From Barcelona to Tangier;
The next stop on our four part trip was Morocco. I chose Tangier because I really love new cultures, open air markets and spices, and I wanted to go to Africa! and I can say I have now been to four of the seven continents.
Researching this part of our trip, my parents and I read Rick Steves’ Spain Guide, and in it he mentions hiring a guide from Tifo Chebaa (email@example.com) to get a better experience in Morocco- think saving yourself the time of being shown hundreds of rugs and multiple snake charmers and instead getting a legitimate, behind-the-scenes-feel of Morocco full of culture, markets, fantastic meals and epic sights.
Thanks to Sajid, we learned some history and facts about Morocco and her people, toured the back alleys of the medina without getting lost, found a seemingly endless stretch of beautiful desert sand beach, and even enjoyed dinner in his private home…
and this was all in two days time.
We took Rick Steves’ advice and hired a private guide
and we ended up with an absolutely fantastic guide, Sajid. He spoke English very well, but it did take him a few tries to figure out my dad’s sarcasm. Which is totally understandable, and by the end Sajid was able to hold his own with my dad, and joke back and forth. My parents and myself highly recommend him!
Travel tip #2: Hire a private guide in Tangier from Tifo Chebaa.
Sajid picked us up at the airport, let us drop our stuff at our hotel and then took us to a delicious, enormous yet affordable seafood lunch. Which, was at 4pm by the way. Lunchtime is usually from 4-5 in the afternoon… and after our feast, Sajid took us to see the medina.
The medina is a maze of alleys that can lead you to a plethora of things. We saw open air markets with stalls full of everything from olives, spices and dates to pigeons, roses and birthday cakes. We saw the backside of a bakery where they used a soot covered fire place to bake bread and caramelize nuts and seeds. We saw traditional Moroccan rugs, beautiful silver hamsa ornaments, and shops full top to bottom of herbs and spices.
If we did not have our guide whisking us around the maze of alleys we would have likely gotten lost and definitely not seen as much as we saw.
On our second day there Sajid took us on a whirlwind tour around Tangier and we saw a side of Tangier that most tourists will never see.
He picked us up from our hotel early in the morning and we went up the mountain to where the King’s Palace is. Along the way, Sajid randomly turned the van around, veered off the road, parked, grabbed some water canteens and said “Follow me! We are going to get the freshest water in the city.” So, following orders, we walked down a drive way lined with beautiful flowers and potted plants for a short while and came to the end where a man was scooping water from a fresh water well into pails and canteens for another person standing there. Sajid gave the man our jugs and we watched the man fill them up with crystal clear, fresh water.
A day of exploring then led us to Cap Spartel.
After filling up our water bottles, we got back in the van and continued on to Cap Spartel. The reason I wanted to go here was to see Hercules Cave and get an epic handstand picture but Sajid told us that the caves were closed that day. My dad and I shared a look and he asked, “if we give you $50 will the caves be open?” and Sajid looked confused and was like, “no… the caves are closed.” So it was refreshing to be able to realize he was trust worthy and not just trying to get our monies. So instead, we found a nearby beach and while my mom and I walked for a while my dad rode a camel.
Hercules Cave ↓
For lunch we feasted on bessara soup, “camel” meatballs, and Moroccan mint tea
Sajid took us to this epic view point which I assume is a national park. You could see Spain’s coast while you eat lunch and you’re surrounded by huge trees, lush vegetation and I later found some really awesome trails I would have loved to adventure on.
The feast below was less than $9USD, filled sand we had leftovers. The green soup in the cast iron skillet is called bessara and it is made out of fava beans (recipe I have yet to try but looks delicious), and you dip the fresh bread into the soup. And this is where we learned some of the traditional Moroccan customs, when eating it is recommended to eat with your hands. “Eating with your hands is a time-honoured tradition. Rule number one: eat with your right hand only, using the thumb and first two fingers. Using more is a sign of gluttony. The left hand may only be used for picking up bread or passing dishes on to other people. Never help yourself to bread, wait until it is given to you. If more than one person apportions the bread at the table, the house will be beset by quarreling. Use the bread to mop up sauces and clean you plate. Do not lick your fingers until the end of the meal. In the meantime wipe them on the bread or a napkin, if you have to.” (Pilot Guides)
I wish I would have found this site before we left, Pilot Guides is a and it give you great tips for etiquette while traveling. It would have been extremely helpful to know everything the website talks about for eating at a Moroccan home before we went there.
