Tomas and I spent two nights in Tangier on our way to the USA. We left a day earlier than we needed to in order to escort our fellow Chefchaouen resident and friend from the States, Debbi, who was flying the day before we did. Safety in numbers and all that.
We had a great room in the Hotel Mauritania, a newly-renovated space in one of the shopping districts of the Medina (old city.) The murmur of human voices, punctuated by motor scooters — the only vehicles that could easily or legally navigate the narrow streets — lulled us to sleep and assured us that we were in a busy port city rather than our semi-rural neighborhood where we are lulled to sleep by howling dogs and crowing roosters.
The first night we found Omar, our guardian angel tourist guide, who took us to a fabulous restaurant on a street we never would have found by ourselves. The owner of the Restaurant Rif Kabdani greeted us and waited on us personally that night. This establishment is also fairly new but has already received many awards for its artistic presentation of real down-home Moroccan fare. If you’re going to Tangier, we highly recommend it.
We guided ourselves back there the second night and this time the “regular” waiter was there, looking very much like he had stepped forth from a fairy tale of the Arabian Nights. What a personality! This only added to the enjoyment of the whole experience and Tomas passed his test with flying colors by identifying (even before tasting) the small sample of B’ssara (a soup made of fava beans) that he brought “gratis” to our table. “Well done, my Brother!” our waiter exclaimed! “You are a true Moroccan!” Our dinner got even better after that.
While in Tangier we took a morning walk along the docks and saw our first live camels, standing on the beach, saddled, ready to greet the tourists streaming off the cruise ship. We enjoyed the architecture, the Medina shopping — OMG, the leather goods, the clothing, the rugs, the metal art! Tomas discovered a beautiful park just outside the Medina and took me there after dinner. It was coming back from that walk that we met a man who told us — his version anyway — the story behind the name “Tangier” which the Moroccans pronounce “Tan-ja.”
Our new friend told us that centuries ago when the town was still very small, it was first outlined with a low wall. Later, a stone wall was built, atop which was placed a very large stone that was visible from a distance. Travelers approaching the city would spot the stone and say: “Tan-Ja” or “stone comes.” Of course, the French converted that name to their version and most of us are oblivious of the origin. The reason that I asked this man the question: “What do Moroccans call this place?” is because I had been reading the Arabic signs along the road and I couldn’t reconcile the Arabic letters with any pronunciation of Tangier that I had heard to date. This story helped me understand why the Arabic letters did not represent the Latin spelling of Tangier.
I must admit that I was not prepared to like Tangier as much as I did. We will not hesitate to stay there again for a night or two when entering or exiting Morocco in the future. Here are a couple more shots to prove we were there.