🇲🇦 My gateway to the Arabic World – Storm over Tangier

Diary Entry

After less planning and relatively spontaneously, we set off: we start from our ERASMUS semester abroad in Granada on February 10 at 9 a.m. from the bus station in the direction of Algeciras to take a ferry to Tangier.

“We” are Susanne and my Finnish friend Olli, and “we” are half dead. Because the night before we had a big party in our house, because our roommate Jörn and our passive roommate Jan were celebrating their birthdays, and this party went Spanish style until about 6 a.m. When I get up again at 7 a.m., hungover after a few minutes of sleep, Fredo and Piet are still playing darts.

Student life

Olli also decided to come with us, but only for a week, as he had promised to be back when his flatmate said goodbye.

We managed to get a good night’s sleep on the bus to Algeciras. Once there, we turn directly to the port, where thousands of shops sell tickets to Tangiers with umpteen companies.

The nice and unselfish citizen kindly offers me to change my euros into Moroccan dirhams, since obviously you cannot pay with euros in Morocco.

However, when I reply that the import and export of Moroccan money is absolutely forbidden, the man quickly takes to his feet.

The most respectable-looking building is closed, however, but a friendly and absolutely altruistic citizen takes us to his trusted shop, where they sell us tickets for the ferry, which leaves just half an hour later, for expensive €36. Hectic is the best means for fast and uncomplicated rip-off, we learn that quickly.


Since we assume that the ship will leave at any moment, we rush to the “terminal” to check in on time. Once that’s done, it takes a good hour before the ship finally starts its engines.

This is a first. It’s my first spontaneous and completely unplanned backpacking trip. Let’s see how this works!

The ferry is an impressive “Fast Ferry” in name and is supposed to take only one hour; but in the end she needs two. During the journey, which takes us directly past the impressive Rock of Gibraltar, which is forever hanging in fog, we can formally enter Morocco on board. There is a small office in the ship for a Moroccan customs officer who hammers the entry stamps into our passports. This greatly facilitates entry into the country.

What happens to the passengers who are refused entry?

Interestingly, we can see some Moroccans changing on board, swapping their jeans and t-shirts for kaftans and caps.

Still half dead, we are faced with the dilemma of either following the great scenery outside or just sleeping. We pull ourselves together somehow to hang over the railing and gain something from the bad sea. We can now see Europe on one side and Africa on the other, but it was still a while before Tangier emerged from the fog. Instead, a few dolphins jump out of the water in front of us.

Europe on one side, Africa on the other!

Arriving at the port of Tangier, many people are suddenly taking care of us in a sentimental way. The first identifies himself as an “official tourist office representative” who of course does not want money, but only gives our best and freely information. Gradually, however, he tries to make his offer palatable to us to spend a “great” day in Tangier, to see the mosques, to eat couscous, etc. There is a great official storage place somewhere for the luggage, which is the price of all the fun an impudence.

We emphatically reject the offer and try to get rid of the guy somehow, when the next few people try to attract our attention with their offers. I grab one of the guys that doesn’t look too bad to take me to where I can exchange money and find a cab.

Tangier makes a bad impression on us and we want to get away from here. In the back of my mind I have the idea of continuing to the old royal city of Meknes.

With no expectation of a reward, the fellow disappears again, surely getting his share of us as we take a taxi to the train station and experience an Arab city and Arab traffic for the first time. Tangier’s flair can hardly be described as an Arabic city; the only clue is the minarets, which are visible everywhere, rising from the cityscape, otherwise Tangier looks like any other run-down city. The traffic isn’t really that bad either. Every car drives as space allows, but fortunately the traffic is not that dense.

Both the “official tourism office representative” and the other “helpful” person try to make us believe that it is complete nonsense to go to Meknes now because the train arrives there late. It is much better to travel to Marrakech first, because you can stay overnight on the train, or to stay in Tangier for the time being.

We discuss our options, whether we should go to Marrakech first because of the desert, since Olli was only with us for a week, and then set off into the desert from there. I’m not comfortable with the idea of going all the way to nowhere without experience in the country, so we’ll stick with it and buy our train tickets to Meknes.

At the train stations in Morocco, the tracks are not open, but a man who tears off the cards sits at the passage and lets people to the tracks. At least in Tangier it’s quite a scramble.

At the train station we now learn another lesson: negotiate a price with the taxi drivers beforehand! Having reached his destination, he now wants 2€ from each of us, which is too much for the route. However, since I don’t see any possibility and don’t know any comparisons yet, I pay the price. Later I will ask in all our accommodations what prices are reasonable for which taxi rides; so I can effortlessly negotiate down all taxi drivers in the future.

Changing trains in Sidi Kacem – completely safe

We feel very strange on the train. Everyone seems to be looking at us and we are obviously the only tourists on the train. Two guys next to us start chatting to us in English. Every Moroccan seems to have two sentences planted in their brain somewhere:

“You first time in Morocco? Welcome to Morocco!”

But the two are very friendly and explain to me that the Moroccans are actually Berber and Berber is their mother tongue. They also speak Arabic and French. Fortunately, this elderly gentleman and his son also speak English.

The father also writes down for me on a piece of paper a collection of important words in Arabic/Berber in Arabic and Latin script with an English translation. An excerpt, without Arabic script:

  • Salam – Hello
  • Salam aleikum – Hello (to a group)
  • Aleikum salam – … also hello! (answer)
  • Shukran – thank you
  • La-shukran – you are welcome
  • Sabd – alchair – good morning
  • Mese – alchair – good evening
  • Leila sahida – good night (where „leila“ and „sahida“ are girls names)
  • Ye – yes
  • La – no
  • Jella – Let’s go
  • Achi – friend, aquiantence

The vocabulary turns out to be very important for us and the trip. This sets us apart from the other disinterested tourists and gives us more sympathy point with every local. I learned this lesson on my first trip to Thailand and Laos.

With just a few words in the local language, people will greet you much more warmly.

The two were on their way to Assilah, a small fishing town not far from Tangier, which they and my guide highly recommend. You seem quite offended when we still stick to our plan to continue to Meknes. Somehow everyone seems to want to stop us from going there. Without saying hello, they leave the train in Assilah. I wonder if we insulted them and missed a great opportunity, or if they ended up trying to rip us off after all. Who knows.

We have to change trains in a town called Sidi Kacem. The two Moroccans had said that the change would be very dangerous, as is generally the case when traveling in the country at this time. Despite the warning, everything goes perfectly. Several other people have to transfer as well and the second train, like absolutely every train we will ever take in Morocco, is on time to the minute.

However, it was a bit difficult to find out where we were and at which station we have to get off. While the conductors helped us a lot on the first train, here we have to ask the people around us awkwardly. Every passenger speaks a little French at best, but somehow we get our information and get off in the royal city of Meknes.



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