Day 13: Africa!

Soutpiel Safari
John & Jenny
Wed 17 Nov 2010 09:50
Day 13: Wednesday 13 November 2010.  Malaga Hotel, Tetouan, Morocco. N35 34.310 W005 22.387. Distance driven 78km
Quite an eventful day for our first day in Africa!  The ferry crossing was uneventful and only took 35 minutes from Algeciras to Ceuta.  We rolled off into Ceuta, a small enclave of Spain inside Morocco, in drizzle, a cold wind and overcast skies. The exit from Spain was uneventful and we then entered the Moroccan border area where everything became very scruffy and disorganised - very Arab in fact!  Whilst I was queuing for immigration and vehicle registration, a very irate official in plain clothes started trying to scratch the map of Africa off the Land Rover doors, while Jenny watched in wonderment! He eventually came over and pulled me out of the immigration queue and took me back to the car where he demanded, in staccato French, that I should remove the maps.  At first, I thought it might be the "Western Sahara" name that he was objecting to but he wasn't satisfied with the removal of that title.  He became very, very irate, went off to his office, came back with a large penknife and started to prise off the maps, taking a fair amount of cellulose with them. Meanwhile, Jenny pissed him off even more by attempting to take a photo! We never did find out what it was all about but he seemed to be the chief official, but was he police, secret police, immigration, or what? He certainly wasn't Ministry of Tourism! We will never know, but he was really very unpleasant.  After that, the Immigration clerk singled out our passports and took them away to the Chief's office for special scrutiny.  At one point the Chief had demanded to know Jenny's profession.  Perhaps they thought we were reporters - we had learnt from Internet comment that the Moroccan authorities had been taking a hard line against Spanish reporters who, they thought, had been reporting unfavourably about the tensions in Western Sahara. Anyway, the rest of the officials were very friendly and wished us a pleasant stay in Morocco.
On leaving the border area we started to drive towards Tetouan and Chefchaouen feeling quite pissed off and dejected at our entrance into Africa.  The weather was cold, wet and unfriendly but also, everywhere was totally deserted.  We stopped in the first small town looking Moroccan Dirhams and for somewhere to buy the compulsory third party car insurance, but everywhere was closed. Not even a restaurant was open at lunchtime!  We drove on towards Tetouan without any local currency and looked for diesel, soon finding that even the gas stations which advertised taking credit cards, did not do so.  Once in Tetouan we found a couple of ATM's and filled up with diesel at an appealing 58 pence/litre. At least something was going right!
Coming away from the second ATM (obviously having withdrawn money) I was accosted by a pleasant Moroccan speaking good English who advised that we had arrived in the middle of Eid al Adhr (the Islamic holiday immediately after the Haj, or pilgrimage to Mecca) and that the whole town was in festive mood.  He also advised that all shops and offices would be closed until Friday and we therefore couldn't purchase the necessary insurance until then. Furthermore, it seems that the penalty if caught without insurance, is two days in jail.  Having already had one unpleasant brush with Moroccan officialdom, we didn't want to risk another, so decided to play safe and stay here until Friday.  The cold and rain made camping an unattractive option so we opted for a "budget" hotel, at least for tonight.
Our "guide" took us on a fascinating tour of the medina, where all the shops were closed but the local inhabitants were engaged in mass slaughter and skinning of sheep for tonight's festivities.  The narrow alleyways of the medina were full of young men roasting sheep's heads on wood braziers and others hacking off the horns.  Everywhere there were piles of sheepskins, heads and horns!  We also visited the "tannery" where all the skins were to be processed, the mosque, the palace of King Mohammed VI, a traditional old house, and a carpet outlet where we did well to emerge without buying anything.
Of course, the services of our" guide" didn't come free but, at least, we had had a fascinating afternoon, seen things we certainly wouldn't have seen and ventured into places where we certainly wouldn't have gone, without him - so decided that it was good value after all!
And, it was an opportunity to brush up on my very rusty Arabic!
NB.  Although we had internet at the Tarifa camping, I found that I could receive but not send.  Now in Tetouan we have no connection and little prospect until Friday, so I'll try to send this by Sat Phone.