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Week 9 in Morocco

by Alan Gow |  March 2019  |  Morocco, Africable of Contents

MAP

Just a short drive to Asilah and then up to Tangier Med for our departure, eventually.  The roads in this part are great but don’t offer the typically stunning scenery seen further south.

We are stranded and waiting for the gales to die out so we can cross back to Spain. We then endure the painful Moroccan exit procedures

 

After a short drive to Asilah, bad weather keeps us stuck in Morocco for a few extra days before returning to Spain via Tangier Med Port.  We use some of the time to explore the delightful Asilah medina.

 

Day 57; Asilah, Monday 25 March 2019

With our LPG gas tanks nearly empty, we drive north to be close to the Tangier Med Ferry Terminal.  From now on we will have to be hooked up to mains power or we will soon run out of gas.  If that happens we can’t cook, or have a shower and our fridge won’t work.

Our friends recommended the seaside town of Moulay Bousselham as a good spot to spend a few days before finally leaving Morocco.  After checking the reviews of various camping grounds we choose the one with the least bad reviews and head straight there.  On driving into Flamingo’s Camping, it just doesn’t feel nice.  Everything is overgrown and looks unloved.  There is nothing here that looks inviting.  We park, have a cup of tea then decide that if they want our valuable business, they need to up their game and at least make the place look half presentable. 

 

Asilah Medina

The quaint Atlantic seaside town of Asilah is only another 30 minutes up the road and 30 minutes closer to the ferry so we point Betsy in that direction and keep going.

Often being the first stop for motorhomers arriving in Morocco, Asilah is a great introduction to the culture and the people.  We missed this when we chose to drive first down the Mediterranean side because the weather forecast there was better.  Asilah however, would be a much nicer option (in my humble opinion).

Camping Echrigui  (GPS 35.47243, -6.02825) is close to the beach on the north side of Asilah and costs 80 dirhams a night including electricity.  Soon after we arrive, so do our friends Tommy and Zoe, who crossed from Spain to Morocco with us eight weeks ago.

The Asilah medina (old walled part of the town), is right on the port and some stone sculptures have recently been installed outside the walls.  The shiny, new modern sculptures look a little incongruous against the ancient stone walls but are nice pieces.

Asilah Medina Walls and Modern Stone Sculptures

Looking through the sculpture

Day 58; Asilah Medina, Tuesday 26 March 2019

We cycle into town to explore the Asilah medina and stop beside a set of vividly painted tiles fixed to the wall.  Each tile is a different representation of the Hand of Fatima, which is an ancient symbol believed to provide protection against the ‘evil eye’.  The concept of the evil eye is that it is a curse cast on you by someone giving you a malevolent look, usually when you are not aware of it.  I wonder how many malevolent looks we have picked up in the last nine weeks in Morocco.  It’s a little scary to think about it.

The ‘Hand of Fatima” is a common theme in Morocco – here on painted ceramic tiles

Caught Out by a False Guide

While we are examining the tiles, a man walks past and explains that these were made by a local artist in a nearby shop.  He motions for us to follow him.  As we have nothing better to do, we follow him around the Asilah medina while he explains about the different architecture and how to differentiate between the different types of buildings and doors.

After a little while we realise that we have managed to pick up a ‘false guide’.  These people are unregistered illegal guides.  They try to charge for providing tours after giving unsuspecting foreigners some historical information about their surroundings.  We had experienced this approach before however then we plainly told the person that we were not interested in a guide. 

This time, we had been caught out and it took a while before we twigged to what he had done.  As we neared the medina exit, the man asked for money saying that he had given us a ‘Asilah medina tour’.  We told him that we hadn’t asked for a medina tour and that he had just been walking with us and talking.  On this occasion, he went away empty-handed however we have heard of instances where tourists have been pressured into paying significant sums for something they didn’t know they were having.

TIP: If someone comes up to you and starts telling you about what you are looking at, they are likely to have an ulterior motive, usually involving getting money from you.  If you don’t want a guide, (or to be taken to their uncle’s carpet shop), then tell them this very clearly. Stop and wait for them to move on. 

However, if you do want this person to be a guide for you, then agree the price up front.  Do not wait until the end otherwise you leave yourself open to excessive charges and extortion.  If you are concerned then just say you will call the tourist police of whom illegal operators are very scared.

Having said that though, the Asilah medina is very interesting, containing some unique buildings and great street art.

Wall Mural in the Medina

‘Hands of Fatima’ Street Art

Traditionally painted Asilah Medina house

One of the many interesting alleys

Stranded in Asilah

Days 59 – 60, 27th – 28th March

The wind has been blowing a gale and we find out that nearly all the ferry sailing are cancelled and the ferry terminal is in chaos. It is overrun with hundreds of motorhomes (as well as cars, motorbikes and others) trying to leave Morocco.

We decide to wait out the storm and spend another two nights here until the ferries are sailing regularly again.  Asilah is a nice place to be and we really enjoy the last opportunities to experience the totally unique feelings, sights and tastes that are so different to what we know awaits us back in Spain.

Most businesses are closed on Fridays, so this makes Thursday an important shopping day for the locals.  We venture out on our bikes into narrow streets.  They are crammed with people selling everything imaginable plus a few things I could never have conceived of.  Making progress on the bikes is impossible.  We buy some pumpkin from an old lady and lock our bikes to the post beside her, reckoning that she will keep an eye on them.  Next it’s time to stock up on fresh chicken, spiced turkey mince, fruit and vegetables before reluctantly leaving.

Buying pumpkin, Asilah Street Vendor

The Coast is Clear to Leave

Day 61, 29th March

The ferries are running regularly and it’s time to leave.

