)

Resting Some More

By Muriel

sunny 17 °C
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I think we finally beat the kids at their own game: we let them sleep in so long yesterday that they felt they started too late and asked us to wake them up today no later than 9 AM. But waking up and getting up are two very different things for our eldest girl :). This week, as you can tell, has been a real wind down for us and we were conscious that today was the last day in this paradise. So, we made the most of it, moving very slowly and relaxing even more than we have of late. Ben and I got out for a promenade along the waterfront while the girls did whatever it is they do in the morning.

Algarve: Our cafe

Algarve: Our cafe

We enjoyed our repast at the beach cafe so much yesterday that we took the girls back for a leisurely lunch today. Abby and I had the ‘sopa da dia’ (green bean soup but there was no egg present this time) while Ben ordered his favourite ‘bifana’ (pork sandwich) and Hannah chose the classic bacon cheeseburger. We topped it off with milkshakes all around; they were just great (a bit thinner than Canadian ones) and as I had been hearing ‘Wanna milkshake!’ from Abby since we left home, I am hoping it assuaged some cravings. The coconut flavoured one is my favourite -- what a treat. We lingered on the terrace as long as possible before moving onto the beach, continuing to soak in the rays. We jousted with the waves, with a couple of us losing. Abby found a great use for the dry sand, using it to exfoliate her heels. (It really works!)

Many times this stay, we have walked past a sand sculptor who has spent a long time each day at the beach but hasn’t done much to repair the work ruined by what we expect are the many dogs about. We have contributed a couple of times to his pot but he can be a bit aggressive if he sees you staring too long or taking a picture. The only other novel event of the day was to see a single parasailor.

Algarve: Sand sculpting

Algarve: Sand sculpting

We celebrated my mom's 82nd birthday with her yesterday via Skype. It's a hard month to be away as there are a number of family birthdays -- Ben's brother's, my sister's, our niece's, and Abby's -- as well as Christmas and my parents' anniversary. We'll be thinking of all of you on your special days and hope to connect at least by email/Skype.

Algarve: poinsettia

Algarve: poinsettia

Tomorrow brings us back to Spain, the land of many extremely short, elderly women; infants swaddled in specially-designed baby sleeping bags (just great for all those evening walks through the city that the Spanish take with their families); and many a cafe/bar-goer enjoying cold beer sitting in the sidewalk seats with a heavy parka on. We anticipate more adventures in the week to come and are so grateful we have this opportunity. Thanks for travelling along with us!

Posted by KZFamily 10:07 Archived in Portugal Tagged algarve luz Comments (5)

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