I Thought It Was Tangiers I Wanted

I know now
That Notre Dame is in Paris.
And the Seine is more to me now
Than a wriggling line on a map
Or a name in travel stories.

I know now
There is a Crystal Palace in Antwerp
Where a hundred women sell their naked bodies,
And the night-lovers of sailors
Wait for men on docks in Genoa.

I know now
That a great golden moon
Like a picture-book moon
Really rises behind palm groves
In Africa,
And tom-toms do beat
In village squares under the mango trees.

I know now
That Venice is a church dome
And a net-work of canals,
Tangiers a whiteness under sun.
I thought
It was Tangiers I wanted,
Or the gargoyles of Notre Dame,
Or the Crystal Palace in Antwerp,
Or the golden palm-grove moon in Africa,
Or a church dome and a net-work of canals.

Happiness lies nowhere,
Some old fool said,
If not within oneself.

It’s a sure thing
Notre Dame is in Paris, —
But I thought it was Tangiers I wanted.

Langston Hughes

“How do you fancy a wee jaunt over to Tangiers instead of going straight to Gibraltar? It’s only 25Nm, so a morning’s sail really?”

Now this was an exciting and romantic prospect and not one we had included in the planning but seemed a good idea.  We upped anchor from Barbate bay, having moved out the marina before staying overnight, once we had filled up with water, rested, grabbed a Mojito at the marina bar and showered. The marina was grim, rubbish floating in the water, the town’s dogs were walked along the sidewalks to relieve themselves and the boat next to us had a really noisy wind generator. Lying at anchor is always more peaceful, quieter and free.

We set off full of Eastern promise and I sat on deck gazing out to the south hoping to see a first glimpse of the African continent. We had visited Morocco before for a friend’s wedding and had fond memories of it – apart for my initial near meltdown – and had often talked about returning. I never anticipated sailing there.

The sail over was nice and I spotted a pretty large shark cruising the surface with its tail fin sweeping side to side and dorsal staying straight on course.

Hmm, it says in the information we must display the Moroccan flag and Q flag  to be allowed entry. We don’t have them” J stated. “However, I do have a red t-shirt and some black electrical tape!”

We Googled the flag and within minutes had created our version of the flag and with sewing up the Spanish flag to hide the red bands and create the yellow only Q (quarantine) flag, the captain proudly raised them on the spreaders. It would have taken a force 10 gale to made the t-shirt flag actually fly but from a distance it looked ok. I hoped they would receive it well and not take it as an insult instead!

“I can see land!” I smiled. It did look different, houses all bright white and different design fishing boats with high prows roving across the bay. I called the number for the marina and we were told to wait at the clearance berth. Here goes?

A uniformed marinara met us on the immaculate pontoon and instructed the captain to go to the customs and police offices.  I was to wait in the boat. I suddenly felt a bit inappropriate in my vest top and skimpy shorts so went below and changed into tunic top and long trousers. I remembered from our last visit, feeling better being respectful of the host country’s customs.

Well the t-shirt must of worked as the captain returned beaming

“We’re in!” He announced. The marinera came with us and we were personally shown to our berth, only another 6 sailing yachts in the large, brand new marina. We were given a tour of the facilities which were luxurious and pristine. It was like a high end marina in Monaco with a security guard at every entrance, cleaners out daily polishing the railings, hosing the pontoons, shooing the seagulls off the decking in case they poo and even scooping the feathers out the water! However it was also the cheapest berth at the equivalent of £15/night, half price of anywhere so far and comparable to a mooring in Tobermory Harbour!

We showered, changed and headed out hand in hand, to explore the town which was right at the end of the marina walkway. The urban, shiny, seafront complete with fountains soon gave way to cobbled streets, tiny alleyways, souks and street vendors in the medina. We made our way uphill to the Kasbar and valiantly avoided being given a tour by a persistent man, who of course had lived there all his life and knew more than anyone about Tangiers.

