Thursday, December 22, 2011

Memories of Our One Day Tour to North Africa

Camel Ride in Tangier, Morocco
One of our best vacations was a one day tour to Tangier, Morocco. My wife and I had a grand time bargain-hunting for Moroccan gold and mineral stones.

From Marbella, Spain, Macrine (my spouse of 54 years) and I joined a one day tour to Tangier, Morocco, North Africa, as part of our vacation in the Costa del Sol in October, 2000. With this visit we could claim that we have been to the Continent of Africa. It was a beautifully organized tour. Our tour started from the most southern point of Spain (Tarifa). Morocco was only 14 kilometers away from this town in Spain. That day, we saw the mountains at the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar. We took a fast ferry and arrived in Tangier after only 35 minutes of smooth ferry ride.

When we arrived in Morocco, a bus drove the group from the port to the old town. The old town is surprisingly similar to a lot of old towns in the Andalucian cities in Spain. At the entrance there was an old arc, after which we found a labyrinth of small streets, small houses, ancient buildings, a castle and small typical shops. Most of the shops appear to be there for tourists only. The shop owners are not too shy to sell you all their merchandise on the streets, of course for “a very special price” (which drops rapidly if you don’t show any interest). Also included in our tour was a lunch in a traditional Moroccan restaurant. They served traditional food and at the end we had a traditional Moroccan tea. It was questionable if it was really a traditional restaurant, but the food was good.

Walking on the narrow cobblestone streets of the Medina (Old Town) in Tangier was not easy. Street peddlers hustle you all day. They sell all kinds of trinkets that will challenge even an experienced bargain hunter like me. However, I had my good buy of the day on this tour. I saw a mineral stone (similar to the one you see in the Smithsonian museum in Washington, DC). The asking price was 3,000 pesetas (about $30 US that time). I bargained 500 pesetas. As expected I received a groaning response from the peddler (a man in his late 20s) that I am too cheap and should be ashamed for bargaining too low. I just smile and ignored him. The peddler kept following me until lunch time, when the price went down to 2,000 pesetas. I said no and stuck to my original bargain. I totally forgot about this haggling episode, when out of nowhere the peddler accosted me again and lowered the price to 1,000 pesetas. I said no deal until the price went down to 700 pesetas. Three hours later as I was stepping on the bus on our way home, the peddler gave up. He gave the mineral stone to me as I handed him the 500 pesetas from the window of the bus. I certainly had a grand time in this haggling process.

We did visit a carpet shop, but I was no longer in the mood for bargaining. In addition if we buy a carpet, it will be bulky to carry around, although they can ship your purchase to the US with a ridiculously high fee. We also looked at leather jackets for my son, but we were too tired to haggle after our long walk in the Old Town.

Macrine on the other hand is not a bargain hunter or haggler. Her best purchase was what they called the “Moroccan Gold”. It is the most expensive spice in the world. It is saffron. The powder looks light reddish brown, but when you add water it turns yellow, just like the color of tumeric, another spice. You need only a very small amount for cooking paella and other Spanish or Filipino dishes like the ginat-an na manok sa gata (chicken in coconut milk) or Marinduque-one of my favorite Filipino dishes. Saffron is very expensive, so most cooks use a cheaper substitute, tumeric, known as “dilaw” in Marinduque, Philippines.

This trip was one of the best trips we had, considering the cost, value and the experience of visiting another continent.

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