Morocco & the journey to and from (10.26.09 – 11.3.09)

I arrived in Tarifa on Monday the 26th. The train had stopped in Antequera, where the remaining passengers on the train were dividing into groups going to various destinations. The group I was in was that heading to Algeciras. We continued the remaining three hours of our journey on a bus. Upon boarding the bus and discovering that the overhead lights wouldn’t work which meant that couldn’t read my book, I promptly fell asleep. After arriving in Algeciras, myself and a nice Spanish man shared a cab down to Tarifa, where I found my hostel for the night. I fell asleep fairly quickly, as I had not arrived until 11:30PM, and at midnight, the common room was closed up. As I didn’t feel like going out, there was little else to do other than to call it a night. I woke in the morning, showered and checked out of my hostel, then walked all of 5 minutes down the road to the port. I bought my ticket for the ferry across to Tangier and after a short wait, boarded the ferry, and despite the promise of the “35 minute ferry, Tarifa-Tangier,” an hour later, I arrived in Tarifa. I walked through the customs and immigrations area, where a woman, without asking or informing me what she was doing, shoved an instrument in my face. She had taken my temperature to ensure that I was not running a fever and bringing H1N1 into the country… despite knowing why she did it, it was still extremely surprising. After walking through the gates, I was quickly approached by a man who started to give me advice and ask me questions about my stay in Tangier. I had intended on going directly to Fez that night, but he told me that I had already missed the train to Fez for the day, so I should stay in Tangier for the night, and oh, here, I know a hotel. I decided to actually go for it because I had nothing booked and he insisted that there were no hostels in Tangier. I later looked at my guidebook and discovered that he was either wrong or lying, but I had a room to myself for the night that wasn’t costing me that much, so it didn’t matter terribly. I dropped my bag in the room, and left to go and see the city. We walked through the city gate into the medina, and he took me to a restaurant called La Kasbah, where I ate traditional Moroccan soup, and couscous. The meal was delicious, and when I was finished, we walked further on through the marketplace. We went to the Kasbah (citadel) , and of course, I couldn’t stop singing “Rock the Casbah” to myself the whole time we were up there. From here, he took me to a shop selling exquisite Moroccan rugs. They were beautiful, and I admired them greatly, but I was far from interested in spending hundreds of dollars on a rug… especially when I have no clue as to what my living situation is when I eventually return home. The man wasted an hour of my time, and in return, I wasted an hour of his time… which I think must have been annoying for both parties. I know I was irritated; I hadn’t asked to be taken here, but it is extremely apparent that these guides have deals worked out with various businesses within the medina (a medina is the old Arab built part of the city, it is often walled, which separates the new city from the old). The guide brings them into certain shops and restaurants, and in return receives some kick-back for bringing business to the merchant. It also means that you are going to get severely inflated tourist prices… which will more than likely happen anyway if you’re white… but I feel that being brought in by a guide makes such matters even worse. After leaving the carpet shop, we went to a pharmacy, which I was interested in, because I wanted to pick up some saffron for my mum. While there, I was asked if I was interested in getting a henna tattoo, which I decided I was. It was beautiful, but as I found out later, it wasn’t a real henna tattoo… it was black, not orange-brown, which meant it had been done with PPD dye… hairdye, in essence, which you can react very severely to. I didn’t find this out until several days later, which was seriously frustrating, in addition to finding that I had paid far too much for it… surprise, surprise.
After the pharmacy I returned to my hotel, then went to McDonalds in order to use the internet, and then back to the hotel where I fell asleep before the clock struck 8PM.
On Wednesday morning, I woke and repacked my things. I considered going back up to the Kasbah, to be completely honest… my sole purpose being to listen to “Rock the Casbah,” while in the Kasbah. Yes… I really am that ridiculous. Upon leaving for the medina, I decided that I hadn’t allowed myself enough time to walk all the way up to the medina, however, food of some sort would probably be a great idea. I ended up in a coffee shop, where I didn’t eat, but did get a coffee. I talked with the owner for a while, who was an entertaining, and well traveled Moroccan man; we had a fabulous conversation and I left grinning. I returned to my hotel once more, grabbed my bags and left in search of a taxi. I found one and had him take me to the bus station. I walked into the station and asked a police officer, in French, where I could get a ticket to Chefchaouen. He pointed me in the right direction, and I made my purchase accordingly. I had to wait for about 45 minutes before my bus left, in which time the police officer came and talked to me for a while. He spoke in French, and I was able to follow for a few minutes, but I then had to admit that I didn’t understand. He asked if I spoke English, and then said I was silly to have spoken French before trying to speak to him in English. We chatted until my bus was leaving, and I then began my journey to Chefchaouen, reading Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels on the way. After a bus ride lasting several hours, I was told that this was where I needed to get off for Chefchaouen. The bus had stopped in a rather isolated area, and five of us had gotten off of the bus. We piled into a taxi, which the bus driver paid for… it was rather strange. After walking around aimlessly for a while, someone asked if I needed help, so I asked if they could point me in the direction of the one budget hotel I knew the name of. Luckily for me, they were familiar with the hotel, so, in said direction I headed. After wandering through the stall filled streets with only a general sense for the direction in which I was supposed to go, I asked for directions once more and minutes later found where I needed to be. I ended up staying at the hotel next door called the Hotel Esouira. After I was shown to my room, I showered and left in search of food. To my surprise, when I left the hotel it was already dark outside. I found the main square where the Chefchaouen Kasbah was. I found somewhere for dinner and ate a cheap, traditional Moroccan meal. After dinner, I decided to head back to the hotel, because it seemed as though every man I passed made some comment or tried to speak with me… it grew old quickly, and I decided that a quiet night in would be a better use of time. At the end of the night, I met a couple of English people, a father and daughter who were spending a couple of weeks traveling around Morocco. We got chatting and discovered that we were both planning to go to Fez the next day, so we made plans to meet in the morning and travel together… and off to bed we all went.