Perusing a small boutique built in the walls of the Kasbar I spied a pretty necklace , its design reminding me of an ocean wave. On seeing my hesitance, a well dressed and elegant French lady, bent over and said

“Ziz is very nice shop you know. Monsieur Alaoui is a very well-known scholar about Tangiers, he is in the newspaper for his knowledge. His things are good things.” She indicated a newspaper cutting lying on the stone shelf. He was also very knowledgeable about a lot of things and we had a very in-depth discussion on Scottish independence and the history of Stirling castle!

J negotiated “ a very good price” and left with it proudly around my neck.

Sitting outside at one of the 20 small tables along the front of the “Salon de The” we sipped on the delightful , sweet, mint tea, I happened to look around to realise I was the only women in the café outside or in! It appeared the form was the men sit around drinking tea or milky spiced coffee and chatting while the women shopped, cleaned and prepared food – well not this woman!

As it was getting dark we decided to find dinner and found a streetside café serving tagines. It took some negotiation to order a vegetarian one for me and much discussion ensued between the waiter and the chef and I think they were basically saying “Give her the chicken one and tell her not to eat the chicken!” Simple? And that is what they did. I term myself a “flexitarian” and at times this is the way it has to be. It was delicious and the bottle of Fanta accompanying it cost more than the meal, £3!

Back in the sanctuary of the marina I lay listening to the rhythms and sounds of the city, the melodious call to prayers and staring up at the stars through the bedroom hatch. Although we were only across the water from Europe, it was definitely different.

Next day, after we cleaned the inside of the boat, much to my husband’s amusement I could only survive cleaning the floor on my hands and knees in my underwear as it was sweltering, I elected for a swim at the beach across the lawn from the marina. While J sat and observed, I waded in fully clothed as there were not many other women swimming. It was difficult swimming in full length cotton trousers and they kept dragging down my hips, so my attempt to keep my hair dry failed as I had to keep yanking them up with one hand and swim with the other! I emerged refreshed but hardly like Ursula Andress in Dr No from the surf, more like , well a 55 yr old Scots woman in soaked clothing clinging to me, my trousers now grown an extra foot in length due to the weight and dragging through the sand behind me . My husband shook his head.

You’re mad!” Probably but I was cool.

The captain decided he would treat himself to a hammam and he took himself off to one we had noticed the previous night in the old medina, I was tempted but it was male only and I was not  brave enough to go find a women’s one, so after a shower and dressing in dry cloths,  I relaxed with mint tea up on the terrace of the marina watching the Moroccans enjoy this seaside location.

He returned clean and slightly subdued.

“I don’t know if I have been invigorated or violated but it was great!” he announced.

Stravaigin had also been “cleansed”, its little nooks and crannies also exfoliated and hosed by the marinaras at a “very special price for you, my good friends” but it certainly was and I think they were gentler on the boat than the large Moroccan  in the hammam!

Feeling clean, relaxed and it being the last night in Tangiers we strode off into town again that evening for a “nice” meal. I had found out about a little bistro up by the kasbar, 10 mins walk, where you can sit on soft cushions and rugs out on the roof top terrace and watch the sun go down . It served veggie food, cheap and sounded perfect. However on leaving the marina we told the marinaras where we intended to go and they recommended a different place and gave us directions. Well it was a much longer walk and when we got there, found it was very western coach tour like hotel serving western food and much dearer than the tagine places we had found previously. We gave it a miss and tried to walk to the other place I had found out about but the evening unravelled big time due to being tired, hot, sweaty, frustrated = “hangry”.  We ended up walking for over an hour and the evening ended with me having a bowl of cornflakes in my cabin while the captain had a pizza on the deck!

After a frosty start, not due to the weather, we left Morocco and made the tricky crossing over the straits of Gibraltar, holding our course across the shipping lanes as is the form but captain had to radio one of the enormous cargo vessels steaming ahead of us to ascertain what he wanted us to do, best to ask as he was a lot bigger than us! Having been requested to go astern of him we finally came out the ship’s motorway and breathed a sigh of relief. A huge pod of dolphins welcomed us into Gibraltar bay, leaping clear of the water and splashing on their backs, obviously hunting in a large shoal of fish. Enormous sun fish leapt out the water too and landed awkwardly on their sides in a random fashion.

