A cobra bares its hooded head on cobblestone streets laid in the 12th century. Men selling tea kettles and drums made of turtle shells surround you as you saunter down streets as narrow as a sidewalk and as winding as a maze.
This African city, a day trip from Malaga and a ferry ride from the Rock of Gibraltar, is a visual sensation for foreign eyes to behold.Sheep graze under the gaze of a shepherd near modern homes. The view of the city and its port is spectacular from hills above, where the king's palace sits. (A brief ride on a camel costs about 50 cents.)
Sound a bit like your basic tourist trap? It is. Three words to remember in Tangier: bargain, bargain, bargain. Also remember if you're not interested in buying something, don't look or act interested or you' ll be swamped by friendly but aggressive, peddlers.
But, amid the chaos, Tangier is worth the trip, if only for the experience of being there.
The trip from Malaga costs about $60 including the bus ride, ferry ride and lunch. Set aside a full day for this adventure. The trip begins before sunrise and ends late in the evening. The travel time is longer than the tour.
The best way to tour the city is with someone you know who lives there. Since that is an option for few, the next best bet is with a guide. Bordered by the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic, Tangier is a mixture of the modern and the old.
Its three major religions are Christian, Jewish and Muslim. When you go with a guide, you'll spend the bulk of your time in the Casbah, the older, Muslim-dominated part of the city. The tiled restaurants and buildings you'll see are pure art. Don't stray from the guide because it's easy to get lost.
You'll be amazed by the closet-size "stores" that face the streets where merchants sell everything from round loaves of bread to intricate jewelry.
But the city's customs may catch you off guard so be prepared.
Make a copy of your passport before you go. Police take up most passports upon entry and don't return them until you leave.
Don't wear shorts, and if you're a bit squeamish about unsanitary food, you're best bet is to take bottled water and something to eat.
Once off the ferry, your guide will corral you on a bus, show you the outsides of palaces, give you a chance to ride a camel and then take you on the hard sell. You'll sit in huge rooms with Oriental rugs of all sizes and colors. You'll visit what they consider to be a pharmacy with walls lined with spices in bottles.
A three-man band will sit on cushions and serenade you on drums, a sitar and lute as you drink tea, eat cookies and admire tiled walls and an upstairs view of the old Casbah market.
The bad news is that you probably won't get to wander the market of copper sellers. There's a big part of it that the tourist doesn't see. The good news is that most of the merchants you'll deal with speak English and aren't rudely aggressive.
If you decide to buy that silver necklace or wood-carved statuette, you'll get a better price if you pay with any type of currency besides the dirham - the native money. So use anything from dollars to pe-set-as.
Also, remember that merchants will initially ask for at least double the price they expect to get. If you pay full price, you're a fool. Bargaining is encouraged.
Take your walking shoes. Tangier's winding streets, foreign ways and bargain treasures are an experience you won't forget.