Spain Part 3 - Tangier
Trip Start Apr 11, 2006
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After the trip to Gibraltar we were tired – dead tired. The pool and the beach beckoned and a leisurely rest was badly needed so we 'pulled up stumps and called an end to the days play', you non native speakers will have fun working that one out. In some respects criticism of the South of Spain and its efforts to give the English a ‘home away from home’, are well founded, but as a place to simply chill and relax it certainly has merit.
The feet though soon get itchy and the desire to experience something new soon takes over, three days later we were off again. A ferry left Tarifa at 9.00am, we were told the drive from Fuengirola to Tarifa would take about 90 minutes, considering I was slower than the average ‘speedy Gonzalez Spaniard’ I figured that if we were on the highway before 7am we should make it to the ferry terminal with time to spare – in theory. At 6.50am I was zooming at the speed limit down the highway, everything is going to plan for the only time that coming day.
The traffic on the roads was okay and we took the Toll road to try and reduce time. When we went into the Cadiz Province the highway kinda disappeared and we were left to navigate our way through some very small coastal towns and with these towns came the ‘minute eating’ peril of traffic lights. The 9am ferry was beginning to look like a minor miracle would be needed for us to make it. In each village we passed there is the inevitable Saint next to the road, we started to pray to ‘San Pedro’, ‘San Ricardo’, San Miguel (not the beer type - though it wouldn’t hurt would it)’, San Sebastian, …………. that a miracle may be granted to us and we would make the ferry. You may be thinking that missing the ferry is not such a bad thing, as you could always catch the next one – the next one left at 11.00am!!
The road degenerated into a windy single lane ‘goat track’ as we descended into the port of Tarifa. We were also confronted by a wall of coastal fog – just what I needed, now I cannot even see where I’m going let alone know where I ‘m going. The headland above the port was not only shrouded in fog it was also populated with those ‘energy making environmentally sound white windmills’. Driving as fast as ‘I’ could through the fog, the windmills, on a goat track, and with the tension of fast evaporating time deadlines, created a unique tension which added to my ever spreading crop of grey hair. Unfortunately photographs could not capture the eeriness of this situation.
We arrived at 8.50am, it took 5 minutes to get through town (that is how small town was) to the terminal and then we had to park. Parking around the terminal was two hour meter parking with the threat of clamping for offenders. As the hour struck 9.00am Di asked a security guard at the terminal where we could park, he pointed down the road and the made the action of a snake. I drove down the road, turned right, then left, then right again and there was a free all day parking lot. The time was 9.03am, but the ferry was still there, ‘come on San Antonio, help us’. The three of us raced through the streets back to the terminal. We ran through the entrance to the ‘car loading area’, the ferry carries cars, and ran towards the ticket office. It was now 9.11am and the ferry was still there. We entered the ticket office and there was a mass of people mulling around, though the ticket office was free of people. We ran up to the counter, ‘can we have two adult and one child tickets for Morocco?’ I had to ask, ‘what time does the 9am ferry leave?’ The man looked at me and smiled and said ‘9.00am’. He then looked at his watch which stated 9.15am – he shrugged his shoulders and smiled and said ‘about 9.00am’. I said ‘where are all these people going?’ He said ‘they are catching the 9am ferry with you’ and smiled. Spain I love it. We were on the ferry just after 9.20am and it sailed just after 9.30am. Perhaps a Saint was listening – we got our miracle. We were off to the African continent even if it was just for the day.
The ferry was jam-packed. The trip though would only take twenty five minutes the brochure said – 40 minutes later we were pulling into Tanger harbour in Morocco. Immigration was done on the ferry and you had to look for a tiny window and hand your passport to a bored looking man who stamped away. We were in no hurry to get off the ferry and the queue of people blocking the exit made it clear that leaving the ferry was going to be a slow old process. Once we were off the ferry, there was a large mass of people trying to get through the Moroccans ‘Immigration’, two men in plain clothes were blocking the exit, I assume they were officials of some sort though there was nothing to indicate any authority. People from the ferry had to show them their stamped passport. If the passport was stamped they allowed you to pass, if it was not stamped they waved you away without explanation. People were continually being turned back and this just contributed to the confusion and the congestion.
