Getting to Morocco: less poetry and more practicality
Tangier. I always thought that if I ever went to Morocco, the first place I would visit, the gateway, would be Tangier. Perhaps because I supposed that we would come from Spain and Tangier is the closest point from this neighboring European country, geographically separated by only 14 km and culturally by a world.
And yes, we came from Spain, following an imaginary route that began in Madrid, continued through Cordoba, Frigiliana and the Alpujarras Granadinas, a path where more and more colorful tiles were appearing, more and more traces of an Arab-Muslim past, the path by which the exiles of Al-Andaluz once traveled, after having lived in the Iberian Peninsula for eight centuries.
It was poetic to think that I was following the same path in some way and it seemed logical that the first port I would see on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea would be Tangier.
Before reading further, a clarification: what is this post?
This is a story of our experiences and is 100% subjective. If what you are looking for is practical and useful information for traveling in Morocco, with statistics and specific data, you can find all that and much more in the Morocco: practical guide for travelers (by clicking here). Clarified this, let’s continue with the story…
When we were planning the trip, I studied many options and ways to get to Morocco and did my best to assure that Tangier would be our entry point. But it turned out that coming from Frigiliana, our last destination on Spanish soil, it was not feasible to go to Tarifa to take the ferry that connects this city with Tangier, but instead, for many reasons it was more convenient to take the ferry that linked Algeciras with Ceuta. For inexplicable reasons of colonialism, Ceuta is also territory of Spain, so to get really to Morocco, we had to travel about five kilometers from the port of Ceuta to one of the ugliest borders I saw in my life and cross it on foot. As I said above, for several reasons this plan was more convenient, but let’s face it, it was much but much less poetic…
That was the story of how practicality beat poetry and why Tangier was not our gateway to Morocco, as I had imagined at first. Now, as we had a slightly open itinerary inside Morocco and a departure from the country full of uncertainty because of different bureaucratic issues, I was worried to leave Morocco without visiting Tangier. No doubt I would leave many places unknown and unexplored, but please, I didn’t want one of them to be Tangier.
Tangier: the least expected exit gate
Three months passed, adventures happened and at the end of it all, we finally arrived in Tangier. And as the journey sometimes completely change our plans and take us on unexpected paths, Tangier was, against all odds, our exit door, our last destination in Morocco. We arrived in Tangier with a trained eye, knowing some words in Arabic, knowing a thousand and one way of bargaining, knowing how to take local busses and how much things should cost more or less. Overall we had the feeling that during the previous three months we had learned a lot from Morocco and that Tangier was the last opportunity to put our new skills into practice.
And since everything happens for a reason and everything is an apprenticeship, this inverted “entry / exit” led me to have a lot of thoughts. While walking the streets of the medina, I tried to imagine what I would think of Tangier if this was the first place I saw of Morocco, if I was a newcomer. How would my perception be different? I also thought about how our first days were in Tetouan, city to which this place of first stop on this trip touched by chance. What would Tetouan look like if it were the last place to visit? How was that Noe from April 18, 2019, newcomer to Morocco, newcomer to Africa, newcomer to an Arab and Muslim country? And how is this one different, with three more months of experience travelling trough Morocco? If you want to know more about the answers to these questions, you can read here the Farewell Letter to Morocco.
In addition to this question of “entry / exit”, “beginning / end”, beyond all that… How curious I was to see Tangier! I was very intrigued to know how this place was, this entrance to Africa, separated from Europe by just 14 km, and at the same time, so incredibly distant. What could they have in common? What would they have different? Tangier is considered the “most European city in Africa” and I wanted to see what this was all about.
Now I can say that Tangier surprised me and captivated me. At times you feel the purest essence of Morocco, that authenticity that seems to be out of any temporality and is indifferent to the passage of time. Those were my favorite moments, which generally happen in the midst of a walk through the medina, that form of urbanism that I found during the whole trip so exquisite, so special, so unique I could not have imagined it. The scale, the chaos, the magic, the smells, the characters, the colors, all things that invite you to walk again and again through that maze that you don’t want to leave.
Many medinas in Morocco are very similar to each other, but the one of Tangier had some peculiarities. There I found balconies that made me doubt and wonder… am I still in Morocco? Or was it just a dream and I never left Europe? Balconies that reflect in their architectural style a colonialist past, balconies that did not look like anything we had seen during the previous three months, which did not look like Morocco and yet, there they were…
Tangier was for us, in addition to our last destination, our port of reflections, from where we looked back and mentally recapitulated every day and every adventure of our trip. It was the place from where we said goodbye, from where we closed the “Morocco” chapter of our lives and concentrated our energies on opening the next one. It was the place from where we made inventory, from where we saw the good, the bad, what we loved and what we didn’t, about this land.
In Tangier it seemed to us that it had been a lifetime ago when we were newcomers to this country where every single detail was new, where everything was to be learned and discovered. And to say goodbye, in Tangier I put together this photo: on the left, my feet (and my trekking shoes that I found in a corner of Madrid, you can read about that story in this post), just arrived in Tetouan, Morocco, Africa, all for the first time, on these tiles that have always been my soft spot. On the right, the same feet, but after 86 days of having traveled these lands, feet that by the passage of the seasons, are now more summerly, with a long road behind, that are saying goodbye from Tangier, stepping on other equally beautiful tiles, which still remain my soft spot.
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