Southern Morocco and Western Sahara

Agadir

My host and I went for a walk around the city area and decided to head to the nearby souk, but he had forgotten that it was closed on Monday. We decided to walk down to the beach area instead. The beach area had a carnival kind of atmosphere, with a ferris wheel and dodge ’em cars, people selling their wares along the promenade, expensive brightly lit restaurants and even a casino.

The beach

Paradise Valley
I made my way to the Ibatwar area to get a taxi to Paradise Valley. The taxi was super old, like from the 1970s, and looked like it was barely holding together. A couple on a short holiday in Morocco were already waiting in the taxi, which was supposed to be a 5 seater, including the driver, but it wouldn’t leave until there were 6 people, not including the driver.

After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only 30 minutes, for the taxi to fill up, we decided to go to a closer town, called Awrir instead. With the destination change, we were full up and ready to go a few minutes later.

Lovers in the front seat?

A very squeezy and bumpy ride to Awrir ensued, where we were dropped off right next to the roomier green taxi that we needed to take the rest of the way to Paradise Valley.

Cosy

Upon arrival at the Valley, we started walking to the trail and were offered the guiding expertise of some locals, but as we already knew the trail was easy to follow, we declined and continued on our own.

The first part of the trail was slightly uphill and very exposed, but fairly short. Once we got to the top we had a lovely view down into a valley lined with palm trees. A small steam could also be seen meandering through the trees, presumably running to, or from, the rock pools we were heading towards.

Another 5 Minutes on the trail brought us to a part of that steam where a small artificial swimming area and waterfall had been created by sandbags used to dam the watercourse. There were several stalls there, offering drinks and Tangin, a local Moroccan dish, in clay pots.

Sandbag waterfall

We continued along the trail for a few more minutes until we reached another area with stalls. A portly man from one of the stalls ushered us towards him to show us his food, but once we advised him we were heading to the pools first, he showed us the way and directed us on where to go when there was a junction. He also strongly encouraged us to come back to see him when we were finished.

Following his suggestions, we were soon looking down on people swimming in small pools and sunbathing on the surrounding rocks. There were even some people camping in the area, as well as kids jumping the 5 metres or so from near the trail, down into one of the pools. Once we’d walked to the end of the pools to see the small waterfall, we were feeling a bit hungry, so we returned to the portly man’s stall for some food.

After filling up on food, I returned to the entrance to grab a taxi back to Agadir, while the portly man showed the couple I was with the secret swimming hole where they could enjoy a peaceful, secluded swim away from the crowds.

Once I’d made the short trip back to the road, I found a green taxi to take me all the way back to Agadir for only a few dirham more than the taxi I’d gotten to Awrir earlier. I was already sold on that fact alone, but then the lovely driver offered small glasses of cold water to all his passengers. Given how hot it was, they were very appreciated!

While I wouldn’t say that Paradise Valley is spectacular in any way, it is still quite lovely and it was nowhere near as crowded as I thought a popular tourist destination would be. Also, considering it’s free to enter the area, I think it’s definitely worth the visit. At around 30 dirhams, or €3 each way for transport and 45 dirhams, about €4.5, for the portly man’s food, it certainly is a cheap way to spend a day with nature and relax for a while.

Laayoune, Western Sahara
There were a couple of things I noticed about Laayoune straight away. One was structures on roundabouts. These normally took the form of fountains, sometimes accompanied by tress. The other was the sheer amount of Moroccan flags hung on street lights or in other public areas. Obviously, this is the Moroccan government trying to assert their rule over the area because technically it’s a different country under Moroccan occupation.

Roundabout fountain

Locals here do not consider themselves Moroccan and would rather be formally recognised as a sovereign state, but the occupying government has policies in place that mean their families and livelihoods could be under threat if they make their true views known. I guess that’s why you never really hear of protests in the area, despite local sentiment. Another reason could be the police checks along the roads aimed at finding out if journalists are in the country.

Another thing that became very clear whilst walking around was that it seemed to be windy all the time. I don’t think there was any point during my whole stay where there was no wind. The effect of the wind was very cooling though, which meant that even though the sun was quite hot, the ambient temperature was quite pleasant. I was okay with that.

