I had booked 2 nights in Tangier but my intention was to cram most of the sightseeing into one day. Whilst not necessarily top of my list of places to visit in Morocco, I was still interested to see it – serving as the gateway to Africa it has a very rich history. First up in the morning I headed out to the medina’s Kasbah district. As I approached the main tourist area I was instantly spotted by a number of locals working – or masquerading – as guides. I could see them out of the corner of my eye practically running to assume position by the coastal viewpoint to tout their guiding services. I engaged in polite banter with one of them but the conversation wasn’t going anywhere for me. I just wanted to be left in peace to soak up the views looking back across the Strait of Gilbraltar to Spain.
After a short while another man of Moroccan appearance who had been standing to one side chipped in and asked me whereabouts in London I was from. Expecting the conversation to abruptly end when I said I lived in Willesden Green, he then said he lived in neighbouring Queen’s Park. We struck up a conversation and it turned out I was talking to a 55-year-old postman called Raman who worked out of Royal Mail’s London Park Royal depot and was on holiday visiting his 85-year-old mother. Small world!
The local chancer guides, fearing they were about to lose out on business, didn’t like the fact I was more interested in speaking to Raman than them. In an effort to recapture my attention and impress one interjected with ‘you are London geezer’ as a prelude to some mundane banter that included him referring to the Welsh as sheep s*******. It was clearly time to get out of there and I decided to go for a walk with Raman to the Cafe Haza. This was a great scenic spot overlooking the Mediterranean at which to sip a Moroccan tea and chat. Working as a postman sounded great – he knew everyone on his round and all that walking is so good for physical health. If I ever want to look Raman up again I know where to find him as he is running every Sunday in Maida Vale!
After saying our goodbyes I walked down to the Gran Cafe de Paris, a classic literary hangout through the history of Tangier, to grab a coffee (well two!). On leaving, the adjacent Terrasse des Paresseux afforded another great view back across to Spain.
In the afternoon I then visited the American Legation Museum. Back in 1777 Morocco was the first country to recognise the United States and this building was the first American public property outside the US. It was insightful to learn something about historical diplomatic relations between the two countries.
With its strategic location at the entrance to the Mediterranean, Tangier has a history littered by foreign invasion. More latterly, from 1912 to 1956 it was turned into an ‘International Zone’ a bit like West Berlin in the Cold War and only after this was governance returned to Morocco.
I wandered around some more including down near the port before deciding to have a second shot at exploring the Kasbah after the change-up of plans in the morning. I entered from a different direction but at the same spot as before I was again accosted, this time by a much older guy called Abdullah who said he worked for the tourist office.
Not wanting to pay for a guided tour I tried to keep walking but he then started guilt-tripping me. ‘Why are you people all like this?’, he said, followed by ‘are you not interested to learn about the history of Tangier?’. Knowing that at times I can be a bit too closed I was a sucker for this line of approach, especially as I didn’t want to come across as rude. And so the conversation started.
Although at this point I walked on, with the Kasbah Museum of Mediterranean Cultures being shut (I would visit the following day) it wasn’t too long before he had caught me up. And as a result of my inability at this point to tell him to do one, I was now being guided around whether I had fully consented to it or not!
To be fair, the 68-year-old Abdullah knew his stuff and was a cut above the chancers I had encountered in the morning. He was a slick operator and it wasn’t long before he whipped out a photo of a young Abdullah and The Doors’ Jim Morrison taken on the streets of Tangier 50 years ago. I imagine quite a few tourists will have seen that one by now! He bragged that he knew all the best photo angles and had 250 photos a day taken of him whilst guiding. Here is the man himself showing me around and in his favourite posing spot!
On one street alone he showed me the houses where the Rolling Stones, Malcolm Forbes (Forbes magazine) and French painter Henri Matisse had lived. In its heyday Tangier was a real cultural melting pot and a place that attracted and inspired a myriad of artistic/creative types. And it was a key location in the development of The Beat Generation, a post-WWII American counterculture literary movement, through the work of celebrated residents William Burroughs and Paul Bowles.
The tour continued as we turned another corner. ‘What is The Clash’s biggest hit after London Calling?’, asked Abdullah. Me: ‘Rock The Casbah’. Abdullah: ‘Exactly.’ Apparently the song was written on the very steps we were now stood in front of. We then passed the oldest supermarket in Tangier (pictured above alongside a funky vinyl-decorated doorway) as I took in the ambience. It was post-6pm and a good time to be looking around as all the tour groups had gone home. I reflected on what Abdullah had said about how different cultures and religions have lived together within this neighbourhood through its history and got along fine. And on our interaction, ‘I learn from you and you learn from me’, said Abdullah as he emphasised the value of cultural interplay.
As we returned to the Kasbah gates the tour was at an end and it was time to give Abdullah his payment – in the end he got 150 dirham out of me, not bad for an hour’s work. It was then back to the Baytalice hostel to socialise with other travellers on the roof terrace and take advantage of the panoramic views of the bay (see above). Whilst a rather random first full day in Morocco, it had been a good one and my encounters had certainly added value to it.