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Michael’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 24 Dec 2008

Location: Tanger, Morocco

MapTake 2...

I finished work on Tuesday 23rd and headed by taxi to the airport. Thankfully the roads were clear and I made it in time for my flight... unfortunately the flight was more delayed than I was! Eventually the flight took off about an hour late which would have repercussions once I made it to my destination; Malaga, Spain.

Uneventful flight, but after the landings of my last trip to Chiacgo, uneventful is great. Having rocked up close to 10, when we were due to land at 905, I was in a bit of a dash. The hostel website had directions to get there, but that involved catching a bus that finished at 11 pm. By the time I had my bag and was thru customs, I had just missed the 1019 bus into town, next one not until 1049. The 11pm bus was out of the question.

I sat there at the train station alone, a lot colder than I'd planned to be, and a little nervous at just how empty the place was. For a train station servicing an airport, it really was deserted, and I couldn't help but think how vulnerable people could be in this situation. The only company was the occasional voice over the PA saying "ladies and gentlemen, will you remind to wear your ticket before boarding the train". I decided then that if that was the official translation for an airport train station that sees some 20,000 British tourist a year, then I wouldn't feel bad about not brushing up my Spangslish before travelling... that would change in Morocco though!

The train lobbed up, and as with all Spanish cities, and train lines the world over, there was plenty of graffitti to keep me entertained on the short trip into town. Admittedly, after being spoilt by the plethora of Banksy art in Bristol, much of it did seem rather bland. 15 minutes later and the train is terminating 2 stops earlier than I had expected... turns out the line into the centre of town has been out of commission since April... glad the hostel website had been updated.

Trying to figure how to get to the hostel, from the wrong station, and on a buss that has finished running for the evening, I stumbled across the intercity bus station which would prove handy when I went to leave the following morning.

The hostel was useless when I called them, the guy unable to comprehend that the train didn't go all the way to the last stop. Eventually I found a map and started walking to where I though the train station was supposed to be - bingo. Well, I never found the station, but the ,ain road was lit up with Christmas lights and I followed it to the bus stops. Alas, the Number 11 did finish at 11, but I found a night bus, the N-1 that went a similar route and guess well enough where the hostel was. 1220 and I was checking in, and not muc later I was in bed with the intention of getting up at 530 to catch the 630 bus.

Alas, I decided to reset the alarm when it went off at 530, and got up at 730 for the 9am bus. The trip was smooth, and aside from the girl sitting next to me playing Beyonce on her ipod loud enough for the entire bus to hear, was rather uneventful, and bang on time we arrived in Algecieras at 1200. I found out the ferry was at 1330, got my tciket, a shwerma sandwhich, and headed to the port.

Arrived at the port at 1230, an hour to kill. At 1330 the info board said the boarding had closed, and all the passengers were sitting there curious, wondering what was happening. There were no announcements or anything, nor were the customs gates open. Eventually a staff member came up to the departure lounge and was bombarded at the ticket window. Turns out I had a ticket, but now had to check in. What the? It's a boat. Anyway, people everywhere are forming a disorderly mob around the window, shouting and waving tickets, sliding their hands under the window etc. It reminded me of the desperate scenes at a UN Food Truck distribution, only these people weren't as hungry so were pushing even more fiercely.

After the commotion died down, I got my boarding pass and wandered over to the customs line... the passport check still was closed. It was while in this line that someone noticed they had been given a boarding bass for 1730 instead of 1330. As the word got around, and a couple people wandered back to the check-in window, the hubub of commotion kicked off again. People were jumping the metal railings and running for the check-in window. Others were in two minds as to weather to leave their luggage or take it with them... and there was lots of luggage - "stripey bags" everywhere. With eth ticket drama sorted, and my passport finally stamped,a nother queue formed for the boat... finally, over an hour late, the boat set sail for Morocco.

