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Tangier: a city of change

Posted March 23rd, 2007

Africa reversed? An interesting grotto near TangierThe view from CorinneThe crowing rooster woke us up at first light, his cock-a-doodle-doo standing out among the sounds of traffic from the streets below. “Who in the world keeps a rooster in the city?” I mumbled to Andrew as we both rolled over, trying to catch just a few more minutes of sleep. Later, over coffee and croissants, our friend and host Corinne told us that there were quite a few roosters in the neighborhood, along with a sheep or two. To us it seemed a strange contrast, a bit of rural life in one of Morocco’s main port cities. As we considered what to make for supper that evening (coq au vin??) Corinne told us about the changes taking place in Tangier. Before arriving we were quite apprehensive about what we might find, having read almost entirely bad things about the city, perched on the north-west tip of  Africa. Dirty streets, lots of hassle and its fair share of crime. That was what we remembered from the guide books, which commonly advised first-time travellers to Morocco to arrive instead in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta.

Now it seems Tangier is undergoing a revival. After years of being out of favour with the former king, the tide has turned and now the city is seeing a flood of investment, as well as competing for right to host Expo 2012. Nearly every street is under construction. Fountains and gardens are appearing and a new beach boardwalk has replaced what used to be a dusty shoulder to the main road. At the same time, Tangier has held on to its history, giving it a distinctly European feel, more so than any other place we have visited in Morocco. We wound our way through the medina, gazing up as Corinne pointed out balconies on the buildings, traces of the Spanish and Portuguese influences on the city. In the streets, among the traditional coffee shops, vendors fried up churros and we peeked into delis where Moroccans advised us on the best wines. We found displays of cheese that made us drool, having only seen the dire Laughing Cow (an expensive, over processed and tasteless spread) since boarding the boat in January. It was a refreshing change before we roll our bikes onto the boat once again on Saturday for the crossing to Tarifa. Tangier is a city where we arrived expecting the worst and will leave pleasantly surprised by its rejuvination and unique mix of cultures.

101km Larache to Tangier

Posted March 20th, 2007

Is this Sackville or MoroccoFor days the landscape around us has changed our view of what we imagine to be Moroccan. Before we only saw sand dunes, camels and palm trees but now we notice rolling green hills that could easily be in England and fields full of cows that look so similar to our homes on the east coast of Canada. If it weren’t for the mosques we could forget that we are in Africa. Today we passed a set of shortwave radio towers with marshes on either side that was almost a perfect replica of the CBC towers in Sackville, Andrew’s home town. Only the mountains in the background gave it away as being somewhere else. We have also been pleasantly surprised by the coast as so much of it is still unspoilt, long stretches of nothingness. This may all change in a decade though, as already the sets of new holiday homes are starting to pop up in certain areas. One town where we could imagine many more new apartments being built is Asilah. We stopped there on its seaside walk for lunch and were surprised to find a mini Essaouira, with a whitewashed Portuguese medina and streets bursting with fashionable cafes and restaurants. The afternoon brought us a strong headwind for much of the way into Tangier but we finally arrived in the early evening to stay with our friend Corinne, a wonderful hostess and tour guide to the city. Soon we will be back in Europe but for now we are enjoying a last taste of Morocco.

71km Sidi el Hachemi to Larache

Posted March 19th, 2007

Morocco has been a fairly cheap country to visit and today, nearly at the end of our travels here, we found the best bargain of the trip: free camping in Larache. Thanks to the ferry companies who run services between Tangiers and Europe there are “rest areas” with hot showers and sparkling clean toilets. They aren’t officially campsites but the camping cars are welcomed in their dozens to stay overnight (some stay for several days) and we were waved in as well to a nice patch of lawn for our tent. We have paid for many campsites which offered far less, so we were quite pleased with this little find. Our journey to Larache once again took us through rows of modern agricultural fields, where it seems to be strawberry picking season. Women filled the fields picking the berries and the main road was lined with men selling flats of the fruit. Tomorrow we hope to reach Tangiers, possibly camping a few kilometers outside the city if headwinds slow our progress. Weather reports we looked at a few days ago showed some rather strong breezes in the area and we already experienced a bit of this coming into Larache.


39km Ahfayfah to Sidi el Hachemi

Posted March 18th, 2007

A future Tour de France cyclist??Friedel and AhmedAfter a late night with our new friends we enjoyed a little bit of extra sleep tucked up warmly in blankets. The Moroccans never leave any chance of getting cold during the night, piling blankets high on top of you. Again we were treated to more hospitality as a breakfast of coffee, eggs, olives and fresh bread appeared in front of us. Later in the morning Ahmed took us for a tour of his farm on the tractor, which turned out to be a bit of a wild ride. With Andrew sitting over the left back tire and Friedel perched on the right side, we held tight as Ahmed stepped on the gas, rolling over sand dunes and dirt tracks. We were amazed at how big his farm was and also at the extent of crops he grows. Bananas, peanuts, tomatoes and potatoes were all in the ground and he told us that they grow vegetables year round using modern techniques; not like the organic but highly labourious ways of growing in the south of Morocco. From the farm we went to the beach and, after about an hour, back to the house where a large couscous was waiting for us. This one was slightly different from others we have eaten. The couscous was mixed with flour, making the grains larger, and the sauce was milk based. We then shared the obligatory tea, before packing up the bikes and making our departure, under some protests from Ahmed that we stay another night. We would have loved to stay but the pressure to get to Tangiers is growing. We don’t have so many days left, just enough in fact plus a tiny margin in case we have a day of strong headwinds or rain.

78km Temara-Plage to Ahfayfah

Posted March 17th, 2007

AhmedAs we wind down our last days in Morocco, we have once again been fortunate to experience the hospitality of local people. We’d spent most of our day working our way through a string of large towns – Rabat, Sale and Kenitra – before finally finding a small road through a predominately agricultural area. Late in the afternoon we were searching for a wild camping spot, debating between a field to our left, sheltered with trees but near a motorway, and a village to our right where we could see plenty of space around the houses. A tractor rolled up and a young man jumped off. Speaking perfect French (always a surprise in rural areas) he asked if he could help and before we knew it we were off to Ahmed’s house. We were warmly welcomed and spent the evening chatting with the family. Ahmed had gone to university to study chemistry and physics but had since returned to the country to work his family’s farm land, where they grew several food crops including bananas, potatoes, tomatoes and peanuts. Near midnight we enjoyed a wonderful chicken stew and finally took our beds in one of the rooms in their home, a real treat compared with the quiet night we had planned in the tent!