Eventually we squeezed through to near the front of the line and two people in front of us showed their passports and the man waved them back towards the ferry and looked away. The confusion on their faces was obvious, they did not have a clue what was meant by his actions. I quickly explained to them, and they replied ‘no one told us that’ and returned to the ferry. To be fair there was ONE announcement in several languages that passports needed to be stamped on the ferry, but I can understand it being missed as so many people had not got their passports stamped. The plain clothed man looked at our stamped passport and waved us through.
Once past the ‘Immigration’ life was not easier and we were soon to discover that chaos is a normal part of Moroccan life. The cars were coming off the ferry straight into the disembarking passengers, horns were blaring, people were ducking and weaving, busses were queued up looking to take passengers to other locations and these busses were just another obstacle for all to maneuver around, then there were the touts looking to act as tourist guides or to take you here or there, then the taxis were lined up and solicited their ability to take you cheaply anywhere. Chaos!! Spain is so laid back and things happen gradually, Morocco had lots and lots of urgent movement but nothing happened, just chaos.
Di was way laid with an older Moroccan gentleman who was explaining to her that for a small fee he would be able to show her the sights of the city and that he knew every place to go. For a small fee he would be our guide for the day and he was the best that a small fee could buy. Di pointed to me and said ‘ask him’, he took one look at my ‘if looks could kill look’ and returned to explaining to Diane that he was the best guide and would take us to the best places for a small fee. Diane looked at me with pleading eyes and said ‘shall we go with him? We have never done this before’. I said ‘how much?’ He said a small fee of 30 Euros (about $A56). Di said ’20 Euros’, he said ‘no bargaining I am the best and will take you all the places you want to go, 30 Euros is the small fee’. Di nodded towards me I said ‘okay’. ‘Follow me’, he said and we were off through the maze of people.
Moroccans seeing any westerners walking along would come up to us and start to say words like ‘taxi?’ or something similar, our guide would wave his hand and they would move away without a word. When our guide spoke people seemed to jump, I lagged back a bit and was approached by a man, I heard a sharp harsh word spoken in Arabic by our guide and the man took off very quickly. Our guide took us to a taxi and said that the taxi would take us to the start of our tour and then we would walk. ‘Don’t worry I will pay for the taxi’, for 30 Euros you had better! Once in the taxi the guide never shut up for a moment and was like an encyclopedia reeling off one insignificant fact after another; the beach is 6 klms long, that is McDonalds, that is the exit to the port, they are trucks, that is a tree, on and on…. He would look at me and say, ‘please smile and be happy’, and then would go straight into more information about everything and anything; there was not a subject that he was not an expert on. He asked us where we were from, we replied ‘Australia’. Our guide then started to tell us about Kangaroos – you see he knows all about them because he watched a documentary on television about them. The first stop was to see a group of camels lying under a tree in the distance. The camels were locked in a paddock type place and looked thoroughly bored. He seemed disappointed that we had seen camels previously and were not excited and taking a lot of photos. ‘Smile, be happy’, he said to me, maybe I have been ripped off to many times on this trip and I am becoming cynical in my old age. Isn’t travel supposed to open your mind, not close it?
Morocco is 2 hours behind Spain, this meant we arrived in the ‘old town’ at about 9am, the ‘old town is where the Kasbah is. Kasbah literally means fort. We got out of the taxi and wandered around the Kasbah. This part of town was very good, though with it being so early there was hardly anyone around. The streets are very VERY narrow and it all feels like a take from a Beau Geste remake movie. Our guide was a wealth of trivia and I actually found I was paying attention to what he was going on about.
Our guide actually had an Identification card dangling around his neck; he had flashed this card when we met him. I was standing close to him and looked at the ID card, it looked nothing like him! I asked him about this, he said ‘I was a lot younger then’. "Yes a lot younger’, it looked nothing like him. So far so good with our guide.
I must admit we would have been lost wandering around these streets on our own. In one day we would have definitely not found our way to where he took us. Our guide promised us a snake charmer with a Cobra snake. What we got was a snake carrier with an ordinary old snake and it cost us a Euro for Jess to have his photo with the snake. We slowly made our way through the narrow streets of the ‘Old town’ and entered the market place. This was rather quiet at this time of the morning and was more at the preparation stage rather than the actual selling stage.
