Published: July 30th 2006June 10th 2006
Heading to Africa? Really? But it’s so far away. How did you do that? Well, Morocco is actually only about a one hour ferry ride across the Mediterranean Sea, but the culture there makes you feel a million miles away from Europe: crowded markets, a Moroccan carpet store, and camels. We didn’t want to kill ourselves with traveling from Portugal to Morocco in one day, so we decided to split it up with a quick night stop in Seville, Spain - “less than 24 hours” - quick!
We had to take a bus from southern Portugal to Seville because there wasn’t a train line unless we returned back through Lisbon. The bus wasn’t the most comfortable, but we made it to Seville for the one night. Here we just wanted to make a quick stop for two reasons, some good Tapas (Spanish type of hors d’oeuvres) and to view the famous Cathedral of Seville, which is the largest Gothic edifice ever constructed. Also it supposedly houses the Sepulcro de Cristóbal Colón, or as we know him Christopher Columbus (and his tomb), but they wanted money to view that part of the Cathedral so we had to pass
After this quick stop we headed to the bottom of Spain to spend the night in Algerciras and the next morning take off for Morocco. We heard if you’re short on time the best was to do a day-trip to Morocco with a guided tour, not only because you have someone to take from place to place and to tell you about everything, but it is actually cheaper. We first learned that just a ferry from Algerciras to Tangers would cost about €60 per person for a round trip ticket. That is about US$150 for the two of us! Then we walked through the port station and found a place that had a tour where at 9am we would take a ferry to the town of Ceuta, which was still Spanish territory, and there a bus would pick us up with a guide and we would first stop south in Tetuan for lunch and a city tour, then we would head west to Tangers for a tour and make it back to Algerciras by 8:30pm…all for only €48 each (lunch included). We thought it sounded great, maybe too great, but bought our tickets for the next day.
We were also told the tour would return to Algerciras at 8:30pm, which was perfect (or so we thought) since we booked a night train to Madrid for 9:45pm the next night.
In the morning, we arrived on time and jumped on the boat and where on our way for a day of African adventure. In Ceuta, we were greeted at the port by a guy named Ahmed wearing traditional garb that resembled the clothing of a Jedi Knight, but more on that later. He lead us to our bus, introduced us to Juan our bus driver and we were off.
Our first stop was where all my African dreams came true. This wasn’t on the itinerary, but Ahmed jumped on the mic and said the first stop was a place we could take €1 camel rides! I always joked around with people and said I was going to Morocco and I would ride a camel, but I didn’t think I actually would! So we just pulled to the side of the road, there were a couple of camels, I threw the guy €2 for Heather and I, and we each got a quick 30 second spin on
the camel. It wasn’t exactly the trek across the Sahara that I have dreamed of, but still we rode a camel.
The next stop was in Tetuan at their local market and it was Sunday which is their busy day. Through a maze of narrow streets the vendors were wedged in side by side and lined both sides of the streets - selling everything from food, to clothing, to miscellaneous junk. It was a little overwhelming. This is where we saw “The Force” in action by Jedi Master Ahmed. Walking through the streets without a guide you would be hassled non-stop by locals trying to sell you stuff, but Ahmed would just raise his hand and give them a wave and they would move to the side and let us pass. Then every once in a while he would pull a local kid over to talk with him and I am sure he was training him in his Jedi ways. Ok, enough Star Wars talk.
After the tour we walked into a restaurant where we were greeted by a live Moroccan band and took our seat right in front of them. After introductions at the table we were
pleasantly surprised at how much food was offered since it was included in the already cheap price of our tour. The first course was a garbanzo bean soup followed by a gigantic terra cotta cook dish that was filled with couscous, steamed vegetables, and chicken. Then they brought around a glass of their famous mint tea, which we loved, and a small shortbread dessert. After filling our belly’s I jumped on stage with the band, threw on one of their hats and started rocking out on the cithara guitar. Then we were all herded out to our next destination.
We weren’t given a specific itinerary besides a “city tour” so we weren’t sure everywhere we were going, but our next stop seemed pretty neat at first. We walked into a room that was filled with Moroccan hand made rugs and they split the group into English and Spanish speakers. One guy told us to follow him for a panoramic view of the city and that sounded great, but we stopped in another room filled with rugs and he started to describe how each one was made, very interesting, but at the end they wanted to know which ones we
wanted to buy. Well, we don’t have room for a rug, so we tried to walk away, but then we were herded into another room full of other types of souvenirs and were made very uncomfortable for about 20 minutes. Afterwards, we laughed it off and headed to our next stop…the herbal store.
We once again we were split into two groups and watch a presentation on typical herbs and ointments of Morocco as well as teas and spices. This time there were two guys standing in front of us, and they showed us massage oil and then offered us €3 massage by one of them, but we had to pass. Now if it was a woman offering, I would have had to have said yes. They once again tried to sell us everything, but we of course said no and were on our way back to the bus to Tangers.
While we were walking the streets of Tetuan, there was this crazy looking guy that was following us everywhere taking our picture, and I thought he was just some crazy guy that likes to act as though he was taking our picture, but I was wrong. Once
on the bus the guy came through with the photos and was selling them for €2 and we didn’t by any, but there were some great shots of me looking at the guy like he was crazy. The ride to Tangers was short, real short for me (I fell asleep) and we were off for some more walking.
First stop was at a hotel that was famous for filming some scenes of Casa Blanca and also a guy named Jimmy at the gift shop that was mentioned in a Rick Steves book. Then we walked through their market where Master Ahmed let the locals try and sell us crap and we almost lost the tour group while in a store, but caught up to them down the street, thank God. Once on the bus it looked like we would be back to the ferry terminal by 7:00pm and then to Algeciras by 8:30pm…but we were wrong.
We arrived at the ferry terminal and to our surprise the ferry was leaving at 8:30pm not arriving in Spain at that time. So this meant that, depending on the water, we would be land in Algeciras by 9:20pm and give us
only 25 minutes to get from the port to the hotel then to the train stations across the town. When we bought the tickets we asked the guy about a bazillion times what time we would arrive in Algeciras and he said 8:30pm, but nothing we could do about it now! We arrived at the port at the furthest docking station from the city (convenient) and ran our asses off wearing - flip-flops no less - to the hotel and then to the train station and made it with 2 minutes to spare. Once on the train, we found our seats and realized they booked us a 2nd class car instead of a 1st class car (like what our rail passes are), but there ended up only being 3 of us in the compartmente for 8 - so not too crowded. And once our Moroccan neighbor stopped singing/chanting, we slept just fine.
We were off to Madrid where we wanted to catch a train to Barcelona in the morning, but didn’t quite work, but more on that on our next exciting blog where we tell you about our great extra day in Madrid that worked out great for us,
our encounter with thieves, and our run in with a famous person that all you girls love!
Love Ben and Heather
There are more photos below