White Russians, real Russians and the best company imaginable – Tarifa, Spain

V and I were recently treated to a visit by our dear friends Esther (the Russian in the title above) and Jared, two New Yorkers that needed a break from the grind and let us know that they were up for an adventure. E & J planned a trip to Morocco and let us know that were up for trips around the region with the two of us. We suggested Tarifa and recounted tales of a beautiful old town commanded over by an old church, fantastic restaurants and great beaches. And, of course, cheap and excellent mojitos.

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The facade of the old church, old town Tarifa. The church is at the end of the main drag and overlooks much of the Tarifa night life, including the ever infamous five euro to-go mojito. Tarifa, Spain.

E & J agreed and we started to plan our excursion from Morocco. We planned on driving to Tangier and taking our car on the ferry, as all of the other options for reaching the ferry were plagued by difficulty – would we make the ferry after taking the first train to Tangier? If we drove to the ferry with plans of leaving our car in Tangier, where would we park the car?

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The Atlantic Ocean side of the Pier. This section of the beach is far more windy than the Mediterranean side. Tarifa, Spain.

Three days ahead of our trip we started to pay attention to the weather reports. It looked grim. Every day through the weekend was predicted to be an unforgiving storm. Yikes. Would the ferry even run? Would we have to sit in line at the ferry and wait for one to brave the sea? Would the rain mess up my hair?

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The fast ferry that speeds passengers back and forth to Tangier. The ferry accomodates passengers and cars alike. Tarifa, Spain.

We left Rabat and drove north in the early morning during a pounding rain, all hoping that the scene at the port would prove favorable. The ferry is known for being a fickle mode of transportation, as even moderately choppy seas may keep the ferries docked for hours after posted departures. Admittedly, I wasn’t sure that it was going to work out.

A menu outside of a wine bar in the old town.  Tarifa, Spain.
A menu outside of a wine bar in the old town. Tarifa, Spain.

We made it to the port and were relieved to see the ticketing office and immigration windows open. We were cleared through and drove towards the ferry terminal, rain still falling in sheets with no respite in sight. Our ferry – the first of the day – was presumably on its way from Tarifa, as good of a sign as we could hope for.

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The crew behind the white Russian party. In addition to makiing white Russians, these guys make a fantastic mojito. The vaguely Mexican place next door to Vaca Loca. Tarifa, Spain.

The ferry arrived and a small number of pedestrians and drivers quickly exited, after which we were hurried onboard. Few other cars and travellers boarded. I imagine that the ugly weather kept most travellers at home doubting the ferry’s ambition for the morning.

Fabric for sale in Tarifa, Spain.
Fabric for sale in Tarifa, Spain.

We left only a few minutes after our scheduled departure and, despite the rain and wind, had an uneventful trip to Tarifa. We easily cleared through immigration and found parking within moments of driving into old Tarifa.

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The door to our guest house. The strip outside of the guest house presents a very different scene as compared to the nearby corridor of bars, restaurants, and during the summer, party animals. This area is more of a wine bar, restaurant and family friendly vibe. Tarifa, Spain.

We ran through the rain to our guesthouse, quickly settled in and then ran out for lunch. Some of us may have indulged in a hot chocolate, too.

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On particularly cold and rainy days, some men find comfort in a hot chocolate…with extra whipped cream, of course. Tarifa, Spain.

I am very happy to say that we returned to see our friend Pepe Lopez, a perfectly lovely man and shop owner who I photographed during our first visit to Tarifa.  When we first met, Pepe let me know that he doesn’t have email and that – if possible – he would appreciated it if I mailed him prints of the photographs that I made of him.  I did him one better.  We presented the prints to him in person, thanked him profusely for allowing me the opportunity to make his portrait and give him a hug.  He was happy with the portraits – they were instantly placed on his wall and he pointed them out to his customers as they came in.  We then bought a picnic’s worth of food and said our goodbyes.

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We returned to Pepe’s and handed over the portraits that I had made of him the prior summer. He was very, very happy to receive them – they went onto the wall of family immediately and he proudly showed them off to the customers in his store. Tarifa, Spain.