Eventually we found we were being directed into rather expensive looking shops selling carpets, jewelry, spices, etc. the owners would greet us and take us for a tour of their shop and finish with a presentation of their finest wares. This is where our trusted guide was obviously getting a kick back and making a bit on the side. We told our guide that we did not want to see any more shops like that and he insisted he had many good shops for us to see. If we stopped and looked in a certain shop he would hurry us a long telling us it was better elsewhere – it was all getting a bit boring. We decided it was time to leave the guide and go it alone. The problem was that we had technically agreed to his services for another couple of hours. I did not think the words pro-rata meant much to him and decided to pay him in full, cut my losses and get rid of him. At first he was reluctant to go until he realised I was going to pay all the 30 Euros, and then he took the money and ran, so to speak.
Our tour did give us a good bearing of the city now and we were confident of finding our way around on our own. We settled into a coffee shop and I had very VERY strong coffee with loads of sugar in it with carnation type milk – so sweet yet so strong. Jess and Di had tea with carnation milk and it looked as milky as the bodies we saw at Bournemouth beach in England. We also got the waiter to cut up the fruit we bought at the market and had a lovely platter of grapes and peaches.
Di and Jess went to the beach and I wandered around on my own for an hour or so. I bought a few different types of Nam bread for lunch. I returned to the others and they were lying on the beach, most of the people around them were fully clothed and not much was happening. The wind was blowing so we decided to eat the bread in another coffee shop. The beach was very wide and took ten minutes to walk from the waters edge to the promenade. We ate the bread with more coffee and tea. Whilst sitting there we could see the 1pm ferry at the terminal, Di said she had seen enough and wanted to go. This meant a rather fast walk back to the ferry terminal to catch the 1pm ferry, it was going to be close again and we would have to hurry.
The roads into the terminal were crammed with cars, trucks and busses it all seemed just like one big traffic jam. Horns were blaring and confusion was the order of the day. We arrived at the terminal and to say I was shocked is a complete understatement, the queues of people for Immigration were forty and fifty people deep.
I went to the other side of the passport control counter and waited. You could walk past the Immigration counter as some people had gotten their passports stamped when they arrived, this made leaving easier – why did we not think of that! I watched with great amusement as individuals tried every trick to push in or to have their passports stamped first, never saw a ‘Tip’ but I am sure that was rampant. Everyone was Arabic and arguments were breaking out everywhere as the scramble for positions in line never subsided. I was surprised no one challenged Diane’s disgraceful queue jumping – but I guess to the Arabs we all look alike.
We wandered off again. We went over and watched as they continued to pile more and more cars into the 1pm ferry. We then saw a group of four people running towards the ferry from the embarkation lounge, these people ran straight on board the 1pm ferry. That was it, Di was off running again, me, with my little legs, was struggling along behind her. Di was the first at the embarkation lounge; ‘the man’ was arguing with another group of people and was refusing to let them through. Di did not break stride and flew past him, he never saw her. Jesse was hot on her tail and also slipped past unnoticed. I slowed to a fast walking pace, partly because I was stuffed, and just kept walking………, I was through, unnoticed. I then heard Diane yell, ‘David will you run!!’ The two of them had not slowed their pace and were a mile in front of me. Off I took down the corridor after them. As I was running I kept waiting for the bullet in the back and thought it would be a just ending – ‘Taunton Travels – shot in Morocco.’ The shot never came and I kept the little legs pumping.
We reached the entrance to the ferry at the same time as three French people. We all came to a shuddering halt as another man was standing there. He said ‘the ferry is full you have to wait for the 3pm one’. The French people started to complain passionately and the Moroccan just shook his head. The French continued to complain animatedly without any success. The French know how to complain, if they could not persuade him how the hell were we going to? We would have to wait. We watched with great amusement as the last few cars were driven on the ferry, this was despite a few minor accidents between cars and the inevitable barrage of abuse and arm waving that follows, all the cars made it on board – we did not get on board.
We were out in the open and it was stinking hot. Jess kept our place in line and Di and I went to sit in the shade. The 1pm ferry eventually sailed at 2.35pm. The line for the next ferry was growing as more and more people started to come through. Di and I decided to join Jesse in the queue. I started to stand up and I felt my pants sticking to the pavement – I had sat in Bloody Chewing gum!!! After freeing myself from the gum, I spent the next 20 minutes picking the gum off my butt!!
