After nearly three months since leaving the UK and two weeks in Africa, we at last feel like travellers. To answer the question posed in my previous post, I think I now know the difference between being a traveller and being on holiday. The difference is in the expression of personality and the perception of time.
We arrived in Morocco two weeks ago, having just managed to stay ahead of the bad weather as we travelled south through Spain. Our idea was to spend a month or so in Morocco and be back in Europe before Christmas. However, we have fallen in love with Morocco. Since arriving here, we have settled into an unhurried life where we decide each morning whether we will move somewhere or stay where we are. Before arriving in Southern Morocco our decisions were mostly based on the weather. Here in the desert, the weather is the same every day and so we base our decisions entirely on how we feel that day. We have felt less motivated to move. When we stay in one place we rest, save money, have time to catch up on chores, contact family and friends, write new blog posts and bring our daily journal up to date.
Our need to keep ahead of the bad weather in Spain kept us moving, perhaps more quickly than we would have liked. We travelled through mountains and national parks in Northern Spain that were beautiful and offered the opportunity for some great hikes, but the weather prevented us from exploring the area. We stumbled upon a small town called Viladrau in the Montsenay massif, thinking that we would take advantage of a free parking area we had found through an app to spend the night. We arrived early, so ventured into the town to look for a café, just as it started to rain. Having spent the previous night listening to the rain fall on the tent we had hoped for a dry evening but this began to look less and less likely. As it was early afternoon, the cafes in Viladrau were closed, so we ventured into a nearby hotel bar.
The hotel, called Hostal Bofill, was serving lunch to town locals but were happy for us to come in for coffee and to use their Wi-Fi. As we sat in the comfortable and nostalgic bar the sky outside turned crepuscular and the rain became heavier. We decided to enquire about staying in the hotel for the night, and discovered that they had a room available for a reasonable price, by European standards. The room was simple but beautiful, with a high ceiling, tall shuttered windows and a small balcony overlooking the street. It contained two narrow single beds, a 1950s wardrobe, a sink and a television that we were warned didn’t work. We loved it. We ate in the hotel restaurant that evening, as it filled with visitors and locals expecting to see a show in the town square to celebrate the Dia de las Brujas (Day of the Witches), it being 31 October. The rain won in the end, cancelling the show, drowning everyone’s expectations and keeping the hotel busy.
The following morning was bright and sunny and we enjoyed breakfast in the hotel’s beautiful dining room with the sun streaming through the stained-glass panes of windows shaped like hazelnuts. We left the mountains and ventured southward, past Barcelona and Valencia. We travelled south along the coast, avoiding the large cities and tourist hot spots. We stayed mostly on campsites to take advantage of hot showers and free Wi-Fi, until we reached Cartegena, where we decided to dive into the tourist hot spot and spend a day visiting Roman remains and watching ships in the harbour.
Reaching the South coast, dominated by Almeria, Malaga and Marbella we regretted leaving the North so quickly and looked forward to reaching Morocco! We had an enforced stay of a week on a campsite outside Marbella (waiting for a parcel to arrive from the UK), by the end of which we were desperate to get moving again. The area was dominated by holiday villas, bars, spas and golf clubs. The presence of expatriates was demonstrated by the proliferation of English advertisements and signs, estate and insurance agents and restaurants providing fish and chips. Thirty years ago, we imagine, this would have been a very different place.
We had decided to take the ferry from Algeciras to Tangier Med as this seemed the best route from Spain to Morocco, according to most of the articles we’d read on the subject. We bought our ferry ticket from one of the numerous ticket agents that line the motorways and occupy small offices in retail parks. Our agent was Carlos and he offered us an open return ticket for 180 Euros and rewarded us for the purchase with a gift of a bottle of ‘pomagne’ and a packet of Spanish biscuits!
After a night sleeping somewhat uncomfortably inside the Land Rover in a retail park car park outside Algeciras, we headed for Algeciras port to take our ferry. We were warned that people wearing hi-visibility jackets at the port are usually not official and will try to sell you tickets or obtain payment for information. We encountered our first such person as we negotiated the long road to the ferry check-in. On hearing we already had our tickets, he simply directed us right, when the road was left, and we wandered in parallel to the other vehicles until finally reaching a point where we could exit our route to re-join theirs.
Otherwise our departure from Europe and entry to Morocco was unhindered. We queued on the ferry during the crossing to have our passports stamped by Moroccan immigration and were stopped by customs in Tangier Med along with all the other passengers, to present our documents and answer questions about whether we were carrying guns or drones. A cursory inspection of the vehicle and a wait of about 20 minutes was sufficient for them to let us go on our way. Not so lucky were the Africans entering through the port with cars packed to their roofs with random items from clothes and blankets to children’s replica motorbikes. They were instructed to remove entirely the contents of their cars, which were distributed on the tarmac around them for inspection by customs officers and their dogs.
During our ferry crossing we talked about how few people we had met or made any contact with in Europe, beyond a passing hello to a campsite neighbour. We mostly encountered Europeans in camping cars who only travel within the limits of Europe and rarely venture outside their camping car bubble. Since arriving in Morocco, we have met and talked to many different people from different countries travelling by different means and for different reasons. It is interesting introducing yourself to different people, expressing yourself in different versions of your, or their, language depending on respective abilities. This is our experience of personality as we travel. Our personalities change with our experience of different people and conversing in different languages. You can almost reinvent yourself each time. Past blunders or embarrassments that you may share with friends and acquaintances at home are unknown. You have the chance to start again. I have found this quite liberating and I have felt my confidence in speaking to people grow. We have spent evenings with Dutch, German, French and Swedish people at different times and each experience is unique, revealing a new aspect of personality.
Although we have only been in Morocco for two weeks our initial experiences and impressions are already becoming hazy and distant. This is our experience of time as we travel. From a life spent looking either backwards or forwards, we now look only at the present. What has gone behind quickly fades and we give little thought to what is ahead. We literally take the time to watch the sunset.
We met a Moroccan who put it very succinctly when he said “in Europe you have watches; in Morocco we have time.”