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The Road to Morocco

Jonathan van Bilsen



July 5, 2015

The Road to Morocco

There is no shortage of destinations in the world to visit, but for some reason I continue to be drawn to Africa. I have been to a dozen countries and am planning on heading there again in a few months. Interestingly enough I have always favoured the desert lands and thoroughly enjoyed Egypt, Namibia and one of my favourites, Morocco.

A small country in the north-west, Morocco is relatively safe and culturally Arabic enough to enjoy different and unique traditions. On my last trip to this home of Sheiks and Berbers I did something I very seldom do: I drove a rental vehicle, an experience I would never recommend to anyone. 

I crossed into Morocco from Spain along the beautiful Rock of Gibraltar. The ferry ride was incredible with whales and dolphins swimming alongside the ship. Tangiers is a good 4 hours from Spain and coming back I took the much shorter route leaving from Ceuta.

I should not criticize the concept of self-drive trips, but there are definite challenges to heading forth aimlessly with no real strategy. My plan was to see the country and stop when I was tired, eat when I was hungry and visit everything I could.

I decided to stay to the north and not head down to the Casablanca-Marrakesh area. I had been told, from several sources that it was an industrial region and totally different from the western picture painted in films. I would not see Humphry Bogart or Rick’s Café and there would be no Ingrid Bergman to meet me at any airport.

I decided to start my adventure in the capital city of Rabat, a truly wonderful and interesting metropolis, with a population of 600,000. The old, walled city is the place to go and finding a small B&B or hotel is relatively easy, unless you leave it too late in the day and the prices soar. 

My next stop and certainly my favourite was Fes, located in the central north. I bit the bullet and stayed in a renovated palace with a luxurious swimming pool, swaying palm trees and excellent service. The Palais Jamai once belonged to a Prince, but now the property is owned by Sofitel.

Room service makes a world of difference and enjoying a lamb burger under the hot desert sun with a cold drink is an enjoyable experience. Morocco is known for its leather goods and I decided I would attempt to buy a leather jacket at a reasonable price. I found someone who knew someone whose brother had a shop and after a short visit learned that there are many people who benefit from a tourist’s purchase. I discreetly made my way to a different shop, off the beaten path, and after a little negotiating purchased a soft, pigskin coat for a mere $60 (one tenth of what it would cost at home).

After ten days and seeing as much as I possibly could, I headed north toward the city of Ceuta where the ferries for Spain departed regularly. After getting directions along the way I finally made it to the outskirts of the city. I had booked accommodation in Spain for the night and pushed hard to make the three o’clock ferry, the second last one of the day. 

I arrived at the dock to watch the ferry leave… without me. Frustrated I had no choice but to wait the two hours for the next one. The uniformed attendant waved to me and smiled and when I asked him where I should park for the next ferry he motioned me to the front of a row of white painted lines on a very large parking lot tarmac.

I was first in line for the next (and last) ferry and quietly passed the time reading and relaxing. Cars began to slowly file into the parking area and line up in rows. I found it odd that some would park at the front of different rows, but none seemed to line up behind me.

At long last, after what seemed an eternity, the ferry was visible in the harbour and people began to return to their vehicles in anticipation of boarding. I watched the vehicles disembark and waited my turn and then a very strange thing happened. 

Boarding began from the row farthest away from me. I now understood why no one was in a rush to queue behind me. I waited patiently until suddenly, halfway along the row next to me they halted the boarding and explained the ferry was full. I was stunned. How could this be? I searched for the attendant who told ne where to line up.

I saw him talking with a few other uniformed men and approached him, obviously quite angry. I asked why he told me to line up where he did and he looked around. I explained that I had missed my ferry and he looked at the boat, now halfway out of the harbour. He looked back at me, shrugged his shoulders and wandered off. I grabbed his shoulder and he turned and began to laugh. I felt the hairs on my neck stand up and was about to confront him when I saw his mates move closer to where I stood. 

Slowly, still furious, I returned to my rental car and left in search of accommodation for the night. The next morning I was back bright and early and boarded the ferry without incident. All in all it was a great adventure and Morocco is a country definitely worth visiting, but do yourself a favour and hire a guide to look after the details.

Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit

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