Yet Another Long Bus Ride
Back at the bus station I purchased my onward ticket to Dakhla. I’d been assigned a seat next to some dude who had figured he had 2 seats to himself, so had put his stuff all over my seat while he stood outside the bus. I moved his stuff to his seat and sat down, but he came back into the bus, all angry. I really don’t know what he was saying, but he seemed to think that it was his seat. Pointing to the seat number and my ticket didn’t seem to make him any happier and he tried to grab my bag, then me. I shooed him away and luckily the lady who was sitting across the aisle said something that made him stop and he went back outside.

A few minutes later, the guy was talking to the bus driver and they had called the ticket sales guy out, although I’m not sure why, cause the bus was clearly full. Eventually, the woman across the aisle packed the guys stuff into a bag and put it on her seat, then sat in the seat next to me. Fun times.

Shortly after leaving the station there was a police stop which seemed specifically aimed at checking up on how many foreigners were on the bus, as they only asked for foreign passports. One of the policemen asked me some questions, but his English was so bad that I had no idea what he was saying. At one point it sounded like he was saying, “is this your nation”, but he was apparently saying what’s your destination.

As we were driving along, it was obvious that the ever-present wind had been hard at work moving the sand dunes onto the road. In fact, the whole right hand side lane had been rendered completely unusable for a couple of kilometres. Some of the sand had even started encroaching on the left hand lane, meaning that the bus has to swerve partly into the road shoulder at a few points on the journey. I’d never seen anything like that before, so I was equally amazed and frightened at the power of nature.

πŸ‡²πŸ‡¦Morocco and Western Sahara SummaryπŸ‡ͺπŸ‡­

Travels in Morocco and Western Sahara

In a few words – Tea and amourous locals
Languages – French and Arabic
Currency – Moroccan Dirham (MAD)
WiFi Availability – πŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“Ά
Cafes with WiFi are everywhere. Most will give you the WiFi password without buying something, just check with them first, because some will be sneaky and try to charge you for it.
Transport – πŸš—πŸš—πŸš—πŸš—πŸš—
🚍 Modern air-conditioned coaches are used on all intercity routes, but their cost is on par with European coaches.
Public transport systems are pretty well developed in major cities and reasonably priced.
πŸš‡ There are trains in the north, but they are expensive and rarely run to schedule.
🚘 Shared taxis can be found for short trips and they’re normally reasonably priced, but they will be overcrowded.
Roads – πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£
All main roads, as well as suburban roads, are sealed and well maintained.
Scenery – πŸ”πŸŒ³πŸžπŸ–πŸœ
As the combined area of Morocco and Western Sahara is huge, it offers a great variety of scenery, from coastal plains in the west, to snow tipped mountains in the east, to tree-lined streets in the cities and moving desert sands in remote areas.
Prices – πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°
Most things, except for transport, are quite reasonably priced in Morocco. You can get a meal at a cafe for around 30 MAD, (€2.7). Note that the prices do tend to get a little more expensive the closer you are to an area frequented by tourists. Marrakech and Casablanca, for example, are more expensive than places like Tanger and Agadir.
Checkpoints – πŸ›‘πŸ›‘
I didn’t encounter any checkpoints until I was on the way from Dakhla to Rosso, near the Mauritanian Border. They specifically exist to check that foreign journalists aren’t trying to sneak into a sensitive area. Officers will look at your passport and ask what your occupation is, then let your bus go.
Border efficiency – πŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒ
The port entry was quite efficient. The land border was relatively efficient, but the lack of signage made it a little confusing.
Corruption level – No corruption was evident.
Overall – πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

Even More Morocco

Settat
I caught up on some writing in a cafe near the station whilst waiting for my friend Khalid to come and get me. As I was leaving the cafe, the staff called out to Khaled to say that I had to pay, even though I’d only had some hot water. Apparently, they charge 11 dirhams (around EU$1) for using their WiFi, if you’re a tourist. This is specifically a Settat thing, as cafes in other places in Morocco will happily let you sit down and use the WiFi, but in Settat, they feel it’s okay to rip off tourists because they think they have money. Let’s not go down that rabbit hole right now.

Khalid later told me he’d had a similar experience at the same cafe before and it pretty much seems like they think they can get away with being a-holes because they have a reputation for having the best coffee in town. The things people do for coffee.

We hopped in a taxi to go to the district that I’d be staying in and after the taxi had driven off, I realised that my water bottle must’ve fallen out onto the seat. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the taxi number, so Khalid said we could check at the taxi changeover depot later in the day to see if it had been handed in.

