March 6, 2023
I split the first day of 2023 between two continents. On a trip through Spain and Portugal with my wife and daughter, we traveled by ferry on New Year’s Day across the Mediterranean from Tarifa, Spain to Tangier, Morocco, and returned to Tarifa a few hours later. Europe and Africa in one afternoon.
Yep, just a short time because that’s all we got. We’d planned an all-day visit. I’d bought ferry tickets directly from the company’s website for an early January first boat. It was advertised but not operated. The ferry firm canceled everything that day to Morocco except the noon crossing. But didn’t tell ticketholders.
After frantically letting our Tangier guide know we wouldn’t arrive until 1:00 PM, we made a mad dash over the Med and back the same afternoon. Hope and Crosby in the movie “Road to Morocco” have got nothing on us for wild and zany antics.
If you have never heard of that flick, “Road to Morocco” starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby is a nutty comedy that was among the top-grossing pictures of 1942. In 1996, Road to Morocco was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
But I digress. We started off in Granada, which I wrote about last week, and drove to Tarifa on the last day of 2022. These are my real-time notes in chronological order:
Our stopover here in Tarifa was planned in order to take a day trip tomorrow to Tangier, just 35 minutes by fast ferry across the strait where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean. Because Tarifa is a bit out of the way with no good rail or bus options from Granada, I rented a car from Avis for the missing modal link Granada-Tarifa-Seville. I’ll return the Avis car to the central train station in Seville on January 2 and thereafter again we will use only buses, trains, and planes.
The rental car is quite expensive at $150/day, but it was the only way to make this work. A private car and driver costs even more.
Two ferry companies compete for the Tarifa-Tangier business. Same prices and services, except at slightly different schedules. I booked us via Inter-Shipping Ferries for tomorrow, January 1, at 8:00 AM because that company’s schedules worked better for us in both directions. Inter-Shipping also had a superior website, and I printed the tickets at home for outbound and return ferries tomorrow.
By email several months ago, I queried four tour guides in Tangier recommended by Rick Steves for day trips. The one I eventually booked, Aziz, combined the best itinerary and price. I had him lined up to meet us at 900am when we arrive tomorrow.
Everything seemed copacetic until we walked over to the ferry terminal in Tarifa just to get our bearings. And, to our dismay, discovered the 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM ferries tomorrow were canceled two days ago. The first Inter-Shipping boat leaves at noon and will arrive in Tangier at 12:45 PM tomorrow.
Yet Inter-Shipping, which has sent me a bunch of emails since I booked reminding me of our 8:00 AM ferry tomorrow, never let us know of the cancelation. The company also had my phone number for text messages
The other ferry company canceled their Jan 1 morning departures, too, leaving us with the option of either going for a half day tomorrow or not at all.
I scrambled to email our guide, Aziz, and hastily remade our plans with him for just four hours in Tangier.
I also complained to the local Inter-Shipping personnel, including the senior supervisor, on duty this afternoon at the Port of Tarifa. They all angrily denounced me for expecting them to operate early on January 1 and shrugged that some “higher-ups” made the decision, not them. They wondered aloud how I could possibly expect that 800am schedule to operate on the first day of the year.
When I pointed out that their company had happily advertised and sold tickets (which I showed them) on the 8:00 AM ferry for January 1st, but had never informed me of the cancelation, they sputtered like fools and waved me away. I pointed my finger at each one and accused them of shameful lies and having no pride in their profession, statements of fact which I am certain won’t cause them any lost sleep.
We will have to fit in a lot in our half day tomorrow, and I’m sure we will. This SNAFU sure doesn’t bolster my confidence in either of the ferry operators to Morocco.
No great meals on this last day of the year which was spent mostly driving. We didn’t stop at all after leaving Granada until reaching Tarifa. Then it took until 4:00 PM to find a place to park the rental car across town and walk back.
By this time Tarifa restaurant kitchens had closed until tomorrow (this being New Year’s Eve). We were fortunate at the third cafe we came to, one specializing in seafood. My pitiful begging for food paid off, and we got an outside table in the sun (quite comfortable since it was warm here in Europe’s most southern town at that hour).
