Tuesday 18th May, Tangiers, Morocco!
Well, it's been a hell of a day, kicking off with a four-thirty alarm which wasn't necessary since I woke before it. I'd been so stressed yesterday I thought I'd need a valium. First, I had to say goodbye to my new friends who had come to feel like family. Then there was the potential immigration problems that most 'normal' tourists don't encounter. What would the Spanish authorities think when I enter on a one way ticket, and they see from my passport that I've already been travelling for ten months? How do I explain the way I fund such lengths of travel? Should I even try to explain?
On the flight to Malaga I changed my story several times in my head. I would tell the immigration officials that I was to have two weeks in Morocco, two weeks in Spain and two weeks in France, before I must fly home for the beginning of July. Business plans, a friends wedding... I hadn't decided what reason to give. Generally, what the authorities are looking for is evidence- or at least a strong indication- that you don't plan to spend an extended period in their country, that you have some sort of commitment or tie back in your own country, and that you have the means to support yourself while visiting. As it turns out, I needn't have whipped myself into a lather, since the Spanish official at the Passport Control counter was just blindly stamping everyone's passport, barely sparing the time to glance at each person to see that they matched their passport photo. Within minutes of collecting my backpack from the baggage carousel, I was in the Spanish sunshine, and on my way to the bus station.
The ferry to Morocco leaves from Algeciras- pronounced 'Al-heh-*th*-ee-russ' (*th* being like 's' with a slight lisp)- about a hundred kilometres to the south. Since the bus stopped at every little seaside town, this became something like a three hour journey, which was kinda cool. I was in no hurry, and it made me feel like I was getting value for my money! The coastline was dotted with towns, grimy little bars and pizzerias, lavish condominium complexes, and huge tourist hotels boasting 'slot machines' as their drawcard. Wow. Come to the Mediteranean and play slot machines.
Once you reach Algeciras (you pronouncing it properly?) you're on African time, my friend. The 3:00 ferry boarded at four o'clock and embarked an hour or so later. I wasn't wearing a watch, but I belive it was seven or eight o'clock when we reached Tangiers. Of course, at this time of year that's still full daylight.
It was immediately a culture shock, although perhaps not as bad as I'd expected. The Lonely Planet guide warns of aggressive touts at the ferry port, going as far as to suggest that unless you are a hardened traveller, you might want to consider another port of entry into the country, and avoid the hassle. I didn't experience anything much at the port, just a couple of guys who asked if I wanted a taxi, and seemed satisfied when I told them "no thanks, I love to walk!"
I've been in Tangiers a few hours now, and I've made three friends and one enemy. Not bad odds, I reckon. Karim works at a store on the waterfront. He gave me directions to Pension Victoria, the cheap hotel that I'd chosen from my guidebook. Karim was laid back and friendly, not even bothering to get up from his chair while he was talking to me. He told me to come back if I wasn't happy with the pension, and he'd direct me to a couple of other good places to try. My next friend was Smaid, a friendly restauranteur who made me a cup of coffee while I sat down to catch my breath, and get my bearings. He changed twenty Euros into local currency 'Dirhams' for me, and didn't take the opportunity to rip me off too badly... I don't think. I told him if he gave me a good exchange, I'd be back every day for coffe and lunch, and would change more Euros tomorrow. When I find out what the going exchange rate is, that will determine whether Smaid's restaurant will be my regular hangout while I'm in Tangiers. Another friendly face was Ahmed, who showed me of a couple of pensions near to Pension Victoria, but they were a little more expensive- sixty to eight dirhams (about four or five pounds, maybe ten US dollars?) I told Ahmed I didn't want him to 'guide' me to pension Victoria, and he seemed to understand. He pointed me in the right direction, and let me go on my way without expecting a tip. Ahmed told me that I'd find him in the cafe on the corner if I needed 'anything' during my stay in his city.
And my enemy? Well, there was a little old guy who was following me in the guise of being my guide. I knew that when I found my way to the pension, he'd demand a tip for his help, and there's something about the backhandedness of this common scam that gets under my skin. I reversed direction a couple of times, letting him know clearly that I wasn't really going anywhere, just wandering around. I stopped to look at stalls in the market, and generally just milled around. Finally, I had to tell him quite loudly to go away and stop following me. That was when he said he'd kill me. So all in all, quite a successful day.
Without exception, all of them tried to sell me hash.
The manager at Pension Victoria wanted sixty dirhams a night but I haggled him down to fifty, which is probably still way too much. I guess I'll find my way around the costs over the next couple of days. It's been a long time since I was in a country where every purchase requires haggling. It's understandable if I get stung a couple of times before I get the hang of things. So anyway, I checked into my room and when I swung open the window shutters, was almost struck in the face with a tennis ball, thrown from the street below. I've just spent the last fifteen minutes playing 'catch' out the window of my room, with the young girl to whom the tennis ball belongs. Her friends and her mother, who was selling cigarettes nearby, found my poor hand-to-eye co-ordination hilarious! I think I'm going to like Morocco, but even though I'm curious to get out and see what happens at night, for tonight I reckon I'll stay in, get some sleep, let the day's adventures soak in and wait till the morning to explore Tangiers.