The Slow Boat to Barcelona – A very local experience

Sorry for this very lengthy post.

We decided to take the Ferry from Tangier to Barcelona. Because we finally (after approximately 3 months) got accepted into the English speaking volunteer program for Spanish people – Diverbo, we decided to cut out a huge chunk of our trip to Spain. It seemed like the ferry would be the best way to go – we would arrive directly in Barcelona, and one night accomodation would be taken care of because the ferry ride is about 30 hours long. Total cost for both of us (including upgrade to a shared berth) was 190 Euros.

The first task was getting from Chefchaouen (moderately rural Morocco) to the port in Tangier. Theoretically we could take a bus from Chefchaouen to Tangier, and then a free shuttle bus from Tangier to the port (which is about an hour drive from Tangier). There is also a train to the port, which in hindsight would have been totally fine, but at the time we thought it would be cutting it a bit close for boarding time to the ferry.

The day prior to leaving, we walked down to the bus station to see if we could figure out how to get the bus back to Tangier. If we hadn’t had to be at the ferry by 3-4 pm (departure at 5) we definitely could have just taken a bus back to Tangier – there is frequent service on local buses.

Fortunately (?) our host at our Air BnB had a solution for us – shared taxi. It is fairly common in Morroco for people to share taxis to get from one town to another. The taxis are old-style Mercedes Benz Sedan, which really should seat 4 passengers, but 6 seats are sold, you pay by the seat.

Basically you show up to the taxi stand, there is a man coordinating the madness – you say you need two seats, and he tosses your bags in the back of a taxi and you hop in the cab he shows you. Once the cab has 6 people in it, off you go.

We took one cab to Tetaoun, and then switched to another cab to get to Tangier. The fit was a bit tight to put it mildly. 4 of us were piled in the back of this cab, including one very traditional looking man in a hooded jelaba –  I wondered what he could possibly be thinking of these two tourists in the taxi. Two Moroccan ladies were sharing the front seat. At one point we passed some cattle/goat/sheep fields, and the smell was pretty strong. The girls in the front pulled out some perfume and were literally going to spray it around the cab. The cab driver was like, no way – spray your hand. I thought this was hilarious – presumably these two girls were from this rural area, and possibly had experienced this animal smell before.

At Tetaoun it was pretty easy to find the next taxi location. We splurged and paid for 3 seats (cost increase – approx. $1.92 each, value – priceless), so we could actually sit back in the taxi. A westerner hopped in the back with us (the fourth seat). He probably felt like he had won the lottery, since he had the added benefit of a roomy back seat, without the cost! Too bad for him a local woman showed up, and since she was presumably Muslim she refused to sit next to a man in the front. Out went the guy and in came the lady.

Total cost to get from Chefchaouen to Tangier (for 2) was 160 Dirham, including our additional seat from Tetaoun to Tangier. It was the easiest thing ever and we didn’t have to conform to a bus schedule.

The taxi dumped us out at the Gare Routiere (main bus depot) in Tangier. So now, theoretically, there is a free bus from Tangier to the Tangier Med port. Tangier Med port is a pain in the butt. It’s out of town, and I spent two days reading every forum I could find on the topic, and still could not figure out where the free bus might originate from. I suspect it might be from the old port – possibly to transport people who end up there by accident? Regardless, we would have had to take a taxi there, so no money savings to be had.

Our usual tactic to figure things like a bus station out is this – one of us stays with the bags, and the other one wanders into the melee to get the skinny.

I wandered into the throng of ticket sellers and stated, “Tangier Med”

Easy! Ticket man basically dragged me to the correct wicket to buy my ticket! Only 20 Dirham each! Not a bad value at all. We only had to wait 1.5 hours for the local bus to go. I had to pee very badly – but Jen had experienced the bathroom in the bus station on our way to Chefchaouen and basically told me to hold it – no matter how bad I had to go. Ticket man took a special interest in our welfare, and even seated us on the bus, and stowed our luggage for us. Before we took off he even returned to the bus one more time. He had a different mission this time as he held out a 2 euro coin to me – he wanted me to change the euros to dirham. No problem.

One hour later, the bus pulled over to the side of the road, and someone came to our seats, and said – Tangier Med. So off we went, the man was even kind enough to point out what direction we should start walking.

Presumably most people arrive to Tangier Med Port via their own car. The Terminal was absolutely deserted. Finally I could pee! The bathrooms were amazing – definitely worth the wait. I didn’t have to pay anything, and there was toilet paper provided – major bonus.

We traded in our gmail printout for two tickets at the Grimaldi window. And I, laughably, traded in the rest of my dirham for euros (100 dirham=9 euros)

We went through passport control, also deserted, and into the waiting area – the only two people there.

