Very excitedly, we drive to the port in Algeciras. Many people’s blog posts speak of the confusing nature of boarding the boat, as well as disembarking and entering the country. However, we find it all pretty straight forward. The port of Algeciras is very big, but the nice ticket vendor at Carlos’s shop had given us photos of what we need to find and strict instructions not to show the ticket to anyone else, so we studiously ignore the group of official looking people in high-viz jackets near the entrance of the port, who try to wave us aside, and drive directly to the check-in. We are expertly navigated into the belly of the boat, tucked in between huge lorries.
I recommend taking this trip one day, especially if you like going on ferries (Ines!)! The Spanish coast looks exciting from the sea – the impressive rock of Gibraltar right in front of you and mountains in the background. At the same time, you clearly see the Moroccan coast with even higher mountains. It seems so close! The straights of Gibraltar are of course also the entrance to the Mediterranean, so there is a huge amount of traffic on the water, large freight ships everywhere, but also smaller vessels and even yachts and little fishing boats. We counted near on 40 vessels out on the sea as we left the harbour
Someone had advised us to stay overnight in Tangier Med harbour instead of driving off into the dark on your first day in Morocco. This was good advice, especially as it made us quite relaxed about getting through customs, which is a bit of a bureaucratic faff as they need to (temporarily) import every single vehicle! The officials walk off with your papers and passports and you are asked to just wait by your vehicle. Some people plainly don’t just wait but follow the officials around. We tried that too but were sharply put in our place. At some point everything stops and it is food time for the authorities. After half and hour, business resumes. I think all in all, we wait maybe 90 minutes, but we are not lacking entertainment. Someone is led off in handcuffs, looking extremely worried, and further away someone is reassembling his car, after customs have searched the contents. This is a puzzle of heroic dimensions. By the time he is finished, the car is ram-packed and a tarp is spanning a rooftop bulge about the same height as the car itself. Another customs officer comes round to us, asking to search our vehicle, but he only pokes his head in, asks us if we carry any guns and admires our wood burner, never having seen anything like it in a camper-van.
Eventually, we have our passports and papers returned and are set free with many friendly smiles, best wishes and our first ‘Welcome to Morocco’.
We go to buy car insurance at one of the booths. The guy is trying to convince us that he is giving us a good deal on our Pounds Sterling, but we know better and postpone the insurance until we have exchanged money at the bank booth. Back to the insurance man, he still gives us a friendly smile, not a hint of feeling like he’s been found out trying to cheat us, and I find myself surprisingly calm and forgiving with him too, more like it’s a game we all play and this time round we’re the winners. He gives us the insurance papers (god knows what they are really worth beyond satisfying the legal requirements) and gives us another ‘Welcome to Morocco’.
As we travel through Morocco, even hundreds of kilometres away from the port, we keep hearing this phrase and every time it feels genuine, from the heart. It may be a passing stranger who catches our eyes from across the road – a friendly smile, a wave and a ‘Welcome to Morocco’ is sure to follow. This is surprising and very heartwarming! In contrast, I think of the Moroccans who arrive in Europe, people like Yusuf who we met the day before. How often, if ever, will he get this reception? And if it is a cultural gesture, how much will he miss it every time it is not extended? What have we lost in our busy, modernised, developed world, and what can we learn from others?
We settle in for the night, just outside the bank and the insurance office. A chilly wind blows, so we light a fire. Within minutes, we have a knock on the door. It’s the guy from the bank. Your van is smoking, are you ok? Is everything alright? We show him the oven and he laughs: your house is warmer than mine!
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