We got up pretty early, it was still dark outside, and packed the last of our gear away. Tidying up the flat as we had a quick breakfast of coffee and chocolate doughnuts. All the phones, camera’s and Go-Pro’s had been fully charged and once dressed we were ready to go by 7:30. It was only a short hour and a half ride down to the port of Algeciras, in the shadow of the Rock of Gibraltar. By the time we arrived over the long bridge into the port, the sun was fully up. Our first stop was the ticket office, well it was meant to be but as we rode up and down the port roads, around the roundabouts a few times we couldn’t decipher the signs written in Spanish. It wasn’t until Seats pulled up at a manned booth that we got directions to where we needed to be!
Pulling up in the large car park outside the various ferry and shipping company offices we soon identified the FRS desk we were looking for. We’d decided to take this particular crossing into Morocco as we’d read that it was by far the easiest and most European of all the arrival ports, the bureaucracy was minimal and the road from the port was good. FRS also had the largest timetable so we knew we’d be able to get on at least one of the sailings that day. As Ollie and Al kept an eye on the bikes, Seats and Whitey went inside for their tickets, and then vice versa, you can never be too careful!
Back at the bikes Ollie and Seats had struck up a conversation with a Moroccan lady from Rabat who was kindly giving them all the advice she could about the culture and customs of North Africa. The one that struck us the most was that you should only eat couscous on a Friday. We still have no idea why, but we took her word for it and we didn’t. If you can shed any light on this custom and the reasons why let us know in the comments!
Tickets purchased and documents checked we headed off for the ferry. Arriving at the same booth where we’d previously got directions, we had our tickets checked and were allowed through to join the queue on the dockside. We had time to kill, so now seemed like a good opportunity to fill in some paperwork (a link to the Sahara Overland site here is the definitive guide to all paperwork needed for entering Morocco) and then sort ourselves out for the short crossing. We sat chatting for an hour or so until we were called forward for passport and document checks and then started loading onto the ferry. We weren’t the only bikers but there weren’t more than about 15 in total to load and we were called forward first. Riding up the ramp none of us wanted to repeat Whitey’s accident on the previous ferry and I’m happy to say we got parked up without incident. While we were sorting ourselves out it was interesting to see a party of 2CV’s arriving onboard, they all appeared to be prepared for some kind of charity overland event, some with spare wheels, some with sand channels and they all had roof racks full of extra stuff, complete with a classic Citroen H Van support vehicle . What a great sight, even if they were only little Citroens! The deck hands insisted on strapping the bikes down for us which took a bit of time as there were only 2 of them. After we’d made sure they were secure we climbed the stairs to the passenger decks. When entering Morocco you have to arrive at your port of entry with your passport stamped and paperwork completed, so we headed straight for the immigration office onboard and queued up. It seemed to take ages, but in reality was only half an hour or so. We were starting to see some cultural differences now, bureaucracy taking longer, a more relaxed attitude to personal space, less restrictive health and safety and generally things just taking a bit longer to achieve than in Europe. Getting that bit further from our comfort zone was what it was all about, great!!
After the admin was done, we had nothing else to do but to chill out for a bit. Al and Ollie went to get a coffee and some lunch from the small cafe and came back with a baguette and crisps. Al had bought a snack pot of Pringles to share with everyone, which would’ve been fine until Seat’s wanted to see how many Al could fit in his mouth in one go. The pack contained 21 and after some careful consideration Al reckoned he could eat them all! Naturally Ollie wanted to film it, and you can see the results of this challenge in episode 2 of our YouTube video!
Half an hour or so more of sitting on deck fettling our kit and re-filling our Kriega Hydro Pak’s we could start to make out land in the distance, our first view of the North African coast. It was all starting to get exciting, and very real! We would be riding our bikes on a different continent very soon and we had no idea how far we’d get today, or where we would be staying tonight. The adventure really had started.
We watched the deck hands throwing ropes and sorting the ship out as we docked and then the tannoy announced in Arabic, French and English that it was time to return to the vehicles and disembark. The way we had been loaded meant that we would be the first ones off the boat, and as the doors opened we were already sat on our bikes ready to go, down the short ramp onto Moroccan soil. Al was leading and was stopped immediately by the police. Luckily it was just a passport and document check, all was correct and we carried on to the customs and immigration checkpoints, where we were ushered into a parking spot by the officials and told to get off the bikes. We’d all completed or D16’s before leaving the UK and had done all the proper checks before arriving, we’d also made sure to store all this paperwork and our vehicle documents in one place and easily to hand, with plenty of photocopies. This, along with the relatively friendly attitude of the officials, helped us get through these checks pretty quickly and within fifteen minutes we were parked up again in front of the currency exchange and insurance booths. This was hopefully the last bit of hassle. 500 euros got us about 5500 Dirhams at the time, whether that was enough we had no idea as we had no frame of reference, we didn’t even know how much cup of coffee would be yet!
The mandatory local insurance was pretty cheap, we had to have it to be legal but how much it was actually worth was another thing entirely. As we were preparing to leave we saw a commotion happening at the port gates, the security guards chasing a handful of determined immigrants as they ran down the hill into the terminal area. It looked like a regular occurrence but how far these guys would get we didn’t know. It was the first time we’d seen any evidence of the refugee crisis and would also be the last on this trip. It may be that the crisis is worse in areas such as Ceuta and the like, but there only seemed to be a handful of people around Tangiers.
We hit the road shortly after one o’clock and got straight on the motorway south. The weather was great and the road was pretty empty, and it seemed that the occupants of every car we passed wanted to wave and film us on their mobile phones. This seemed odd to us as were so used to seeing big motorbikes on the road but it was great to see that even though Morocco is becoming more and more popular for bikers, the locals still seem amazed by the big bikes and coupled with their friendly culture led to us feeling a little bit like celebrities! In fact, at this point I’ll take a minute to talk about the Moroccan culture. It’s a predominately Muslim nation and sadly that puts off a lot of westerners, but they practice a very modern, moderate form of the religion. They believe in Kram al-Dhaift, which is the respect of visitors and to celebrate their hospitality towards them, especially if they have no family or friends resident in the country. This leads to a really warm welcome anywhere you go, even being invited into homes and being offered food regularly. Obviously there’s a lot more to it than that and it’s not always the case in the more built up and touristy areas but generally this was our experience. I urge you, as our readers, to remember this when reading some of our later blogs! So we continued south, until we turned off the motorway heading east inland towards Meknes. As we turned off the motorway Ollie took a giant insect in the face, so we had to pull over to dig the remnants out of his skin. Once this life saving surgery and been completed, we pulled away onto the local roads. It was still quite built up with lots tourist shops along the verges, with large overloaded lorries and locals on the poplar 3 wheeled tricycle pick-ups that seem to be the Moroccan version of the transit van. However the roads were fantastic, the bikes were running perfectly and the scenery was stunning.