From the waiting area you take a bus to the ship (maybe this is the free bus everyone is talking about?). So the guy says, have a seat, and I will call you when the bus is ready to go. We have exactly enough time to take off our packs and sit down, when he says – time to board the bus! We ride the bus to another terminal, get off the bus, walk into the building, are excited to see a duty free shop, and another coffee shop! Too bad, because someone called out Grimaldi! Grimaldi! We follow him outside the back door of the building and board the exact some bus. WTF. The bus then literally drives us 20 meters and drops us off at the boat. Someone checks our passport, and then 5 meters closer to the boat, the same task is repeated. Twice. Job creation?

The Ferry Boat Adventure

The Ferry boat (Ikarus Palace) is actually supposed to be a cruise ship of sorts. We are on the boat for about 30 hours. The listed amenities include: Wifi, swimming pool, whirlpool, casino, discotheque (haha), shopping promenade, a cafeteria, 2 places to buy coffee, and an a la carte restaurante. I seriously had high hopes for this ship. In my mind I would be walking onto a European ship, leaving Morocco (as nice as it is) behind.

The ship is in major disrepair. In it’s heyday I am sure it was a lovely ship, but now carpet is peeling up or badly stained, windows are cracked, and the entire ship smells of something off. We check in and checkout our room – it’s a 4 person berth, not dissimilar to the train berth, but with a small bathroom. For the moment we have no roommates.

We set out to explore the ship – and quickly discover that we have not left Morocco – Morocco is on the ship! 99% of the passengers are Moroccan. 98% of them did not want to incur the extra cost for a berth. This is obviously not their first passage on the ship, we are dealing with experts. Once boarding the ship, they quickly scour the ship looking for good places to sleep. Literally nowhere is off limits. Every seating area has blankets laid out as beds. The highlight is the discotheque – which has been converted into a tent city. The whole room is modified sleeping areas and family quarters. Elsewhere on the ship (one of the bar areas, for example) families have brought small fridges or coolers with them, and these are plugged into any available socket. The shopping promenade is dismantled, having been converted into two prayer areas (male and female). I was surprised not to hear the call to prayer on the ship.

We return to our room, and are sharing it with a mother and child. They share a bunk, presumably the child was able to get on for a discount if he didn’t have his own bunk – or maybe he’s a stowaway. who knows.They have brought their own food along. They obviously didn’t get the memo that you could bring your own fridge along, and are just using the closet. Amateurs.

The pool is out of season, so no pool. I really doubt it is ever in season, because bathing suits are kind of a strong no in Moroccan culture (for women anyway – men get to have all the fun).

We wander the ship taking photos of some of the more ridiculous sleeping arrangements – literally any nook or cranny. Children run wild, circling the bar, running in and out of the tent city. A family sits on the ground, eating an entire fish that presumably came from one of the refrigerators.

Finally! The a la carte restaurant opens and even though we aren’t really hungry, it’s something to do. The restaurant is a reasonable size, maybe 40 tables. During our entire time there (about 3 hours) there are exactly three tables of patrons. The first is an Italian man, the second is us, and the third is a table of 4 French people. We share a bottle of wine, caprese salad, pasta, and a cheap dessert from a plastic cup. (Total price is 58 euros). This dinner is the highlight of the entire boat trip.

On return to our berth, the mother and child are sleeping on their shared bunk. The bunks are somewhere between suitable and uncomfortable, and hopefully the sheets are clean, but who knows. At 5 am the child wakes up and plays video games until they leave the berth at 10 am.

Dani, “Jen – are you awake?”

Jen, “What do you think?”

In the morning we head out in search of a coffee. The first place we try is falling victim to the Moroccan clump. Moroccan’s aren’t really into lineups so they just clamor to be chosen first out of a clump of people. There is a poolside bar (hilarious) that also serves coffee, and even though it is raining, there’s a bit of a sheltered section that water drips through and pools on the ground, like a shower that won’t drain. We kill an hour staring at the Sea.

We agree that even if there is a fee for the wifi – we will be happy to pay it. Reception seems a little sad to inform us that the wifi is out of service. Of course it is. Omg.

The many children (like an army of children) on the ship are running completely wild by mid afternoon. They’ve been cooped up on the ship for almost 24 hours now, having slept in the tent cities and on bar stools. They have developed several games to keep themselves busy. One gang runs around the bar in an endless loop, their flip flops slapping loudly on the tile. Another gang jumps from the top of one flight of stairs to the bottom. Endlessly.

The low point is when I see a young child (3 years old maybe?) sprinkling sugar onto a table. He then licks the table. Repeat. Repeat. Later I accidentally set my book down on this table.

We arrive at 10 PM – 2 hours late for no good reason, since we left on time.  Cruise ships are ruined for us for life.

Please peruse some images from the Ikarus Palace/ Vagrant Camp.


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