After lunch, we drove back towards the city center where our hotel was and stopped a few times for photo ops. Sajid had invited my parents and myself to his home later that night for a traditional Moroccan dinner that his mother and wife would prepare for us. So, right after Sajid dropped us off at our hotel we went towards the closest market (which was only a few blocks away) and searched for gifts to bring to his family. We found a sweet smelling bakery, my dad and I are really great at finding bakeries, and a toy store to get a gift for Sajid’s baby girl.
At Sajid’s, we were wined and dined, but without the wine, because… well it’s Morocco.
Sajid invited us to dinner at his home! We learned that a traditional Moroccan family all lives in the same building, just on different floors. His private Moroccan home had the most intricate walled tiling I have seen in a international home, had multiple levels and each level housed a different member of his family and their immedaite family. We got a glimpse of each story as we climbed the steps to the rooftop terrace and each living room was just as intricate and fancy as the main floor that is pictured below. They also had a rooftop terrace with seriously awesome views of the city.
We met Sajid’s sisters, his mother and father, his wife and daughter and multiple nieces and nephews. People just kept coming down the stairs and into the living room where Sajid, my parents and I were and kept giving us hugs, kisses and trinkets. We had brought a box of bakery treats and a large play ball for his daughter. She preferred to keep the ball in the bag it came in, you can see just how adorable she is in the pictures below.
We ended up leaving with multiple rings, bracelets, necklaces, a box and a bag of delicious homemade treats and Sajid’s father even gave me a cotton yellow djellaba. A djellaba is a long loose-fitting unisex outer robe with full sleeves, worn in the Maghreb region of North Africa and in Arabic-speaking countries along the Mediterranean.
Our delicious dinner was prepared by his wife, mother and sisters and consisted of a cinnamon-y couscous, traditional Moroccan mint tea, and platters of homemade desserts. According to traditions in Morocco, women are not allowed to eat with the family, but exceptions are made for female guests. So my mom and I were permitted to eat with the family, while Sajid’s wife and sisters did not have even one bite. When we asked, all Sajid said was that “they will eat after we are finished.” We were able to sneak a few bites of couscous to his daughter and everyone laughed.
After dinner, everyone (Sajid’s immediate family, mother and father, his sisters and all of their children) loaded up into the van and Sajid drove us back to our hotel, Hotel Rembrandt.
We stayed at the Hotel Rembrandt, a centrally located good quality hotel in Tangier. This hotel offers complimentary breakfast daily and has a bar. This hotel is only a few hundred yards from the medina, close to a beach, the ship port, and multiple markets and restaurants. The hotel pool was clean and cool and we enjoyed relaxing by the pool in the afternoon before we went out to dinners.
The concierge was very helpful, the cleaning staff was friendly and the breakfast service was fair. The views were great, the location was awesome and the beds were super hard.
You can’t go to Morocco and not be mesmerized by the doors
I truly enjoyed Tangier, felt safe, ate like royalty and learned one word.
Arabic is super hard for the Brown family. I was able to get thank you down, which is shukraan, by the second day. But I still don’t think my dad knows how to say it. He tried everything from shogun to gracias and just never quite got it. But it made for a bunch of laughs and only a few weird looks.
I did not necessarily cover up my body while here either. While I did not wear shorts, I did wear tank tops with my Elephant Pants and a strapless maxi dress. I never had any glares or anything said to me either. And I do have a decent sized tattoo in the middle of my back that multiple people in the medina and on the streets even commented on that they liked it. I received no mean looks or words the entire time I was here. I felt safe.
This was a great introduction to the country and I would love to come do more short trips here and see the rest of what Morocco offers. And also eat my weight in bessara soup. Love that stuff.
onward and upward,
traveled during September of 2015