We're going to Africa today! On motorcycles! When I think about it, it seems pretty unreal. But Morocco is only a very short ferry ride across the Straits of Gibraltar and since the weather is so crappy here...
We're very excited!!!
Leaving Jerez in the rain
In our mirrors, we left Lagos, the Algarve, Portugal and the sunshine all at the same time. True to our luck, the weather had turned for the worse overnight while we were stopped over in Jerez and when we awoke, it was pouring rain *and* Neda's motorcycle cover was missing. I now knew that the only thieves were the high winds that have been pestering us all over Southern Spain. Dammit! Add yet another casualty to our dwindling and deteriorating equipment list. :(
It was a very disappointing way to leave Europe, but it was just another strike in a long series of downers. It was like this continent was telling us to get out.
Fine, you win. We're leaving.
We battled high winds on our early morning ride to Algeciras and we saw these along the way.
Either it's windy here all the time, or they heard RideDOT.com was coming and hastily erected these for our arrival
There are a couple of ports in the Gibraltar area that we could catch ferries bound to Morocco. But we chose Algeciras because it was the biggest one with more ferry operators servicing the routes with greater frequency, so we wouldn't have to wait too long for the next one. We found out that between all the companies, there was a ferry departing at least once every hour, all day long.
Waiting in line to board the ferry. The high winds and rain made pretty patterns in the standing water in the parking lot
We didn't really do too much research about Morocco beforehand, but from what little reading I'd done, there was a big problem with hustlers in the cities. I remembered how we felt when we were assailed by people trying to rip us off in Cuba and a part of me was dreading facing the same thing in Morocco, but then I thought maybe Cuba had toughened us up a bit and we would be better prepared mentally to deal with them this time around.
But we weren't prepared for the Moroccan touts to start appearing on the Spanish side.
As we approached the ferry docks in Algeciras, a parking lot attendant motioned for us to park in a lot that seemed a long way away from the ticket booths. We were being corralled into an empty lot with nobody around! Our bullshit detectors automatically went off. Neda radioed me, "It's a trick, let's leave!" and we made a U-Turn past the angry "attendant" who yelled at us to return immediately. Yeah, nice try buddy.
We eventually found a policeman who directed us to the real parking lot. He told us that these hustlers directed unsuspecting tourists to travel agencies which then re-sold ferry tickets at greatly marked-up prices. The hustlers, of course, got commission for every tourist they brought in.
We nodded, "Si, claro". We had already figured that out.
I shook my head. And so it begins...
Still smiling, still excited about visiting a new continent despite the rain and the hustlers
Heading into the bowels of the ferry
Our bikes waiting to get strapped down for the journey to Africa!
There are a number of ferry companies servicing the Algeciras to Morocco routes, and they run vessels of differing speeds. Some of the newer ones can make short work of the trip and be in Tangier Med in 30 minutes, but we just so happened to pick the slowest one because of when we arrived. This old girl would spend an hour and a half plodding across the Strait! I looked around to see if there were oarsmen boarding with us...
It wasn't a very leisurely ride over since the ferry company also opted to perform passport control during the cruise (hey we have the time, right?), so we spent the entire journey standing in line with over a hundred other passengers to get stamped into the country. Well at least we wouldn't have to do it once we landed...
So far we were not doing very well in our choices... Mental note: we have to do a bit more research and planning beforehand!
Arabic writing as we unloaded from the ferry really made us feel like we were in a new continent!
Africa! So we've now ridden motorcycles in six continents! Four on this trip alone! So awesome!!!!
The official languages in Morocco are French and Arabic, so once again, the baton was handed off to me to perform all communication duties. I don't know what's worse: not knowing the language at all or knowing just enough that you're expected to do all the speaking, but also knowing that they won't understand your accent or the way you're using the words...
Being in Europe for the last 8 months has really put us out of practice crossing borders - getting our temporary import permits in Morocco was a bit of a circus. There wasn't an official line-up so all the cars and trucks were parked all over the place and it wasn't clear who was next in line to be serviced. There was no pushing or elbowing, it was fairly orderly: every single person who approached a customs official was told to step away from the booth and wait until they were called. There didn't seem to be any methodology as to who got serviced next, it certainly wasn't first-come-first-serve.
After watching a few people get called in. I finally figured out how they determined the order. It was by height. Or maybe it was the colour of their pants...
We actually got our permits before a lot of other people who had been waiting around when we arrived. They must have liked the colour of our motorcycle pants.
And we're off! We punch in the town where we're going to stay for the next couple of days into the GPS and promptly got lost.
The problem was that we had the "Avoid Tolls" option selected from our time in Europe. At this point, it was late in the day and we weren't mentally equipped to deal with navigating the smaller roads in Morocco yet, so we sucked it up and rode the toll highway to our first stop: Chefchaouen.
Our trip on the highway was eye-opening. We both had visions of Africa being more... deserty. Like with mud huts everywhere and tribes of people dancing around fires... totally stereotypical. That's okay, everyone thinks all Canadians live in igloos. Actually, from looking through all our friends' Facebook pictures this week, it's absolutely true!
Morocco, or at least the northern part of it, was very green. Lots of agriculture and rolling hills. It kind of looked like an extension of Europe. I radioed Neda, "Soooo... when are we going to get to Africa?", she replied, "I know, right!?"
"I'm going to take a picture of our hostel room"
"No wait! Let me make the bed!"
"Too late, now everyone on the Internet knows we're messy..."
The roads were in good condition, considering we paid to ride them. We pulled into town late last night because we got lost and we also had to find a place to eat for dinner along the way. The streets of Chefchaouen were crowded and we inched our way slowly to the hostel that Neda booked for us, through the local traffic of the historic centre, which is called the "medina". Our big bikes were attracting lots of stares. I didn't like that too much.
From what we saw, Chefchaouen's medina seemed like a very happening place in the evenings. I was very surprised at how many westerners were milling around, specifically hippie westerners all dreadlocked and decked out in their sandals and hemp clothing... which told me all I needed to know about this town: The Ganja runs strong in this one...
With all the foot traffic (and dirty hippies), we didn't really feel safe leaving the motorcycles parked on the street overnight. For the first time in months, we would have to pay for secured parking... :(
Morocco is an Islamic country, so no alcohol is sold here. The national drink is Mint Tea, otherwise known as "Berber Whiskey" :)
Mint tea is apparently a big thing down here. When we first arrived in our hostel late last night, the first thing our host asked is, "Would you like to sit down for some tea?" We still had our helmets on, holding all of our softbags in both arms, hanging off our shoulders and around our necks and we hadn't gotten our rooms yet. "Would you like some tea?" He said it more as a statement than a question.
We took his cue: "Um... okay". We both plopped ourselves down haphazardly on the comfy couch in the reception area still clad in all our gear, bags strewn around us, sipping the sweet, hot mint tea that was specifically brewed to greet us. It was delicious, but more importantly, our host seemed happy - as if we had passed some sort of test - and as a reward we were allowed to stay in his hostel.
I found out later that offering tea to guests when they first arrive is a very traditional and ingrained Moroccan custom. It is considered horribly, horribly impolite not to offer and perhaps rude not to accept? I didn't want to find out.
At breakfast, with the auto-timer on the camera. Sometimes the mistimed shots are the best ones...
Nice details inside our hostel make us curious to see what's waiting for us outside
Getting ready to do some sightseeing!
We're in Africa!!! Let's see what's out there!