Upon arriving at one of Khalid’s family’s homes (they have 2 in Settat), I was greeted with hugs and cheek kisses when I met some of Khalid’s family members. I guess this is the standard greeting for friends in Morocco. How sweet! After a small rest, we went to get some meat from the local butcher. Khalid’s family wouldn’t let me cook, or help them to cook. They insisted that because I was their guest, they had to take care of it for me. Instead, I drank some absolutely delicious fresh mint tea. I could get used to this!

Friendly neighbourhood butcher

After dinner, Khalid and I went for a walk up a hill to see the sunset and on the way up a couple of boys who were walking a dog called out to me. After they’d asked all the standard questions aimed at foreigners, one of the boys said that I had β€œbeautiful hairs”. On the way back down, Khalid flagged down a taxi to see if we could find my water bottle. The driver told us to get in, despite the fact that he already had a passenger onboard. Apparently, taxis in Settat will take as many passengers as they can carry, then the driver will just decide what each person pays when they want to get out.

Upon finding the depot closed, we walked to the main square to check out a local craftmaker fair that was happening, before searching some local shops for a small Moroccan flag to add to my collection. After walking around the town for a bit, we went back to the friendly butcher man to get some sirloin steak which was freshly cut for a miniscule fee and then cooked up for my dinner.

Schedule? What Schedule?
The next morning, after eating the breakfast that the family had so kindly prepared for me, we headed to the station, with a quick stop off at the taxi depot, which was only about 100m from the station. Unfortunately, my bottle wasn’t there, but there were a heap of other things like keys, bags and other miscellaneous things that had been left in taxis.

Once at the station, we had to wait in line for a while, so by the time we got to the ticket window, it was 3 minutes after the scheduled departure time for the train that was yet to arrive. We waited on the platform for a further 6 minutes before it arrived. The delays didn’t end there either. About 20 minutes into the trip, the train just stopped in the middle of nowhere for 30 minutes. Almost as suddenly as it had stopped, it started moving again, albeit it very slowly, only to stop again just 10 minutes later, for an hour! A few more random stops along the way turned a 3 hour train trip into a 5 hour train trip. I guess the arrival and departure times indicated on the timetable are only suggestions.

At the end of the train line in Marrakech, I had to transfer to a bus at the bus station behind the train station. The driver ushered me on to the bus and I took my seat thinking that it would be leaving soon, but of course, I wasn’t to be that lucky! I guess the bus driver was waiting for the bus to fill up, so I was sat there for nearly an hour before we moved. It seemed my half day trip had now turned into an almost full day trip. This is Africa.

Marrakech

More Moroccan knowledge
– schedules really, really don’t mean a thing
– Moroccan families just can’t do enough for their guests

More Moroccan Adventures

Casablanca
As I’d missed out on food before the long bus ride, I tried to find a cafe where I could sit down for a meal, but it turns out that cafes in Casablanca only sell coffee, not food. Not even snacks. Besides that, they seemed to be filled with men just hanging out watching a world cup match. So I once again had to give up on my dreams of food and just use the WiFi instead.

Once online, I’d received a message from my host saying that he could no longer host me, so I madly tried to find another host and luckily a couple of Khalids I had been conversing with in the weeks prior to my trip came to the rescue.

The first Khalid, let’s call him Khalid no 1, tried to organise a car to drive the 70km from the town he was in, to pick me up, then drive 70km back to the town and host me there.
The Second Khalid, let’s call him Khalid no 2, also offered to help me out by picking me up and hosting me at his place in Casablanca. Once at his place I met his housemates, one of which was hilariously walking around dancing, instead of talking, whilst on a video call to his girlfriend.

After chatting with Khalid no 2, the other housemates and the girlfriend for a bit, Khalid drove me and one of his housemates around for food and a tour of the city which included the biggest mosque in Africa, Hassan II Mosque, as well as the beach area which is apparently where everyone, from partygoers, to families, to rose and toy sellers come out to play at night. The beachside promenade was lined with restaurants and clubs, although clubs seem to serve a slightly different purpose here to what they do in other places. There was no pounding music and drunken dancing, just people sitting around and chatting while smoking and eating.

The next morning, Khalid didn’t want to get up, so his friend drove me to the train station where I boarded a train for a short ride to a little town, 70 kilometres away, called Settat. Once I’d bought my ticket, I went to a small snack shop at the station to get some food before my trip and saw there were tacos available. They were just meat and vegetables wrapped in tortillas, which is a little bit different to the tacos I’m used too! I guess they don’t do Mexican food well in Morocco.

