One day, two continents

Or, saying “no” to guide after guide

April 5, 2012
I can see Africa!

We are on the ferry in Tarifa, waiting to cast off for Tangier. It rained earlier, but the sky is now clearing. Standing on the dock in line, waiting for the ferry, we felt hot under the Andalusian sun. Still, there are clouds over Africa. I hope it’s not raining there.

From the window on the ferry I can see dim outlines of the Atlas Mountains. Gradually, the skyclears, bringing the mountains into sharper focus.

We missed the 11:00 boat by minutes. After dropping Roxanne at the dock to get in line, then parking the car, I ran back to the dock just in time to see the boat start to leave, about 10 minutes late. We exchanged our tickets for the next available crossing, at 3 p.m. Four hours to kill, less one to stand in line. Ironically, the 13:00 and 15:00 boats both leave 45 minutes late. Why couldn’t the 11:00 have been this late?

We kill some time with a visit to a fortress built by the Omayyids and then enlarged by Guzman the Just in the twelfth century. Guzman is famous because after he captured the fortress on the coast from the Moors, he was besieged there. The Moors captured his son and threatened to kill him unless Guzman surrendered. Guzman threw his own dagger down to the Moors for the deed to be accomplished. I did not read what happened after that.

On the walls of the old castle at Tarifa, looking across to stormy, rainy Africa.

We line up at 2:00 p.m., but the boat doesn’t arrive from Tangier until about 2:40. When we reach the Embarquero gate, we’re behind a group of young, Arabian-looking men. The security guards and ticket-checker are hassling them for some reason in rapid, staccato Spanish, telling them they have to wait. They ask the line-up behind something. I raise my passport to show “Canada,” and they wave us through while the young Arabs yell their protest. The ticket checker rushes Roxanne and me to the passport control, who barely glance at our documents to stamp them. Then we’re on The dock and onto the boat.

Then, we wait. I find a couple of window seats. I go up to the cafe counter for more water and notice line-ups on each side of the cabin. At the front of each one, an official from Morocco checks passports again.

A German man beside me asks anther passenger about the lines. He’s worried that the boat won’t leave until all the passports are checked, but the Spanish passenger and the girl behind the counter reassure him that he can wait until later to declare customs.

I take the forms and sit down to fill them out. The line is now all the way to the back of the cabin. Why are people lined up? it won’t get them to Africa any sooner.

The boat finally casts off, 45 minutes late.

The sea looks smooth, with small whitecaps, but as we get out onto it, we can feel the swell. We pass a blue cargo ship with four cranes, with the words Pacific Basin on the side. Huge wave splash up from her bows.

When the line is shorter, I go to Customs. There are only a few people behind me. The agent asks about my “profession.” I tell him “redacteur,” French for editor. He seems worried that I’m a journalist. Since I have not sold an article in a year, I feel justified in saying no. Roxanne explains that I work for the government, but the agents still scribbles something in red on my customs declaration, then stamps it, Roxanne’s and our passports.

Tangier is a big, modern-looking city from the harbours. Lots of tall, white, new buildings, from the shore and ranging up the hills. Lots of construction cranes. A big, pink building toward the east side. Little open boats with outboard motos among the big ships. A wide beach.

The second we get off the boat, we are assailed by a series of “official” tour guides. “This is Africa. You cannot go to the Souk or the Medina or the Kasbah alone!” they all tell us. I quickly befriend an English-speaking German couple. I figure four have more chance than two of blowing off the persistent tour guides, as well as facing down any problems we might encounter in the city. The woman hesitates, checks with her husband, who shrugs good-naturedly. We brush off a second guide, who had pretended to be a businessman returning from Spain. “You are disappointing me,” he says. “You will say, ‘I wish I had hired Abdul.'”


Free of Abdul! But not free of would-be guides. Crossing the last empty space before the walls of the old city, we are greeted by a young man in a white pullover. “Medina, old city, Kazbah, this way. You need a guide. Twenty euro for all of you.”

“No, thanks,” I say. Nina, Umid and Roxanne all shake their heads.

“Twenty-five hundred streets in Tangier. No signs. You will get lost. I will take you for 14 euro.”

I see steps on the right and lead our little party up to a lookout, escaping the persistent guide. Below us is the port. To each side stretch the walls of old Tangier. On one side is a bay, and across it, the white high-rises of the new city. And ahead, across the misty blue water, the coast of Europe.
Two continents in one view. Fantastic.

Next post: in the Medina of Tangiers.



About ScottTheWriter

The Bury family likes to travel. We've visited the Caribbean, the UK, the US, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, Italy, Austria and Switzerland. Next trip: Spain.
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1 Response to One day, two continents

  1. Karen says:

    Hi. This is really useful as we are thinking of doing a similar trip this summer. I’m concerned about the hassling in Morocco. I travelled to Tunisia many years ago and felt uncomfortable at times. Can’t wait for next blog. Figured the ferry trip would be simple. Ha ha perhaps not so !

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