Spain to Morocco, the Local Way
Are you planning on skipping out to Morocco from the stunning south of Spain? Then I’ll tell you what it is like to do it the local way: unpredictable.
We love to travel whatever way is most-likely to show us what life is like for those living in the places around us. If possible, we like to fit in more views of the countryside when changing location.
This particular journey included buying a bus ticket that left at 5 in the morning. The Feel Center Hostel in Málaga was accommodating enough to allow us to hang out on their couches until 3:30am.
Arriving at the still locked doors of the bus station, we discovered a number of travelers asleep atop their suitcases and the regulars on their sheets of cardboard. It was about time for our bus to arrive when a side door to the station was opened. We waited at stand #37 as the schedule board bid us to, but no bus came.
We all know about Spain time, right? Always 15-45 minutes late, never early. My mom has a German sense of schedules where timeliness was not just a way of life, but of reputation. Being either one minute late or early, in formal situations, was considered quite rude and unthoughtful. Expecting some sort of professional punctuality, my mom, and I as well, became worried when an hour rolled by.
People were hard to come by at that hour, but moms have a knack for finding things. She found a police man who knew the situation of our bus, but he didn’t speak English.
My Shining Moment
Okay so, even though I don’t know much Spanish and although I almost gave up learning it after my struggles throughout Spain, this one moment gave me enthusiasm to go on. My mom fetched me from where I had been guarding our bags and asked me to get details about the bus.
The “tu” familiar forms of Spanish verbs that are used with friends were more ingrained in me than the polite, formal ones. These friendly forms spilled out in my nervousness, but I’m sure the stranger didn’t take offense.
I was able to understand and communicate in Spanish with the officer at a time when it was needed, even if the need was only to sooth our minds. It turned out that the bus was just very late, still in another town, but on its way. He reconfirmed the area in which we should wait and reassured that it would come.
Bus Ride #1
The bus ride, when it came, was an experience, though the most normal and benign of all those that followed.
We were quickly squeezed onto the last three seats after a bit of rearrangement to allow Grace to stay next to us. The unhappy bus driver placed me across the aisle from my mom and Grace. My placement had displaced the travel companion of the man I sat next to. I expected the man to be cranky with me for the inconvenience. It was much to my surprise then when the man smiled and began a conversation.
We had the funniest time understanding each other. He was trying to learn English, and though he prided that his sister knew English, his was quite limited. We lingered on Spanish which he knew better. I learned he was native to Morocco and on his way home from where he worked a while in Spain’s Valencia.
As he began to open up and his words to flow, the conversation made a strange turn. I began to experience pockets in his speech that I completely could not understand. I had heard enough Arabic that year to decode the funky mixture. His sentences began with Spanish and slowly transformed into a majority of Moroccan Arabic, with an English word stuck here or there, for clarity of course.
I smiled, concentrated, and did my best but often had to confess, “Perdone, no entiendo.”
His patient friendliness, despite the journey’s late start, set the trip off on a good foot.
I was infinitely glad to know a kind soul among some graceless scenes I witnessed later. But that’s not what comes next.
Boat Border Crossing
We had arrived at the tip of Spain where we would board a boat to make the border crossing to Tangier, Morocco. At least that’s why I figured the bus had stopped. Everyone else seemed quite at ease and confident about where to go after departing the bus. So the tres viajeras from this blog followed the crowd.
All the bus passenger passports were stuck in a bag and carried off. After being methodically glanced at, the name on each passport was called out and each document retrieved by its owner.
Next we were given a slip of paper to fill out our basic info and passport numbers. There were men who handed them out and made it seem a requirement that they do the filling out for you. It was all in Moroccan Arabic. Everyone else was handing over their passports and papers to these men so, stupidly, we did too. Then they charged us for their services. It was a very small fee, but it was also lesson number one.
Golden Rule for Morocco: Let not thy neighbor help thee, lest thou be willing to pay a fee.
We got onto the boat where we stood in a line that comically did not move for over an hour. We did not even know why we were standing there, except that everyone else was. Were they all in line for coffee? Once we reached the top of the line, having been transformed into pillars of patience, our passports were checked and stamped and our papers taken.
We had arrived in Morocco!
A Short, Sweet Almost-Slumber
We were exhausted from pulling an all-nighter. So while my mom and Grace chose to relax on the cool outdoors of the boat deck, I went in to close my eyes in a comfy chair for what time I had. I was much obliged when a guy from our bus later came over and tapped my shoulder. He communicated that it was time to go. If all these other people hadn’t known what was going on all the time, I wouldn’t have had a clue.
