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Melissa & Dave - Adventures at Sea

How about tapas for lunch?

We realized last night that because Ahlam asked us to pay the bill last night, they missed charging us for the bottle of wine at dinner.  So Melissa took another $20 US dollars down to the front desk.  We continue to be amazed at how cheap food is here – a good bottle of wine in a restaurant back home would be twice that.

At breakfast they brought us a local dish – not normally on the menu.  Some meat (the waiter said bacon – but it wasn’t bacon – more like shredded beef maybe?) in a tagine, with two eggs cracked over the meat and cooked up nice and hot.  Yum.  Then there was more of the chickpea bread and the rice cakes the cooks made special for us.  There was also carrot and grapefruit jelly.  Both of which were delicious.  Might be worth trying to find a recipe for the carrot jelly – very unusual (well to us anyway).  The kitchen packed up all the breads they had made for us without wheat in a box with a bow.  So sweet of them!

Then we packed up and headed north – our destination today was Tangiers, by way of Chefchaouen– the blue city.  The countryside is beautiful – all green and lush farm land.

Scenes like this one are typical.

Because it is spring, there are wild flowers everywhere.

Along the way we came upon a bad accident.  Looked like a school girl was hit by a car and a big crowd was gathering.  Melissa asked Dave if he saw anyone bleeding as we both carry hemostatic Quik-Clot kits in our packs.  But he said no, didn’t look like it, otherwise we would have stopped.  (You all have yours right?  Because you’ve heard this lecture before.)

Its common here to run into police check points every hour or so – more often near the cities.  Usually they just wave us through.  But one today they waved us over and asked for our papers.  We were a bit puzzled as we hadn’t passed anyone, and Dave has been meticulous about obeying the speed limit as we had been warned earlier about that.  Alas, apparently as he crested a hill, he was a tad over – 67 in a 60 kph zone.  Basically that’s 40 in a 35 mph zone back home.  Apparently, there must be a zero-tolerance policy on speeding as the police officer was quite apologetic about having to write him the ticket.  Cost us $15 US dollars.  Oh well.

Then we round a corner to find Chefchaouen – known as the blue city as by decree people can only paint buildings blue or white.  We had planned to have lunch there – but when we drove through the city it was a bit of a zoo, and we weren’t really hungry yet so we kept driving.

A bit later Melissa says to Dave, “Hey, how about tapas for lunch in Ceurta?”  Dave had noticed on the map that there are a couple of little cities on the coast that belong to Spain – Ceurta being one of them.  Detouring to Ceurta should only be an hour’s drive or so out of our way.  Since we got such an early start this morning – should be no problem to zip over there for lunch.  We envision ourselves sitting in a nice little café on the beach drinking some nice rose and having tapas for lunch.  We love Moroccan food, but we are a bit weary of tagine.  So this sounds like a great break.  <Insert doom foreshadowing music here.>

We get to the boarder, and we see a very long line of Moroccan’s standing in a line that has to be a quarter mile long.  Hmmm.  That’s odd.  We press on to the boarder and get in line.  Well, doesn’t look so bad.  Maybe 10 cars in front of us.  Imagining this like the Canadian border we are like hey – we should clear this in 20 minutes or so.

Then we realize that the cars don’t move very often or very much.  Everyone has turned off their engines.  And we begin to notice strange goings on.  The wall in this picture separates the lanes going into Spain and the lanes going into Morocco in the other direction.  People are constantly jumping over this wall.  They call each other on their cell phones to meet up and then have secret little conversations with one another.

And while there is a walk way for pedestrians on our left, there are just people everywhere.  Several wheelchairs get pushed by the cars.

And people wait till the guards aren’t looking and jump the fence from the car lanes to the pedestrian lane.

In this picture you see the guy in the foreground watching for the guards before he makes a run for it like the guy in the background who is climbing the fence.

Sometimes these guys go talk to the officers.  Sometimes the officers wave them away and send them out, and sometimes they seem to chat a while and let them through.

It takes an hour to get through the car line you saw in the first picture.  But this is just to get checked out of Morocco.  Its another hour to sit in line for immigration into Spain.  Yet more fence jumping in the waiting area between.

At this point, car driver swapping begins.  Two of the guys who have been fence jumping and running all around are now in the car in front of us.

And then a bit later, they swap drivers again.