Thursday morning came and as planned, we met up. We decided to get breakfast at the hotel, which we ate up on the roof terrace, which offered a picturesque view of the city. After breakfast we went to walk around Chefchaouen for a couple of hours, as I hadn’t had the opportunity to do so the night before. It seems as though the whole city has been bathed in various hues of blue paint, which makes it quite cool to walk through the streets. We returned to the hostel to retrieve our bags, and then left in search of a taxi to take us to the bus station. Before long, we were on the bus and well on our way to Fez. We arrived in Fez in the late evening, and the sun was already setting for the day. We decided to stay at a hotel that the guidebook named as the cheapest available accommodation… and as described, you get what you pay for, so the quarters were extremely basic. After settling in, we went downstairs and ate dinner, joining a nice Irish bloke who helped us get our night at the hotel for cheap. He helped us get a deal on our dinner as well, and after eating he left to go and catch a night train. Later in our meal, we were joined by a Quebecois man named Allen who has traveled to Morocco many times before, but only likes to go to Fez. After finishing our meal, Allen lead us around a bit, giving us hints about what to see. After our small tour, we returned to the hotel and called it a night.
We woke up the next morning (Friday) and went to get breakfast. We sat at a small café and watched the merchants set up their stalls. After breakfast we continued to walk through the medina, passing shop after shop filled with lamps, vases, tajines, jewelry, and other cheap delights. We headed into the center of the medina, into the tanning district. Katherine decided that she wanted to buy a leather doctor’s bag, so we began going into leather shops in search of one. Many of the shops had views over the tanneries, which was an interesting sight, accompanied by an interesting smell. After browsing in several shops, Katherine found a bag that was close enough to what she wanted to warrant buying it… five minutes of haggling later, and it was hers, for about half of the originally stated price. While walking on through the streets, we were lured into a shop selling scarves and blankets. They showed us how they make the blankets, and then demonstrated the various styles in which the scarves are worn by Moroccan people like the Berbers, who live in the desert. After this we decided that we were all done shopping, so we returned to the hotel, gathered our bags and headed for the train station. Katherine and Roger were going to Rabat, and I was going to Marrakesh. My journey was far longer than theirs, but the first four or five hours of  the journey follow the same route. We said our goodbyes, and the train continued on. I arrived in Marrakesh around 11PM. I left the station and got a taxi, who tried to charge me an obscenely inflated tourist price. I got him down to a far more reasonable price… although I know I was still paying too much. I got into the medina and began walking around, in search of the only cheap hotel I knew the name of. When I finally found it, there was a sign on the door stating that they were full for the night! I found another hotel close by that was a reasonable price for the night. I dropped off my bags and returned to the main square within the medina so that I could get something to eat. Once full of delicious Moroccan food, I returned to my hotel and promptly fell asleep.
I awoke on Saturday and didn’t really get going until midday. I walked around the markets, which I found to be almost identical in each of the Moroccan cities where I spent my time. However, in the morning, all of the food stands that had filled the main square the night before were gone, and in their places were women doing henna tattoos, real snakes charmers  (!) and monkeys. It was one of the strangest and most unnerving things I have ever seen to walk along and pass a Cobra that could, if provoked, strike at any time. As I passed cobra after cobra, all I could think was “THAT IS SUCH A DANGEROUS SNAKE!!” I managed to pass the whole day just walking around the medina, and the park just outside of the Koutoubia Mosque. I returned to my hotel for a while, showered, and left once more. I walked around the main square, which was now filled once again with food vendors, as well as groups of musicians and dancers. I returned to my hotel once more, and ended up hanging out with the guy working at the hotel and his friend. We had a dance party; I do miss dance parties. I didn’t get to bed until 3 or so in the morning.
Sunday. I got up and got breakfast, then left in search of an e-café, so that I could check train times back up to Tangier. By the time I found the information I needed, the next train was leaving within half an hour, and there was no possible way that I would have been able to catch that train, so I had to settle for the 9PM night train to Tangier instead. As I had hours to go before catching my train, I spent much more time on the internet, and eventually returned to the hotel once more. I left to walk around the square some more and got dinner. I managed to kill several hours, and at 7PM, I started getting ready to leave. I caught a taxi and headed for the train station. I bought my ticket and was pleased to discover that the station had wifi, so I was able to chat with my parents before beginning the absolute hell of a day and a half, otherwise known as my return to the UK.
I boarded the train, and come 9PM, we departed, heading for Tangier. I slept intermittently over the course of the next eleven hours. The train arrived at the Tangier train station, which I exited in search of a taxi, which is far from difficult to find in any city in Morocco. Within a minute, I had a ride to the port. I went through passport control and had to wait an hour and forty-five minutes for the next ferry to Tarifa. I had missed the previous one by only fifteen minutes, but it would have been impossible to catch the ferry at that time. The ferry once again took far longer than the “35 minute” ride promised in giant letters down the side of the vessel… but so it goes. I disembarked and walked to the Tarifa bus station… to discover that although it was a Monday, it was a holiday, so the buses running on an irregular schedule, and the next one running from Tarifa to Algeciras was not for another four hours. Luckily, I found a couple to share a taxi with. We were then joined by a fourth person, and we were soon on our way, at an extremely fair cost for a forty minute taxi ride. Once in Algeciras, I sorted out my ticket back to Madrid, and I had no other option than taking the train back. I would have liked to take the bus due it costing a fraction of the train fare, but if I had done so, I would have arrived in Madrid an hour after my flight left. I had to get a bus for the first three hours of the journey, and then caught a train from Antequera for the remainder of the journey, the opposite of what I had had to do to get down to Algeciras. Once finally back in Madrid, I went to Ash’s apartment, although Ash was in the US at the time, so that I could collect my things that he had kindly let me store there in order to lighten my backpack. With belongings in tow, I left for the airport at around 11:30PM on Monday. My flight left Madrid so early on Tuesday that I wouldn’t have been able to get the metro to the airport in time to catch my flight. I spent the night in the airport; I didn’t even try to sleep… but I did spend an hour moving belongings between my carry-on suitcase and my backpack in order to comply with Ryan Air’s strict weight allowances. I clothed myself in the heaviest outfit I could put together, consisting of bicycle shorts, jeans, socks, shoes, two bras, a camisole, a sweater, a t-shirt, another shirt, a hoodie, a scarf around my neck, a belt, two scarves worn as belts, and all of the jewelry I could adorn myself with. My pockets were stuffed with electronics and coins… getting through security was… fun? My work paid off though, and I made it successfully onto the plane without paying any money in fines. When my checked bag was weighed, it was 15 kg EXACTLY.
I boarded the plane, laid claim to a seat, and fell asleep before the plane took off. I woke up five minutes before our landing. Once off the plane, I had to wait a while for my bag, but customs and immigration were painless. I bought a bus ticket and before long was on a bus heading for Victoria station. One more metro ride and I was finally back in Balham and in serious need of a nap!

