Traveling Solo in Tangier, Exploring Morocco’s Underbelly

July 20, 2015
Traveling Solo in Tangier, Exploring Morocco's Underbelly

I arrived solo in Tangier, Morocco in the middle of a torrential downpour. The bus station was chaotic. Children ran and screamed through the big main hall. Men sold chicken on sticks. Women wrapped tightly in hijabs milled about with bags and battered suitcases. Police carrying assault rifles lounged against the walls and out front.

I wasn’t sure exactly where in Tangier I had landed and deeply regretted having forgotten to load a map of the city when I was in the throes of a viable internet connection. I considered turning on the data roaming on my phone but dismissed the idea quickly as I thought how quickly it would be rack up a huge bill with a 20.00 per megabyte price tag.

“Okay,” I thought, “I can do this. I’ve been in worse places. I’ve been in Morocco for over a week already. I speak a little French. I know how to take taxis. In fact, I can do this.”

Tangier had a feeling of danger though that the rest of Morocco didn’t. Maybe it was its position by the sea and the presence of travelers from all over, coming and going, headed to Europe over the tiny strait, or maybe it was the sailors swaggering through town or drinking pints at the sidewalk cafes. It was probably all those things.

“Okay,” I thought, “I can do this. I’ve been in worse places.”

I watched two Muslim girls walk slowly from the bus station deeply involved in conversation and holding their cell phones. Children raced through the open archway out into the rain and back, laughing and yelling. A lone woman in western dress strode purposefully out into the taxi lair. I followed her.

Almost instantly, a man appeared next to me asking if I needed a taxi. I nodded and he led me through a labyrinth of cars to one that he must have had some sort of pre arrangement with. I handed him a coin and got in, managing to tell the driver where I was going.

Beforehand, I had booked the Hotel Rembrandt because of its proximity to the ferry port and the claim that it had an on-site restaurant. I knew I would be tired and I was only staying one night and taking the ferry the next day back to Spain. The hotel was within walking distance of the ferry port; it could be reached by walking about 20 minutes along the seedy seafront. And it did have a restaurant; only it had been closed for many years.

Solo in Tangier: Exploring Morocco’s Underbelly

That is why, around 3:00PM, when the rain had let up a bit; I made my way toward the cafes. No one paid all that much attention to me and I started to feel a little less like I had just been deposited in some bizarre danger zone where time stood still and more like I was seeing the vulnerable underbelly of some great beast. The potential for petty crime and danger was everywhere: none of the streets were well-lit and men seemed to pop up suddenly from doorways and corners. I smiled at them all and kept moving.

I finally settled on a café with Internet and outdoor seating for a sandwich and a Coco-Cola. In fact, I was the only woman in the place. The men, most of who seemed to be from the many ships docked at the port, for the most part ignored me, though one did offer e a cigarette.

After eating, I decided to walk along the sea outside of the medina walls. There was evidence that everything had once been grand and shiny and new but now the ground was faded, the walls were crumbling a bit, and there was a huge streetlamp laying on its side, uprooted from the concrete. There was another storm coming in and the waves were crashing against the boardwalk.

Solo in Tangier: Exploring Morocco’s Underbelly

I started to feel a little less like I had just been deposited in some bizarre danger zone where time stood still and more like I was seeing the vulnerable underbelly of some great beast.

Young lovers were also out strolling and most of them stopped to sit on the wall and look out to Spain. I paused behind a couple that was tightly holding hands and talking about the day they would take the ferry to Spain and wouldn’t come back. It was right there, it was so close. Maybe they could swim. They talked about the new and amazing life they would have if they could only manage to cross the sea. If only.

I took a deep breath and kept walking. The next day, in the pouring rain I walked, dragging my suitcase behind me to the ferry port. I was early and cleared passport control quickly. On my way to board the ferry to Tariffa, I paused at the top of a ramp that led outside to the dock. A thin man in a dark suit was leaning against the doorway.

“I’ll help you with your bag if I can share your umbrella,” he said.

“Ok, sure. Thanks,” I replied.

“How long have you been in Morocco?” he asked.

“Almost two weeks. Most of them by myself.”

“That,” he said, “Is a lot of hard work.”

I laughed. “Yes, yes, it was.”

Solo in Tangier: Exploring Morocco’s Underbelly

We walked across the lot and down the next pier to the waiting ferryboat. He was true to his word and helped me with my bag all the way up the stairs to the seating area. I settled into a seat by the window so I could see the rain. The boat slowly pushed away from the dock. I watched the sea through the window as we headed north to Spain.


Solo in Tangier: Exploring Morocco’s Underbelly top photo credit:

About Vanessa Nirode

Vanessa is a solo traveler, cyclist, runner, writer, and pattern maker based in New York City. She believes that the cure for anything is salt water: tears, sweat, or the sea. She loves all the mountains.

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