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Tangier, Morocco

Once a haven for expat Beat poets, artists and musicians, Tangier retains the feel of yesteryear. 

Set on the Maghreb coast on the Strait of Gibraltar, Tangier has long been considered Europe’s gateway to Africa. Due to its unique location, overlooking both the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, the Moroccan port city has been a melting pot of foreign influences over the years. 

Spain, England, France and America have all made an impact on Tangier in some way. The influences can be felt from its Mediterranean lifestyle to its ubiquitous cafe culture. Today, it continues to straddle the ancient and modern worlds.

We arrived in Tangier after a long travel day from the famed Blue City of Chefchaouen – complete with our bus breaking down.

After a few hours (and false starts), we eventually arrived in Tangier by way of a shared private car with other travelers. Thankfully, our host, Maggie Deane, an expat from Scotland, was very accommodating.

A cozy room awaited and after a quick dinner, we fell into a deep sleep.

The next morning, we stepped out onto our small patio. Before us lay an expansive panorama of Tangier’s rooftops against the azure Sea of Gibraltar. Whitewashed concrete buildings featured pops of crimson red and ubiquitous satellite dishes.

After getting our fill of the port city’s sea air, we headed inside for breakfast. Maggie had laid out a delicious meal for us including Moroccan bread, butter, jam, fresh strawberries, poached eggs and hot coffee.

We began our travels at the Grand Socco, also known as Place du 9 Avril, the “big square.” Its historic circular roundabout separates the old Town (medina) from New Town. Dotted with palm trees and park benches, this central area is a bustling scene. Trucks make deliveries, street cleaners tidy the area, and people head to work and run errands.

Once inside the medina, we wandered the markets which are very busy in the mornings. The fish market was particularly thriving. We found it interesting that most all of the shoppers and vendors were men.

Past the Jewish Cemetery, we stumbled on the American Legation Museum.

This stately mansion is considered the first American public property outside the United States. It’s also our only national historic site in a foreign country. The building has functioned in many roles,  from diplomatic residence and consulate to a Peace Corps training center and even an espionage headquarters.

Today, the museum seems to serve mostly as a research library and community center. We certainly appreciated seeing the framed photo of President Barack Obama along the walls. 

More than anything, the museum serves as a symbol for American cultural diplomacy and peace between Morocco and the U.S. 

We spent the afternoon wandering the narrow medina streets with the Tanjawa, as Tangier locals call themselves. Being our last stop in Morocco, we made sure to appreciate all the nuances of Moroccan culture – particularly its architecture. Keyhole arch doors, wood lattice screen windows, Terracotta roof tiles. 

Continuing on, we strolled through a lovely park where the scent of orange trees reminded us we’d soon be returning to one of our favorite places: Seville, Spain.

In fact, we could see Spain once outside the 15th-century ramparts. Standing on a hill of crumbling rocks, we looked out on the Strait of Gibraltar, where the Mediterranean Sea connects with the Atlantic Ocean. 

The weather had been windy during our stay. Little did we know, the ferry ride from hell that would take us to Spain a few days later.

After a delicious meal of stewed vegetables and Ma’akouda (Moroccan “French fries”), we explored the quaint St. Andrew’s Church. Once serving the British expat community, the Anglican church is still in use today, catering to a predominately African congregation. 

Perusing the small cemetery nearby, we read the names of the deceased, many whose tombstones were carved by hand. A stray cat sauntered between the tombs, serving as the unofficial guardian of the graveyard.

Back at our guesthouse, Maggie was hosting a dinner party with a colorful crew of expats.

We couldn’t help but think about the expat lifestyle. And the relationships formed among like-minded people who had such interesting life experience. At the time, we were neither locals, nor expats. Merely travelers… vagabonds passing through without commitment to any one place. 

After all the fascinating places we’d seen so far, how does one choose where to put roots any way?

One thing’s for certain: Morocco seemed like a dream. From the bustling souks of Marrakech to the coastal vibes of Essaouira to the unfathomable vastness of the Sahara Desert, our nearly month-long we saw an exotic world unfold before our very eyes. 

Hearing that one last call to prayer was a reminder that tomorrow, we’d be leaving the alluring mystery of North Africa behind and head into Europe. 

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