Two airplanes, one car, one ferry, three taxis, several
buses and a 10-hour train ride later, the Two Crabs have returned to after a week-long backpacking trip through Southern
Spain and Morocco.
Our adventure began at London’s Liverpool train station, where we were
planning on catching the 3:15pm train to London Stanstead airport. But instead
we arrived to find hundreds of people standing around with jaws agape in front
of signs that read “CANCELLED”. An announcement was made: the train has been
suspended due to a FATALITY on the tracks! A bad omen? Luckily the train
resumed service and we made it to the airport with about 10 minutes to spare.
Arrived in Seville at 8:30pm to find that there were NO taxis because the drivers were on
strike. We had to wait more than two
hours with hundreds of other passengers for a public bus into town. By the time
we arrived at our hotel, it was nearly midnight. Luckily people don’t even
start eating dinner until 11pm in Spain so we had no trouble finding
yummy food. I also realize how bad my Spanish has become. I gotta practice
This was my second time in Sevilla (the first being in 1997
with the USAW Backpackers Club). At 9am, the streets of Sevilla are deserted
save for a few families enjoying cinnamon-covered churros and coffee in the
outdoor cafes, enjoying something we rarely see in London: THE SUN!
We spent the day walking the city, seeing the
sites including the Plaza Espana, the Cathedral, University of Sevilla (closed
for spring break), the Palace Alcazar, the River Quadalquiver, enjoying pints
of Spanish beer on the little floating pub in the river, the pubs on the south
bank, the Plaza del Torros (there were no bullfights today, but we would not
have seen one even if there was. Witnessing one bullfight was enough for my
lifetime), and exploring the nooks and crannies of the Barrio Santa Cruz.
On Easter Sunday, after a quick breakfast of coffee and
Tortilla Espana (egg quiche), we took a cab to the airport and rented a car.
This was the first time either of the Two Crabs have driven since
SEPTEMBER! The car rental was pricey, 69
Euros for the day PLUS another 55 Euros for petrol (gasoline costs about $6.50
a gallon in Spain).
Lupe drove the first half of the trip, and yours truly – whose license expired
in January – drove the remainder of the journey. We decided to skip the
superhighway and instead took back country roads, getting lost along the way a
few times. But it was well worth it: we ended up in a little town called
Villamartin, where we enjoyed some of the best tapas of the trip including my
favorite, PATATAS BRAVAS, little potato pieces smothered in a tomato and cream
sauce (confidential to backpackers club: remember how this was one of the few
foods V the Vegetarian could eat in Spain? The others being bread and
Our next stop was Arcos de la Frontera, which is Spanish for
“where sideview mirrors go to die.” We
stopped in this town because we could see a large castle on the top of the hill
overlooking the village. But we never could make it to the top. We were
directed into a narrow alley that was wide enough for maybe one moped or a
horse until we could go no further; M had to make an 80-point turn to get us
out of that hellhole. By the time we got out, we were so stressed that we just
got back on the highway.
At 7pm we arrived in La Linea de Concepcion, the last
Spanish town before you cross into the border of Gibraltar,
a British colony located on the Rock of Gibraltar. Dropped off the car, walked
past a sleepy customs officer who waved us back onto British territory and took
a cab to our hotel. Here’s a weird situation: to walk from Spain into Gibraltar, you literally have to walk
ACROSS THE RUNWAY of Gibraltar airport! The runway even has railroad-like crossing
gates that close when a PLANE is about to land. How cool is that?
Unfortunately, Gibraltar is not Spain. So when
we arrived at our hotel at 8pm tired and hungry, we couldn’t find any
restaurant that was still serving food. After a mile walk we finally found a
little bar on the marina called Charles Pub that was packed as it was the only
place still serving late and then stumbled back to our room at the Queen’s
Hotel, the only “budget” hotel in Gibraltar at a whopping $150 a night.
OMIGAWD! MONKEYS! MONKEYS RULE! OH HOW DO I LOVE MONKEYS, LET ME COUNT THE
WAYS! Our primary reason for going to
Gibraltar was to see the Barbary Apes, the only wild monkeys in Europe. Legend has it that if the apes disappear from
Gibraltar, the British Empire will vanish.
