20,000 leagues under the sky, 2004- travel blog

Africa - Europe


Christmas day, getting up early to open presents, having a huge meal, turkey and all the trimmings, drinking too much and then settling down to watch the afternoon adventure move? Not quite. Getting up early yes, to catch the first bus to the port city of Algeceras. Adventure film, who needs them when you can head off on your own adventure quest, to reach Fes by the end of the day.

As I walked along the not quite deserted morning streets of Malaga I realised that I was probably the only one on them who had been to bed, everyone else was staggering home. The trip was supposed to take less than 2 hours but the bus stopped in every town on route, probably because of the days limited services. There were few people making the journey and more than enough room for a double seat each with space to spare - so why did the snivelling, coughing, wheezing bloke have to sit directly behind me? More than that, did he really have to put his hand with the snotty tissue on the headrest of my seat, inches from my head. My evil stares and grunts of displeasure went un-noticed so I had to change my seat. Im not just a magnet for colds, Im a magnet for other people with them, Im not paranoid but people are trying to infect me. 3 hours later we arrived at the port. Before going into the terminal building I did have one bit of christmas, a telephone chat with my mummy.

I got lucky, 15 minutes to the next high speed service to Ceuta, the Spanish enclave on the African coast, only 35 ninutes away. I think Algeceras Terminal is designed as an intro to the adventures awaiting on the other side. I also think theyd imported a Russian ticket agent just for me, someone didnt get what she wanted for christmas. Ticket in hand with only minutes until departure trying to follow signs to embarkation was a quest in itself, not that it mattered as they hadnt even started boarding when I did find it.

(By the way, Im still waiting for someone to tell me where the apostrophy is on a French/Arabic keyboard)

Gibralta and Europe faded away behind me and Africa reared up ahead and within a trice I was stood on African soil albeit, still Spanish. This is where the journey started to get a bit trickier as I had failed to acquire a guidebook and didnt really know what I was doing or how I was supposed to do it. I was rather hoping, stupidly I admit, that there would be a direct bus from Ceuta to Fes (preferably taking a couple of hours in luxury). Alas not, tourist information couldnt even tell ne how to get to the border, suggesting that a taxi might get me there. I know that they were Ceuta tourist information but surely they had noticed that there is a great big continent attached to their enclave?

A Moroccan tout (trying to change my money I think) gave me the direction to the bus and for 65 cents I was dropped at Spanish customs. The first thing I noticed was that the Spanish werent interested in who was leaving, why or what they were taking. The whole of their manpower was at the other side seeing what was coming in and the queue on the Moroccan side looked immense. I ignored the guys trying to sell me immigration cards or their services to fill them in - amateurs! I had a bit of a sticky moment when the Moroccan immigration oficial questioned my manufactured "Address in Morocco", but I managed to blag it, get my stamp and head in. I was ripe for picking by the vultures waiting outside the gates, I didnt know exactly where I was, where I needed to be and how far away that was. I also had no money, no Dirhams that is, and the large patch of mud in front of me certainly contained no banks, I didnt even know the exchange rate. To cut a long story short, I negotiated half of a front seat in a shared taxi to Tetouan for 2 euros. As Tetouan was the most common destination I guessed that it was the first Moroccan town but we shot through that nameless place after a couple of minutes. Another larger town appeared and I was quite impressed with its long seafront and whitewashed buildings, I contemplated spending the rest of the day and a night there. It wasnt Tetouan either. After over an hour of increasing agony in my cramped half seat we arrived in Tetouan. My fellow half-seater tried to open the door but the handle fell off, and this is how I intend to cross a continent!

I've found it!! "'" The elusive apostrophy hiding on the 4 key.

The driver had remembered that I said I wanted to go to Fes and dropped me outside of the bus station, when I went in to see if there was a bus there was an English speaking Moroccan at the counter. I had a brief chat with him and he suggested that I should go to Chefchaouen instead but Fes was my target. He asked the ticket vendor for me (I could have done that myself) and again I was in luck, a bus at 16:30, in one hour, but I needed money. My new friend told me that I would have to walk to the medina and that it was a very long way but then seemed to remember that there were some banks further along the road we were on. I tried it and 10 minutes down the road found an ATM, but I'd forgotten the exchange rate, my guess was around 5 dirhams to the pound. I negotiated my way through an Arabic only interface and took out 500 dirhams. I got back to the bus station and there was a woman in the front of the one person queue, she was having a ferocious go at the ticket seller for what ever reason. Every time she made to leave and I thought I was going to get served she would come back with more arguements and abuse. After more than ten minutes of this I lost my patience and told her to get the **** on with it. I know she didn't understand my words but you know when you are being sworn at in any language, I thought I was going to get her next onslaught but she just looked at me and then left. Eventually I bought my ticket, 93Dh which I thought was a bit steep (I've no idea why I didn't ask the cost earlier) so I sent Kevin a text message asking the exchange rate. Thus followed my second telephone call of the day, very nice to actually speak to friends and family every now and again. Turns out the rate is nearer 16 so I had taken far too little out. Another part of this conversation involved Kev reading me some of the Lonely Planet accommodation reviews for Fes, the only name that stuck in my head was Hotel Royal. I checked my bags in, a great feature of Moroccan bus transport, and legged it back to the ATM to get a reasonable stash.

Part of my conversation with Kevin included his guess tht it would be about 2 hours from Tetouan to Fes.

After an hour we reached Chefchaouen and I'll give that guy his dues, it did look very nice up in the Rif mountains, unfortunately the bus stopped there for half an hour, the sun having set before we headed off again. This set the tone for the whole journey, that combined with the poor mountain roads meant that the hours ticked by. Just as we passes a sign for less than 100km the driver pulled over at a garage cum service area and announced a meal break. Sometime after 10pm we arrived. At this late hour I wasn't prepared to wander the streets of a new city so I decided to be prey to the touts. The first guy who spotted me getting off the bus and asked if I wanted a taxi spoke good English so I asked him if if he knew a good and cheap hotel. He asked if I wanted the old or new town, I let him decide so I set off with a stranger in an unmarked car and trusted to fate. He pulled up outside the Hotel Royal, they only had en-suite double rooms left at 8 pounds, so I was sorted. I was starving by now so I asked the nightman if anywhere would still be open, he directed me to the top of the road where one solitqry restaurant remained open. A belated christmas dinner of a huge tasty salad and grilled meat and chips was my best and probably cheapest meal since leaving Cyprus.

And thus ended a day for the records, an entire, 100% alcohol free christmas day.

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