A few minutes to 3pm and we could see the ferry coming into the harbour. When I say the 3pm ferry I mean it is suppose to depart at 3pm, not arrive, it still needed to be unloaded and then loaded up again. As we watched the ferry it seemed to be coming into our wharf at a very strange angle, in fact the more we watched the more it seemed to be going elsewhere. Suddenly the orderly queue broke up and people started running towards Wharf Two, the ferry was not coming into Wharf Three. Once again Di was off like a shot. The cry went up “RUN DI RUN", and Di ran.
When I finally got to Wharf Two, Di was three quarters of the way down a long queue; all she could do was shake her head. The Arabs from the other queue were arriving now and they are such sneaks, they push in and are continually trying to get past the person in front, if you turn away for a second they are in front of you. At 3.30pm we had our passports and tickets checked again – I was relieved that I was not on some wanted list for sneaking in through the embarkation lounge. Funny isn’t it I just had a go at the Arabs for doing what we did earlier – ‘sneaking in’.
The ferry left at 4.25pm. As we neared the Spanish coast Di said that she did not want to get stuck behind the long line of cars leaving the port as the road was such a bad one. I was ordered to make my exit from the ferry a fast one. We went down stairs to the disembarkation point early and waited. Disembarking was in the area were the cars leave the ferry. There is a rather large drawbridge type of door. It lowers and the passengers and cars all leave together.
The adrenalin was mounting, you could feel the tension in the air, any second now and it will be ‘go Go GO!!!! A Formula One race? A scene from ‘Saving Private Ryan? A Thai nightclub? No, it was the lowering of the drawbridge on the ferry from Morocco. Amazingly, before the drawbridge was down, people were hurdling over it and they were off running. Not ‘a-bloody-gain’ my little legs were screaming!! It was madness, people were running for a small door with Immigration on it, we had over 200 metres to cover and the pace never slowed a beat. Di and Jess surged to the front; I was trying my best to keep up, honestly!! I saw people dropping things and other people hurdling over what had been dropped, hats were falling off and collisions occurred as the owners went to retrieve them……. It was madness, utter madness, but it was delirious fun. Di and Jess had to pause a few seconds to wait for you know who, but we were very close to the front of the queue as two Spanish Immigration officers casually stamped passports. Within a few minutes the two lines behind us were out the door and halfway back to the ferry – Well Done Di!!!
Believe it or not but my running was not over for the day. Once through Immigration Di said ‘Give me the bag and you run and get the car’ – yeah right!!! Then I saw the queue of cars coming off the ferry and with great reluctance the little old boys started doing their thing and I was off running once more. I got the car and was driving back to Di and Jess as they walked towards me. Jess had one shoe on and one shoe off. He had stepped into an open sewer and his shoe and sock were putrid – they stank to high heaven. ‘Don’t worry throw them in the boot lets go’ – hopefully the smell will be gone by the time Tom gets the car back. For the first time in Spain I put my foot down and off we shot.
Tom’s car does not like the hills and struggles a bit. We soon had a fleet of fast moving cars behind us. In Spain it was just past 7.00pm, home in bed before 9pm, it all sounded so good. Things went well for about 45 minutes then we came across a huge traffic jam. Accident? Slowly and painfully we crept forward. After about an hour we came across some very heavily armed police and a car stopped at a funny angle in lane 1. Terrorists?? Drug Smugglers?? Shortly afterwards we came across a second group of police who were harmed to the teeth. These guys were conducting a road block and checking each vehicle as it went past, several vehicles were being searched – we were waved through.
Tom would later tell us that the week we went to Morocco is the busiest week of the year – he tells us this after we go!! Good on ya Tom. A lot of Moroccans work in Europe. They go back to Morocco for there summer holidays and return to Europe during this week and then drive to the country they work in. The police do checks and road blocks looking for Terrorists and drug smugglers – hence the roadblock on the only road in and out.
After we cleared the roadblock it was very dark, I was tired (mainly from all the bloody running I had done) and we had an hour to go. I must say I was very happy to see the First Choice Resort at Fuengirola when we arrived there. In fact when I walked into the Resort at 10.20pm I felt a sense of safety when I saw the smile and the purple shirt of my trusted First Choice representative – I was home. I could have given the purple shirted smiling one a big kiss, thankfully I did not!
My poor little legs could finally take a rest. A couple of beers later and I was fast asleep.
Cop jai my friends