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Wild and without Europe: From Spain to Morocco, Africa

We’re on the train to Algeciras having just departed the magnificent Ronda after a whirlwind romantic few days. It’s our final hours in Europe as we progress to our ultimate goal of Africa. Spain to Morocco. Originally, when we were in the planning stages of this whole hitchhiking adventure we toyed with the idea of hitchhiking across the Strait of Gibraltar. You know, just casually thumbing outside the ferry terminal until a kind stranger picks us up and smuggles us across the ocean into Africa. Doesn’t sound too clever? For us too. We read some pretty nasty stories from other dreamers and adventurers, and let’s just say the outcome was neither romantic or inspiring.

We decided against all that tom-foolery and opted for the much more simple and straightforward approach of buying a legitimate ticket for the ferry. We’ve also scrapped plans to hitchhike to Algeciras (the city in Spain where the ferries depart). We’ve done plenty of it over the last months and saved an incredible amount of money. It’s not worth it to save a few quid. Who knows how long we will be waiting. We decide on the train and from a sightseeing perspective it’s a great choice. Spain to Morocco the easy way.

Through the Sierra Nevadas

The journey is wonderful, through twisting ravines and harsh limestone peaks. Turquoise rivers navigate the interweaving mountain feet, leaving waterfalls, pools and deep canyons in their wake. A wonderful place to hike and explore, with ample opportunities for swimming, diving and hiding from the relentless summer sun.

The railway snakes through valleys, sometimes beside the river, sometimes higher, over bridges and through tunnels. It’s a masterpiece in itself, without the impressive vistas. My face is glued to the window and I yearn for more time and begin to feel restless at the prospect of dwindling funds and the so called return to normality.

As we emerge from the next tunnel the dipping sun dazzles with its glistening orange streaks, the day is drawing to an end. We arrive in Algeciras just after dark. Time to find our hotel. It’s a short four minute walk. So far so good. We arrive at Hostal Versalles and whilst it doesn’t look great from the outside, nor in the reception area, it is at least cheap. Like €20 cheap. We check in, dude gives us a key and we head up to the room.

Andddd gross. The room is vile. It stinks. There’s an ashtray full with used cigarette ends by the bed side table. I’ll just go ahead and quote the review we left:

One of the worst places we’ve ever stayed in. No smoking room complete with ashtrays and stale smoke smell lingering through the room even after airing it out. Rubbish wifi, dirty bathroom, heater didn’t work. Filthy towels and sheets. A clump of hair still in the shower. Not worth more than 5 euros.

After a long battle with Hostelworld we got the payment refunded as credit. Anyway, don’t stay at Hostal Versalles, it’s grim.

Highlights from Spain

Ronda through abandoned window
Spain

The wonders of Ronda: A bridge between the eras

Remarkable Ronda. This magnificent town has been on our travel list for a long time now. We’re finally here, and it’s our final destination in Europe too. Two days to explore Ronda and then we’ll take a ferry to Morocco, my first time on the African continent. It’s going to be an action packed few […]

January 12, 2022
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Burning sunset over The Alhambra, Granada
Portugal

Wild and without borders: Where cultures fuse in Granada

It’s 2AM and we’re waiting for the bus to Granada. Today was our last day in Portugal. For the last few hours we’ve been hanging out in the hostel common room, preparing sandwiches for our journey and generally abusing our stay. We only paid for one night, and we were supposed to check out at […]

December 28, 2021
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A small alpine lake in Aigüestortes i Estany of Saint Maurici national park lake reflecting trees, cloudy mountains in background
Spain

Wild and without: Aigüestortes i Estany of Saint Maurici National Park

In the heart of the Pyrenees, we wake up from a cosy nights sleep in our tent, it was cold but not excruciatingly so. Wide awake, freshened and energetic to explore. We came to Espot to experience the mighty Pyrenees mountains. We decided randomly on the national park Aigüestortes i Estany of Saint Maurici. Well […]

January 19, 2020
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Mountain hut in Aigüestortes i Estany of Saint Maurici national park
Spain

Wild and without warmth: Overnighting at lake Trullo

On a previous hike in the Aigüestortes i Estany of Saint Maurici national park we decided that we absolutely had to do another hike here and stay in a mountain refuge. We were quite happy to stay in the same one that we found on the last hike but the excitement of seeing some more […]

January 26, 2020
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Gathering supplies for our voyage to Morocco

We’ve got a list of chores we need to finish before our journey so we get out of the hotel as soon as we can. We need dinner, snacks for the journey tomorrow and we need to withdraw enough money to last us the three weeks we plan to spend in Morocco. The streets are dark and dingy, it’s filthy and the city is shrouded in a seedy aura. We don’t feel safe here. There’s no other travellers or tourists, or happy people for that matter, it’s just drunks, groups of leering men and prying eyes.