The large rock loomed ahead and seemed so out of place in this otherwise flattish coast line. I was quite excited about it having childhood memories of geography picture books of the rock with its resident apes and now I was sailing right beneath it! J too had an association as his old man had been here in the 70’s with the RAF as he was air crew on the Avro Shackletons, carrying out sorties in the Med while he was stationed on Malta and had told him fondly about La Bayuca and the “best onion soup I have ever had!”. And the great nights out of course with his crew members, drinking G&T in the bar.

We fuelled up as recommended as it is tax free, then quickly scooted over to the Spanish side to get a berth at La Linea, leaving the pumping tunes blasting out the floating Casino hotels and motorboats razzing about, behind.

Alcaidesa Marina was in contrast much quieter, calmer and continental, so suited us fine.

Next day, all pals again, I had a morning run while J built up the bikes we had brought with us and we cycled over the border to Gib, basically for a look and to buy some cheap booze, also tax free. (1lt of Gin, £5!) Crossing the border was weird, we just flashed our passports at them and then walked across the runway of the airport. There are traffic lights that stop the traffic if a plane needs to take off or land! We took pictures of the RAF base to send to J’s dad and explored the tiny, strange enclave that is Gib, England in the sun by the sea with its “Best British Fish and Chip” bars, Marks and Spencers and The Horseshoe Pub serving steak pies and spotted dick for pudding. However we did find 21 Turnbull Lane and La Bayuca, the scene of fond memories for Papa J and then beat a hasty retreat, even deciding the E30 to go up the cable car was not worth it.

Back on the boat, we relaxed on the deck watching the cloud condense on the summit of the rock and all cuddly having agreed our earlier “frostiness “ was silly but understandable given our, at times intense and stressful, new living arrangements.

60’s tunes wafted over from the boat across the pontoon and we realised the retired couple next to us had joined the retired single gentleman on his new boat and the conversation appeared to focus on the swinging sixties and the rock groups they followed and had seen in concert. The single guy had been a rock group agent/journalist so was busy boasting about who he had interviewed and made arrangements for and the ladies who he had , well , “met?” The hours went on, the music got louder “Love, love me do “ playing merrily and laughter emanated from the cockpit.  More hours later I noticed the little blonde gal like Babs Windsor striding off down the pontoon and mournful wails coming from the cabin of the neighbouring boat, “Karen. Karen” he wailed.

Shall I tell him she’s gone for a walk?” I suggested to J. “Nah, he’s rat arsed” stated J.

A pantomime followed starring the poor, inebriated guy, searching the boat in his boxers, wailing “Karen” intermittently, then throwing up and disappearing into his cabin again. Karen aka Babs returned in the dark and sat on the deck, arms firmly crossed. Inebriated guy passed her on the other side of the boat in the dark and stumbled over to the party boat and called the single guy up from his bunk who appeared in his boxers, belly overhanging substantially and a shaking of his head – speech not enabled – told him she wasn’t there! However, before I went to bed I noticed the couple sitting on the deck, his arm around her and at least 5, I’m sorry,s and 7, But I luv you Karen, s were heard. I smirked, well at least our little tiff was not that bad then.

“Morning” a sober and spritely gent hailed over to us “ You missed the party last night! I believe I was a little giddy, I hope I did not disturb you? “ he raised his eyebrows innocently.

“Never heard a thing” I lied, smiling innocently.

It was nice to have a couple of days to get active on the bikes, swim and run, shop, laundry and catch up with family on Skype before the next crew arrived for the next adventure, off to the Balearics.

“..,And the night-lovers of sailors
Wait for men on docks in Genoa. “

And I’m pretty sure also in La Linea and hopefully Palma too!

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