I got up and noticed the increased hustle and bustle of people readying to leave. I went outside to tell my mom and sister, but they were not there. I checked the bathroom, not there. I figured my mom could care for herself and got my stuff. I again followed my knowledgeable bus and boat buddies (all of whom were Moroccan) to a long line leading out.
A Spectacle of Incivility
There isn’t as much of a personal space culture among Moroccans. This became obvious as people pushed up against each other where ever space allowed. An extremely haughty, self-important Muslim man, in full, flowing garb, angrily pushed and barged through women struggling with baggage, yelling, to get further ahead in line. Usually discrete, I openly let disgust show on my face. The man in front of me noticed and meekly offered me his place in line. This peace offering quickly erased my hard feelings.
Onward Christian Travelers
My mom, Grace, and I met up off the boat and were easily enough pointed to our next bus. It was a short ride to the Tangier bus station. We went through security and as all our buddies split off into different directions, we weren’t quite sure what to do. I followed the sign to the bathroom. That’s always the best thing to do when you don’t know what will happen next! In the girls WC I met the kind man’s sister who took the opportunity to show off her English.
We exited the building to the bus loading area. Once out, we were not allowed back into the building. My capital bathroom advice paid off, you see! We had our second set of the journey bus tickets that were supposed to take us from Tangier to Casablanca.
I could not find the bus company that was supposed to transport us as I went around approaching all the bus drivers available. The guy who helped me on the boat once again got my attention and told me to wait. Wait we did. When the bus did come and its destination confirmed as Casablanca, we once again jumped into a throng of traveling Moroccans.
Bus Ride #3
Tangier, a place popularized by Paulo Coelho’s Alchemist, is a large travel hub. The amount of luggage, boxes, and containers each local carried with them exceeded even the size of our 70lb backpacks. The way in which people called out and shoved about to have their things loaded on the bus was a bit overwhelming.
To escape the clamor, I suggested that my mom take Grace and get settled on the bus while I dove into the baggage madness. I sincerely wondered, as everyone else found a way to cram their stuff in, if there would be space for our backpacks. The bags clattered off my baggage cart as I pulled back to let empty carts out. I was encouraged by the help I received from those who paused in their busyness.
As I waited for my turn, a concept foreign in that chaos, a lady standing beside me sympathetically sent me a look that said, “Wow, so crazy!” She did it with a smile that made me relax. A few minutes later, a group seemingly took up my cause (though it was probably in the interest of packing the bus correctly) and passed my bags on before those in front of me. Patience has its rewards, but I would actually recommend asserting yourself in this country.
One lady whom I had the inability not to notice in the crowd was particularly loud and commanding. When we had all gotten on the bus, this woman made it her mission to harass us as well. She pointed at my mom and, with large movements, showed that she wanted my mom to move out of her seat. She charged my mom with stealing her seat, even though there were no assigned seats or numbers on the bus. The bus driver was brought into the situation, subdued the woman’s complaints and settled her elsewhere.
My mom and I left Grace in her own seat since she finds it fun to sit next to strangers. After a boy got up, deciding he didn’t want to sit with her, the kind man showed up. Imagine my thanks when he took the last seat beside her. My mind was at ease knowing she had a respectful and safe seatmate.
The Worst of All
There have been two instances that stand out as the most horrid, not that there have been many, in all our travels. One was the time that my mom turned on the shower faucet in Sanur, Bali, Indonesia and instead of water, ants by the thousands tumbled out. The other instance was this bus stop bathroom.
(Warning: there may be TMI below)
Morocco has more than a 99% Muslim population and our fully Moroccan bus companions looked it. The women were dressed in long, hot dresses that were ideal for using hole in the ground toilets.
All the women from the bus headed to the bathroom at this bus stop, and within a couple minutes the floor of the room was flooded with water. The bathroom was without toilet paper and without soap, but there was plenty of water.
The conditions, the heat, the crowdedness, and the lack of sanitation was enough to put the scene in the “worst of all” traveling experiences category. There’s nothing like an icky bathroom. We’ve learned from Morocco to always be prepared with our own toilet paper and soap.
The Journey Ends
Tired and hungry, our dressed up wagon finally rolled into Casablanca late in the day. We had actually made a hotel reservation, a move we now rarely do, but we hadn’t directions to find it.
Stepping from the bus, a man reached for the bag on my shoulder. I suppressed the instinct to pull back as I realized we were being helped with our heavy things.
From here, I’ll simply suffice it to say that we got directions and walked a mile to our hotel, looking all around along the way. A bus had dumped us, yet again, in another fascinating place.