In fact some of the shops we pass look so uninviting we dare not go in. We circle the street, digging for courage but ultimately move on. We find a square that somewhat resembles a place of normality, a streak of safety in the dark underbelly of Algericas. It’s the sin city of Spain. Some years later I read a book set in Algericas, it does a fantastic job of portraying the bleakness and misery of the once heralded port town. Check it out, it’s a great book.

On the square is an ATM and a small supermarket where we top up on snacks, unwittingly we head back to the hotel, the creaking squalor, a dusty trophy room of gifts left by previous guests, on whatever sordid business they must have been entrenched in.

Escaping Algeciras & Spain

After a sleepless night we pack our bags faster than humanely possible, jumping through the gate to hell at breakneck speed. Algeciras is not much prettier in the day time, but the illuminated shadows are certainly a welcome improvement. It’s still early and the streets are empty. At 7AM in the winter, Algeciras is eerily silent. One can conjure an image of a time gone by where the whole city is bustling with travellers and workers alike, processing goods from all around world.

The ferry is departing from the port at 7:50, the walk is about 10 minutes from our hostel. Our tickets are already booked online – you can do the same on the Trasmediterranea website. Note that the website does not work very well in Safari, best to use Chrome. As of writing the price is €34.90 euros per person for a one-way trip to Ceuta.

You can also buy your tickets at the Port, but ignore all the travel agencies and head straight to the companies who operate the Ferries. When you buy the tickets you will get entry forms for the Spain to Morocco crossing. Make sure to keep these and fill them out.

Boarding works with no hiccups. Well, one small one, at some point we have to show our boarding passes. They are teared, possibly signalling that they have been used. We follow the signs for the ferry but get confused and end up back in the main building, on the other side of boarding area. We begin to panic, scared that they might not let us pass through the gate again, but all is fine and we carefully make our way on to the ferry.

Spain to Morocco: Ferry ride from hell

The ferry is quite large, with a shop and a restaurant onboard. The phone reception is poor, but as soon as the ferry begins to cross the Strait of Gibraltar we realise we won’t be able to use our phones anyway. The sea is rough. Really rough. The boat is swaying from side to side, huge waves crash against us. Glasses on tables slip and slide. Bottles of expensive alcohol come crashing from the shelves of the bar. Passengers flee to the toilets with extreme bouts of sea sickness, others lie on the floor. Staff attempt to salvage the remaining bottles of alcohol from the elements. All the while we sit at our table, completely unprepared for the onslaught of the sea during this relatively small crossing of the Mediterranean, from Spain to Morocco.

It doesn’t last long, for the crossing takes less than one hour. Soon enough the sun begins to shine and the coast of North Africa and the Riff mountains rise from the ocean. As we dock, there is no dawdling. The doors open and we immediately disembark. We’re in Ceuta, the continent of Africa, but firmly Spanish soil and therefore, still the EU.

What’s the deal with Ceuta?

Ceuta is an autonomous city in Northern Africa. It’s completely surrounded to the south by Morocco. On the North it’s bordered by the Mediterranean Sea. Spanish is the official language and technically, it’s EU territory, hence no border checks yet. The border to Morocco is to the south of the city.

Spain has ruled Ceuta since the 17th century but all the while Morocco has contested the ownership. It has never, and still does not accept it. It claims Ceuta as part of Morocco. Diplomatic spats and tensions still erupt today, especially with regards to immigration. There is a nice BBC article about the history if you want to read more.

If you have the time you may want to stay and explore Ceuta: There are fortifications, churches, beaches, cafes and restaurants.