I decide to save some money and see a little more scenery by taking the non-toll road for part of the way up the coast.  Bad move!  We don’t know whether it was a setup but as we are leaving Asilah on a straight road with an 80km/hr speed limit, an old car pulls out of a service station right in front of me and sits at 40 km/hr. 

Without thinking properly and with a clear road ahead, I pull out and pass him while failing to notice the two men at the side of the road a few hundred metres up the road.  Whoops, they are police and I have just crossed a solid white line. Twenty minutes and 400 dirhams later, we resume our journey.  Lesson learned.  My bad.  Nine weeks ticket free then on the last day I am pinged. 

TIP: There are a lot of speed traps in Morocco, particularly in the more touristy areas. Many motorhomers receive speeding tickets so beware.  They are also very hot on policing solid white no-passing lines.  Coincidentally, another person we met copped a ticket when he pulled out to pass a rickshaw in similar circumstances.  Maybe there is some sort of setup scenario where someone deliberately pulls out and travels slowly to entice vehicles to pass illegally? Or maybe I am just annoyed at getting a ticket myself?

We arrive at the Tangier Med ferry terminal about 11.00am hoping to catch the 1.00pm ferry however we were not prepared for the chaos that is the exit process.  Those readers who intend to visit Morocco in a motorhome may want to take note of this so they can prepare themselves emotionally for the trauma. There were still some ferries being cancelled or delayed and this may have contributed to what we experienced.

 

Exiting the Country – Morocco Style

Queue 1 – Boarding Passes

With a return ticket already in your possession the first thing needed is simply a boarding pass.  Upon arriving into the terminal, it is likely that someone will wave you over and ask for your ticket and passport.  They just want to get your boarding pass for you then try to charge you money.  Therefore, Don’t give your passport to anyone.  Just park, walk over to the booth displaying the name of your ferry company, and give them your documentation.  They will give you boarding passes for the passengers and your motorhome.  This is the first of many queues ahead.

Be aware when you are driving in the extensive terminal area that there are speed limits and usually police officers with radar guns.  So stick to the speed limits.

Queue 2 – Passport Control

Queue 2 is for passport control and once you make it to the booth, hand over your passports, which must still contain the slip of paper that was stapled inside when you entered.

Queue 3 – Vehicle Documents

On entering Morocco, you were given a temporary vehicle import document, which needs to be presented and verified when you exit the country. Processing this is the next step and we inch forward in Queue  3 until it is finally our turn.  The document is taken away, stamped and returned to us, and we are free to move onto the next step.  A lot of the local vans seemed to be searched here before passing this bottleneck.

Queue 4 – X – Ray

All vehicles leaving Morocco are X-Rayed (looking for stowaways, drugs and weapons we think) and Queue 4 for this step is long and slow moving.  Motorhomes are shuffled into the far-right lane and drip fed into place along with the cars.  About 20 vehicles at a time are lined up on a ramp beside the mobile unit.  We leave our motorhome and after about 10 minutes the X Ray truck trundles along scanning each vehicle.  Another 15 minutes later and we are allowed to hop back into Betsy and leave.  It’s no wonder that Queue four is so long when there appears to be absolutely no urgency in processing vehicles through.  I am sure they could have easily put through four batches in the same time if they had just tried a little harder.

Betsy waiting to be X-Rayed at Tangier Med Port 

Finally, the formalities seem to be concluded nearly two hours after we arrived at the port.  We find our way to the dockside parking area associated with our ferry company.  It’s a good idea at this time to make a cup of tea and some food.  Maybe even watch a movie because the printed time on our boarding pass is merely there because they wanted to use up some ink and there was a blank space on the paper.  It bears no resemblance to any actual departure time.  The Tangier Med website suggests that all our ferry line sailings are cancelled until 3.00am.  We settle in for a long wait, glad to be in a motorhome where we can eat, watch movies or even have sleep.

Lo and behold, a Balerius line ferry turns up about 5pm (remember we’ve been here since 11am) and starts offloading cars and trucks.  Maybe we will get lucky?  We should have bought a lottery ticket because it appears that we will be actually leaving on this ferry this afternoon.  The stars must be in alignment for us today!

Queue 5 – Final Check

Immediately prior to boarding the ferry, they take a final opportunity to get us to wait in Queue 5 by doing one more inspection of our passports.  In our case, the officer also looked briefly inside the motorhome before letting us board.

“Finally”, we say to ourselves.  We are on board and on our way.  Sorry, but no.  Once you are boarded you should expect to wait anywhere from one to three hours before you actually get underway.  In our case, the 1.00pm ferry actually left about 6.30pm!!!!

 

Spain at Last

On arriving in Spain, the customs and immigration process is so easy and fast that it almost feels wrong.  Although we loved Morocco, the delays leaving, then the painful and prolonged exit processes mean we feel a deep sense of relief when we finally reach Spain.

We head straight to the nearest LPG filling station and fill up our gas tanks because we are now so empty that the fridge won’t start.  Luckily there is one just a few km from the ferry terminal.

A great place to spend the night after the ferry from Morocco is the camper parking at GPS 6.17897, -5.43916 (where we also stayed before crossing to Morocco).  There is lots of room, all the main supermarkets are around and the low stress night is welcomed after a long day escaping from Morocco.

So here ends our time in Morocco for this trip.

How did we feel about Morocco?  Would we go there again? What are the best points and what wasn’t so good?  Is there anything we would do differently and what were the key lessons we learned?

We will put together a summary of our trip, including interesting fact, top tips, and places you must see.

 

Costs for Weeks 1 – 9

A low-cost week costing us €193.51  slightly below the running average of €202.55 over the entire nine-week trip.

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