The Tangier Tragedy
Three surfers, tired of chasing non-existent waves in Andalusia head to Morocco because, well,
none of them had been to Africa before...
Every time Steve, Julie and I go on a surf trip, something goes wrong. Usually, it’s with the waves.
The first time, in Indo, well we didn't even look at the forecast. The wind was howling onshore and there were no waves to speak of.
The second time, in Norway, the wind was howling offshore and there were waves but the sandbars were all wrong and the waves were closing out. And the tent collapsed. And it was damn cold. But that's just Norway.
The third time, in Andalusia, there just weren’t any waves. It was flat. Everything else was mostly perfect though.
We took the ferry over in the afternoon and after discovering that the port we arrived in was not actually in Tangier, we nearly called it quits right there and headed back to Spain. We didn’t, and after finding our way into the city and almost immediately getting scammed into visiting a crap restaurant, our mood was sour.
An average night’s sleep did little good to lift our spirits, and finding Julie a vegan breakfast was nearly impossible, so we had to settle for an early lunch. Couscous, veggie tagines, and some excellent French bread later, we were ready to explore the Medina, the old city. Instead we went back to the hostel to have a nap.
In my notes at the time I wrote “Morocco has been a deeply unpleasant experience so far. It's dirty, dishonest, poorly connected and generally dismal.” I sincerely meant it.
Later we wandered around the Medina, where narrow dark and gritty alley ways give way to the bustling streets and smalls squares, on a friday, it means everyone is out to have a walk around, or sip a mint tea.
We stumbled on a rug merchants and as we were peaking in, trying not to get dragged in and involved in a sale, the merchant saw us and invited us in. He already had a sale going on, some British folks were buying rugs for a new house. They had a pile two feet thick to go through and choose.
The rug buying process is lengthy, and requires narrowing down to the select few rugs that you might want to buy from the hundreds that the merchants will invariably and eagerly unroll and pile on the floor in front of you. Customers are offered mint tea, and food if they get hungry - it can be that long of a process. We stood in the corner and watched the Brits discuss the merits of each rug and then finally haggle with the merchant on price (“do you take plastic?”)
"It's like watching Netflix on someone else's account," Steve says before we leave.
Up the hill we find Cafe Baba, a dark and smokey place full of chairs with windows looking over the sparkling city. The Rolling Stones came here, the picture is on the wall to prove it, and afterwards some monarchs from Europe came through to have a mint tea as well.
Bowles, Burroughs and Bourdain came here in search of something. Freedom, or the memory of it in Bourdain’s case. They're all dead now. Today it's just locals, playing a dice game and smoking hash. Most of them anyway. It's the place to come to get stoned. It's only young men, Julie is the only woman.
We all had a mint tea, and a guy offered us hash if we wanted some. It's a cool vibe, Tangier really grows on you once you’ve been around for a day or so.
The next morning we raced down to the central station in Tangier to take the train to Asilah, a beach town 40 minutes down the coast. At the station, massive queues and dodgy ticket kiosks almost foiled our plan to get out of the city but eventually we got tickets, and actually seats on the train.
We got off the train at the mysteriously named “Authentic Station” in Asilah, or rather, near Asilah. It’s a thirty minute stroll along the beach to get to the Medina and the 15th century Portugese ramparts that surround it. The town is known for its art and murals, but Steve and Julie both ended up buying jewelry from an antique dealer. Why are there so many antique dealers in morocco?
Later, sitting at a cafe outside the walls, staring out across the Atlantic Ocean where there is nothing notable until you get to the Caribbean on the other side; we are sipping a mint tea at the ends of the earth. What path do you take, where do you go, there are so many directions we could choose from this tiny sliver of North Africa.
We head back to Tangier. At the station, while trying to trying to find our carriage I decided it’s a good idea to get off the train and walk down the platform. As soon as I do this, the train begins to pull away, forcing me to jump aboard a moving train. It was significantly less dramatic than as seen in films.
We have one last tea the the Central Cafe in Tangier before we leave the next morning. The place exudes old Parisian vibes, but with an Arabic twist. Old men sit outside sipping mint tea and smoking, the waiter is much kinder than any you would find in Paris.
Tangier, especially the Medina, could be really really really cool. All the components are here, the food, the sidewalk cafe vibes, the gritty look of the buildings, but no one seems to give a fuck.
All it needs to unlock it is someone to give a damn, and say "I want to care about my city and my culture, my food, and the history here." The scams can stay, the grunge can stay, the trash in the streets can honestly stay, someone just needs to give a little bit of a fuck. Magic would happen.
Back in Spain, having chilled red wine with a dinner of Chinese noodles (authentic), nothing seems to have changed. We get one decent surf in the next morning, but the sea goes flat again and the wind picks up shortly after.
Ultimately, when you're searching for waves, things will go wrong. There won't be any waves, the wind will be too strong, there might not even be nasi goreng, only noodles.
But searching for waves was never about the waves. It was about the memories made on the way. The friends, the people you meet, the crazy situations, the inside jokes, the long car rides, and, well, to be cliché, it’s about the memories made. In the end that’s all we have, right?