Our hotel was located directly next door to
the gondola that wisks passengers up to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar (which
looks exactly like the logo of the Prudential insurance company…“Get a piece of
the rock!”). And there they were: whole
colonies of monkeys just standing around, warming their bums in the sun, eating
vegetables at designated feeding points, posing for tourist photos. We spent a better part of the day making
friends with the apes. Lupe even managed to step into a pile of monkey dung. If
there is animal dung to be found anywhere in the world, Lupe will always step
into it. In the afternoon we went to what was considered the best beach in
town. Sad to say, it was disgusting, full of trash and noisy teenagers.
Overall, we were not feeling the love for Gibraltar.
Definitely a big let-down. It basically looked like a mini-version of London with the same high
prices, only with palm trees and Mediterranean climate. But it is definitely
worth a half-day visit just for the monkeys!
Woke up early and got the hell outta dodge, hopping on a
public bus back to the Spanish side of the border. From there we took a public
bus (1.75 euros, 30 minutes) to Algeciras,
where the main ferry port is located. Inside the port, dozens of ferry
companies are vying for your business. We picked a high-speed hydrofoil ferry
for 30 euros apiece that takes just 75 minutes to sail to Tangier. Onboard the boat, we met some American
college students, including a ditzy blonde girl wearing short shorts and
low-cut top who had no idea that her garments were NOT appropriate clothing for
an Islamic country. She said she thought her friends were kidding when they
told her to cover up. It was only when we repeated her friends suggestions that
she changed into long pants and shirt.
Tangier has a reputation of being a hideous disgusting
border town not unlike Tijuana.
Our Lonely Planet guide was full of horror stories involving pick-pockets, fake
guides, aggressive taxi drivers, etc. Apparently Lonely Planet has not been in Tangier in a while because we
had a relatively easy landing. The port station was empty and we breezed
through customs. Chose a taxi and were at our hotel within 10 minutes of
The Two Crabs stayed at the Hotel Continental, a gorgeous
old world hotel with wrought-iron fences and green Spanish tile ceiling for
just $40 a night. Dumped our bags and headed off to the medina, where
unfortunately we immediately caught the attention of a fake tour guide. I had
stopped to ask for directions and suddenly he thought I was his best friend. No
sooner had we lost him that another Moroccan began following us. When I
politely told him we were not interested in his services, he called me a few
choice words in Spanish. That’s when a third idiot came to our “rescue,”
(Moroccan fake touts often work in teams), urging us to hire him because it wasn’t safe for us “Spaniards.” The guy spoke perfect Spanish, French and English.
But it didn’t matter because he would not take “NO” for an answer. We started
walking towards the Palace Restaurant where we had planned to dine but he made
up some excuse that the restaurant was closed down. He actually followed us
into the restaurant apparently to confirm whether we really had planned on
dining there. Dumbass.
The restaurant was completely empty at 7:30pm. Odd. We then
realized why. Our watch was wrong. Morocco time is on GMT, so it was
really 6:30pm…or so we thought. Morocco is actually on GMT STANDARD time year round; GMT is now on daylight savings time, so it was
really 5:30pm! This entire day, our
watch had been two hours later. Now who’s the dumbass?
Anyway, the restaurant was beautiful and the food delicious
including a chicken pie called a pastille, chicken over couscous, salad, soup,
mint tea, a Fig Newton-like desert and Moroccan beer, plus live entertainment,
all for $40 (pricey by local standards). Walked back to the hotel about 10pm
At 6am, we woke up to the sound of whistles blowing below
our balcony. A large group of about 20-30 men were running down the street,
back and forth between the main road and the ferry port, being chased by police. They were illegals attempting to stow away on
ships bound for Spain.
Not wanting to spend another second in Tangier, we checked out and took a cab
to the train station to get the 9am train to Marrakech. All the first class
seats on the train were all booked so settled into the packed 2nd
class coach ($15 per person). As we pulled out of the station, we saw a dozen
men jump out of the bushes who were trying to jump ONTO the train! The train only stopped for a few seconds at
each station. At one point, a child jumped off the train but began moving again
before the mother could get down. She was screaming frantically before she
yanked the emergency brake. That led to a 30 minute delay. Ugh. We were sitting
next to some obviously-wealthy Moroccan girls carrying a laptop computer and
designer clothes and glasses, playing Arabic pop music on their PC all the way
trying to communicate in broken French and English. Damn we have got to take up
No sign of Humphrey Bogart or Rick’s Café in Casablanca, so we took
the next train to Marrakech. What a difference, and not for the better. This
train was PACKED like sardines, standing room only. We had to squeeze into an
8-passenger cabin with a family of four, two guys, and an elderly woman. The
toilet on the train? Let’s just say I’d rather roll in horse manure than ever
have to use that toilet again. At every
stop, vendors would board the train and push candy and food before hopping off
at the next station. But all the inconvenience was made up for by the scenery
outside the window: green lush rolling hills, fields of red poppies, sheep and
cows grazing, a full moon rising above canopies of palm trees.