Now for the pictures:


The view of the port from the Tangier Kasbah


View over Tangier and its port. The water you see is the Strait of Gibraltar.


My (fake) henna tattoo.


Entrance to the Chefchaouen kasbah


The Chefchaouen kasbah


The market within the Chefchaouen medina


The view over Chefchaouen from the terrace of the hotel


A classically Moroccan door




A mule walking through the streets of Chefchaouen (see how all the walls are blue!)



Another cat I smothered with attention.


Another view of Chefchaouen; I think it’s the most beautiful of the Moroccan cities that I visited.



Chefchaouen market during the day


Coca-Cola in Arabic!


Katherine! This was at dinner in Fez






The blue gate to the city of Fez


The blue gate from outside the medina, during the daytime.


The Fez market


The tanneries where many workers are dying leather


Pelts out to dry in the sun


Leather bags


Leather shoes


Katherine and I, wearing our scarves in traditional styles




Roger is looking very fetching


Katherine and Roger in Fez


Monkeys in Marrakesh


The Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh


Lamps! The Moroccan lamps were beautiful! I wish I’d had room to bring one home


In Marrakesh they don’t have leather tanneries like in Fez, but they dye wool. They then string the wool up to dry in the streets


Dried fruits for sale


Me outside the Koutoubia Mosque




I was totally cool taking a picture with the snake around my neck, but I found it silly when the guy put another one on my head… oh well.


This is Mustapha, one of the guys who was working at the hotel. And more SNAKES!

Good God. This entry has been holding me up for FAR too long. So there you have it, ladies and gents. The story of my journey to Morocco, and back to London… ending nearly three and a half months of backpacking… only to be quickly resumed after a few days rest… next entry coming soon (hopefully)!

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