Category Archives: Morocco

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.

Transport in Morocco

We have travelled by nearly every means in Morocco so I wanted to jot down a few points to remember:
1)Train – we travelled this way from the airport to Casablanca and again from Casablanca to Rabat and Meknes. Nothing unusual, no assigned seats is a bit of a bummer while lugging your bags. No assigned seats only occurs on second class trains. Slow moving trains. We also travelled by overnight train(first class). This was very easy and considering the 10 hour ride a couchette was needed and worth the additional cost.
2) Private minibus – we travelled with a driver in a 16 seat minibus for a few days, this was amazing. The cost was cheap…about $45 Canadian a day
3) First class bus – assigned seating, air conditioning and filled with tourists. Still very cheap.
4) Second class buses (chicken buses) – this was a crazy experience. We travelled this way a lot in the final days in Morocco. Extremely cheap with all locals. The buses themselves are in a bit of disrepair and no air conditioning or windows that open. There are curtains to block the sun.

A few interesting things that occurred on these buses include…. Bus stopping at a garage while we were on it, we were required to walk the rest of the way since the bus wasn’t going to make it to the bus station. A bus stops to pick up new passengers, we are asked to remove our bags from the luggage carriage underneath to make room for the 8 goats that were going to occupy that space.
5) Petite taxi – each city in Morocco has its owned colored taxis. These can hold up to 4 people as they are small little Plymouth Horizon type cars. Occasionally, the driver will pick up additional passengers on the way and each person has their own metered fare.
6) Grand taxi – these are old Mercedes where you buy a spot. There are six spots in a car for sale – 4 in the back and 2 in the front and the car does not leave until it is full (or all spots are purchased). We travelled this way from Chefchaouen to Tetouen. It was $5 each for Dani and I for the two hour ride to the town border but squished in the back with two other people. A bit uncomfortable. We also had to travel this way from Tetouen to Tangier but splurged and bought 3 spaces in the back seat so we only had to share it with one other person. The other riders arguing about who would get to sit with us since it would be a more enjoyable ride for them as well.
7) Boat – we travelled by boat (apparently a cruise ship) from Tangier to Barcelona. With our change in plans, it was seemingly easier to do this rather than fast ferry and train in Spain. I will leave this experience for Dani to describe in another post.

Chefchaouen

Our last stop in Morocco before heading to Spain.

Chefchaouen is the “blue pearl” of Morocco, nicknamed as such for the bright blue of the medina walls.

After our overnight train, we arrived in Tangier Ville. From here, we popped into a petite taxi and overpaid to get to the bus station.

The bus station was filled with men shouting names of cities in Morocco indicating where the bus was going. It was a bit overwhelming at 7am.

Dani managed to find us the bus to Chefchaouen departing at 8 am. We wait patiently for 30 minutes.

This was a local bus…very different from our Supr@tours experience previous. The ride was totally fine and the countryside as we approached the Rif mountains was stunning.

We arrived in Chefchaouen early for our accommodations so wandered around until we found a place to have nos nos.

Our accommodations were in the medina. Not terribly difficult to find thankfully…although the description of ‘the blue door’ wasn’t helpful (see photos)

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It has been wonderful staying in the medina. Seeing the locals sweep the piece of cement, lay down their tarp, place their wares for sale and then pack them up at the end of the evening. It has been a different experience seeing how it happens everyday. How everyone has their own little spot.

We had breakfast at the same place eat morning. Arriving at 9, as the shopkeeper opened. Then he would rush to the bakery to get bread to serve us, and then rush to the confectionary to get jams. We wait patiently for 30 minutes to get our ‘usual’ toast (tomatoes and olive oil), coffee and fresh orange juice (unless the electricity is out..then two coffees)

I had the great pleasure of completing two amazing hikes, one each morning. I was in heaven.

It has been lovely spending a few days in this small town and enjoying the slow pace. The perfect way to say good bye to Morocco.

The Hamam

For obvious reasons there are not many photos associated with this post.

In Essaouira we decided we should take part in the local tradition of Hamam. This wasn’t truly the local experience – it was a bit touristized, and we were made to feel pretty comfortable. The truly local experience would have cost 10 Dirham (about $1.25), and we paid 80 Dirham each! A few of the girls in our group had 2 hour long massages, with argan oil, and from their description they were basically laying face down in a pool of argan oil for two hours. But their skin did look amazing afterward.

Continue reading The Hamam

Marrakesh Express

We finished our group tour a few days ago and really wanted to explore a bit more of Morocco on our own.

Our original plan was always to travel to Chefchaouen and then onwards to Spain by ferry. We went to the train station to go purchase our tickets. The Marrakesh Express goes from Tangier to Marrakesh in 10 hours (not really ‘express’ but it does cover most of the country) we decided to do this in reverse.

This is when we had some second thoughts…oh 10 hours on an overnight train, are we sick of medinas, really how many tagines could I really eat (or need to eat), maybe Portugal instead. After about 45 minutes sitting in the train station drinking a nos nos (Moroccan coffee with milk) we purchased our couchettes for a train departing in 2 days.

I felt mildly nervous about this for no specific reason other than I get nervous about a lot of things. I am writing this post from the train and once again learning the lesson… don’t worry, be happy.

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Our sleeping berth contains 4 beds. Each comes with two sets of sheets and a pillow. We have also received bottled water. Dani was kind enough to give me the bottom bunk. Dani also loves the thought of how much money this is saving us…transport AND accommodations for the extremely reasonable price of $43 CDN each.

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Now, my biggest worry is that my feet smell badly. Thank gawd I have a small piece of solid amber perfume to attempt to mask that.

Nighty night. Next post from Chefchaouen.