From Lisbon to Gay Tangiers in the 1970s
by Gabriele Muellenberg
Turning back the clock brings back such memories! It was during July university holidays in Lisbon, the Portuguese capital. A fellow student (gay male) and I decided to hitchhike to Tangier in Morocco.
Why hitchhike to Tangiers?
Because it beckoned, a fascinating North African town where the Arab world meets West.
It was also a great gay gathering center, especially for Londoners flying directly and cheaply to Gibraltar in the days before EasyJet.
Journey from Lisbon to the South of Spain
Our journey from Lisbon to Algeciras in the South of Spain hitchhiking was easy - we carried the minimum of luggage for backpacking which was simply a rucksack with most basics, enough for
3 or 4 weeks on the road while we planned to wash our few clothes ourselves.
Hitchhikers were welcome on Spanish roads in those days and we made the journey to our ferry Algeciras in just two days after overnighting in Sevilla, Andalusia.
Journey from Ceuta to Tangiers
We stayed in the Spanish colony of Ceuta after getting off the ferry from Algeciras, where we had seen dolphins on the way.
The next day we continued our backpacking adventure by riding different buses. We were concerned about hitchhiking in this part of North Africa.
What were the buses like?
They were old Mercedes or MAN buses - no luxury but they got us from point A to point B. One of the buses was filled with noisy soccer fans traveling to see a match. On another bus, locals crowded up with live chicken and goats. Their luggage was mostly made out of goods they were taking to market.
Besides the dazzling countryside with the Atlas mountains on the horizon and desert-like country, we watched Moroccan travellers with their donkeys wearing their long, often brown, creme and black striped djallabas under the hot African sun.
We were more than happy to have chosen the bus once we saw how bad the roads were though!
We found an extremely affordable but very basic hostel in Tangiers... Tangiers, its beaches with soft saffron colored sand and its ocean looking like washed out denim.
The casbah, big hotels, bars with or without entertainment for locals and tourists were all around.
While I trawled the beach or took an early night's sleep, my travel companion went out to play...
We toured through Tangiers's exciting Casbah with the smell of freshly ground spices whose aromas are too scarce to even find in a Western supermarket as they pass through too many hands.
We, of course also tried our luck of dealing the Arab way in many of its colorful, oriental market stalls with copper, brass, leather goods, woven gadgets, and real antiques, including jewelry.
Trips in northern Morocco
Trips to the Berber mountains were part of our backpacker Morocco travels. We were taken along there by newly made friends. Watching Berber people in their mountain villages weaving famous Moroccan carpets was fascinating.
We saw the market of Tetouan - many camels were parked on its outskirts. Cars were scarce then.
Food and drink
We always took little meals in one of the beach bars or cafes. Fish was fresh and very good and food was usually French. Prices were also affordable, then.
We did like the locals and sipped hot peppermint tea which is sold cheaply on every corner.
One night we were invited to a dinner party by a Moroccan family who celebrated the end of Ramadan. Couscous was eaten there in all its variations with different spiced sauces for chicken, lamb and fish. It still makes my mouth water today!
If you ever tasted real Moroccan cuisine you will know that even vegetables served with couscous are yummy. Every person in this private gathering was eating from a single spot on an enormous shared plate. This alone was an adventure for us Westerners.
We would have loved to continue our journey from Tangiers to Marrakesh but we were warned by a prominent hotel owner not to hitchhike. He said we could both end up being picked up by a camel caravan and sold off to some harem.
This happened decades ago. However, times have not changed that much and there is still danger.
Gabriele is manager of Tenerife Holiday Home Insider, a website extolling the virtues of the largest of the Canary Islands.