Spain to Morocco: The border crossing

Now to the border. It’s a bit of a trek but apparently there is a bus. The number 7 with a destination of La Frontera. You can catch it from Plaza La Constitución. It’s about a 1.2KM walk from the Port, directions here.

The bus costs about 70 cents and we’re glad for it. It’s quite a way to the border, 5KM, an hours walk with our heavy packs. The bus ride takes about 15 minutes and we depart at La Frontera, the final stop. Now comes the dreaded crossing.

We’ve done a lot of planning and we know exactly what we have to do and where we have to go. However, there are minor discrepancies between others’ accounts, so unfortunately for us, there are a few unresolved questions. Namely, taxi rides.

We walk past the Spanish authorities as we don’t need an exit stamp, being EU citizens. If you’re not an EU citizen you will need to do that. The path follows the road where we queue with everyone else, mostly Moroccans. The queue is long but it’s moving fairly fast. We wait maybe an hour or so. It’s chaos at the border: animals, guns, shouting & people scaling walls (yes really).

We hand our passports and entrance forms to a man at a booth and he checks the documents. He quizzes me (Aydin) about my name and wants to know where I’m from, even though I have a UK passport and was born there. I tell him about my grandparents (father’s side) who are from Cyprus and he still does not accept until we use the Arabic pronunciation Qubrus (قبرص). He stamps us and waves us through.

Spain to Morocco, it’s our first foray into another continent together. We can’t wait for the landscapes, food, architecture, culture, colours and madness.

Hitchhiking adventures

Train on the Glacier Express route above Urseren valley
Country

A hitchhiker’s dream: Road tripping through Switzerland

It’s early morning, fog is hanging over the forests and frost covers the ground beneath us. Once again, we’re standing by the side of a road, waiting for some kindhearted person to take us to, well, pretty much anywhere this time! We’re in Filisur, a tiny village on the Glacier Express line in the south-east […]

May 7, 2019
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Vintage boat house at Drei Weieren in St. Gallen
Switzerland

St. Gallen: Sneaky shots and vintage vibes

Wahoo, we have crossed our first border as hitchhikers! It’s been an eventful journey to St. Gallen that started early in our beloved Innsbruck. We love Innsbruck so much, we wrote not one but two posts about it! We splurged on a room there last night. When I say splurged, I mean a room without […]

April 17, 2019
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A view of the campsite: Camping Freizeitsee Zenz
Austria

Wild and without a clue how to hitchhike

Hitchhiking for over three months, carrying all of your belongings and shelter in your rucksack requires a lot preparation and money. After spending many, many smackers on equipment, from a tent to a french press (Girl needs her coffee!), only to discover in the process that so many more items are needed, you have to […]

September 20, 2017
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Moustiers-Sainte-Marie with mountains behind
France

Wild and without the French Riviera: Hitching to Verdon and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie

We can’t wait to leave the Ibis hotel this morning. Yesterday was not a good day. Overnight we’ve scrapped our plans to visit the French Riviera and instead decided to head a little bit further north again and spend some days in the Verdon area which seems to be stunningly beautiful. That is, if we […]

September 23, 2019
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Grands Taxis of Morocco

We walk a few minutes to the taxi pick up point. We want to get to Tétouan where we can catch a bus to Chefchaouen. We’ve read about scams and coercion with taxis so we’re pretty nervous but it’s unwarranted, it goes super smooth. A few of the things we were worried about:

  • Being forced to take a private taxi
  • Being forced to pay a seat for our rucksacks
  • Paying extortionate non-local prices
  • Being hassled to commit to a longer journey, all the way to Chefchaouen

Background: Grand taxis are Morocco’s choice of intercity transport. They are mostly old Mercedes Saloons that fit up to 6 passengers, 7 including the driver. 4 in the back, 2 in the front. It works somehow. The taxis drive a fixed route with a fixed price. Not once in morocco did we pay more than a local.

As we approach the stand, we state our destination and are directed to a taxi. Our rucksacks are placed in the boot, which we’re surprised of as they are large 70 litre packs. During some other routes we have them on our laps. We didn’t pay extra, it was around 2-3 euros and we paid in euros. We wait about 15 minutes for the taxi to fill up with other passengers. They don’t typically leave until full, and therefore, don’t follow a schedule/timetable.

