Wow. So we made it at long last. With 2 days to spare. We felt it better to leave the final post for a few days to let our minds settle. Here goes.
Let me picture for you the scene In Algeciras that morning. We awoke to as miserable a day as you could ever find in the UK weather-wise. Drizzly, grey and dark. The faint smell of broken dreams hung low in the air for some reason. Yet it was into this day that we stepped, full of excitement and anticipation. We had opted for the two ‘o’clock ferry to Tangiers and so had time for a breakfast of coffee, oil, bread, pastries and chocolate (in that order of course). The coffee fellow appeared to have an overwhelming urge to bust moves, and seemed to be dancing every minute he wasn’t working.
Once at the ferry port we entered what looked to all intents and purposed like the ticket office, but were immediately informed of its state of closure by a kindly looking gentleman. It was at this point that we fell victim for the first and (to our knowledge) only scam. He spoke in superfast spanish and with an impenetrable accent, but he carefully allowed me to glean the information that he would show us where to get tickets. (Foolish Englishmen no?) He led us to an office where we indeed purchased tickets. For €25 each. Fairly shortly we learned that at the official ticket office only a few meters from the closed one, they were going for €20 each! I know its only €5, but it’s the principle.
After I had calmed down and stopped cursing the man and vowing that he would rue the day he crossed me, we checked in. Or at least tried to. We waited until 2pm and sure enough, someone turned up to check our tickets and to inform us that, completely contrary to all the other information available on the departures boards, the ferry would board at 3 instead. I must take a moment to illustrate that this ferry port, a fairly major one considering its daily footfall being one of the only sea crossings to Morocco from Spain, appeared to be staffed by only three people. A fact elegantly assured by the complete lack of customs, security or even someone to point you the right way down the corridor.
Suffice to say, we made it on board, and were fairly lucky to get our passports and forms stamped early on in the voyage (one policeman had to stamp every passenger’s passport and validate their papers. He batted not one single eyelid despite having quite possibly the most boring job that the depths of bureaucratic hell could dream of)
We assumed that Tanger Med, being a fairly large and important port, would have decent transport links to Tanger city. Oh how wrong we were in our foolish western ways. It appears that almost every hour, an unofficial coach turns up and all hell breaks loose. As soon as it pulled up, all the Moroccans simply hurled their bags in the hold and piled on. There was a fair fiasco as it became apparent that there weren’t enough seats. This was how we found ourselves waiting another hour for the next one. It was also during this time that we met some soon to be familiar faces. We got talking to Dave and Olivia, two more hitchers, some Basque students, Drew, an ex US Marine and Osama, a Tanger citizen and one of the kindest people we have ever met.
We finally arrived in Tanger at dusk. Osama had kindly agreed to lead us to the station, and afterwards to somewhere we could eat. We became quite a group, and turned many a head.
The time eventually came to catch the Midnight Marrakech Express. We settled into our sleeping cabin and chatted away (It was Miles and I on the top bunks and Drew and another American on the bottom. The talk was transatlantic) In all, the journey was extremely pleasant, and I certainly slept well.
Its always a strange feeling waking up in a different city to the one you fell asleep in, but thats what happened. We awoke in Marrakech. We were there! We made a beeline straight to the Riad, gulping down all of the weirdness Marrakech had to offer. It was amazing. We discovered that there are seemingly no traffic regulations as we dodged cars in the main square and weaved past pedestrians, scooters and donkeys all thrown together.
We reached the Riad at mid morning, though it seemed a lot later, and quickly established the run of the place. Everything was so relaxed it was untrue. We finally managed to to figure out how to pay for two nights and then had a well deserved sit down and a cup of Moroccan tea.
We were introduced to some of the riad’s permanent residents, including five tortoises and a chameleon called Douglas. We also met Anabel and Pete, who had been in Marrakech for a fair few days. We ate (I backed a loser with a kefta tajine) then decided it would be a good idea to visit a hamam.
To be perfectly honest, I feel the hamam experience deserves its own dedicated post, nay, a book, or tome dedicated to it, but I digress. For those who don’t know, and i wouldn’t blame you, I didn’t, a hamam is sort of like a moroccan bathhouse. We had been told what to expect, i.e. a really relaxing time, so we went right ahead, feeling like we needed some R&R. Now it cost us 300MAD, which isn’t as cheap as they come, but we wanted the best we could get. We were led into a darkened and heavily scented room, the decor of which looked like it had been designed by the biggest fan of brothels this world has ever known. We were asked to step into a small curtained off room and remove our clothes. It was at this point that we both became acutely aware of the weirdness to come. Then the heavy hit. The woman handed us to small rolled up garments. These turned out to be the tiniest, flimsiest, gimpiest male G-strings I have ever seen (not that I generally consider myself a connoisseur or anything). We were cracking up with laughter, but we duly obliged, figuring that it would possibly be more embarrassing making a run for it. We were given dressing gowns (for a short while) then led to a room. We then received a full body massage, which was, given the (ahem) awkward circumstances, severely unrelaxing.
After that trauma, it was time for the scrub down. Now, before this trip, If you had said to me that for the equivalent of around £22 you could ged a full on oiled massage, and then have women soap you up, scrub you down, then hoi buckets of water over you, I’d have thought you madder than a colander of wasps. And yet here we are…….
We slept well that night in a tent-like room on the roof of the riad. My dreams were however invaded by strange chanting and visions of minarets as I was slowly awoken at 5am by the call to prayer. That day, our second and last full day in Morocco, we decided to explore the souks. We walked for hours past stalls and stalls, each displaying their wares, and each vying for your custom. I have to say that about ninety percent of everything there was utter tat, but hey, what can you expect, us westerners (a term I don’t really get as Morocco is further west than lands end) just lap it up. All the while the weather was going berserk. One minute we were soaking up the baking African sunshine, next we were running for cover from huge thunder storms
We went through the mandatory experience of purchasing goods too. There’s a funny (and surprisingly effective) sales strategy in Morocco; it seems that The general idea is to entice you/trick you and even grab you and hurl you bodily into the shop, then shout at you, call you a Berber and point at things they think you might like. We found out later on that they employ a similar, more physical tactic when they try to get you to eat at their stalls in the market. Miles was quite literally ripped limb from limb. Miles had skewers of meat, laced with bacteria whilst I had a plate of assorted, deep-fried fish bits. Anyway, that night we ate and chilled at the riad with a bunch of americans.
We hauled our sorry asses out of bed at 5:30 the next morning as we had decided to walk to the airport. Tired and hungry, we packed up, said our goodbyes and headed off. The walk was longer than we had thought, but y that time, long walks were nothing for us. The pavement was well, interesting. Interesting in that it looked like whoever was responsible had forgotten to build it. Sidestepping the five food deep holes in the pavement (no exaggeration) we arrived at Marrakech international airport, our adventure nearly at an end.
From that point on, except for witnessing an old italian man trip on the moving walkway at Gatwick, our journey was uneventful. Miles and I said our goodbyes in the arrivals area. I think both of us didn’t really know how to feel. Our adventure was suddenly over, and we then both had time to reflect.
I have to say, I didn’t really think much about the experience over the next few days. That may partly be why this post has taken so long to write. It has since struck me just what an amazing journey it was. It sort of occurred to me in a flash one day that I really missed being on the road, lapping up all that each day had to offer. I can barely begin to describe what an amazing feeling it has left me with. Suffice to say, I will never forget it.