OH MY GOODNESS! Matt Damon was here! This is hallowed ground…

September 28th, 2010

My weekend excursion to Tangier was my first “independent” trip since I’ve been to Morocco.  By “Independent” I mean that it wasn’t sponsored by IES Abroad (my study abroad program), and not that I went by myself, because basically everyone else from IES decided to visit Tangier as well.  So on Friday after our morning Arabic class at 8am, nine of us left the center for the Rabat-Ville train station to board a 10:47 train that would take us to Tangier within four hours.  In Morocco it is so worth it to spring for a first class ticket because the seats are bigger, you have more leg room, and the cars are less crowded.  My first class ticket to Tangier cost 145 dh (dirham).  I think it was the first “Première Classe” ticket I’ve ever bought for anything ever in my entire life, and it cost less that $20.   That being said, my hotel room for two nights cost 300 dh, which is less that $40.  Now, the exchange rate wasn’t the reason I decided to come to Morocco for my semester abroad, but I like being significantly richer than I would be in the United States or Europe.  That being said, it’s still way too easy to spend way too much money in Morocco, especially when you get to the Medina because all the little shops are just calling to you, so you go and look around, and then the shop keeper insists that you buy something, and you haggle a bit and finally reach a price you are both happy with, and you walk away with a new souvenir.  Then you do the same thing at the next shop.  You can see the vicious downward spiral you can get yourself into if you’re not careful.  Additionally, if you’re not sure you want to buy it, don’t ask for the price, because then the shop keeper thinks you want to buy it, and he or she will be offended if you walk out after they give you their highest possible price.

Okay, I digress…what can I say about Tangier?  Well, it’s a lot like San Francisco.  It’s very sunny, there are beautiful beaches, and tons of steep hills.  For every hill you walk down you must walk up two (at least that’s what it feels like, but I don’t think I’m exaggerating much).  I also gathered from the Lonely Planet guidebooks that several members of my group brought with them, that Tangier used to host many gay bars, but now I understand that those hangouts have all moved to Marrakesh.  Like everywhere else in Morocco there is no shortage of cafes and restaurants, but unlike Fez and Rabat, nightclubs and discotheques are clearly visible and openly advertised.  My cab driver told me that Tangier has over 50 night clubs!

Okay, I promise there’s more to Tangier than hills and bars.  Did you know that the very first United States Embassy is located in Tangier?  Well, it is.  It is called the Tangier American Legation and is the only “historical landmark of the United States abroad” according to the plaque on the wall of the legation.  It isn’t a functioning embassy anymore, but it has been made into a very nice museum.  There’s a letter written by Georges Washington to the King of Morocco, and another letter from the American Ambassador back to the US state department asking them what he should do because the Moroccan government keeps trying to give him two lions as gifts.  No joke.  It was probably one of the funniest letters I’ve ever read.  The man was clearly at his wit’s end.  He couldn’t really refuse to accept the gifts, but what is he supposed to do with a pair of lions??  I think the plan was to eventually sell the lions to a zoo back in the United States.

What else what else?? OH YEAH!  So basically the random weekend we picked to go to Tangier turned out to be a most fortuitous coincidence because it just so happened that the TanJazz Jazz Festival was going last weekend as well.  That means….oh yes….free outdoor concerts.  So that was just something really exciting and cool that just happened to be going on while we were in the city.  I was really happy to discover that these concerts were really excellent.  The concert we went to had a huge turnout, Moroccans from all walks of life seemed to have shown up in this park and were enjoying the music.

OH!  Another cool thing I did last weekend was eat at Cafe Paris.  I’m not saying that actually eating there was particularly amazing.  It has decent coffee and croissants, nothing special.  It was the location itself.  In the third installment of Jason Bourne films, Matt Damon goes to Morocco, and those scenes were filmed in Tangier, and at Cafe Paris in Tangier.  I was walking on the same sidewalk that Matt Damon walked on!  Hahaha, my little sister would be so excited, she loves those movies 🙂

Additionally, in Tangier you can stand on the beach and look out across the water and see Spain.  It doesn’t always feel like I’m this close to Europe when I’m in Morocco sometimes, but looking out across to Spain made me realize how far away Morocco really is from the heart of the Middle East and Arab world.  Tangier especially is probably the most “European” city I’ve been to in Morocco.  Part of this is the significant increase in the number of actual tourists I saw in Tangier.  Most of these tourists are fresh off the boat from Spain, and consequently Moroccan business owners are much more likely to speak Spanish than French.  That was difficult for me because my Arabic isn’t very good yet, and my Spanish is worse.  I got through the weekend though, and even made some impressive gift purchases using a French/Arabic hybrid language.

So in conclusion, go to Tangier, it’s great.  I felt very comfortable as a western person walking around the city.  Of course I was cat called, but that happens everywhere in Morocco, but aside from that the city was great.  It was pretty easy to navigate, and the surroundings are wonderful.  You can also hear many different languages and expose yourself to many different cultures since so many tourists and expatriates come to Tangier.  It’s definitely a city that’s worth another visit.  Not this year probably, but in the not-so-distant future…insha’Allah.

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