The ride is simple and during the journey we get our first glimpse of the wonderful Moroccan country side, and our first ignorant realisation: The North is green, like vibrant green, mountains all around. Compared to the south of Spain, it’s an oasis. We had no idea – we came for the desert and had barely an idea about the lush southern landscapes. The difference in landscapes from Spain to Morocco is immeasurable.

Blissfully easy bus to Chefchaouen

As we arrive in Tétouan, a sizeable city, after around a 45 minute ride we worry where our driver will drop us off. We’re not sure how close he will actually drive to the bus station and where best we should ask to exit. We carefully watch the GPS tracker on maps.me and gauge our distance from the bus station. Lots of people get in and out of the taxi and we’re sure our driver will forget about us. Alas, more worry for nothing. We’re dropped off right outside the CTM bus station, where we grab our bags and head in to the neatly organised, air-conditioned bus station.

Ignore any random sellers, taxi drivers and other unscrupulous characters and head straight for the CTM counter and purchase your tickets there. Apparently there is an app and a website where you can purchase tickets but we never used it. Multiple busses leave for Chefchaouen throughout the day and it takes around 2 hours.

The next bus to depart leaves in around an hour. It’s 2PM (in Morocco time). We settle in and rest our heads on our packs. It’s been a long day already. The brand new, shining, clean, air-conditioned bus arrives and departs on time. We’re in utter disbelieve. The level of ease and organisation is an order of magnitude better than France & Spain.

The final slog

The bus arrives in Chefchaouen and we are immediately tackled by taxi drivers wanting to drive us into town. They are incredibly overwhelming and in our faces as we try to locate our rucksacks and get our bearings. We instantly decline all offers even though we would have probably took one to avoid walking up the hill. But it’s too much. It’s really not a great sales technique. They will tell you “too far”, “too steep” etc. It’s really not. Around 1.2KM’s, 20 minutes walk.

The bus station is here, and the old town begins here. We walk to our hostel/hotel Casa Amina where we are warmly welcomed by the hotel owner. We get our first taste of delicious Moroccan sweet mint tea. The hotel is a typical riad style building and we have our own private room.

Time for chores: Sim Cards & Exchanging

After unpacking a little, we head straight out. We’ve got chores to do: money to exchange, sim card buying and all that jazz. We pick up a Maroc Telecom sim card from a local shop, just outside the old town (they’re everywhere). The tariffs are listed and we just pick a data heavy one by pointing at pictures to the cashier. They take our phones and handle the rest by swapping the sim cards, dialling numbers and entering codes, hopefully not installing spyware.

First impressions of Chefchaouen

It has been an incredibly long day. We’ve travelled from Spain to Morocco minus any real complications and completed all the necessary chores for our final weeks travelling in Morocco. We’ve got two full days planned in Chefchaouen and we can’t wait. It’s just incredible. A dream destination.

Romantic blue streets of Chefchaouen Morocco

And what better time to explore? We waltz through the old cobbled streets and admire the one thousand shades of blue. As the sun dips to the peaks of the Riff mountains the light becomes defused and golden. We decide to hike the pilgrim route to the Spanish Mosque and watch the sun set with a magnificent view over Chefchaouen.

Check back for the next post where we explore Chefchaouen. There will be lots more pictures and adventures!

FACTS FACTS FACTS

How to get to Chefchaouen

There are many airports in Morocco and as there is not really a nearby international airport, the airport you choose will mostly depend on the rest of your trip. If you plan to visit other cities such as Casablanca, Fez or Marrakesh you might want to fly directly there and take a bus to Chefchaouen. The closest international airport is Tangier. Check Skyscanner for flights.

For domestic travel we’d recommend using buses, they are modern, clean and punctual. CTM & Supratours are the main operators.

If you want to figure out how to get to Chefchaouen from Spain to Morocco, read the blog post from the beginning!

Things to do

Coming soon in the next blog post.

Accommodation

We stayed at Casa Amina – a nice place in the middle of the Medina.

Pro Tips

Stay longer in Chefchaouen, go hiking in the mountains, meander around the Medina – it’s an absolute beauty and deserves more of your time.

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