Day 6: Monkeying Around in British Gibraltar + Ferry to Tangier, Morocco + Overnight Train to Marrakech - 02 Jan 2010
I always intend to get an early start, but I slept in till 1000 (that’s what happens when you sleep all the day the previous day), packed up, and deposited my bags in the office.
Looking out from the window of my room--apparently I wasn't the only late riser
I returned to the bus terminal and only had to wait about ten minutes for a bus to Lineas, right at the Gibraltar border. An Australian guy asked me for some directions and we ended up exploring Gibraltar together. You always meet interesting people when you travel and this guy was a university lecturer, PhD candidate in Sydney, and avid photographer.
We discussed politics and travel for much of the day as we walked around the small British Overseas Territory.
The Spain-Gibraltar border took mere moments to cross and my passport was not even checked. Once you exit “immigration and customs” you come out a few hundred yards from the airport runway, which is open for the public to cross. Gibraltar is served by British Airways, EasyJet, Monarch, and Andalus, but there were no commercial planes in sight.
Many Spaniards visit Gibraltar to purchase discounted cigarettes and alcohol and the streets were lined with such vendors. By this time, it was after 1200 and I was hungry, but the prices not hungry enough to pay £12 for some eggs and beans.
The primary tourist attraction in Gibraltar is the rock itself, and for about £20 you can take a cable car up the mountain and gain access to a castle from the Moor period, St. Michael’s Cave and a variety of hiking trails. And then there are the monkeys. Gibraltar is also famous for its native monkey population that is very tame and very shrewd. We were warned no less than four times upon embarking the cable car that the monkeys would snatch bags if they were not closely guarded.
St. Michael’s Cave was filled with stalagmites (and deep puddles of water) and featured a amphitheatre where Gibraltans gather for musical concerts.
What I found most fascinating was the intricate network of caves that had been carved in the mountain for use during WWII and what a strategic role Gibraltar played in the war effort.
The restaurants were all packed and we stopped for quick bite at Subway—gotta love comfort food.
Time was ticking and as it turned out, the Australian guy and I had stayed at the same hostel the night before and he was off to Morocco as well. Traffic was heavy on the bus trip back, but we fetched our bags and made it to the docks in time to catch an 1800 ferry to Tangiers. The ferry was clean and spacious—it reminded of the ferries running between Auckland and Devonport in New Zealand.
My Australian friend was staying in Tangiers for a couple day so after landing I bid him goodbye and hopped in a taxi to get to the train station. I had no reservation and feared I only had about 15 minutes to catch my train, but the taxi driver pointed to the clock in his beat up jalopy and said “one hour less here.” Thankfully, it was only 1950. The taxi trip only took a few minutes and the train station was not crowded. I purchased a sleeper seat for 340 Moroccan dinnar (~$45) and had an egg sandwich at the train station’s snack bar.
Boarding began slightly before scheduled departure and I was escorted to my room by an usher. There were two bunk beds in the small compartment with fresh sheets and a pillow sitting on each bed. Two French girls had taken the bunks on the right side of the room and I grabbed the lower bunk on the left side. A few minutes later, a Spanish woman entered and took the last bed. Hey, now I can tell my children I spent the night with three girls in Morocco when I was a young man…
(photos taken the following morning)
The ride was smooth and the train was quiet, but I had trouble falling asleep. I managed to get in a few hours of sleep, but I was tired when we pulled into Marrakech the following morning.