After picking up a Toyota hybrid rental car at the airport in Jerez, it’s an easy 1.5 hour drive from Jerez to Tarifa, where we will spend the next two nights. As a bonus, it’s beautiful scenery from here to there – lush green hills with abundant red, orange, white and purple wildflowers. It’s apparently a popular route with cyclists as well, judging from the numbers we encounter during the drive.
Check-in for our apartment is at a downtown property management company, which Google can’t find. We know we’re close, and parking is nonexistent (of course), so we pull onto a side street several blocks away, unsure if it’s OK to park there. Just in case, Bill stays with the car while I search for the property management office on foot. Success in getting the keys, but the apartment isn’t ready, so we park at the complex and walk the mile to the historic downtown via a beachfront promenade.
After finding our way back from downtown, we return to the apartment around 5 pm. After 15 minutes trying to figure out how the front door key works, we finally gain entry and unpack. First order of business, as usual, is to find a nearby grocery store and stock up on a few provisions for our stay. We’re in luck, because we see a large supermercado across the street. But it’s closed for Good Friday, as are the other grocery stores on Google’s map. Except for a tiny market about a half mile away, which thankfully is open for business.
Based on our experiences so far, we conclude that unforeseen challenges on our travel days will be the norm.
Sightseeing in Tarifa
Two quick observations about Tarifa – first, the beach is spectacular, wide and long, with gentle waves that make the water easily accessible for families with small children. Second, this town screams BEACH RESORT, with block after block of multi-story short stay apartments. Because it’s the start of Easter weekend, the town is packed with visitors, mostly from Spain we believe. Families and kite-surfers.
Question: Why Tarifa?
Answer: Because of its proximity and ease of travel to Morocco – advertised as a 35 minute ferry ride to Tangier, although it’s closer to 90 minutes when you include boarding time and standing in line for customs. At any rate, we have our tickets for the 9 a.m. “fast ferry” tomorrow morning and have made arrangements through VIP Africa for a private guide in Morocco.
Not confident that we will find parking near the ferry terminal, we walk from the apartment, arriving in time for a scenic view of northern Africa just before sunrise and a cup of Americano coffee prior to boarding.
The ferry ride across the Strait of Gibraltar is smooth and uneventful, and as promised, our Moroccan guide Abdelmajid meets us as we exit the ferry terminal.
So far so good, but it takes him 15 minutes or so to synch up with our driver Mustafa. Meanwhile, I’m snapping photos and we’re trying to keep up with him as he weaves through traffic on foot in the busy streets adjacent to the port. Quickly we learn that pedestrians unexpectedly darting into the street is common practice in Tangier.
The morning tour itinerary takes us through commercial and residential neighborhoods on our way out of town to the countryside and the coast. Highlights include Cape Spartel, the Caves of Hercules, and a camel ride on the beach.
Rising about 1,000 feet above sea level, Cape Spartel is the northwesternmost point of mainland Africa and denotes the area where the Mediterranean Sea flows into the Atlantic Ocean via the Strait of Gibraltar. It’s stunning – the type of place we would linger for an hour or so if we were doing a self-guided tour.
But we’re on a schedule, so just a few quick photos before moving on.
Our next stop is the Caves of Hercules, where Hercules slept, according to Greek mythology, on his journey to the Garden of the Hesperides, where he would steal golden apples linked to immortality. Task #11 on the list of “12 Labors of Hercules” (I had to look it up).
Visitors have free access to a small portion of the large complex, and we did a quick walk through. The most famous feature is the cave’s opening to the sea, which looks (somewhat) like the outline of Africa. This part of the cave lost most of its natural features many years ago, due to centuries of mining for millstones. Nonetheless, it’s worth a look.
Our final stop for the morning is at the beach for a short camel ride – it’s an experience for tourists that we just can’t pass up. Bill’s camel is Nadia, and mine is Mustafa. They are docile and mostly cooperative thanks to our capable camel driver. Twenty minutes total, which is long enough, because sitting on a camel is pretty uncomfortable.
After a delicious lunch at a restaurant overlooking the marina in Tangier, Ahmadmajid takes us on a whirlwind walking tour of the kasbah and the medina, accompanied by his narrative that provides historical context and an introduction to local customs and traditions. We take photos, but it’s impossible to convey the totality of the experience – the sounds and smells, the hustle and bustle, the interactions between shopkeepers and customers, and overall sensory impact.
A few photos from the stunning décor of the Kasbah Museum . . .
And examples from our walk through the medina . . .
Our Tangier experience concludes with a visit to a rug dealer, who shows us 10-12 rugs in a span of about ten minutes. They are all beautiful, but after we make it clear that we’re not buying, he loses interest and we make a quick exit. Abdelmajid and Mustafa drive us back to the ferry terminal, and our daytrip to Morocco comes to an end.
We had a most enjoyable experience and agree with Rick Steves’ advice that hiring a private guide is the best way to go. Would we go back and spend more time in Morocco in the future? Absolutely!
But first, we must solve a new challenge – we are unable to withdraw cash from the ATM. That could be a problem, so it’s time to call our bank.