There is a lot of renovation work taking place in the old Medina of Tangier. The picture shows some of the workers and the mess of their construction in a narrow alleyway. We were on a tour and walking to the American Legation when I took this picture.
People having trouble walking and tourists with severe respiratory problems should be forewarned that this might be a difficult trek for you. Especially in the narrower streets and alleys, there is a lot of uneven footing, sometimes construction rubble to avoid as well as dust and other irritants in the air.
As it turns out I did not experience the hoards of small and dirty children, reaching out their hands for coins or candy, or anything that you can spare running all around you, taunting and begging you. I was told by our tour guide that it certainly still happens but that the children never used to beg until kind-hearted tourists started giving them money because they looked cute. Eventually, the kids realized it was easy money and turned it into a full time occupation.
What I did experience were the numerous, aggressive guys trying to sell us trinkets as we were in the streets strung out on our walking tours. These guys are incredibly bold. They are likely to prod, poke, and grab at your bags (ladies protect your purses!) unless you firmly tell them no and walk quickly away from them. Even then you’ll have these gangs of trinket merchants trailing behind you as if you were a Pied Piper.
The picture shows just a few of the many men who whistled, chortled, shouted, walked alongside me, or in some other way attempted to get me to part with my money for questionable merchandise.
Morocco has a high crime rate in urban areas. Criminals have targeted tourists for robberies, assaults, muggings, thefts, purse snatching, pick-pocketing, and scams of all types. Most of the petty crime occurs in the medina/market areas, parks and beaches.
Commonly reported crimes include falsifying credit-card vouchers, and shipping inferior rugs as a substitute for the rugs purchased by the traveler. The U.S. Embassy and Consulate have also received reports of thefts occurring in the vicinity of ATM machines. Aggressive panhandling is common.
Unescorted women in any area of Morocco may experience verbal abuse. The best course of action is to ignore such abuse because, it has been found in the past, women who have responded have sometimes come under physical attack.
Moroccan authorities expect annual tourism arrivals from abroad to reach 10 million by 2010. Given the large constructions started and planned, creating the basis for a substantial growth in arrivals, the Moroccan government expects the sector will create 72,000 new jobs by 2010.
The year 2010 is also when Moroccan authorities expect most of the giant projects started within the tourism sector to be finished. This in particular includes the construction of the new port facilities outside Tangier - the main ferry connection with Europe - and the construction of several new destinations and hotel complexes. A government strategy, known as "Vision 20102", includes investments of millions of US dollars to increase capacity to receive 10 million tourists annually.
The Moroccan tourism industry contributes with a significant portion of the country's foreign exchange earnings. Tourism-related industries, such as handicraft, provide employment to over half the Moroccan working force. The country has become an attractive tourist destination especially for Europeans.
What that means to you is that come the summer months, there is a large influx of tourists crowding the narrow streets of Tangiers Medina and Kasbah. Many come and go via cruise ships but many others stay for days at a time and book the first rate hotels in advance.
Notice, when you get close, that these animals all have a good hide covered in hair. Good animal hide with good hair is a good place to find fleas no matter where you are in the world.
Of course, the problem here is that the fleas could be harboring diseases that you would not want to catch. And, of course, they make a beeline for the hairy-er parts of your body. Then scamper playfully about causing you discomfort and itching sensations.
Climbing on board one of these animals, or rubbing against it with your clothing could be a great invitation for an enterprising flea or fleas to upscale their habitat - namely you!
If you don't want to miss a photographic opportunity atop a camel or near a donkey then attempt to use an insect repellant on your clothing to hopefully ward off these pesky critters.
Harassment of tourists by unemployed Moroccans posing as "guides" is a common problem. Prudent travelers hire only official tour guides through hotels, travel agencies or through their cruise line.
Before you arrive in Tangier make arrangements for what you are going to do about guides. Have someone from your hotel or an official tour company meet you as you arrive and properly identify himself. Or go on a cruise sponsored tour. All of this is to protect you from being virtually (sometimes physically) assaulted by the entrepreneurial independents that offer to be your tour guide and/or sell you drugs.
These guys shown on the pier were trying to close tour deals with passengers even as our cruise ship was in the process of docking. Once the folks, who weren’t on a cruise booked tour, went ashore one or more of these forceful men immediately accosted them.
It is my understanding that driving east from Tangier along the Mediterranean coast, the signs of drug power become obvious: heavily guarded villas with strangely stylized pagodas, frequent roadblocks with police looking for the next payoff and an endless supply of young men going about their workdays in the drug business. In northern Morocco and Tangier lurks a key challenge to the Moroccan state: a potent mix of discontent, drugs, organized political opposition and religion. Morocco's drug barons have steadily made themselves into a serious crime problem and security threat, and also major players in the Moroccan political system.
Morocco is the world's largest hashish exporter.
As the drug trade booms, drug lords have more money to bribe security officials and corrupt politicians. Corruption does not exist as an exception to an otherwise regulated and transparent system. Instead, it goes to the very heart of the political system, and has been institutionalized by those in power. The drug barons simply availed themselves of an efficient and accepted means of doing business.
In the picture you see one of the many drug users in Tangier sleeping on the sidewalk. And this guy is doing it right in front of a local policeman!
This particular person, earlier in the day, had physically attacked one of the tourists on my tour bus while he was talking a photograph from near the Grand Socco. Our tour guides said that they would call the police and have the man arrested AFTER our tour ended. Somehow, I doubt that ever happened.
You should be aware that many goods sold in Tangiers have parts made from tortoise shell, ivory, coral, snakeskin, etc. which are all probably illegal to take through your home countries customs (and fines can be huge).
If you are in doubt, don't buy it and don't listen to shopkeepers who tell you it's okay. The garbage cans at your home airport are probably full of banned crafts that panicking tourists have dumped at the last moment after seeing the warning signs at customs.
Worldwide, regretfully, there is a huge traffic in illegal wildlife parts: skins, tusks, bones, skulls, eggs, claws, and on and on and on. The list is as long as one's imagination because the parts are used for everything from clothing to cult rituals.
Nature-lovers, kids, scientists, veterinarians - anyone who cares about animals - can point to smugglers, who generally get their commodities from poachers, for helping to exterminate too many forms of wildlife. In 1970, for example, there were about 65,000 black rhinos in the world; as of the year 2000, only about 2,200 were left. The World Wildlife Federation estimates that 103 species of reptiles and 58 species of amphibians are currently under threat of extinction, including such exotics as those mentioned, along with the tuatara lizard, Chinese alligator, false gavial crocodile, and dwarf crocodile. Even zoos can't find some of these species, yet smugglers can.
Plenty has been written about the hassle and while it is true that Tanger has more than its share of it, there are ways to control it. Remember that you are the one in control: stumbling from that 12 hour ride on the night train, the hassle will most likely get you more than if you are well rested, so it might not be a good idea to say visit the Kasbah at that moment. Chill out in a cafe is a much better option.
Also, 4 out of 5 people approaching you, will be hustlers. Ignore and don't speak to them even if goes against your ideas of courtesy. This is probably what sucks tehmost about the hassle, the fact that you can't let your guards down and be yourself.
One of my life worst travelling experience was at this port of Tangier. Be aware of this touts and people saying - 'MY FRIEND ... ' -