Finally – Tangier and the American Legation – after crossing more mountains

2011
05.20

Last stop ahead

Time for the last big drive, Al Hoceima to Tangier.  At this point I believe we were regarding this as a strenuous trip because we had NO IDEA how much driving would be involved.  As we left Al Hoceima, the countryside was beautiful with orchards in bloom, wild lavender by the road.

Orchard outside of Al Hoceima

Some of the hills looked like the farms along The Three Gorges in China – multi-colored and terraced.

The weather was gorgeous and there were people alongside the road gathering herbs.

We passed fascinating haystacks.

Haystack outside Al Hoceima

We passed prickly pear in full fruit, but we noticed something alarming.

We were going up.  We had forgotten about the Rif.  We were driving Morocco’s third major mountain range.  But the weather was lovely, we could still see the Mediterranean – how bad could this be?

Bad is the answer.  It was getting colder and I did not have my long underwear on.  The car heater of course was still broken.  And it was foggy, then raining.  We passed patches of snow up on a hill.  I took a picture, thinking, “Ooh, I’ll show the kids how high we were and how close to snow!”

Snow in the distance

You might be asking yourself right now, as I am asking myself, what do the kids care if we are passing snow?  We have snow all the time at our cabin in Alta Sierra.  And the kids aren’t little either.  The youngest is 37.  Old habits die hard.  So when we passed snow at the side of the road, I took a photo of that also.

Closer patches of snow

If I’d had my crystal ball with me I would have known that in a matter of moments we would be driving through a snowstorm.

Snowing

Yes, for about 1½ hours.

Visibility was low.  And snow was starting to coat the roads.

The snow starts to stick

Snow is beautiful, one must admit, even in the midst of it.  The trees were turning white.

And then rain.  The road tricked us – we’d be descending and Mark would say, “We’re out of it now, going down.” And we’d go up again.  Each time, Mark hopefully said the same thing, and finally, at last, the snow and rain and fog were gone and we were out of the Rif.  We’d seen the snow plows going up to 7,000 feet, where we had been, and where the roads had been awful.  It registered now why Joaquin had said, as we drove away from Casa Paca, that the roads probably hadn’t been fixed yet since winter.  This place gets torn up each year from snow and ice and rain.

And all of a sudden, as if we’d never been through rain, fog and snow, there were wildflowers.

Tangier

So.  Tangier.  We lived there for six weeks in 1971 during our Peace Corps training.  And we were going back.  The American Legation, where we trained and lived, was the first property the United States owned on foreign soil, and it is currently the only National Historic Site not in the United States.

George Washington and King Mohammed I had correspondence back when, trying to solve the Barbary pirate situation.  And thus Morocco came to be the first country to officially recognize the United States as an independent nation.  We couldn’t wait to see it again.

But we needed to get rid of that rental car which meant find the airport.  Signage had been pretty good throughout the country so I just said to Mark, let’s drive into town and we’re sure to see an airport sign somewhere.  Now understand that “town” has gotten a whole lot bigger and we drove a very long way, before, on the verge of desperation, we saw a sign.  We knew we couldn’t go very much farther without landing in the Atlantic Ocean, and we knew the airport was south of town near the coast, but nonetheless, we were beginning to look for airplanes and what direction they were landing.

Walking happily into the airport to the car rental desk, eager to tell them about the lack of oil and the squeaky brakes and the lack of heat, we found – no one.  There was one person in the whole array of rental car agencies and he said, oh, they aren’t here, just put the papers under the window.  OK? OK, we did, and found Andrew from Dar Jand who was picking us up, and we were on our way to the medina.

We wanted to stay in the medina since the Legation was in the medina and it would be like old times, sort of.  On tripadvisor I found Dar Jand.

Dar Jand

And a plug for tripadvisor – it was invaluable.  I got most of our lodging based on recommendations on tripadvisor, and none of them were in the guide  books.  Unless it’s Rick Steves, I don’t really trust those books like Frommers and Fodors anymore.

Andrew and Janet – the JAND of Dar Jand, are an American couple who own a quirky, four (or was it five) story place in the medina.  Janet spent five years renovating it while Andrew was still working in the states and I am in total awe of what she accomplished.  When she arrived she spoke no French or Arabic, and she says now she’d never do it again – had no idea just what she was in for.  But she did a fantastic job.  Honestly? It was nice to be with Americans and speak English.  Andrew showed us where everything was, including the laundry.  We’d been three days in the same clothes and I mean all the same clothes and were desperate for something clean.

View from Dar Jand - Medina Rooftops

How was it that we knew that medina inside and out once?  It’s a rabbit warren, a maze, it tricks you into walking in circles.  But we’d had the adventure squeezed out of us by now and lacked the energy to care about where we ate or what we saw.  We just wanted to be there.  And visit the Legation.

