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Don’t Arrive to Africa at 2am

Posted by on June 27, 2013

Yep, I did just that.  Brilliant, I know.

Another travel day turned into an epic adventure, and this is why I was missing the chaos of developing countries while in Europe.  Travel is boring in first world countries.  Buses and trains (usually) leave on time, arrive on time and nothing exciting at all happens on the way.  I truly believe this is why people absolutely hate public transportation in the States.

This typical Tuesday started out like any other travel day (days devoted to traveling as it’ll take ages to get from Point A to Point B and likely multiple forms of transportation).  I awoke around 11am after celebrating the Blackhawks Stanley Cup victory by myself at 5:15am in Sevilla, Spain having to explain to those others who were still up that it was the equivalent of my team winning the World Cup.  I checked out a good 45 minutes late to make sure I could sleep in a bit more, risking my 5 Euro key deposit, knowing that thy won’t actually keep the money unless they’re a really crap hostel that has no clue how to keep their guests and do not realize that almost everyone goes to a hostel in their next city based on word of mouth or others recommendations.  As expected with a smile, the worker did not mention my tardiness, happily gave me back my deposit and I walked to the bus station to buy my ticket.  I arrived…and found out I was at the wrong bus station and had to go to the other side of town.  I returned to the hostel, quick searched Moroccan hostels (I had previously booked one the day before, only the 4th hostel I’ve booked in 230+ nights traveling, but I’ve learned that sometimes you need a confirmed booking to entry a new country) and took a screen shot of a map or two and continued onward. 

I lugged my backpacks across town to the bus station, arriving about 1:45, 15 min before departure bought my ticket and boarded seeing only two other travelers get aboard.  About 2.5 hrs later, I arrived in Tarifa on the Southern Coast of Spain, I disembarked, saw the two blonde girls and asked them if they had any clue where they were going (I usually just figure it out whenever I get some where) and tagged along with them.  Amanda had heard that no ferries were running to Morocco that day because of the wind, surprising because the ships are massive and the fact that they do this every day.  We walked towards to the port together and I saw another backpacker heading our way, asked him if he knew anything, and he said they’re not running.  In typical backpacker fashion, we all teamed, grabbed a kebab, and began the journey together – for fun, for safety, and to split the expenses.  Two hours later we got on the next bus to Algeciras at 6:45, 25 minutes away, where rumor had it the ferries were running.  Along the ride, we could see Africa across the Strait of Gibralter – how cool!  Moroccan radio waves reached Spain and Spanish or Arabic channels would mix on many frequencies.

The 9:00 ferry was our goal.  We waited with our tickets, passports stamped out of Spain, and Spanish and their glorious economy promptly boarded us at ~10:00, eventually departing around 10:30 for our “half hour” boat ride.  We were all smiles, playing the song “Africa” over and over as we were all about to go to a new continent!  On the journey, we looked ahead into the darkness without a single light in sight on our second least visited continent. We had a good laugh about this and knew it’d be an adventure.  After a longer than expected ride, celebratory beers, story telling amongst our new friends, and the port being occupied when we arrived ensuring we circled the harbor for a good forty minutes – we disembarked in Africa a little before 1am.  Expecting beauty from Africa, our cameras at the ready to capture our first glimpse of Africa….we were greeted my a massive water treatment plant – buzz kill.  We hopped on a bus to Moroccan customs (we passed immigration on the boat and received our stamp from immigration officials) put our bags on an X-Ray conveyor which had nobody looking at the screen….and entered Morocco! 

Haggling with the cabbies was useless, after 10 minutes of talking to everyone there, they had a set price of 30 Euros for the 50km journey to Tangier (the other port that was too windy arrives right in Tangier, hence why we did not want to take the ferry from Algeciras).  Kat and I passed out intermittently on the ride there and eventually arrived at a hotel parking lot, which my hostels directions had told us to go to before cars can go no further.  I was the only one with a reservation as the girls had cancelled theirs and Scott was along for the ride winging it as he goes.  Armed with zero French and a negative ability to speak Arabic, we entered the Labyrinth of streets (read: dark corridors) of Africa hoping to wind our way to our hostel.  The skinny alleys were dimly lit at best, moonlight doing its best to help us, and we began to pass people – all men – as we are in a Muslim country and it’s well after midnight. 

Onward we wander, uncomfortably, and naturally the four Westerners including two blondes and two guys in singlets stand out more than anything and a crowd follows along.  One Moroccan guy begins to say something to us, then another, next thing you know we have a pack of about eight guys in their late teens semi-leading us through the alleys, as we tried to look for any signs or street signs that we recognized.  I clutched my front pack my valuables close, Amanda clutched Scott’s arm tight, and Kat was between all of us.  This was the first time in all my travels that I felt uneasy.  Where we they taking us?  Can we trust them?  Are they just trying to help for a buck?  Scott’s recent visit to Egypt had informed us to expect something along these lines, but no doubt all four of us were uncomfortable, leaning on each other and making sure we felt (relatively) secure about the direction we were going.  We asked other shopkeepers along the way if we were going the right direction, and eventually one confirmed that the boys were leading us in the right direction and we arrived, everyone saw the sign but myself, and we were all on full alert.  Rang the bell, a window opened above us, and the front door eventually opened.  Luis, the French owner of The Melting Pot hostel greeted us, and invited us in.  We informed him of our situation, that I had a reservation and that was it.  He flips through his books and says he has one bed.  Did he mean one or an additional one?  Terror was in everyone’s eyes and the look of “What are we going to do” was very apparent.  The only thing we knew was that NONE of us were going back out there.  Luis informed us it was an additional bed, I asked everyone if they were comfortable bunking up and I’ve never seen such a sigh of relief/obvious “Yes” look in people’s eyes before. 

Luis was beyond helpful, even making us tea, and treating us to traditional Moroccan snacks as we were all starving.  He told us he came to Morocco years ago, fell in love with Tangier, opened the hostel and never looked back.  He also informed us of how safe the area actually is and that there has never been a problem.  But let me tell you, even for those of us who have been to a lot of sketchy places, showing up to Africa, not knowing a lick of the language at two in the morning will lead a lot of fear into someone’s body.  The tea was delicious as can be and the joys of traveling kicked back in.  Thirteen hours later into what should’ve been a few hour bus to boat to walk travel day and a bit more expensive than we’d hoped, we were smiling again.  Safely there, four brand new friend’s, Moroccan tea in hand, a story to tell, and close enough for two of us to each comfortably share the top of a twin bed bunk bed in separate fully occupied dorm rooms. 

Travel is always an adventure, but stay strong, and know that 99.99% of the time it ALWAYS works out….you just may end up with an epic story – but that’s just part of the fun!  That said, I still wouldn’t recommend you show up to Africa for the first time at 2 in the morning, but if you do – please please share your story with the world!

One comment on “Don’t Arrive to Africa at 2am

  1. Sarah on said:

    Oh man, this reminds me – I need to write up my Moroccan arrival adventure. Midnight arrival, lost hotel reservations, and a “hotel” with the most interesting mother-in-law suite ever. Good times.

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