What all the drama about the pushing in lines had to do with still confuses me. The boat was only half full and had VERY comfy seats. Before long there was a queue forming on the boat to get our passports stamped and hand over our landing cards. This was a bit more orderly, but was looking like getting out of hand. Suddenly the seas got rough, and as people in looked for stuff to hold onto, others for vommit bags, I got out of my seat and stumbled to the counter - no queueing for me! Then I had a hot Jamon bocadillo con quese, and returned to my seat. Not é minutes later the muslim women sitting 2 seats down grabbed a vomit bag and made good use of it... I can't help but think it might have had a little bit to do with my food!

Due to the rough seas, the 1hr journey took longer than it should have, and coupled with the late departure, we arrived over 90 minutes late into Tanger. I was surprised how few checks there were when we arrived. One person ensured that we had a stamp in our passport as we walked down the gang plank onto the concrete apron and mixed with the cars coming off the ferry. The cars weren't checked (from what I could see) till they exited the port, thus there would be nothing to stop anything riding out of the boat in a car, then getting out of the car and pretending to be a foot passenger... thus never needing to get a passport stamp while on board the ship. Why that would prove useful I don't exactly know, but it did seem relaxed. As for baggae check, the lady behind the xray screen was more interested in her Twinkie than anything being smuggled.

After shrugging off the touts I made my way to the pension I had booked by phone on the ferry. The room was lovely with windows opening onto Petit Socco (small circle) and had a sink in it. The communal shower was OK, but had hot water... the toilets, well lets just say that I would have to pick and choose my battles for the rest of my time in Morocco! Between seatless, flushless and drop toilets, I decided not to use them at the hostel...

I wandered around town and got a feel for it... also got used to saying la shukran (no thanks) regularly. More than anything, people wanted you to buy them a cup of tea... I don't know how many times I was asked to buy them a tea. As the sun set over the Bay of Tanger, with massive (presumably artificial) beach, I headed inlad and started losing my bearings. Neon lights everywhere and markets. I wasn't in a maz of alleys in a souq, instead on a couple of main roads, but where I thought I was walking parallel with the beach, I was actually moving further and further away.

Eventually I found my bearings at Kuwait Place, a massive roundabout with an equally sizable mosque on one corner. From this monuent and my map I was able to discern that I needed to take the first right at the round about. Only problem was that the map showed 5 roads, and there were only 4 at the roundabout... I didn't realise this till too late, and got utterly lost. After an hour I had back tracked to the roundabout and realised my error - the 5th road was about 50 meters back where one road splits in 2, which wasn't clearly shown on the map.

One sound that will stick with me of Tanger is that of car horns and traffic cops with whistles. Whilst at this Kuwait Place, I saw a car on the inside lane cut across 2 lanes of traffic (very busy traffic) and pull up next to the cop. Here the cop walked a few steps to the car and the driver stuck his hand out the sun roof, shook the hand of the cop, and the resumed his way, moving back to the middle lane! I could only wonder if there was more than just a hand shake involved...

Back in the right direction, I found a fried chicken shop where I had dinner. Not my inetntion, but getting lost had meant it was now near 10 and I wasn't sure of what options I would have, and I was starving. Next I found Grand Socco and headed to Caid's Piano Bar at a five star hotel up the road for a quick Xmas eve beer. It was pretty dead, but a French project manager struck up a conversation and we chatted over a beer... poor sod had to work Xmas day, and had only been flown out to Tanger on the Monday, after already finishing work for the year, or so he thought. Anyway, the Casablanca beer was nice, but at 60 Dirhams, or 6 quid, a bit pricey... I presume that is the cost of the 5 star hotel. Had a good nights sleep despite the close proximity to the Petit Socco, which didn't quieten down till well after 1am. Also, good sleep considering I was in my sleeping bag ontop of the bed, not entirely convinced of the cleanlyness of the bed sheets!

Next day... Christmas (well, thats what all my text messages indicate) and a the tour moves on to Chefchouan... stay tuned.