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Tangier day trip anyone?

A recent straw poll at the LISTAndalucia.com offices recently revealed that, although many of us have lived in Andalucia for many cumulative years, by far the vast majority of us have never been to Morocco. This article offers a detailed description of a fantastic day out which is highly recommended by LISTAndalucia.com. A basic summary of how it was done can be found at the bottom of this page.

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Despite being able to gaze at the intriguing Atlas mountain range, something especially nice on a clear evening at sunset, the Mediterranean Sea seems to form an impassable natural barrier between the north Africa and the Costas, despite Morocco being just minutes away.

Colin and Sue summoned the courage and instilled the leadership to drag us away from our usual weekend routine, take the bull by the horns and steer us on a day trip by coach to Tangier. It was agreed that our budgets of just 70€ per person would likely make such a mission either very difficult or, if at all successful, by very low quality transport.

What we had failed to consider was the very helpful travel company Viajes Kolibri (Elviria, Marbella office). The extremely efficient Stephanie offered a package too good to miss for 66€ per person which included return coach travel, sea crossings, as well as a fully-guided tour of the city and lunch at a quality restaurant in Tangier.

Our party of five people even benefited from a small group discount to equate total price as being only 64€ per head.

The early start began on a Saturday in the pouring rain, with our scheduled collection at the Alanda Club Hotel, slightly unnervingly, later than than the 06:20 agreed time.

However, by 07:00 we were on-board the 52-seater coach, almost-filled with passengers who had boarded at Fuengirola, and we were away to the final collection point of Nueva Andalucia, Puerto Banus. From there, the drive through the dark to Tarifa took little over an hour, made to feel quicker as Pepe, our courier in Spain, expertly narrated important instructions and a guide to events as to the travel requirements that awaited us.This was completed in several languages including English, Spanish, French and Italian to suit the majority of passengers’ native tongue.

Thankfully, Pepe’s disciplined tones resonated clearly enough amongst those passengers actually awake to have the group generally ready for passport control and the sea-crossing at the end of the hour-or-so coach journey.

Incredibly, for the price, our sea crossing was unexpectedly by high-speed Tarifa Jet catermaran ferry which can complete the journey full of vehicles and passengers in just over half an hour. This is opposed to the 1.5 hour crossing from Algeciras which we had all anticipated for such a low price. The comfortable voyage defied the elements of the day. The air-conditioned surroundings protected those passengers preferring to stay away from the bracing freshness of the viewing platform on the external decks. There was just sufficient time to browse the duty-free shop and take a coffee sat in the modern, open-plan, double-tiered seating areas before our arrival at Tangier.

First impressions of Tangier, formed from the view from the deck, was agreed as being far larger and more urbanised than had been anticipated. Upon arrival, one of the biggest benefits of travelling with the coach party was that Pepe arranged easy and swift passage through customs for the party. This conveniently relieved us of the majority of individual responsibility so that our group travel continued largely unhindered.

Our first steps on Moroccan soil had us warmly welcomed by the Tangier tour-guide Mustafa. The coach tour began immediately with Mohammed the driver setting us on our way with Mustafa on commentary, again in several languages for the benefit of all nationalities present.

The weather in Tangier was overcast with slight drizzle, although drier and better than the rain of the Costa del Sol that day. Out along the main road with quite large-fronted buildings along one side, Mustafa made clear that had it been sunny and summer, the clean beaches along the other side of Palm Tree Avenue promenade would likely have been filled with people and tourists that might have been staying in the numerous hotels which were present in numbers, it could be seen. The zig-zag journey weaved us uphill, offering fleeting glimpses of the views over the bay between the 7 or 8-storey buildings that lined the main roads: the sights becoming rather more impressive as we moved on to pass a large mosque and approached the King of Morocco’s summer residence located at a notable viewpoint. The gently undulated terrain of Tangier made clear the landmarks and descriptions that Mustafe expertly broadcast through the microphone. The majority of the view consisted of a sprawling mass of urbanised land, Arabic architecture and, quite frankly, blatant poverty.

The first touristic offering of the day was a stop to experience a camel ride. Several camels and a group of men who cared for the animals waited at the roadside for coaches full of day-trippers  to stop and ours was no exception. Mustafa had explained that the camels and men had travelled up to 1000Km to Tangier and earned their living solely on what tourists donated for being allowed to sit on the camel and the photographic opportunities that arose in doing so. The mild response from our coach was perhaps due to the rain, although maybe it was because the stop came too soon in the trip for potential donors to be comfortable enough; either way the camels and owners would very likely have been again reporting for work there the following day.

The stop-off was brief and we were soon on our way through various districts to the old centre where the most traditional of trades were still prevalent, including an expert stonemason and the exotically named ‘Brabus car wash’, both of which were set amongst the multitude of café’s and restaurants lining the streets.

