Morocco - Casablanca to Sidi Ifni

January 05, 2004

Suburbs and Muppets

Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday soon.. I hope to get my visa for Mauritania.

Things started badly yesterday afternoon, when I arrived in Casablanca and realised I seemed to have lost all the passport photos I had brought with me. So after a brief wander around the centre of town to no avail, I hear that there is a passport photo machine at the new bus station. Off I trot, and it's only 4km away. But 4km is enough to be off any Lonely Planet map, and needless to say I got totally lost, and ended up wandering around some dirty, crap suburb. Panic and tiredness sets in, so I get a taxi. The walk back was altogether more sucessful, and passed through quite pleasant suburbs.

Casablanca Central
Photo - Tom Moreton

So today, armed and ready with photos, photocopy of my passport, and about 7 quid, I got up especially early, and took a taxi to the Mauritanian Embassy, which is in a suburb which seemed to be called 'Oasis'. Oasis it was not, but some parts were pretty posh. I got to know the area quite well, as I spent ALL DAY there.

The first man encountered at the embassy, let's call him 'Muppet 1', arrived 10 minutes after the embassy was supposed to open, and then went round the people waiting outside (about 10, mostly French), and told us how to fill in the form, made them get more pages photocopied, and generally picked fault with the way people were filling in the forms. Then he made us all stand exactly single file in a neat line along the pavement, and beckoned us in, two at a time.

When I say 'in', I don't mean 'in the embassy', because Muppet 1 preferred to sit inside by an open window, and have us pass the forms through, whereby he took the money, and then passed them to someone else, let's call him 'Muppet 2'.

We were told to return at about 1.30pm ....

By 2pm, there was a crowd of angry Frenchmen (well, not very angry really), and me outside the embassy. The Frenchmen wanted to drive off today, so they were in a hurry. Muppet 1 appeared and handed back a few rejected forms, and then told everyone to come back at 4pm. After some murmours of disapproval, a few people wandered off. Those remaining were told by Muppet 1 not to loiter on the pavement outside the embassy.

And so 4pm rolls around, and by now we are joined by more people, including English, Japanese and Italians. There is a 40 strong mob outside the embassy.

Muppet 1 appears, and smokes a cigarette for a while, then he tells everyone to come back at 5.30pm, except for Moroccans, who can come back tomorrow. He tells all the Frenchmen to go and wait in their cars instead of in front of the embassy.

By this time, I've had mint tea and coffee in just about every cafe in the area, and by 5.30pm I'm riddled with caffeine.

still inCasablanca
Still in Casablanca
Photo - Tom Moreton

Muppet 2 appears. He has passports in his hand. We all stand in a huddle around him as he calls out our names to return our passports. It is vaguely reminiscent of a school register. He gets to the end, and as I watch the Frenchmen drive off into the distance, I enquire about MY passport.

Muppet 2 looks puzzled, and goes back twice to look for it. The third time he comes out, he says he has found it. He says it was very busy today. He says it has not been processed yet. He says come back tomorrow at 10am.

I ask him why they can't just quickly do it now. He says the man who does it has left. Muppet 2 is friendly and apologetic at least, not like Muppet 1, the glorified doorman who doesn't like people outside the embassy.

I set off back to town, about 5km. The first km I spent happily swearing at the Muppets, then I calmed down, and realised I had found the affluent shopping suburb. It was full of designer shops, and posh clean streets, and people wearing smart suits. I had coffee in a swanky coffee shop, which actually had women in it, a bit of a novelty for Morocco.

Tomorrow I must go back to Oasis Suburb, and deal once more with the Muppets...

January 07, 2004

Trouble in Muppetville

There was trouble in Muppetville (The Mauritainian Embassy in Casablanca), yesterday morning. By the time I arrived at 11am to pick up my visa as promised, most of the foreigners had had their applications taken, but there was a crowd of angry Moroccans, who kept having their forms sent back for various technical reasons. Muppet 1 was in full swing, and was sending people to the back of queue if they weren't lined up straight. I was part of a small crowd of about 7 who were waiting to pick up passports because they hadn't got them done in time yesterday.

Muppet 1 refused to deal with any of us in any way, until he was satisfied with the queue of people waiting to apply. We had been told our passports could be picked up at 12, but by this time they had been so slow at taking applications, that there was still a queue of people applying which started at 9am.

Us 7, after several fruitless attempts to try and get our passports back, were told by Muppet 1 to get off the pavement in front of the embassy, and wait somewhere else. There were some angry exchanges in Arabic (not by me, obviously).

The queue of people trying to apply was dwindling extremely slowly, and anger was brewing as more application forms were rejected on technicalities. Several people just left, and one man scrumpled up the application from and threw it in the face of Muppet 1, before storming off. Muppet 1 engaged in some shouting and elaborate hand gestures.

Casablanca mosque
Hassan II Mosque - Casablanca
Photo - Tom Moreton

Us 7 resigned ourselves to not being dealt with till they had finished the application queue, and we sat down under a tree. I then spotted Muppet 2, the friendlier of the two, who the day before had promised me my passport by midday. He was having a crafty cigarette down a side alley. I bent his ear about my passport, and he apologised and skulked off back into the embassy.

Nothing much happened till about 1.30pm until Muppet 1 came outside again, and announced that no more applications would be taken today. There was only ONE person left in the queue, and he tried to reason with Muppet 1, but he was having none of it.

