Day 12: The Day We Broke All Our Rules (Morocco)
This was the day our parents dreaded the most, and in all honesty, it was the day we were most nervous about. We were leaving the great continent of Europe and taking a ferry across the water to enter the northern tip of Africa. I know that people thought we were crazy to drag two little kids with us to Morocco, but I just could not stand knowing that we were going to be able to see Africa from our apartment in Tarifa, Spain and not at least look into going. After much research, we decided to do it. I should also point out that this was the day we broke all our own rules. Oh well.
So the morning of our trip to Morocco (Tangier, to be exact), we were planning to take the 10 am ferry that our tour guide had instructed us to take. We had hired Aziz Begdouri for a private half-day tour of the city. And on a side note, if you EVER decide to go to Tangier for the day, we 100% recommend Aziz. We woke up to an email from Aziz telling us it would be better to take the 9 am ferry. You can imagine our panic upon reading this because we were both wondering how we were going to get two kids ready and fed and all of us on the ferry an hour earlier than planned. We rushed around and got things together as fast as we could, and somehow, we were able to get there on time.
We had no idea what the ferry would be like, but it was super nice. No chickens or livestock or anything crazy like that. It was awesome to look out the window as we approached Morocco.
When we got there, it was not anywhere near as intimidating as I thought it would be. From what we had read, we totally expected lots of people hassling us to take their tours and crowds of people selling things to wade through, but there were none of those things. You actually get your passport checked before getting on the ferry and it is stamped while you are riding the ferry so we didn’t have to do any of that once we arrived.
We had been told that Aziz would be waiting for us, but instead we found a different man holding a sign with my name and the number of people in our party. This made me a little nervous because I was expecting Aziz, but another person standing there assured me that this man worked for Aziz. He led us to a vehicle which really confused me. We had planned on doing the half-day tour which did not include riding in a vehicle. Also, there was another couple there that had also made arrangements with Aziz. This also confused us because we were expecting a private tour. Apparently the man who had escorted us to the vehicle could tell we were unsure and not sure we should trust him, so he had gotten ahold of Aziz on the phone and handed me the phone to speak to him. When I got on the phone, Aziz told me he was on his way and that he had a surprise for me. I’m not sure what happened (I’m assuming he had somehow double-booked himself), but he ended up giving us the grand tour (which was a full day tour) for the price of the half day tour. It was also apparently with another couple who were probably just as confused as we were. But what else were we to do but agree to it? This was the first rule we broke (we did not originally want to ride in a vehicle in Tangier with the kids.) I’m happy to say that the first couple hours of that day were the most stressful and the rest of the day was magical.
I can’t even begin to tell you how amazing Tangier was. We never felt scared or nervous about being there. Because it is a Muslim country, a lot of people shy away from visiting, but there is really no reason to. Everyone was very friendly and helpful. Aziz showed us around the medina and the Grand Socco and the Petit Socco. We saw lots of people selling different kinds of foods. There was everything from cheese to fresh fruit and vegetables and spices. The spices smelled so amazing! We kept stopping to smell all of them.
After a while, we stopped at Aziz’s guesthouse for a bit, as a television crew was there to film it. While he was taking care of them, he showed us around his place and up to the rooftop terrace where we had an amazing view of the city and of Spain in the distance. Then, he had his staff serve us a breakfast, which was perfect, because we hadn’t had a chance to eat much on the boat. We got coffee, Moroccan tea (which is so amazing!), donuts, and local bread with what looked to be freshly-made jelly. It was a little like heaven getting to relax on the roof while taking in the city. The only thing I regret about our trip to Morocco is that we did not stay in Aziz’s guest house. We won’t make that mistake every again. It was luxurious and right in the middle of the old city.
Later, Aziz had his driver take us around the “Hollywood” of Tangier and we got to see where all kinds of government officials and kings have their summer homes. For example, we passed by the gates to the king of Kuwait’s summer home. We stopped to see some camels along the way, and Anya got to ride one with Eric. We got to actually pet a baby camel, too.
We also got to see various views of Tangier’s beaches, which are gorgeous. According to Aziz, Morocco does not yet have a real beach culture, though he said that the younger generation is starting to see the value of the beaches there. But for now, no one really wants the beachfront property, so he said now is the time to buy that property and in 10 years when people start to find out about the beaches and develop more of a beach culture, you would be making serious money. We have toyed with the idea of buying property in another country, so this is seriously tempting to us.