Medina steps outside Dar Jand

Andrew gave us directions, we set out, walked in circles and got lost.  Someone offered to lead us so we knew a tip would be in order, which was fine with us.  It’s a way of working, it provides a service, and everyone we saw in this country worked hard.  We wondered about how unemployment is defined.  Are people selling their vegetables in the souks considered unemployed? Or people selling on the side of the road?  What kind of living do those people make compared to the cost of living? One thing is clear, I expect to the population in general as well as outsiders: the country runs on tourism.  It’s only 10% of the GNP and that’s hard to believe.  The unrest in the Arab world isn’t good for Moroccan tourism, although Morocco is completely safe.

So we were happy to pay our self-appointed guide to reach the legation.  Jerry Loftus, the director of the Legation museum, met us and actually got pretty excited when he realized we really truly had lived there during a Peace Corps training.  We were searching for our room; when we lived there we had the best room of all since having a two-year-old daughter gave us privileges. Where other volunteers bunked together and shared bathrooms, we got our own room and bath!  We did not just have any room, however.  Ours had a secret door with a hidden area that one could escape to if one didn’t want to be found.  And I don’t think it was for getting “alone time.” Perhaps the area could be treacherous.  We explained all this to Jerry but we couldn’t find the room.  I knew in my head exactly how to describe it, and now we’ve found that Jerry is actually living in that room – but since he has not found the secret door, he didn’t match our description to his room.  It may not be there but then again…it was a secret.

Jennifer outside of our room 1971

How did Jerry figure out he was living in the room? We sent him old photos after our return, which he was happy to have, room identified or not, as there is very little in the way of records for that time period.  He did bring out a very old, very crude scrapbook that someone had given him, and Jerry wondered about the photos.  We knew who the people were because it was our training group!  (By saying “very crude” scrapbook, I’m not disparaging the work of whoever made it – but it sure makes a stark contrast to all the technology available today.)

Scrapbook in legation

Little by little, the Legation is being restored and the museum enhanced.  There are copies of letters between George Washington and Mohammed I – difficult to read with the florid script of the day but thrilling nonetheless.

Courtyard steps 1971

Legation courtyard 1971

Dining room American Legation today

Dining room during Peace Corps training 1971

Jenny at kid's table 1971 - on the balcony

Legation balcony today

Exterior Legation crossing over alley

A neat feature of the American Legation is that it spans the road in the medina.

So it was over.  We’d seen what we came back for – Oujda, the Legation, Tangier, and points in between.  Tangier was the most different of anywhere.  A tourist in Tangier used to feel like a gladiator thrown into the pit, set upon by people offering to sell you goods, guide you, or pick your pocket.  It was not so much like that now, blessedly.  Plus, many shops do not bargain anymore, which is a huge relief no doubt and makes the tourist experience livable.  So many of Tangier’s tourists make day trips from Spain, and to have one’s first experience of Morocco seem like a hell-hole can’t be good for extended tourism.

Tangier is also feeling more like part of the country.  Hassan II did not like the North and never set foot in Tangier, which left them the poor stepchildren of Morocco.  Mohammed VI, however, has a residence there, visits, and it’s made a terrific difference to the populace to feel like they count.  That, at least, according to our host Andrew, and if I’ve misremembered, I offer apologies.

Here are a few pictures of our wanderings in the medina.  Everything is interesting, colorful, exciting.

Purple wall, Tangier medina

Blue wall, Tangier

Blue passage, Tangier medina

Inside a holistic herb store, Tangier medina

Medina port, Tangier

Now our zip was completely gone.  We were ready for Spain.  We’re getting old and organized tour groups are looking better and better; but we couldn’t have seen all we’d wanted to without driving the country and it was worth it for sure.  We’d been on camels, in planes, cars, taxis and trains in a little over two weeks.  We found a country we loved that had developed incredibly in 40 years yet still retained its character and heart.  We headed through the medina to the port to catch a fast ferry to Tarifa  to the bus for Sevilla.  We got one last look at Tangier as the ferry pulled away.

View of Tangier from ferry

We’ll be back.  Next year is the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps in Morocco so chances are good we’ll attend, then go to Agadir and spend a week or so at a beach resort and spend time with Krim.  As soon as we recover our energy from this trip, it’ll look a whole lot better for a return.

Next – to Sevilla.

 

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One Response to “Finally – Tangier and the American Legation – after crossing more mountains”

  1. Terah says:

    This was fascinating and exciting to read. What an adventure. I feel like I have been there myself. The photos and the story of your trip and your life are wonderful. Thanks. Terah

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