The train was not airconditioned, but I didn’t become aware of that until more than halfway through the journey, when the seat I was sitting in ended up in the direct path of the sun. Let’s just say that last part of the ride was uncomfortable enough that I was really glad to exit the train once we arrived!

Additional things I’ve learned about Morocco
– Moroccans will go out of their way to help someone in need
– Locals can’t comprehend having a meal without bread

First Taste of Morocco – The Port of Tanger

Tanger, Northern Morocco
After a super long 35 minute ferry ride from Spain, I arrived at the very sunny port town of Tanger, Morocco. I hadn’t even made it out of the secured area of the port before the touts started. The first person to stop me was a registered tour guide who promised the best tour of Tanger, of course. He let me continue on my way once I’d told him that I was meeting a friend in town, so that was nice. Then there were the familiar taxi calls on the way out and once I finally made it to the road outside the Tanger port, an older man stopped me because he thought that I looked lost. He gave me directions to the medina (city centre), then told me not to trust anyone. Thanks? I think.

Finding the bus I needed to catch to my friends place in the suburbs of Tanger proved to be a little more problematic than one would think. Firstly, it was almost impossible to find someone who understood English, as everyone was expecting me to speak French. Then I was sent in the wrong direction several times by people that wanted to help, but obviously had no idea where the bus left from. After an hour of walking around Tanger and bugging strangers for directions, I almost accidently happened upon the correct bus stop, to my relief.

Happy that things in Tanger should start to get more simple from then on, I cheerily got on the bus when it arrived and told the driver where I needed to go. The only problem was that the driver didn’t know the name of the place I had given him. Firstly I thought I was pronouncing it wrong, so I wrote it down for him, but he still had no idea. So then a nice lady on the bus who knew a little English, went around the bus asking everyone where the place was. It took nearly the entire journey, but she found one person at the back who knew and thanks to a wonderful group effort, I was finally able to get to my destination.

My friend, Noissair came to meet me and we went back to his place where I met his lovely housemates, who chatted with me for hours. They were very happy to share their thoughts with me, especially about what most Moroccans think of the French language. Apparently, there’s a bit of a movement to try to change the second language in Morocco from French to English, as many think French as useless for communicating with the world, particularly in business settings.

Such a challenging and interesting day had left me exhausted, so I retired to bed to ready myself for the adventures to come.

The Challenges of Getting to Casablanca
I got myself back to the intercity bus station in the city centre, where I couldn’t walk two steps without someone trying to get me on their bus. It seemed that buses to Casablanca run extremely regularly, so I decided to walk around for a bit and maybe find something to eat before getting on a bus. Well, that did not turn out as planned due to the fact that people were smoking inside all of the cafes near the station.

Seeing as lunch was a bust, I decided to change some money, but that also didn’t go according to plan. The first 2 places I went to, that looked very much like currency exchange places, didn’t exchange currency, so I went to a bank who had a problem with their system and couldn’t change currency at the time. I finally got to a bank that could change currency and they wouldn’t accept one of my notes, because it wasn’t new. Luckily I had more where that came from.

Back at the bus station I was again accosted by the first person upon entering, but they got me on a bus leaving within 5 minutes that was 10 dirhams cheaper than the one someone had tried to get me on earlier. Before we left the station, a young boy got on the bus selling ‘Kleenex’, which is apparently the name applied to all tissue products in Morocco. He was followed closely by an older guy selling portable USB chargers. Those guys certainly did their market research!

To break up an otherwise long and boring bus ride, the bus stopped on the side of the highway for about 20 minutes while a woman argued with the bus staff because she wanted them to drop her in a town that the bus wasn’t scheduled to go to. Many passengers got off the bus to watch the exchange because, as I was informed by the young man siting next to me, Moroccans love to watch arguments.

After the commotion was finally over and we started moving, the young man, who was by far the best English speaker I had come across in Morocco so far, started telling me about how he hates the French language and therefore doesn’t speak it. He also revealed that he’d learnt all his English from watching television and movies, because the English taught at schools isn’t nearly good enough for use in the real world.

What I’ve learned about Morocco so far –
– schedules are just a guide and rarely adhered to
– simple things are way more challenging than you would expect.

