One hour in Morocco

Here is the story of a crazy one-day trip to Morocco, a missed bus, and the best $20 I’ve ever spent…

Stepping back in time - the port of Tangier, Morocco in 2002

Stepping back in time – the port of Tangier, Morocco in 2002


Back in 2002, I was staying in Jerez, Spain with friends for a horse event. After a couple of very busy weeks, the time to head back home to Australia was fast-approaching…

Just a quick trip to Morocco…

I was determined to take a trip to Morocco before leaving, as we were staying within reach of the Mediterranean coastline. My friends and I had already done some travelling around Southern Spain. Understandably, they weren’t so keen on making yet another a last-minute trip. I decided if I was ever going to see Morocco I would have to go it alone.  So, with little more than the determination to get to Morocco and back in one day, I talked a friend into dropping me at the nearest bus station, and off I went!

At the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain in 2002

At the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain in 2002

The Algeciras ferry to Tangier

Two hours later, after some wrong bus routes, I finally arrived at the ferry port of Algeciras. Algeciras was a large, busy port situated on the Spanish Mediterranean coast. Ships were constantly coming and going, and the spectacle of the Rock of Gibraltar could be seen a little farther along the coast.

My cunning plan was to buy a return ferry ticket to Tangier and be back in time for the last bus back to Jerez. In hindsight, this may have seemed a little fool-hardy, however at the time it seemed perfectly logical – one hour over, one hour in Tangier, Morocco, and then one hour back – easy!

I bought my ticket to Tangier from one of the numerous ferry companies at the port, and joined the scores of other waiting passengers sitting on the floor of the waiting area. Looking around me, I was suddenly very conscious of the fact that I was the only blonde, uncovered and unescorted woman that I could see. Mostly, there only seemed to be men waiting to catch the ferry. The few women that were there, were shrouded in voluminous clothes or veils. I felt eyes curiously looking me over, but I wasn’t bothered – I was finally going to Morocco!

Between The Pillars of Hercules

Visiting the Pillars of Hercules was a dream of mine

Visiting the Pillars of Hercules was a dream of mine

Soon it was time to board the large, modern-looking ferry for the trip across the Strait of Gibraltar. How exciting – I was crossing close to the Pillars of Hercules – the most narrow part of the Mediterranean between Spain and Morocco! I grabbed a bite to eat from the on-board cafeteria, and settled back to enjoy the trip. Barely an hour later we were docking at Tangier, Morocco.

As soon as I disembarked, I was greeted by calls from waiting taxi drivers and salesmen. “Lady! Lady! I take you taxi!”, “I know good hotel”. I pulled a scarf from around my neck (travel essential #101!) and tied it over my hair. I put my head down and mumbled back at them in what I hoped was a convincing Moroccan accent – “My husband! My husband, he waits for me!” before darting past them. Much to my horrified amusement, they weren’t that easily fooled, and followed me all the way through the port before finally giving up.

The mysterious, crazy Tangier, Morocco

A tiny ceramics shop in Tangier

A tiny ceramics shop in Tangier

After shaking-free from the last of my new entourage, I followed the passengers who looked like they knew where they were going. We all walked up a hill leading into the old town of Tangier. What an amazing, strange and ancient place this was! With my scarf still tight around my head, I tried to blend in and went exploring!

I saw wondrous things in that scarce hour I spent in Tangier. Narrow alleyways, choked with beautiful shops. All, bursting with spices, textiles and unique ceramics. A huge market place, bustling with noise and excitement and life. I itched to take photographs everywhere, but realised if I did,  it would immediately alert the scouting sales men to my touristy presence. I didn’t want their noisy escort! Finally, in a side-street, I calculated it was worth the risk and whipped out a small camera – click!

Click - the photo that made me more new unwanted friends! Tangier, Morocco

Click – the photo that made me more new unwanted friends! Tangier, Morocco

Immediatey, the jig was up – five or six men came at me – “Lady, lady, lady”! Half-laughing with the ridiculousness of the situation, I darted into what turned out to be a huge indoor food market and ran for it! I ducked and weaved my way to escape my unwanted company. Soon I had lost them all in the hubbub. However, a quick glance at my watch told me that I had precious-little time to make the last boat – regrettably, it was time to go.

Tangier to Algeciras – and a missed connection!

I retraced my steps back to the ferry docks and bolted on board. Five minutes later, we were moving off – I had made the last boat back – mission accomplished! Or so I thought…

The trip back was uneventful, and we pulled into Algeciras as the evening was drawing in. I made my way to the bus station with supreme confidence. It was then I learned that although I had made the last boat back to Spain, I had missed the last bus out of Algecirus. The next bus wouldn’t leave until the next morning!

I turned away from the ticket window, taking in this new development. It was then that it dawned upon me that Algeciras during the day, and Algeciras during the night were two totally different kettles of fish. Shady characters lurked in the dark streets, eyeing passers-by. I had no luggage and not much Spanish cash left either – what was I going to do? A safe haven seemed the best bet – time to find a hotel.

A very uneasy bed for the night

With the creepy feeling of eyes upon me yet again – or was it just my imagination now? – I made my way back to the waterfront and darted through the first open doorway with the sign “Hotel” on it that I could find.

My chosen hotel was, quite possibly, also the dodgiest. The walls were filthy, the furniture old and rough, and there was barely a lightbulb on. However I was off the streets, and the man behind the small reception desk was friendly. He also seemed quite unfazed by the fact that I had no luggage. No doubt there had been many other silly tourists caught-short, before me.

The cost of a room for a night? The equivalent of Australian – $20!

I gratefully handed the small sum of cash over, all the while hoping he wasn’t a criminal about to phone his gang to come over and rob me. Then I stumbled wearily up the rickety stairs and into my room for the night.

Once inside, I realised that there was no working lock on the door. I proceeded to pile every piece of raggedy furniture which wasn’t bolted down, against it. Then with a cursory glance at the rudimentary bed in the corner,  I decided to settle  down for the night in an armchair instead. Exhausted by now, I fell into an uneasy sleep. At one point during the night, I thought I heard the sound of gunfire outside – undoubtedly, it was just a car backfiring.

Algeciras to anywhere!

The next morning, I emerged unscathed from my room. I bid a rather guilty farewell to the – clearly genuinely – friendly hotel clerk. Despite being basic in the extreme, this hotel had been my saviour for the night, rescuing me from my own foolhardiness and lack of planning.

Taking no chances this time, I fronted-up at the bus stop an hour early.

As soon as they opened I purchased a ticket on the first bus out of town, without more than a vague inclination of where it was going – I wasn’t spending another night in Algeciras!

I practically leapt on board that bus when it pulled up. To my astonishment, about an hour later we pulled into the very bus station I had left from the day before! I was back, safe and sound, and best of all, I had a funny new travel tale to tell.

One thing is for certain to this day – that Algeciras room for the night was certainly the best $20 I’ve ever spent!


The best $20 I've ever spent was... Here is my tale about my unexpected stop-over in a shady town in southern Spain...

The best $20 I've ever spent was... Here is my tale about my unexpected stop-over in a shady town in southern Spain...

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Hi, I'm Barbara, mum of the Let's Go Mum blog. We'd love to hear from you! You can contact me anytime with ideas on where you think we should go or what you think we should try...just drop me a line at!
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