Two Weeks in Spain: Tangier and Tarifa

I’ve had a lot of immediate deadlines in recent days, but I’d like to finish up some of the narratives about our trip to Spain.  After Toledo, we headed south by train to Seville, where we picked up a rental car that we would use for the next leg of our journey: a short trip down to Tarifa, and from there, an afternoon trip across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier, Morocco.  In my next post, I’ll describe on afternoon trip up to Gibraltar and our short stay in Seville, where we ended our journey.

By this point in our travels, we were somewhat overwhelmed by all of the cathedrals, castles, and art museums that we’d seen over the last week or so, making Tarifa and Tangier a nice break during the second half of our journey. Tarifa is mostly a beach town, known primarily for its excellent windsurfing, but it also has a charming, old downtown.  The city itself is walled, and typically we would park just outside the gate of the city and walk through, down the short, narrow street leading down to the beach and port areas.  Like a lot of Spanish cities we saw, there were some  lovely plazas, and Tarifa ended up being one of my favorite food cities: on our first night, we shared a delicious tuna salad and a grilled squid (inspiring our own, failed attempts at grilling squid); and on the second night, we had our best experience with paella, thanks I think, to being somewhere a little less touristy.  Our Barcelona paellas were often too bland, and worse, contained almost no seafood (maybe 4 tiny shrimp and a couple of clams).  Tarifa also provided us a chance to spend a relaxing afternoon and evening on the beach at a location that marked the boundary between two seas, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and in many ways, two continents, Europe and Africa.

Our day trip to Tangier was, if nothing else, a learning experience.  We wavered between making the trip over solo and going with a tour group.  Because it was actually more expensive to take the ferry without a guide, we chose to go with a guide, which probably turned out to be a wise decision.  We were fortunate that our group consisted of only two other people–a young couple from Toronto–who seemed to share some similar interests.  The “tours” in Tangier often consist of being led about to not-so-thinly disguised sales pitches, usually including an invite for a camel ride (we declined), a carpet store, a pharmacist (who also sold spices), and lunch at an “authentic” Moroccan restaurant (where all the customers are non-natives).  The guide will usually make some effort to mix in recent and ancient histories of the city.  Tangier once was an incredibly run-down city, apparently, but the current king, whose portrait appeared in nearly every business we visited–has a fondness for the city and has been in the process of revitalizing the city in order to build tourism there.  But the major emphasis is on providing some of the local businesses with captive audiences for “crazy deals.”  Even so, as the Best Girlfriend Ever observed, the tour was likely worth the mild aggravation simply because having a tour guide likely protected us from being approached by other people desperate to sell stuff to tourists with lots of money to blow.  In fact, on several occasions, our guide had to angrily chew out local merchants who were trying to sell us stuff.

There were a couple of intriguing moments for me: stumbling across a movie theater in the downtown area, where, I was told, Bollywood (and some Hollywood) films were shown; hearing about my girlfriend’s past experiences in Morocco and her comparisons between Tangier and the other places she’s visited.  I’m not sure that I’d go back to Tangier unless I had some kind of specific project or purpose, but the Tangier and Tarifa part of trip proved to be an unusually memorable part of our trip.

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