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It’s strange, coming back to a place that is so familiar while still being so foreign. I arrived in Tangier last night after an adventurous day traveling from Granada, Spain. Getting oriented in Morocco was easy the second time around. Getting here was not.
Southern Spain and northern Morocco (and possibly larger swaths of the world, I haven’t checked) have been experiencing unbelievable amounts of rain. In Tangier, it has rained nearly every day for a month. Andalucia was raining the entire week I was there. Fortunately, I had a nice, dome-shaped umbrella that had been given to me on my arrival in Granada. It was clear, so I could hold it low and still see where I was going.
My plan for travel yesterday was to take a 4-hour bus ride from Granada to Algecira, a major Spanish port on the Mediterranean coast. From there, get a free shuttle to Tarifa where I’d catch a short, 7PM ferry-ride to Tangier, then a 10-minute taxi to my hotel. Easy peasy.
In the morning while enjoying my last desayuno, I got an email from the ferry company: the Tarifa ferry was canceled due to bad weather. After some angst, and help from my Spanish host, I found out that it wasn’t a big problem. The evening ferries from Algeciras to Tangier Med (a huge commercial port 30 minutes drive from Tangier itself) would be running.
When I arrived in Algeciras, I pulled my suitcase through rain and lashing wind to the port, where I traded in my ferry ticket. The new one was leaving at 6PM, which meant I’d actually get to Tangier earlier! When I asked about the certainty of getting on the ferry, the clerk said, “Yes, it is running very late, but it is running. For now.” I contacted my friend Rachid who lives in Tangier, and arranged for him to pick me up at Tangier Med.
At 5:30, the departure sign announced that this ferry was canceled too. Now what? I really didn’t want to spend the night there; it’s an ugly industrial city. And what if the ferries were canceled the next day too?
For some reason, the ferries to Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on the other side of the strait and surrounded by Morocco, were still running. I decided that I would go there, then figure out how to get from Ceuta across the border into Morocco. I’d heard that the drive from there to Tangier could be harrowing. With the storm and approaching night, I knew I’d be better off staying the night in Ceuta.
As the ferry cut through the churning Mediterranean, the ship reverberating loudly with smashing waves that felt like we were under attack by an army of flying boulders, I searched for accommodation in Ceuta. Nothing. Everything was booked.
My only options were to spend the night in the ferry terminal, or figure out how to get myself to Tangier without dying on the steep, winding road over the mountains. While Rachid called his friends and researched transportation options, I imagined myself careening down a mountainside in a broken-down taxi, and how my family would deal with my demise. Suddenly, an angel appeared.
“Do you speak English?” A Moroccan woman and her 10-year-old daughter were sitting behind me. Her iPhone battery was almost dead and could she perhaps use my charger? They had gone to Tarifa in the morning for a shopping day, and now we were in the same boat, trying to get back to Tangier. But she had made this trek before—and she lived very close to my intended hotel.
Her daughter, who is learning English in school and was thrilled to be able to practice with an actual American, told me proudly about how the English call our shoes “trainers” while Americans call them “sneakers.” “Does it snow in California?” “I think it is hard for Americans to learn Arabic.”
We shared a taxi from Ceuta port to the “frontier,” the border. Because the road was choked with stopped traffic, we had to walk over 1/2 mile in drenching rain and wind to get to a small immigration window, the glass of which was the only thing preventing the officer from getting as wet as I was. On that walk, I laughed out loud several times, reminded of the line in my favorite Seinfeld episode: “The sea was angry that day, my friends! Like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli.” All I could do was surrender to the situation.
Across the border, my Moroccan accomplice deftly negotiated a taxi to Tangier. The driver was older, so he was patient on the steep winding roads through horrific weather, and his minivan was in good shape. We made it safely to Tangier only an hour later than if I’d followed my original route through Tarifa.
After drying out at my hotel, I went out to visit Rachid, who is a waiter at Panorama Cafe, which has a (usually) beautiful view over the Mediterranean to Spain. I didn’t know it was possible for it to rain harder than it had been, but it did. I plowed on, stopping in the market to buy data and minutes for my Moroccan phone number, which I still have from my visit last year. Rachid told me that the weather reminded him of Hurricane Katrina; he grew up in this area and couldn’t remember a storm like this.
During a slight break in the rain, I went back to my hotel; it was after midnight and I needed to sleep. Suddenly, a gust of wind nearly blew me over. I held my valiant umbrella like a shield against the onslaught. Many times in the past week and especially today, it had protected me, stood strong. But this time, it could not. It twisted and tore, collapsing in my hands, trying with its dying breath to do what it was born to do. Alas, it is no more.
So, here I am at the Royal Tulip hotel. I slept late, wandered down to the breakfast buffet, and now I am writing. I will go down to the fitness center and then Rachid and I will meet for lunch at Le Saveur du Poisson. I’ll wander the medina afterward, even though it’ll probably be raining. I might see my Granada friends in Tangier this evening. Tomorrow afternoon, weather permitting, I’ll head to Chefchaouen for the night. Life is good.