An early start to catch the bus to… Chefchaouen Tetouan. I did the maths last night and realized that I won’t have time to see more of Morocco. So instead of staying in either Chefchaouen or Tetouan, in Tetouan I hopped on a Grand Taxi to the border with Ceuta.
Grand Taxis do inter-city trips and only leave when there are enough passengers. Which means that four people share the rear bench seat of the car (usually an old Mercedes) and two share the passenger front seat. This is far from comfortable.
The taxi dropped me off right in front of the border. I crossed on foot and Ceuta slash the EU greeted me with rain.
It was interesting to have a glimpse at Morocco. This short visit once more confirmed that my ‘usual’ way of travelling – by bike and far away from the touristy areas – is the best way to see a country. Immediately after arriving in Fez I was the target of the so-called faux guides. At every corner in the medina I was approached by (mostly) young men who, even if seemingly friendly at first, only wanted to sell hash. It quickly became difficult to distinguish between genuinely ‘altruistic’ approaches and ones that were pre-sale banter. Almost as quickly it became my rule to decline any approaches (in a friendly way, of course) even if I was interested in the matter. Which is a shame.
The hotel turned out to be a little nicer than I had thought last night, at least in some areas – the central patio and the stairways were beautifully tiled. However, the shared bathrooms were still extremely smelly and dirty, and my decision to leave the place asap was not shattered.
Had breakfast at a… bakery next to last night’s sandwich stand (both just holes in the wall) and was pleasantly surprised by the offer of another customer, a Moroccan lady in a group of three, to translate my order from my rusty French to Arabic for the baker.
A little later, when walking through the medina (or what I thought was the medina), another elderly guy, acting as if it was a casual encounter, recommended going this and that way to a ‘synagogue and beautiful blue houses’, then walked off. I happened to go in the same direction anyway aaand… behind the next corner he was waiting again, giving further directions. I didn’t fall for it, though, and went a different way. But while he was still talking to me another lady in his back looked at me and shook her head – no synagogue and no blue houses there, only another scam attempt ahead…
After finding the bus terminal and the real medina, and after the last drizzles finally stopped completely around noon, I decided to stay another night in Fez.
This morning I hopped on a bus to have a look at the Frontera de Farhana, the border between Melilla and the Moroccan village of Farhana. I went to that particular place because it is easily reachable by bus from the city center… For some reason I didn’t expect there to be an open border crossing, and I also didn’t expect the border’s neighborhood to be densely populated.
On the road leading to the border there was a long queue of Moroccan men, each with a bicycle or some kind of moped, packed to the brim with all kinds of wares for export. Every now and then ten or so of them were allowed to enter the border post. That made for a bit of a funny sight, as many of the vehicles had been modified to allow for more luggage. The drivers either had no seat anymore or sat on top of their cargo and had to be pushed by others.
I crossed into Morocco at Melilla’s southern end, at the Frontera Benienzar – into the village of Beni Ensar. With the help of a police officer I quickly found a bank and got a wad of cash out of the ATM, then hopped on a local bus to the city of Nador for a fee that was disproportionate to said wad of cash.
Nador didn’t look particularly interesting and I wasn’t unhappy about having not much more than an hour (which was spent in the company of a mint tea) before the train for Taourirt left. I sat in a compartment with two guys, one quite quiet, the other quite chatty. The latter’s chattiness was directed at me but he didn’t speak a single word of Spanish, French or English, and my Arabic is still very non-existent either, so the conversation was very one-sided.
The train terminated in Taourirt and I still hadn’t made up my mind whether to continue east to Oujda or west to Taza or Fez. Taourirt, for some reason, didn’t look very inviting itself (though it also didn’t look particularly unpleasant or uninviting, if that makes any sense…) so I decided to take the next train, which happened to go to Fez (and onwards to Casablanca).
Of course I had read all the travel guide warnings about being approached by people who know a good hotel, or the best shop, or who can offer a good smoke. But surely the old man who walked just ahead of me when I stepped out of the Fez railway station wasn’t one of them! And he spoke English! And knew a good hotel, and cheap it was! And worked at a (different) hotel himself! And close by! And in the medina (any city’s old city)! He must be genuinely generous to show me the way! Can’t be fake!?
He was fake. Not only was the place a shithole and too expensive, it was not even in the medina!!! However, by the time we got there it was dark and raining heavily and so I didn’t feel like looking for an alternative. And that it wasn’t in the medina… I will only find out tomorrow.
I happened to be in Spain, near Valencia. I have a week or so off of the job there and decided to travel south, to see the Spanish exclaves of Melilla and Ceuta, and also to take a short look at Morocco and Gibraltar. Once again this is going to be a comparatively ‘normal’ trip, as I don’t have a bicycle with me and am limited to public transport. Also, I don’t have as much time (a week, probably, or ten days tops) as I would like. Then why public transport, why is the guy not flying, you may ask? Because. Me no likee.
So yesterday I spent almost the entire day on the train from Valencia to Almería. While the first part is a fast(ish) one, the second leg, after a change of trains in the sleepy town of Alcázar de San Juan, takes way longer in comparison. The countryside becomes hilly and the train crawls up and down the curvy track that winds through seemingly endless olive tree plantations. Those, by themselves, are an interesting sight and I had forgotten about their dominance down here in Andalusia. From the west the low-hanging evening sun cast a special light over the hills and villages in the east with heavy black clouds in the background. Soon everything disappeared in rain and darkness.
I didn’t see much of Almería last night, but when looking back at it from the ferry this morning, it made an interesting impression – especially the mountains around it and its fortress.
Today was spent on the ferry to Melilla. It seemed almost empty.
I’m in Melilla now, a Spanish autonomous exclave in Morocco. It is known to some for its part in the refugee crisis in recent years. Being Spanish-controlled, along with Ceuta further west, politically it belongs to Europe and its border to Morocco is basically the external frontier of the EU, and the only land border between Europe and Africa. Hence it is interesting for refugees from sub-Saharan countries, but also for those from Algeria, Syria and Yemen and many other countries. The former cannot easily claim asylum in the EU and many reportedly camp (or camped) outside the border on Moroccan soil. Every now and then groups of a few hundred people try to climb the border fence and overrun the guards. However, since 2005 the EU is pumping billions of Euros into the defence and fortification of the border, both inside Melilla and Ceuta themselves as well as into Moroccan pockets.