Finally we get our passports stamped by Spain and figure we are home free.  But no.  Now its time for the car searching to begin.  They turned one car in front of us around at this point and sent them back to Morocco.  Why we don’t know because the people in that car were not involved in any of the shenanigans.  And the car directly in front got through.  Melissa got yelled at by the guards for taking this photo.  Despite that (and to our later disappointment) they let us through.

Finally two hours after getting in line, we are through the checkpoint.  There is a mass of people on the far side.

And we realize that the line to get back to Morocco is long.  How long you ask?  1.25 miles long – all the cars in a single file.  So that’s over 300 cars.  Oh no!  It might be days before we can get out of here!  Though the reason for the craziness becomes somewhat clear – all the Moroccans headed the other direction are carrying shopping bags.  We later learn that Ceuta is a tax free zone – so things are very inexpensive here.  Like a liter of gin or vodka for $11 Euros ($13 US dollars).  So they come here not to try and immigrate to escape Morocco – but to shop!

Well, might as well drive around and see the sites.  So we go for a drive around the point.  The city itself is sort of pretty.  But there are no seaside cafes.  Not a single one.

The view from the furthest end point is gorgeous though. Our first view of the Rock of Gibraltar!

Ok, so now that we have seen the sites, now what?  Oh hey!  Now that we are in Spain, data works on our phones!  So Melissa pulls up TripAdvisor and looks to see if there are any hotels available.  Because maybe we would be better off staying the night here and trying to cross the boarder in the morning.  We figure that the shopping crazy Moroccans probably won’t have bought all their stuff really early in the morning, and maybe the line will be shorter.  Add to that its now 6pm and it will be dark in a few hours and we don’t really want to make the hour long drive to Tangier in the dark along the winding twisty road down the coast.

Sure enough Trip Advisor shows several nice hotels with availability for about $100 US dollars a night.  Ok, so maybe the thing to do is go get some local advice about whether the line will indeed be shorter come morning.  Because if not, we might be better off getting in line now – if in fact the line is more than a day long to get back out.

We find a spot to park the car and get out and start walking.  In the center of the city the main street is closed to cars because there are so many pedestrians walking up and down what looks like a mall filled with electronics shops, clothing shops, you name it.  We come upon one of the hotels that was recommended by Trip Advisor and pop into the lobby.  We ask the receptionist, and she confirms that between 6 and 8 am the boarder should be easier to cross.  She tells us she only has a suite available tonight though.  How much, we ask, figuring on a ridiculous price.  But no, she says that we can have it for $100 US dollars.  SOLD!  Back to the car.  We need to move the car to the parking lot nearest the hotel.  The receptionist has given us a map.  Alas, Melissa got completely turned around and couldn’t navigate the winding little streets.  MacGyver who had just taken one glance at the map navigates to the parking lot without making a single wrong turn.

We check in and go up to our room.  Key doesn’t work.  Back down to the front desk.  They assure us its fixed.  We go back up and – nope still not working.  Back down again.  This time someone comes with us and opens the door with their own key.  Ok, if this is a suite, I would hate to have seen the regular room.  The room is 10 foot x 10 foot with two twin beds pushed together.  Oh well, beggars can’t be choosers!

After sitting and getting an internet fix, we head off to dinner.  Melissa had picked a restaurant off Trip Advisor.  She says we leave the hotel and make two rights and the restaurant should be right there.  Dave says are you sure it isn’t two lefts?  Melissa shows him the map – nope – should be two right turns, see?  We head off – alas no restaurant where it should be.  Hmmmm.  So we decide to just walk a few blocks around.  The other side of the hotel (would have been two left turns instead of right) we find the restaurant.  Upon reflection, where the map showed the hotel entrance was on the wrong side of the street.  Why does Melissa ever doubt MacGyver?

We go in the restaurant only to discover the noise level is so high we can’t hear each other without yelling.  Ok, scratch that.  We walk down another block and find a nice little restaurant.  We sit down and they ask us what we want to drink and we say (because we can practice our Spanish here!) “Vino Tinto”.  And two glasses of red wine appear in under 2 minutes.  Ok, we’ve been enjoying Morocco to be sure, but sometimes Europe is nice too.  We thought it was a tapas restaurant so we start by ordering three dishes – tuna, pork, and asparagus.  We realize our mistake when the tuna and pork show up and its like two pounds of meat.  Oh well.  It was yummy.

We head to bed and hope that the line to get back to Morocco doesn’t take all day tomorrow!

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