However, only a few menu items were left: baked dorado filet (mahi-mahi), cherry stone clams in butter and garlic, and razor clams. We ordered all three dishes and a bottle of house white vino. We quickly polished off the tasty fish and clams. That and bread and fried potatoes made up our one real meal of the day.
I usually eschew photographing sunsets, but today offered a unique opportunity to get the sun dropping beneath the ocean horizon with a view of Africa in the distance. Not often I can look across from one continent to another.
The final picture is of a pasteleria here in Tarifa’s old town good enough to have lasted 112 years. Since our ferry to Morocco now leaves at noon tomorrow rather than at 8:00 AM, we intend to make a beeline for that ancient pastry shop at nine when it opens for fresh croissants, cakes, and coffee.
I’ve mumbled a time or two about hotels we’ve so far inhabited in Spain, all local and unique. Which is to say, not members of chain brands. They’ve all been good (safe, comfortable, etc.) and mostly real bargains. All were selected for prime locations so we can walk to the places we want to see (our preference).
In Granada, the Anacapri Hotel bordered on luxury and was a steal at €129 per night for a triple. The staff was excellent, and the central location was ideal. Comfortable beds and pillows, too. The shower didn’t drain properly unless the drain cover was removed; otherwise, the Anacapri was perfect.
Here in Tarifa, the Hostal Alameda is modest, but also ideally located. We can see the ferries to Tangier mooring and departing from here (well, those that aren’t canceled). Again, very comfortable beds and pillows. The bathroom fixtures are, like the other properties, modern, and the shower pressure is stupendous.
One idiosyncrasy at the Alameda is the sudden and extreme fluctuations in shower water temperature. Suddenly, the temp goes from just right to frigid cold and then to scalding hot. I can confirm that it’s a sure cure for drowsiness.
The Alameda is another good buy at €100/night for a triple.
MORNING OF JANUARY 1
We’re off for morning pastries and coffee before the noon ferry (we hope) to Tangier.
We stayed up until midnight last night to celebrate the arrival of 2023 with Spain, marking the occasion with an insipid “champagne” purchased at a local grocery store for €3. It was all they had, the good Cava apparently sold out.
Looking nice in a champagne bottle, the stuff was nothing more than cheap white wine injected with carbon dioxide, a disgusting 20th-century industrial process developed by the Russians. Hence the name required by law on labels of such plonk in America: “Charmat bulk process.” No matter; a sip or two sufficed to bring in the New Year, along with eating 12 grapes–a uniquely Spanish good luck tradition. The rest went down the drain.
Last night we scoped out the 1910 pasteleria and went for croissants and coffee this morning. The fare fell disappointingly short of expectations, so we moved to a working man’s hole-in-the-wall place just down the narrow street to sample their traditional Spanish churro and thick hot chocolate. We hit the jackpot there!
Jam-packed with locals, the Cafeteria Churreria La Palmera owner and his wife cheerfully greeted us while frying up the homemade churro dough on the spot. See photos depicting the cooking procedure.
Our daughter then demonstrates how to enjoy fresh hot churros just out of the fryer dipped into creamy hot chocolate!
AFTERNOON OF JANUARY 1
Inter-Shipping came through on the noon sailing from Tarifa to Tangier with an on-time operation and a cool hydrofoil. We’re nearly there already.
I just hope the return boat operates as scheduled at 1800 (6:00 PM). I double-checked before we left and was assured it would, but of course, my trust in their word is flimsy.
Our guide, Bachir, and driver were excellent. They were waiting and met us just outside the ferry exit upon arrival at 1:00 PM from Tarifa. Then took us on a whirlwind tour of the city of Tangier, the Casbah, the Medina, the Cave of Hercules, the gorgeous Atlantic beaches, and the bluffs at the northwest corner of Morocco with great views of ship traffic moving between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.
Both men were very friendly and helpful. Bachir spoke excellent English and was extremely knowledgeable and an ideal guide, in my opinion. Many thanks to him and to Aziz, owner of VIP Africa, who assigned Bachir to us.
