The 52 Places Traveler: The Trickiness of Being a Woman in Tangier

Instead of going into the hotel, I threw off caution and followed Mina uphill through the brick streets of the medina with my backpack and roller suitcase to an open-wall, street-side food stand named Ray Charley — essentially six stools and a counter with a little kitchen and two cooks, both named Sayed. It was a beautiful night of cultural immersion that ultimately turned a tad worrying when Mina walked me back to my hotel, sat down in reception and refused to leave.

She was confused, the manager said, because she thought I was staying with her. He reassured her that he had a room for me. “Mi amiga, mi amiga, él es un hombre bueno,” she said, kissing my cheeks goodbye. “Remember, nothing can happen to you here, you are a friend of mine.”

I had wanted to see Mina again, to take her up on her offer of tea and couscous, but she didn’t have a telephone and couldn’t tell me her address. But I have thought about her often. Was my gut wrong? All I know is that travel has made me believe that most people around the world are fundamentally good. And it’s exhausting to always have your guard up, expecting the worst.

Sisterhood Across Borders

Two friends, Linda and Melanie, had come to join me in Tangier. They represented strength in numbers. We were all eager to explore the city, and none of us wanted to do it as a woman traveling alone.

Female tourists, locals assured us, are fine without headscarves and with their knees showing (I was the only one in our group who did the latter), but you will get stares. We decided against tea at the famed Café Tingis in the medina because there was not a woman among the 50 or so crowded inside and out. Every time we took a walk, we’d get catcalled. Mostly that meant a lot of “holas,” but we were also followed for blocks, and Melanie said that multiple men hissed in her face.

A trip to the popular Caves of Hercules and Plage Achakar beach about 30 minutes away brought further cultural nuances. Nearly every woman waded into the ocean in whatever long dress she’d worn there, while shirtless men in swim trunks played soccer and body surfed. The women seemed happy, wet fabric and all. And the few who wore swimsuits moved about freely, without extra attention.

Every morning we had breakfast on Dar Yasmine’s rooftop terrace overlooking the harbor and at the exact height of the green and white marble tower of the city’s Grand Mosque right across the street, an example of the wealth of ornate, colorful architecture around the city. We felt lucky to be there during Throne Day, a national holiday celebrating the anniversary of the accession of the current King Mohammed VI, and to see fireworks light up the entire medina.