Several hotels, some seemingly westernised, were also dotted along the route, including Hotel Andalucia, a 5-star residence. The Catholic cemetery, The English College and the Loft Club nightclub added to the small number of strikingly clear influences of The West, on this particular touristic route at least.

The next stop was the Kasba. Mustafa led the way through the archway to the network of very tight streets and passageways to explain the various points of architecture along the route. The 20-minute tour was interspersed with photographic opportunities of the city including an impressive position overlooking the bay below.

En route, sporadic hassle from street vendors was prevalent and slightly distracting from the permitted show of a ‘snake charmer’. The show is perhaps most accurately explained as two snakes impatiently hand-picked out of a box by a man, while his friend briefly and half-heartedly accompanied the event by beating a drum. Again, photographs and donations were encouraged.

Lunchtime seemed to come early, although the daily routine was deceptively usurped by Tangier being 2-hours behind Málaga time and our very early start to the day. Nonetheless, the restaurant Amadee presented a comfortably open venue. Serrated archway walls permitted perfect acoustics for the live music accompaniment, which was pleasant, with embroidered red cloth adorning the clean white and green painted walls.

The set menu for our trip consisted of Moroccan soup starter, followed by shish kebab; chicken and vegetable couscous for mains; mint tea and honeyed caramel for dessert. The food was fresh and served efficiently and politely. The long tables offered opportunities of conversation between group members and the general consensus for the excursion and meal was certainly that it had represented excellent value for money. The cost of lunch was paid for in the price of the day-trip package, although beers, wine and soft drinks were offered at additional cost at still fairly reasonable (albeit likely-inflated) prices.

After lunch, the tour continued through the bustling city streets to the market area. Here, the street vendors produce became more localised in their offerings, as did their customers. No stalls were required as most stock was either hand-held or in boxes and sheets opened on the floor. The myriad of narrow passageways served as a network of noisy trade to a surprising level of interest.

The group was guided through to a local business, set on three floors and proffering locally produced goods of seemingly excellent quality. Quickly shepherded upstairs to a large, peaceful storage and display room, a detailed explanation of the hand-woven rugs that could be bought at the shop was given by the resident expert (and likely owner of the business) to the group. All goods were available for purchase and soon some party members were carrying various bags and ornaments having successfully haggled to an agreed sale price.

Back outside and into the alleyways the tour of the market area resumed. We were greeted by even more street vendors offering everything from football shirts to tiny trinkets; carved camel statues to alleged Rolex watches.

Business owners seemed to wish to appeal only to the tourists as most direct marketing noisily emanated from the hawkers outside – this was the Morocco we had expected and we were not disappointed. The atmosphere was fantastically fully-charged and the planned stop at another local produce store gave welcome respite and tranquillity along the way. A swift presentation of spices, colour and smells was perfectly timed and further purchases were made by some of the group.

A frenetic end to the tour ensued with the external events really making the trip most memorable. Dozens of street vendors plying everything imaginable along the route back to the coach; the colourful wares hand-held and passionately waved relentlessly in front of the departing group with great urgency. The tour somehow made time for those in the group wishing to quickly browse and shop on the way, whilst others stopped to escape for a coffee, all under the careful jurisdiction of Mustafa and his assistants working together to help in keeping the group on track. The final street generated a frenzied atmosphere and end to the tour.

The sounds of muzak being broadcast loudly from one of the market shops blended with the passing mopeds exhaust and hagglers price lists being shouted: the requested values of the products literally decreasing with every step towards the waiting coach. Once on-board it seemed that even the most reluctant of buyers had come away with a memento of Morocco of some sort, all with varying degrees of quality and value. The short journey to the catamaran was one of high-spirits as everyone related their tales and compared purchases. A return trip in reverse of the early start to the day had us back in Elviria just before 19:00, still buzzing from the experience and full of fantastic memories of our twelve hour trip to Tangier.

For those looking to experience something completely different for a day away from the Costa’s, Tangier offers an unforgettable adventure not to be missed. The welcoming locals and interesting traditions are expertly explained by friendly and helpful guides.

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Summary.

The trip is unquestionably extremely good value for money and comes highly recommended by LISTAndalucia.com. A real must-do excursion for those living here and those on holiday.

If you would like to book a day-trip like this to Tangier, please contact Stephanie at Viajes Kolibri (Elviria, Marbella office) on (0034) 952.850.146. Their website and address details can be found by clicking here.

Pick-up points: Fuengirola, Marbella and Nueva Andalucia, other points possible.

NOTES:

The coach that we travelled on was not suitable for wheelchair users.

Passport information must be given before travelling.

Morocco vendors accept € currency (approximate rate is currently 1€ = 11dirham. 1GBPsterling = 12.9dirham. April 2010).

Cost per person: 66€. Price includes return coach travel, return catamaran Tarifa – Tangier, fully-guided tour of the city and 3-course lunch (excluding drinks).

LISTAndalucia.com rating (out of 10): 9.0

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