The Maghreb

 

We paused on the cliffs above Tarrifa, overlooking the southern pillar of Hercules. There was something about about staring at Africa; the hills were stone and green and uninhabited. Ships steamed through the blustery straights. Soon we too were on one of those steamers. A dutch built ferry with a decidedly eastern European crew. Named the Maroc Express it was registered in Cyprus. Ukrainian girls served us while Estonian and Bulgarians ran the ship. A token Spaniard and a Moroccan were also on board, in order to communicate. But this dull but perhaps well maintained ferry was empty. The snackbar had seats too small to fit into and the menu was a work of fiction. There were no pizzas and no real food. A few Moroccan travellers stood on the windy aft deck watching Europe. The Maroc Express’ diesel engines fired up and started to thunder away. Black smoke came from the funnel and we started to easy away from the dock at Algeciras.

 

Protocol dictated that we submit to Moroccan immigration control on board the Cypriot vessel. We queued up in a free area of the vessel and waited. The Moroccan policeman s;poke good english and stamped our passports fairly swiftly. He was obsessed with where we were going to stay. We named the ibis hotel, but could not remember which one.

“Free zone or city centre?” He asked

“City centre”said Stanley

“Free zone” I said

The Policeman looked at us, but I simply waved Stanley off as being the village idiot before agreeing city centre. The whole conversation was spurious, we had no idea where we were going to stay, but the policeman was trying to be helpful. So we humoured him. After all writing “I don’t know” was simply not an option.

 

For all the questions, it would be 21 days before we were to arrive in Tangier.

Like all Moroccan immigration officers, they do not accept passports at face value.

“Origin?” He asked

“British Citizen- Turkish Origin” I said clearly.

“Ahhh of course” he said; as he carefully endorsed the words Turque on my form; which he threw in a carefree manner onto a pile.

 

All of these formalities caused us to miss passing close to Gibraltar; Stanley and Bradley had been drinking and felt dreadful. They therefore demanded food and we suffered Ukrainian customer service a perfectly vile microwaved so called halal sandwich.

 

As soon as we had eaten, we returned to the blustery quarterdeck. The Cypriot flag flew over the Moroccans smoking their cigarettes staring at the now distant rock of Gibraltar. In front of us to the south rose the second massive rock on the Moroccan coast We were literally steaming from one pillar to another. As we came out of Algeciras bay we entered the veritable wind tunnel that made up the straights of gibraltar.

 

The ferry turned south earlier than I thought;  and pulled into a barren valley with a series of piers and a breakwater. This was a port that I had never seen, and looked nothing like the busy melting pot that was Tangiers.

 

“Where the hell is this?”

“Tanger Med” said Stanley.

“What happened to the town?”

“This is the new port which bypasses the town”

“Looks barren”

“Trust me, if it bypasses Tangiers – then its no bad thing” Sniffed Bradbury.

 

As modern as the port was, The Moroccan customs officers took their time. Their grey uniform was quite smart, but their cut was large which meant their trousers were baggy; their jackets loose, their peaked caps massive and yet their shoes were small and pointy. They oozed an oily authority which was somewhere between French and Soviet.

 

Stanley had forgotten to bring his genuine car papers and had to beg to be allowed in. I pointed out in my school boy french that all the details were the same. After making him sweat for a while, stanley received his green chit and was allowed in.

 

We turned left out of the port, skirted round the mountains on a new road and were given fantastic last view of spain and British Gibraltar.

 

Morrocco is a poor country. There was simply no way around this fact. It has nice trains, modern clean cities, French language newspapers, tarmac roads, a car factory, an airline and some local services. But its poor. In the bazaars of Tetouan, bread changes hands for 10 US cents, men walk in their hooded robes; much as they have done for years. A few kilometres down the road, a man can stand in his robes and see Spain. A woman can till her fields using a horse and look over and see British Territory. But there is no chance for these people. They have no money for a holiday, let alone one in Europe, and even if there was, there would be no Visa given by the ungiving agents of the European states at the embassies in Casablanca.

 

We walked between the Spanish built houses, along a street that could have been Mexico or Marbella. I photographed the people sitting in their doorways, chatting and muttering to themselves. They watched the world go by, seemingly without worries.

 

“No one seems to be selling anything” Bradley remarked. He had a point, the markets were full of goods and shops and people walking through the narrow streets; and yet not much money was changing hands. We may have been a short distance from Gibraltar, and yet we were the only non Morroccans in Tetouan. Only at the last minute did we see a small group of middle aged French wandering through the bazaar.

 

Having explored the Medina to its fullest extent- our departure was delayed and we drove a short distance to the dismal mountain town of Chefchouen. Full of hashish smoking loons, it did not interest us. The only interest were the young German couple who stayed in our guest house.
“we love Morocco so much, we want to buy a guest house here”

“I think you are mad” I replied. They mistook my humour for caution and tried to explain why it was such a good idea. I nodded knowingly. I knew all that was to come in their lives, for running one hotel is the same as another.

 

Bradley has joined us for a short time, and it is time to describe him. He was a lanky man from Manchester. 48 years of age, tall and thin. Extremely clever, kind and of generous heart; he had spent the last 18 years of his life living in Peking, in the Orient. His outlook on life was open minded, and his humour would bring a smile to even the most miserable of people. In short, he was the ideal travel companion.

 

Stanley; his friend, first though of the idea of making this journey. He was a slightly shorter, but by no means short, slightly rounder, but no means fat, gentleman. Lacking the eclectic adventurous spark of Bradley; Stanley made up for this with his common sense and good humour. This being his first journey in a landrover, we nicknamed him the apprentice. It is to his credit that he took the ribbing on the chin and carried on being a sensible contributor to the team.

 

The Land Rovers grumbled over the bad roads, and we took a wrong turning. What on earth should we do? We had the IGN map which was utter rubbish and the two Englishmen had the better map. We asked someone – who sent us in right direction.

 

Our journey then took us south to the Sahara Desert, which we entered near Rissani. We simply drove across the black earth and then slept in the desert. Over the next three days  we worked our way accross to Taouz, Zagora, Mhamid, and Foum Zigid. But that is another story.

 

 

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