At one point, we broke the second rule, which was that we were not planning to eat anything in Tangier, especially street food. We had heard stories about people getting sick becuase of the water, so we had decided not to eat anything there. We figured Aziz’s guest house was alright because he was used to having international visitors, but we had vowed to definitely not eat any of kind of street food. We came upon a man who was making a snack on the street. It was chickpeas, flour, and egg (or at least something like that…is it bad that I don’t even really know?) and he was frying it up in the street. Of course, we had to try it (Aziz purchased one for each of us), and we were so glad we did. It was surprisingly really good, and no one got sick!
A little later, Aziz took us to another market area where we saw lots of raw meat just hanging around. The weird thing was that none of it really smelled. Aziz explained that people went to the market every day so the meat was always fresh. We also got to see all the fresh seafood for sale. The kids slept through this, which was probably a good thing.
Then, Aziz asked what our thoughts were for lunch and we decided on a small local place that I did not know the name of. Aziz told us what they had to eat there and we chose a couple of different things. We split hummus with the other couple, though it was not what we were used to. Their hummus was whole beans with olive oil, but it was really good. We also got bread, chicken kebabs, and tagine, which is basically lamb stew with veggies. It was all really good. Aziz promptly removed the pitcher of tap water on our table and brought us back a big bottle of water and some cups. Apparently the secret to not getting sick in Morocco is to just stay away from the tap water. Everything we ate there was cooked so anything that our stomachs might not have been used to was gone before it got to us. We absolutely loved the food and it was super cheap. I think the best part of our meal was the Moroccan tea we got after our meal. It’s boiled green tea (with lots of sugar) and mint. It was so good, and I think I will forever be searching for something that can compare for the rest of my life. It has been almost two months since we were in Tangier, and I still think about that tea.
In the afternoon, Aziz took us around more parts of the city. We saw the only US national landmark outside of the United States. Technically, it is considered American soil. Did you know that Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States as its own independent country after the American Revolution 1776? That building in Tangier was given to the United States to be used as an embassy. Yes, our first embassy is in Morocco. The embassy has since been moved to Rabat, but the building is now a museum.
While roaming the neighborhoods, we got to see the community ovens. Because the housing is kind of small, each neighborhood pitches in to hire someone to work in the community oven. Families bring their food to be cooked in the oven. It was really neat to see. Of course, Anya got a roasted nut of some kind from one of the oven workers, so we broke yet another rule! We are probably terrible parents for letting her eat it, but they seemed nice enough.
We also saw lots of little children while walking around Tangier, and they all wanted to see the kids. Random little boys would come up to Anya and give her a kiss on the cheek and then run away, leaving her standing there wondering what just happened. At one point, I was wearing Felix, and a whole group of little girls surrounded us because they wanted to see and talk to Felix. They would take his hand and kiss it and kiss his cheeks. The first language in Morocco is Arabic, but the second language is French. (Spanish is third and English comes in fourth.) They spoke to us in French, probably because they knew we were not Moroccan, and French was the safest bet. Somehow we made a connection and figured out that they wanted to know Felix’s name. One of our favorite parts of our visit to Tangier was getting to interact with the people and the little kids. The couple we were with snapped a few pictures of Felix with his fan club!
Near the end of the tour, Aziz took us shopping, at our request. Many of the tours in Tangier are simply shopping tours and the guides make commission on how much you buy, but Aziz did not take us anywhere to shop until we asked him to. We bought several different items to bring home with us and then Aziz escorted us back to the ferry to make our way back to Spain. He actually took us through the diplomat area of passport control. He knew the girl at the counter (it seemed like he knew everyone in Tangier!) so apparently she didn’t mind.
I was really sad to leave Tangier. If you ever get the chance to visit, please don’t make the same mistake we did by just spending a day. You should definitely at least spend the night!
Once we got back to Spain, we made our way back to the apartment. Eric went out to pick up some takeout from a vegetarian restaurant. We had that and some leftover pizza from a previous night.
Despite all the fear people have of visiting a Muslim country, it was a wonderful experience. We got to hear (and see) the call of prayer, which was pretty neat. We got to try Moroccan food and see what we feel was the real part of the city and not just the commercialized area. This is definitely not a location to be missed if you anywhere near Tangier! And we would highly recommend hiring Aziz Begdouri as your tour guide. He is very passionate about sharing his culture with others, and we learned so much about Morocco, Africa, and the Muslim culture that we didn’t know before.