Moroccan Blues (part two) – the Bad and the Ugly!

There was always going to be an issue around the meet-up at Tangier port with the tour group. Our arrangement was that we would meet them at the arrivals area off the ferry at midday, so we wandered down there about 11.30, trundling our bag behind us and found somewhere to wait where we were visible. I had a phone contact number just in case. We checked the buses already waiting, but none were our tour. It became obvious that we were probably waiting in vain, so I messaged the contact to let them know we were there, so we could get an idea of how far away or any ferry delay… no response! By the time we started thinking we’d been missed, we saw a coach arrive and were approached and asked if we were waiting to leave or waiting to be picked up. Phew, at last, we had found our tour… turns out they arrived an hour earlier! And expected to meet us in Tarifa… definitely something wrong with the company communication. But finally, we were able to board the bus full of Spanish-speaking South Americans and Mexicans and make a start on our journey to Fez.

Our tour guide gave a lot of information in Spanish, and about a third of it in English – but at least we got some English so were thankful for that. To start with we enjoyed the bus ride, taking in different views of the countryside, the fertile river and coastal lands but, by 2pm, were ready for a break. I think it was closer to 3 that we stopped for a lunch break in a little town. Almost all the group went into a recommended restaurant offering a full 3-course lunch, but we opted for a pizza down the road instead. We did manage some conversations with a few of our tour mates, discovering where they were from and the tours of Spain most were doing. It was a very long day for us, and even longer for those who had started their day in Malaga at 5am, and we finally reached our hotel on the outskirts of Fez after 9pm. There was a rush to get inside and get the rooms allocated in this “luxury” hotel that could have been anywhere! I was a little disappointed that our huge room had two single beds, but was just thankful we had finally arrived. We all met downstairs for dinner, a buffet of very (sub) standard food again that could have been served anywhere in the world… but being so late, we got the remains of the main dinner that started at 7.30, and most of it was a bit luke-warm.

Next morning, rise and shine and onto the bus by 8.30am for our day in the Medina – but the rain was coming down quite heavily. Sadly, we had left a lot of our winter and wet weather gear back in Spain, so we put our shorts on (not wanting to soak our only pairs of longs and endure the awfulness of sticky damp legs) with our longish rain jackets and umbrellas and braved the coolness of the day. Eyebrows were raised, but we felt comfortable to brave the weather this way. Because we were the only non-Spanish speakers, we got our own personal guide to take us through the centre of the old town. 67-year-old Rachid was quite a character and as we moved through the tight alleyways, it was obvious that he was very well-known – he told us he had grown up in these streets. It turned out that there was a prescribed route we must take, that involved visits to various artisan shops as we scurried through the labyrinth trying to avoid the worst of the rain and not bump others with our umbrellas.

We visited embroidery shops, silver and metalware, hand-woven goods, carpet looms, the tannery of course as well as a few glimpses into some of the ancient universities. The tannery, you could smell before you reached it and we got views over the softening agents and dye pots, workers still immersing themselves as well.

Because of the wet, we felt we missed out on a lot of the normal day-to-day life as many shops remained closed. We were thankful there was no push to buy, but it would have been a bit more interesting to have wandered at leisure (?) without the scurry and push of our guide.

By midday, we were done, but apparently we weren’t to meet up with the rest of the group until 1, so we asked where we could grab something authentic and cheap to eat – we were down to our last 40 dirhams (about 4 euro) so we dashed back through the rain to a kebab stall Rachid knew. We chose our skewers (one chicken, one turkey) and sat out of the rain watching them being prepared over the fire. They arrived in a bun, and were delicious!

One sour note for us – as kiwis tipping isn’t part of our culture, but we had a tip ready Rachid for his time and input. As we sat waiting for the rest of our group, we were chatting to him when he asked “am I worth anything?” obviously asking for the tip. I was just a bit taken aback by this, we were going to tip him as we said goodbye, and I thought we were just chatting when he was actually waiting for the handout. It just left a bit of a sour taste as my thought is a tip should not be asked for, but accepted with thanks, as it’s a reflection of good service on top of the fee he got from the tour company.

Meeting our group (they were quite late!) we traipsed back to the bus as the weather started to clear… to our hotel where we could have a free afternoon. Not much use as we were miles from anything interesting, other than a newly opened and half-empty shopping centre. We felt this was wasted time. The tour organiser told us they had arranged a special cultural and dinner option (for an additional 55 euro each) that night, but we decided we had already had culture and authentic food on our own, plus our hotel dinner was already included in the tour price and tonight it was eaten fresh and hot! That night… I got very little sleep… the horrors of the lukewarm dinner the night before came back to haunt me (and others in our group by the sounds coming from the adjacent room!) It was a sad and sorry bunch that boarded our bus back to Tangier the following morning. Prepared for a pretty awful trip, Chris and I headed for the back seat and I was able to spread out with my trusty pillow and get some sleep, despite feeling sore and miserable.

On our way, we drove around the walls of Meknes (but didn’t get close to the archaeological site of Volubilis I had been told about), then headed to Rabat where we stopped for a short break to see the Hassan II mosque and mausoleum – it was good to get some fresh air but neither Chris nor I felt up to much wandering around. Being a Friday, we saw many many men heading in large groups to the mosques for Friday prayers.

The coffee stop was good to use facilities there but really all I wanted was a bed. Our (mid-afternoon) lunch stop at a roadside cafe offered nothing I wanted to eat – an ice cream was the best I could manage, but probably wasn’t the best option. It was another very long day of travel and we were relieved to finally arrive back in Tangier to another western chain hotel. We felt it was disappointing that the tour didn’t offer grades of accommodation as the riads we experienced on our own were authentic, in the heart of the local action and almost as comfortable – but I guess they were catering to an overseas market so went safe. At least we managed a small bit of dinner from the much better offerings at this hotel and surprisingly slept very well before another early start in the morning. We were woken by a wake-up call obviously organised by the tour guide as we never use this service, but at least we both felt significantly more human.

We loaded onto the bus by 8.15am and headed to the port for the 9am ferry home. Of course, there was a glitch and the 9am ferry had been cancelled, the next one was at 11am so we endured more waiting around and wasted time.

Goodbye Morocco – Heading back to Spain

From Tangier, you get a clear view of Spain and the crossing was smoother than our first crossing. We were very pleased to be back in Spain again, having had some excellent and some awful times in Morocco. I’m sure we only scratched the surface of this fascinating country, but this experience did nothing to sell me on the merits of package coach tours.


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