I briefly mentioned our adventure crossing the border into Morocco on our Facebook page, and I promised to share more of the details. So here you go! Our travel day was a bit active and involved multiple forms of transport, which is always a bit fun. First we had to take a bus in Granada to the train station. Then we were on a 4-hour train to Algeciras, Spain. From there it was a taxi to the ferry terminal. I was relieved that the ferry ended up being 24€ for me (and discounted for Tigger) rather than the much higher rates I had found during online research.
The ferry terminal was a bit interesting, but nothing terribly exciting. Our boat was scheduled to leave at 8:30 PM, so we had some dinner and kept ourselves entertained for a while. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the ferry. Europe is quite modern in many ways, and “old world” in others. Some of the ships that were docked in the harbor looked sleek and new and others . . . well, I had to assume since they were floating that was a good sign. Our particular ship turned out to be more the latter than the former. I don’t scare easily, though. Once on the ferry, it was like we had stepped into another world. Since it was a later boat, the reception and luggage storage areas were unmanned and locked up.
We followed the signs to cafes and made ourselves comfortable in cushioned seats at long tables. All around us were Arabic people who stared at the only two white faces on the ship. I just smiled and said bonjour to everyone who stared. The voyage itself was nice. Once we actually started. We undocked about 45 minutes later than scheduled, but we were in no rush. I was filled with a sense of excitement as I heard the unfamiliar language, watched how families interacted, observed everything I possibly could and tried to absorb it all. Everything from mannerisms to how they laughed, how they greeted people, and how they ate. We were actually on our way to Morocco! I almost couldn’t believe it.
I loved seeing a culture where it was okay for 2 male friends to walk while holding hands or arm in arm, how when people spoke with someone of the same gender they always were touching them. I understood bits of the words used in the traditional greeting and marveled at how long some greetings took. There’s no “Hi, how are you?” brevity among Arab people. When we finally docked, it was very late, and I was very tired. Tigger was starting to run a bit on fumes, too. You can always tell because he walks. His motto is usually “Why walk when I can run, hop, jump, bounce. . . ” We followed the masses of people down the stairs to where the cars exit since there is no walkway at the Tangier Med terminal. Smiling policemen stopped everyone momentarily to look at their passports. When I handed him ours, he shook his head and started speaking in Arabic. The look on my face made it clear that I had absolutely no clue what he was talking about.
Another policeman came over. Between Spanish and French with me, he interpreted in Arabic for the other guy, and we were informed that reception on the ferry gives you the entry stamp into Morocco. ”But, there was no one in reception,” I said calmly even though in my head I was thinking “Oh crap!” and trying to not ponder just how wrong things could go from here. “You go back. You get stamp,” he said in Englush, thrusting our blue passports back at me and shaking his head no. I forced a smile and updated Tigger as we headed back to the boat. Another round of Franglish (French, Arabic, Spanish, English), and some of the crew stomped up to the policeman.
I watched from afar as voices were raised. Arms gesticulated wildly in the air. I began to wonder if someone was going to get hit. Then I heard a phrase I understood: ”Just let them in without a stamp!” Oh hell no! That was NOT happening. I was not going to be left in the situation of trying to explain to someone later on how we entered Morocco illegally. Finally the crew came stomping back. I tried to explain I really wasn’t an idiot. He stopped me. He knew the guy wasn’t there and should’ve been. Apparently, another family had been stopped as well. They had called someone who was coming. About an hour later an irritated-looking man showed up, and we were ushered back inside. He was further disgusted that I had not filled out the visitor identification paperwork that everyone has to fill out but no one had given us. It was almost midnight by now. I was tired, and recently the mid-40s had decided I needed longer arms to read small print. The combination was most amusing at some level I wasn’t able to fully tap into in the moment. Tigger tried to help by offering to hold the paper out further away since I couldn’t reach far enough to make the tiny print come into adequate focus. He also tried reading the words to me, but since he doesn’t know Arabic, Spanish, or French. . .
Finally, I got them filled out. The man didn’t throw them back at me, so I assume everything was okay. Then there was some loud banging as he stamped the hell out of each of our passports. With the stamps in hand, I was relieved. When we finally got to our hotel room, I was relieved again that no one had tried to push us through without a stamp. When you come to Morocco, each entry stamp is given a unique numeric stamp (see photo above), and the hotels require this number to rent to you. I’m quite sure this was not something I’d like to try and fix at 1 AM in the middle of Tangier.
Tip: If you come to Morocco by ferry, make sure someone in reception or the “police control” desk on the boat stamps you in. If no one is there, ask a staff member to get someone if you want to be spared a lot of extra time and hassle. If you are unsure of the words, point to the desk, hold your upturned palm flat like you have a passport in your hand, and use your other hand to mimic stamping. It works.
Also, the Tangier Med port is quite a distance from the city, unlike the other Tangier port (ferries leaving Tarifa and Barcelona come here, the ones from Algeciras go to Tangier Med). Tarifa offers quicker transport but is more expensive (by about 10€) than the ferries from Algeciras. If you go to Tangier Med, you will save a LOT of money if you are able to wait for the buses that come by the bus station. You can take them to the center of town. Tell the driver the name of your hotel, and they’ll typically clue you in as to when you’re at the stop. The taxi driver originally tried to charge us 40€, but thankfully some other drivers came to our assistance and bargained with him until he agreed to take the 27€ I had in my pocket. The bus will only set you back 25 MAD, which is less than $3 USD. A HUGE difference. Don’t fret if you haven’t had time to convert money or get dirhams. They happily accept euros.
Have you had a border adventure?