Ten hours after leaving Tangier, we arrived in Marrakech
about 9pm. Hot, tired, hungry, we were looking forward to our stay at the Riad
Dar Mimouna, a hotel that had received rave reviews from a few websites
including Orbitz.com, where I booked the hotel. Surprise, surprise. The hotel
had NO RECORD OF OUR RESERVATION. Curses to Orbitz.com. The hotel was completely booked and there was
no room at the inn. The idiots at Orbitz “customer service” were zero help.
Luckily the innkeeper took pity on us and found us a room at another hotel,
that was decent enough but was more expensive and lower standards than the
original place we booked. (Note to Orbitz: You’ll be hearing from the Better
We ended up staying at the Riad Du Lion, located down an
dicey alley filled with litter, feral cats and bums. The advantage was
location, being only a block away from Djemma Al Fna, the main
square of Marrakech. We took an evening stroll
through the square, watching the street performers like acrobats and drum
circles, ate dinner of chicken and lamb kababs and Coke ($8 for two), just
soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of Morocco.
After a quick breakfast, we wandered through the souks,
where Lupe caught some punk-ass kid trying to reach his grubby hands into my
backpack. The city was PACKED with mostly Spanish and British tourists and
every restaurant was full. We got surly rude service at one restaurant (Glaces
Maison). We finally got a seat on the roof-top deck of the Panorama Restaurant,
but Lupe was not happy as this is a very DRY country and tough to find a cold
beer (why locals would want to drink HOT tea on an 85-degree day is beyond my
comprehension). When it came time to pay the bill, I later realized the waiter
had ripped me off by 20 Dirhams (about $2). We finally found decent food and
service at a place called Chez Chegroumi, which had a nice write-up in Lonely
Planet. Excellent service and tagine, a stew-like dish of lamb and vegetables.
After lunch we strolled through the Kasbah (we could not get
that damn “Rockin’ the Kasbah” sound out of our heads). We hit the market to do
some shopping, where apparently we had “stupid gullible American” tattooed on
our foreheads. Everybody wanted a piece of us. That’s ok, because I have become
quite adept at bartering. I even got a compliment from one shop-keeper: “You
Mexicans are a tough bartering people.” Thanks!
We were still determined to find a cold beer somewhere in
this country, so decided to walk to Villa Nouvelle – the new city – where all
the 5-star hotels that cater to tourists are located. We had read in Lonely Planet that most bars
are “sausage parties” (men only), and any woman drinking at a bar is considered
to be either a prostitute or tourist, which is what took us to the hotels. We
read about a new club called Bodega. Took us about 45 minutes to walk there and
guess what…it was CLOSED UNTIL SUMMER. (Note to Lonely Planet: time to update your guidebook). But directly next door, we finally found the
sweet nectar of the Gods: BEER! And it
was Casablanca Beer no less, at the Caspien Hotel next door. Woo hoo!
We decided to make the evening into a sort of Marrakech pub
crawl. We next stopped at Hotel le Marrakech. This is one of those places that
caters to Western tour groups. We’re talking super cheesy; photographers
walking around snapping photos of people swimming and drinking and dancing
(available for purchase in the lobby), day trip scheduled posted on the
bulletin boards, bad karaoke at one bar, and a Madonna DANCE-OFF at another
bar. Get me outta here! Just across the road was another hotel called
Le Saral. Now this was more like it. This was a beautiful oasis with a lovely
outdoor palm garden, cool chill-out Moroccan music playing in the background,
and high prices to match. But if I ever had the cash, this is where we’d stay.
Overall, we weren’t overly impressed with Morocco. Maybe I was let down by
high expectations; nearly all of our coworkers had been to Marrakech at least
once; some Brits I know have been there 3 or 4 times. Sorry, but we just didn’t
feel the love. Every time we turned around, somebody was trying to con, gouge
or rob us blind. C’est la vie.
After a 3-hour flight on the damn fine Air Atlas, we were
back in London in time for lunch. We have no future
trips planned at the moment but open to ideas! Cheers.