Tangier is in a unique location in the northwestern corner of Africa, just across the straits of Gibraltar from Europe. At times this was a bummer when various European countries decided to take over pieces of Morocco because it was so easy to get to, but today this close proximity leads to a steady stream of European tourists who come here to work on their tans and buy cheap souvenirs. It is a Muslim country and most residents follow Muslim practices, but this closeness to Europe gives the country a more liberal, open-minded approach to it all. We saw another Jewish quarter today, but unlike Spain and Portugal there really were Jews and synagogues there. Most residents stop to pray five times a day and save their dhiram to go to Mecca some day, but there are Christian churches everywhere as well. The typical adult woman wears a scarf that hides all her hair, but this is not required and is a personal preference. These observations would be much less likely to hold, if we had visited the countryside where people hang on more tightly to what used to be.
The Moroccans also are lucky to have gotten through the Arab Spring unscathed. Their current king Mohammed VI ascended the throne in 1999 and immediately gave up many of his royal powers. Today the country is a constitutional monarchy and all members of the government are elected. Children are required to attend school from 6 - 18 and even advanced education is free. French and English are taught in the school and most also study English on the secondary level. The average Moroccan is younger than 11 and it has been a struggle to get all the young people educated and find them jobs; unemployment is 11%.
I would imagine that our tour took us to the nicest parts of the city and we were impressed by the size of the homes, the cleanliness, and the large amount of green space. The roads were wide and the only time the traffic got slow was at lunch time since everyone leaves work for an hour to eat and returns for the afternoon. No siesta here.
Our tour took us to an overlook where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean. The waves were high. We've heard that a big storm hit Lisbon right after we sailed away and is currently pummeling Barcelona, where we will be in about a week. Timing is everything. The climate here is desert-like with warm day time temperatures that plunge at night. Camels waiting on the seashore to give tourists a ride served as a reminder of where we were.
Next we went to a cave that looked more like a rock quarry since so many chunks of the stone had been removed over the centuries to make grinding stones. Supposedly Hercules rested here after completing one of the twelve impossible tasks assigned to him and the cave is named after him.
Then we walked through the casbah, which is the old, traditional part of town where most of the buildings are painted white, trimmed with blue. Mohammed recommended this decorative style so no one could tell from the outside if the occupant was rich or poor. Moroccans love cats and the streets were full of them. There were cat food stations on nearly every corner. We could have lingered longer here; it was a charming, photogenic spot.
After a sumptuous lunch that featured Moroccan dishes as well as those more familiar to us, we wandered around the medina. The food section sold spices, fresh fruit and halal meat. Household goods and tourist fare were readily available Salesmen without stores, followed us around holding their items for sale in their hands. They were a bit more aggressive than we would like and suddenly a wallet that belonged to one of the men in our group was found on the ground, but all the money was still inside. Our guide advised us that there were no prices in the medina and bargaining is expected. Because we have been here before and many places like it, we weren't tempted, but that certainly was not true for everyone else.
In the evening a highly regarded belly dance came on board with her band and gave a rousing, emotional performance. When we asked her how we could reconcile her relative nakedness with the Muslim approach to covering women up, her response was that it was a personal preference. It's great that she has the choice, but I continue to feel puzzled.