Spain 2: Tarifa and Morocco
View from the train on the way to Tarifa
Tarifa is the Southern most city in Spain. We decided to go down there, spend the night, and then cross the water to Morocco to spend a day in Tangier before returning to Tarifa that night.
To get to Tarifa, we took a five hour train trip and then a 30 minute bus ride. Along the way, I got to see a large part of the Spanish landscape. It is a beautiful country with big mountains, dramatic valleys, craggy white buildings, and zillions of olive bushes. Although we saw a variety of agriculture, including cotton, sheep, wine, and lemons, Spain had more olive bushes than I have seen anywhere. I understand now why you get a bowl of olives with every drink you buy, just like you do with pretzels in the United States.
Tarifa is on the poor side, but the old Ottoman section is charming with winding alleys and interesting shops. We stayed less than a block from the ferry terminal, which every takes people across the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco every 40 miutes. I was surprised how close Africa is–we could see it from our hotel.
Looking across the Strait of Gibraltar at the famous Rock of Gibraltar.
We liked Tarifa. As is usually the case with little towns compared to big cities, people in Tarifa were much friendlier than the people in Madrid. They chatted with us and tried harder to bridge the communication gap. We wandered around and shopped and took pictures. Here are some of them:
View of Tarifa’s old town from on high
Beach with the Rock of Gibraltar in the background
Inside of of St Matthew’s church, built in the 16th century
Example of the narrow roads
The other cool thing about Tarifa are all the medieval ruins that are around the town, including the Guzman castle, an old Ottoman castle built at least 800 years ago. (The Islamic conquest of Tarifa lasted from about 900-1300.)
Guzman Castle was a pleasant surprise. It was inexpensive to get into, only $4 per person, and has great views and lots of cool, old details. In some places, you could see the original paint and got a glimpse of how beautiful and colorful the castle must have been back in the day.
Walking the top of the castle
Turrets with city view behind
Kyle by a colorful roof
But not everything about Tarifa was great. The next morning I woke up with food poisoning. I had eaten some bad tapas and something was really wrong with my body.
I had a choice then: I could stay at the hotel and rest, or I could do what I came to Tarifa to do, which was go to Morocco. I chose to go to Morocco. Even though I was sick–and boy did I get sick that day–I was not going to let it stop me from seeing what I could while I was there. So I accepted the fact that I was not going to have the great day in Africa that I had planned, but I would work within my limitations and get what I could out of the day.
So we took the ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar. I started getting more miserable on the ferry and it just got worse and worse. I won’t get into specifics, but it turns out that food poisoning is not something you can walk off. By the time we started walking around the Kasbah, Tangier’s shopping section, I had crippling stomach pains combined with waves of nausea that doubled me over. I lasted about three hours in Morocco and then we took the ferry back to Spain.
I realize this state of mind probably affected my point of view, but I did not like Tangier. Even though I made a point to dress modestly, as a woman I felt a little threatened. At one point, we stopped to take a picture of an old cannon sitting over the side of the city. As Kyle was taking a picture, I walked literally 4 feet away from him and a man rushed by me, turned to face me, and began to make lewd gestures at me. Kyle told me to not leave his side and to not look at the men at all. I soon saw Kyle was right. The men seemed visibly angry if I glanced over at them. (Although many of the people seemed angry anyway, so maybe that’s just how they are.) When we went into a shop, I became conscious of my confidence, how without thinking about it, I stand with my legs apart and my hands on my hips in a natural power stance. This is just how I was raised as a Western woman, and it was strange to see how cultural it is, and how much it can threaten people in other circumstances.
Keep in mind, Morocco is one of the more liberal Muslim countries. I didn’t see many burkas. King Mohammed VI even allows his wife to be seen in public sometimes… although not his mother. No one has ever seen his mother.
I wasn’t able to take any pictures that day, so the following were all taken by Kyle:
Women in a market
The aforementioned door
Spain 1: Madrid
Spain 2: Tarifa and Morocco
Spain 3: Granada
Spain 4: Barcelona
6 thoughts on “Spain 2: Tarifa and Morocco”
Oh man. Food poisoning + ferry crossing. Wow. I would have probably taken the other route. Sorry to hear you suffered so much (physically and culturally). I’ve managed to avoid food poisoning so far, but spent the last week with a head cold. Obviously there hasn’t been much of a cultural gap in NZ, but all that’s about to change.
Yeah that was my first time with food poisoning. It was rough. But I am glad I did went. We skipped a lot of awesome Spanish cities in favor of going to Morocco and I would have been very sad if I hadn’t made myself go.
I don’t know how you keep up the trip blogging so well, Justin. This Spain series is taking me forever! But I will finish.
I HAVE NO DESIRE TO TRAVEL OUT OF THE USA… THE WAY WOMEN ARE TREATED, THE LANGUAGE DIFFERENCES, PEOPLES ATTITUDES TOWARD AMERICANS, YOU AND KYLE ARE TO BE COMMENDED, BUT I’LL STAY HERE… SORRY YOU GOT SO SICK… HOW ABOUT EXPLORING, TACOMA, SEATTLE???
Wow, I’ll just say ditto on Justin’s comment. Tough to be in such a drastically different place being sick (esp. stomach sick). Did you have to face some rad pit-toilets?
I remember when I went to Morrocco that I noticed a huge eye-contact issue. I was told by a local never to make eye contact with pretty much anybody, especially not men or people at the market. I obeyed that rule and had no problems. My Mom however was offered something like 25 camels to take my sister away. I think it was a joke, or rather, I prefer to remember it as a being joke…
Dennis, Alaska is in the US. We should explore that!
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