In the middle of this commotion, Muppet 2 appeared again, and I was briefly hopeful until I saw he wasn't carrying any passports. Instead he had a notice, which he glued on to the front of the embassy. This notice detailed changes in the visa application process starting from January 1st (5 days ago). The poor Muppets must have felt overworked, because the main thrust of the new notice was that visas would now take a MINIMUM of 24 hours to process, and by the way the price had also doubled from about 10USD to 20USD.

I took this opportunity to again question Muppet 2 about my passport. He once again apologized and disappeared. It was now 2pm, and there were now only us 7 waiting for passports, and the last poor soul with an application form. There was no sign of activity, and the policeman at the gate wouldn't let any of us in.

A further 10 minutes or so passed, and Muppet 2 appeared with my passport. He didn't seem to have anybody elses, but after 3 hours of waiting I was so excited to finally see my passport that I wished the remaining 6, 'Bon Chance', and got the hell out of there.

January 11, 2004

Two Men on a Train

Finally, after what seemed like a long time, I was on my way south to Marrakesh on the 5pm train. In my train compartment were two Moroccan guys, one old, and one young. They asked me if I was a tourist, and I said, 'No, I'm a traveller, man'.

Not really! - I said that I was indeed a tourist, and they told me they had been discussing tourism in Morocco, and were wondering why Morocco gets 1.5 million tourists a year, yet Tunisia gets 4 million.

I told them that I hadn't the faintest idea, and having been to Tunisia, I can vouch for the fact that it only has average beaches, a few old Roman ruins, a nice bit of desert in the south, and a crap capital city. Compared to Morocco, which is way bigger, more modern, and has lots of mountains, deserts, beaches, and good cafes.

They agreed that this was the case, and I decided to tell them how crap the trains in Britain were, compared to the one we were currently on. They were very patient with my crap French, but in the end they refused to believe that in Britain the trains are worse.

Finally, the old man launched into a speech about America. When he was growing up, everbody liked and respected America, but now America has no friends left in the world, except for Britain.

I pointed out that perhaps Mr. Blair is friends with Mr. Bush, but maybe not all the people in either country agree with them. He agreed that this might be case, and added that the King of Morocco was good friends with Queen Elizabeth.

I had to admit that I wasn't sure about this, but he was Adam Ant.

January 11, 2004


Having now spent a few days in Marrakesh, I officially give it a big thumbs up, and award it top Moroccan city. It's very visually pleasing, with the amazing square in the middle, that has non-stop action. And although wandering around amongst the food stalls, story tellers, salesman, snake-charmers and the like, is not necessarily thrilling, when you sit on the roof terrace of one of the many cafes and observe from above, you can watch for hours.

Carpets in Marrakesh
Photo - Paul Beaton

There seemed to be less hassle from touts than in Fes, and the Medina is just as big, and more interesting, as there seems to be less area of covered market selling shoes, and more variety in the twisting streets.

main square
Djemma el-Fina - The main square
Photo - Paul Beaton

The red colour of the walls, and bright sun all help to conjure up a very exotic atmosphere, and although I spent nearly all my time lost, it was a pleasant experience.

main square overhead
Djemma el-Fina - Overhead View
Photo - Paul Beaton

I was pretending to be Finnish for a while to deter touts from hassling me in English, and I met one old guy who came up with the Finnish for - 'hello' , 'how are you?', 'Finland', and 'Very good Berber Market'. Not bad at all.

Street in Marrakesh
Photo - Paul Beaton

The last night I was there, I bumped into Robin who I hung out with during New Year, and I finally managed to meet up with Andy and Rhiannon at the end of their weeks holiday. Andy celebrated by buying a carpet, and we all went and had a beer.

January 13, 2004

Two Different Places

Making my way ever south, I stopped for a couple of days in Agadir, and a couple of days in Sidi Ifni.

Agadir has a reputation as a horrid package destination, although to be fair, it is quite a pleasant place. I guess being off-season helps, as it was pretty quiet, and I drank coffee and read the paper on the beachfront.

Most of the holidaymakers appeared to be elderly Scandinavians, and the restaurants abound with Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Finnish menus. There was a reasonable number of touts, trying the old, 'Remember me from your hotel?' trick, and a faint whiff of dead animal, when the wind was blowing the wrong way. Prices also seemed a little higher, and one cheeky stallholder had marked up the newspaper prices. Needless to say, he didn't get my custom...

Sidi Ifni is a different story altogether, and appears to be half deserted. The Spanish kept it as an enclave until 1969, then they all just left, which explains the crumbling colonial buildings, and massive disused airfield.

deserted road
A deserted street in Sidi Ifni
Photo - Paul Beaton

It sits high on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic, and the waves throw up a fine mist which lingers in the town. All this lends itself to a slightly eerie atmosphere.

A building in Sidi Ifni
Photo - Paul Beaton

The beach under the cliff stretches north and south for miles, and the countryside around is rocky hills that stretch on forever.

To get there I had to take a 'Grand Taxi', which is actually just a big car, that they cram in 2 people in the front, and 4 in the back, and it leaves when it is full. It's pretty uncomfortable to be honest.

deserted road 2
Another deserted street in Sidi Ifni
Photo - Paul Beaton

From Sidi Ifni, it is a long 700 miles or so south through Western Sahara, to reach the Mauritanian border. The time had come to start taking my malaria pills (one week before arriving in malaria area). Apparently some side effects are strange, vivid dreams, and dodgy bowel movements. How am I supposed to know if it's the pills or not?!

next >> Sidi Ifni - Dakhla

The Trip to Africa The Route
Tangier - Casablanca Casablanca - Sidi Ifni Sidi Ifni - Dakhla
Nouadibhou - Atar Atar - Rosso
Rosso - Banjul Banjul - Kidira
Kidira - Bamako