Casablanca 2002-06- 26


Ah Casablanca!  I only had time to see one Moroccan city, so I took the one of movie fame rather than the one of the more recommended cities such as Fez.  A businessman on the train chastised me for going to Casa since it was just like Düsseldorf or Bonn (I was German at this point on the trip).  He also said that I should dress like a Moroccan with a full-length robe and Kefta.  I thought I was sufficiently respectable with trousers and would be risking insult otherwise.

       Casablanca is not like Düsseldorf (although I admit that I have never been there).   Touts were on me every few metres, I did meet some friendly, genuine people, but they were outnumbered by the hidden-agenda folk by three to one.  Of course I was always friendly, despite being uncooperative, since I did not want to ruin Canada’s reputation.  Saying no isn’t that difficult and usually the best move.  However I was also not always Canadian…It was just too tempting to try out different accents and have some fun.  I’m sure these people have met many tourists, but they weren’t about to accuse me of not being from New Zealand.  My favourite persona was Stephen Dedalus of Ulysses fame.  You know I’m always ready to put on a fake Irish accent, and no one seemed to catch on to the literary theft.  We’d probably be wary of an Italian claiming to be called Romeo Montague, but if a Japanese introduced himself as Genji Monogatari, I wouldn’t think twice.


Anyway, Casablanca has a large population, but does not feel that big.  The core is uninteresting, but the train station is cozy and the Hassan II mosque is quite remarkable.  Second largest I believe…


Tanger 2002-06-27


On the train back to Tanger, I rode with two Kiwi travellers taking a break from the antipodean tradition of working in London.  We shared a carriage with three wild, middle-class morocco guys, who were more than happy to talk about the World Cup, Europe, Night Clubs, Gays…  Some of the views weren’t as critical as I might have expected…  They were also very interested in know what people earned in England, Canada, New Zealand etc… Translated at the current exchange rate, the West were positively loaded, however I tried to mention that Purchasing Power Parity brought the discrepency much closer.  Poverty in London is easily achieved for the working person, and employed Moroccans seemed quite well off.  These guys said they were checking out universities in France at which to study.


One of the highlights of the train ride is passing the pulp and Paper Mill.  Yes…there is a pulp and paper mill and factory forest in the Morrocan desert!


At Tanger the three of us got of the train, and being the only Westerners at the station, every Cab driver was on us instantly.  “Sure I take you to Port for 20Dr!  You pay 20, you pay 20, and you pay 20!”


“No I mean 20Dr total!”


“Well, I take you for 20 Dr plus 15 for each bag!”


They were all colluding against us and if any of them looked as if they might waver, a large cab driver said something in Arabic that I assumed would threaten the other cabbie with pariah status.  We did find a driver who would take us for 20Dr. and I could tell by the meter (yes they have meters, which are ignored for Westerners) that we added 14Dr to the previous fare, so we were pretty close.


Now we were running late as we arrived at the port and this provided an opening for the scam artists.  “Hurry Hurry”, not very official people with nametags said.  We hurried, because Hugh and Emma were resolute to get on this ferry.  They had their tickets, and I got one super quick from an agent who just squiggled all my personal information onto the ticket.  We tried to get on the boat, but we need to fill out the customs exit form, which none of us had.  Hugh and Emma frantically tried to find one.  An “official” got one off an agent and said to me “hurry, hurry, what is your name…profession…”  I was caught up in the rush and wasn’t thinking things through when I handed my passport over form him to copy in the number. 

“Now is a good time to give us a tip…”

Crap! I had walked into this one.  They had my passport.  I didn’t think I was going to lose it, there was police around, but I wasn’t rushing to pay them (much) for filling out a customs sheet for me.  “Hurry, Hurry, you will miss your boat!”  I wanted to be on this boat, and I took out my wallet.  I gave them 30Dr, but they saw a 50Dr note and one said.  Give us that as well, it is useless in Spain.  I said no.  They said “You will miss your boat” You will have to wait two hours.  I said “I will miss the boat if I have to, 30Dr is all you’re getting, give me my passport.” (I’m sure I said please as well.)


They gave me the passport, by now Emma and Hugh had made it out at some cost as well and we boarded the ferry.  The ferry was delightfully empty and the sunset remarkable.  We met three Americans who had admitted to have pretended to be Canadians on the trip. No shame in that for an ‘Irishman’ like myself.  They had booked a single day guided tour, which was asking for trouble.  With about a half an hour to go before their ferry left, they were taking to a shop, and having picked up things they genuinely wanted, they were told the total cost was 210…Euros!  They managed to get the price down to 80, which is still a ridiculous mark-up, but it was a clear example of another time-pressured scam tactic.


The ferry was even emptier than the one I cam across on.  The posted sign announced 18 passengers.  It was delightfully peaceful.






Algeciras 2002-06-27


When I arrived here from the North, Algeciras appeared to be a rough, depressed port town.  The English girls I had met at the Train station were quite put off by the place, even though they were about to brave Morocco.  But when Hugh, Emma and I stepped off the ferry and walked out of the ship terminal into the black night, the soft neon lights of the waterfront and the surprising tranquility was beautiful.  No touts, scam artists or frantic cab drivers.  It was Spanish, it was peaceful, it was a very welcome return.  We managed to find the hotel that friends of Hugh and Emma recommended. Eight Euros each and full of character, as they say.  Spain was never better.