Who knew camels liked beaches? We had no desire, however, to ride one.
In the Medina, we enjoyed hot tea with mint. Ruth and Clara later scarfed down delicious rotisserie chicken accompanied by olive slices and chips at a very popular, very simple local joint with a few stools called Ray Charly. The bites I had of the chicken were heavenly: perfect flavor and cooked to just the right tenderness.
We hoofed it back to the ferry at 4:30 PM to be sure Inter-Shipping was actually operating the 6:00 PM vessel back to Tarifa. It appears to be so, and we are waiting now to board.
My wife and daughter are more sanguine than I about our prospects for floating back to Spain on time. I’ll be relieved to get there only because of Inter-Shipping’s shameless operational failure. I enjoyed Tangier immensely, albeit for just three and a half hours. I’d like to see much more of Morroco.
This was our first visit to Morocco. My impression was modernity and a mixed range of prosperity. With a modicum of money, life could be good here. The trouble is, the middle class appears to be thin, with many Moroccans living at a low-income level. Those at the top look to be fabulously wealthy.
Note the man painting on the rickety scaffold. They must use half the world’s supply of bright white paint here. (I imagine the other half must go to the Greek Islands.)
Including the pollo (chicken) and tea, our tour was under €200 for the half day.
Inter-Shipping did in fact, thank goodness, get us back to Tarifa from Tangier, though an hour late.
We suffered a miserable voyage due to the passenger cabins, topside and main deck, being fouled with gagging diesel fumes the entire way. Our daughter was nauseous. No idea of the cause, and no explanation or apology. In other words, the kind of thing I’ve come to expect from Inter-Shipping.
When I queried Inter-Shipping personnel about the delay, they huffily rationalized that the ferry had to “wait for late passengers” at Tangier, disregarding the great majority of us who’d responsibly arrived on time. I once again got the big wave-off gesture when I remonstrated them for insensitive, unprofessional operational standards.
As I said, the unhappiness of the late crossing was exacerbated by the diesel fumes. Altogether, a big FU from a poorly run company.
Oh well. The best I can do is to warn the world against ever using Inter-Shipping for passage and to follow my own advice.
EVENING OF JANUARY 1
Struck pay dirt, however, once back in Tarifa. We’d researched two great places to dine tonight. We found the best one, El Puerto, was closed for New Year’s, and the second one was not open Sundays.
Cursing our bad luck, I stopped at a high-end eatery around the corner called El Patio. It wasn’t in our guidebook and appeared to be paired with a classy boutique hotel. Hotel restaurants being often so-so, I was leery. But also hungry and tired. I convinced the head waiter to give us a table despite his initial reluctance.
We had not long warmed our seats before discovering that, once again, our dining had taken a serendipitous turn. El Patio excelled in service and items issued from their kitchen. Turns out its chef has a reputation for sourcing only high-quality local foods, and she does amazing things with the stuff.
The wine, too, was superb. The first order of business was to get a fine Reserva Rioja poured. That set the right mood.
Pretty soon, in addition to complimentary dishes of green olives, bread, and black olive spread, a most extraordinary bowl of mussels was set before us. I’ve never seen or tasted such fine, fat mussels. We downed the shellfish in a frenzy and then soaked our bread in the remaining Thai lemongrass curry sauce.
The dishes that followed equaled the mussels in savory satisfaction: Ruth’s blue cheese and local greens salad; Clara’s unique red beet hummus, and my sublime filet mignon served with shallots and dolphin potatoes. We shared, but I consumed the majority of the perfectly cooked to medium rare cut of cow.
I chose the beef as an alternative to the marvelous seafood and acorn-fed Iberian ham I’ve regularly sampled along our path so far through Spain. I rarely eat steak and wanted something different tonight. It was a great choice. So good that every bite stimulated me to involuntarily utter yummy sounds.
We had no room for dessert at the end of the meal and left sated and happy, a great way to end the craziness of bestriding two continents on the first day of the year.
One thought on “Four hours in Morocco”
You can buy 3 oz. of acorn-fed Iberian ham for $49 from La Tienda. You can also buy a whole ham for over $1000.