Note to self – that’s how it’s done.  Make people appreciate their decision to allow you to make their portrait.  It goes a long way.

Fabric for sale in Tarifa, Spain.
Fabric for sale in Tarifa, Spain.

The rain let up that evening and we walked through town. We saw a totally different side of Tarifa – the summer crowds were nowhere to be found, the streets were quiet and everyone was bundled up in order to face the cold and wind.  While Tarifa was family friendly over the summer, Tarifa was packed with families this visit.  Kids out late.  Kids in bars.  Kids everywhere.  It’s slightly strange to see kids (with their parents) at a bar at midnight.  Having lived in Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights before moving to Morocco, I am used to kids hanging out in bars during the day and handing over the keys around eight.

A wall of peeling advertisements.  Tarifa, Spain.
A wall of peeling advertisements. Tarifa, Spain.

We made our way up and down the hill, checking out shops and peeking in on restaurants and eventually made our way to Vaca Loca for a fantastic (and gut-busting huge) meal.  You must make it there during a visit to Tarifa – the food is great (the fries are ridiculous) and the location, right in the middle of a pedestrian strip mall, is incredible.

Note – this is a long overdue comment:

Tarifa is totally pedestrian friendly.  Coming from the maniacal traffic and lack of pedestrian safety in Morocco, Tarifa is downright incredible.  Much of the old city is limited to foot traffic.  The Moroccan medinas appear to be limited to foot traffic as well, but we know that appearances can be are deceiving.

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The same kind of guy (in this case one of my oldest friends) that looks for excuses to have hot chocolates will probably gravitate towards a white Russian. Extra sprinkles optional. Sprinkles? In a bar? The vaguely Mexican place nextdoor to Vaca Loca. Tarifa, Spain.

We followed up our meal with a few totally necessary mojitos and riojas and called it a night. One Two of us may have enjoyed a white Russian or two. Don’t judge us. ☺

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I would hate to let a friend drink alone. Call me “sprinkles” and it’s not going to go well for you, buddy. The vaguely Mexican place nextdoor to Vaca Loca. Tarifa, Spain.

The weather cleared up the next day, though V fell ill with a nasty cold and was bed-bound for most of the day. E & J did a bit of exploring and then accompanied me on a walk to the pier separating the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean. It was nice, though we missed V and were happy to scoop her up for dinner at Bar el Frances, another favorite of ours from our first trip to Tarifa. As we remembered from earlier, it was great.

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The Atlantic Ocean side of the Pier. This section of the beach is far more windy than the Meditariean side. Tarifa, Spain.

Walking through the quiet streets of Tarifa, full of a delicious dinner and a glass or two of rioja (or was it tinto de verano?) and accompanied by some of our closest friends reminded me of how lucky I am. One year ago I was making drives from Brooklyn to Washington, DC almost every weekend and was happy to catch the Whole Foods salad bar before it closed. Now? As you can see, life is a little bit different.

Full disclosure – aside from the kale, the Whole Foods salad bar has never been my thing. The Whole Foods vegan general tso’s “chicken”, on the other hand, is my jam.

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  1. jaredflynn

    Feed me hot chocolate and call me “Sprinkles.”
    I can’t believe we were there. Extra special thank you to V for finding the greatest and comfiest little boutique hotel I have ever seen. Tarifa is an amazing place!

    1. We had a fantastic time traveling with you guys and are looking forward to the next trip!

  2. I want to go there !!!!!

    1. Get yourself over here and we’ll talk! It’s easy once you make it to Morocco!

  3. PS blew up on the computer the pics You took in Tarifa – incredible !!

    Nice going .

    1. Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate it.

  4. Patricia Tibbetts

    Now we’ll go to Tarifa for sure. For the drinks alone, we’ll line up for the ferry.

    1. Let us know when you are going – we would love to meet up over there! I am sure that the girls would love it, too.

  5. Patricia Tibbetts

    It’s a date! We’ll see you in Tarifa. You can take the snaps.

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