Let’s see what else I can learn before I’m through. The Moroccan adventures continue here

Shenanigans in Sunny Spain

Marvellous Madrid
I’d finally made it to sunny Spain, so I joined a free walking tour of the city guided by a South African named Max. During the tour, I started talking to a Portugese guy named Pedro, who also happened to have the same name as a Brazilian guy on the tour. We spotted Mario, or at least an old Spanish man dressed up in a Mario costume. Within the blink of an eye, Spanish Mario was right next to us making poses and asking for photos and selfies together. It turns out that those poses come with an expected donation, but whatever, itsa Mario!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Itsa Mario!

As we walked around Spain’s capital city, Max took us to many sites of interest and gave us a bit of background of events in the city over time. He even told us how the Bank Of Spain building was once home to over 500 tonnes of Moscow Gold. When we reached The Puerta de AlcalΓ‘ in the Plaza de la Independencia, he informed us that it was ‘older and better’ than both the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Some Famous Gate in Madrid

After the walk was done, Pedro and I decided to get some lunch and while walking around searching for the perfect place, we happened upon a Tim Hortons. Pedro was so tickled by the idea of a coffee shop that doesn’t exist in Portugal, that he wanted to go in an try what they had on offer. I think he’s in love with Timbits now. After crushing our hunger with a well-earnt buffet lunch, Pedro and I parted ways.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Eye Of The Tiger - orchestral style! in Madrid
Eye Of The Tiger – orchestral style!

It might be worth mentioning at this point that Madrid was celebrating their annual Pride Festival and the streets were positively buzzing. While walking along, I saw a Spanish string quartet rocking out their version of ‘Eye of the Tiger’ and I was invited to a make-up party, but eventually settled for some dancing in the streets with locals wearing pride flags as superhero capes. Good times.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Pride Decorations in Madrid K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Proud Potatoes in Madrid K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Proud Cow in Madrid

Back at the hostel, I booked my bus ticket to Malaga in southern Spain then grabbed my gear ad headed to a local bar for an international meet. I had a great time talking to strangers from all over the world and wowing them with my awesome travel stories, but unfortunately, it had to end. I then headed to the bus station for my overnight bus to Malaga.

Modest Malaga
I arrived in Malaga bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after a wonderful sleep. Nah, not really! I was semi-awake and probably resembled something like a lost zombie. Of course, the best thing to do at that point was to head to a cafe to binge on sugar and internet, right?

Feeling a bit more alive after some food, I was ready to venture out into the hot city and see the sights. I found myself walking along a dry riverbed that led me to a cute area of the city centre, only accessible by pedestrians and the occasional delivery van. Strips of canvas had been hung from the roofs of the buildings all along the cobbled roads to shade people from the harsh sun. What a great idea!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Modest Malaga Monument

Not far from that area, was a large inner city park between two busy roads, across from the port, complete with monuments and sculptured gardens. I sat on a shaded park bench for a while to take it all in. It’s surprising how easy it was to ignore the traffic buzzing on either side when surrounded by nature. Especially the birds in the nearby trees that seemed to be squawking loudly in an attempt to be heard over the throng of the traffic.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Modest Malaga Buildings K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Modest Malaga Inner City Park

I ended up getting back to the station an hour early as I’d overestimated the time it would take me to walk back, so I went to a ‘cafeteria’ across the road from the station, Los Villares, and was immediately impressed that the video for Smells Like Teen Spirit was playing as I entered. I sat down to eat my egg and bacon special while the 90s video hits continued to play. It was a pretty good way to waste that extra hour!

The only thing left to do was get myself on a bus headed for the Talifa port at the southern tip of Spain, via Algericas, where I’d hop on a ferry for a short ride to start my next adventure.. in Morocco, Africa!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Talifa Port Building K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Talifa Port and Sun K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Leaving Talifa Port

πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΈSpain SummaryπŸ‡ͺπŸ‡Έ
In a few words – Sunny and colourful
Language – Spanish and English
Currency – Euro (EUD)
WiFi availability – πŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“Ά
Good WiFi is easy to find
Transport
I didn’t try any inner city transport in Spain as I prefer to walk. Intercity transport is lovely and airconditioned, but probably more expensive than it should be. A 5 hour trip could cost the better part of €100
Roads – πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£
All roads in Spain are smooth and well maintained
Scenery – πŸŒ³β›°πŸŒ³πŸžπŸŒ³
Spanish cities have a lot of green spaces and the countryside is full of rolling green hills.
Prices – πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°
Most things seem to be reasonably priced in Spain, but transport, although comfortable, is a bit overpriced
Border efficiency – πŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒ
Entering and exiting Spain was quick and easy
Overall – πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