Saturday, June 27, 2009

Fun with Overland

I'm a tremendous advocate of local transport. It's how you meet normal people, non-tourist local citizenry in foreign countries. I've been singing this song for years. "Get on the bus. Get in the share taxi."

But you know, I sometimes forget how utterly inconvenient local transport can be.

Yesterday, I was reminded.

I got up at five, packed up, showered, and got out of the apartment by 7 a.m. Left the keys on the kitchen table, put on the big old backpack (lighter than usual), grabbed my garbage (part of the deal with the apartment is that you have to take out the trash when you leave), pulled the door shut behind me after mentally going over each one of my possessions (phone? Laptop? Extra shoes?) and headed to the metro.

I dropped the trash off in one of Barcelona's Dalek-looking trash cans en route.

Down the stairs into the metro. Old knees aren't what they used to be once I throw on that pack.

I took the train one stop then walked a block to the airport bus. Up the stairs to the bus, pack off and onto the luggage rack, wait 35 minutes or so while the bus goes to the airport, back on goes the pack, down the stairs, into the airport, off goes the pack onto a wheeled cart.

I got to the Clickair line. Ugh, what a mess. Clickair is the budget brand of Spain's Iberia airline and they were a check-in nightmare. Worthless signage. Masses of clueless customers milling about. Took me ages to get through the "Web Check-in, Baggage Drop-off Only" line.

I'd been aiming to fly on when I decided to fly out of Barcelona. It was only 20 euros from Barcelona to Tangier, Morocco, when I started trying to buy a ticket. It had gone up to 60 euros a few days later, after I'd been repeatedly shut out at the credit card stage. I'd both called the airline on Skype (and butchered both French AND Spanish in a single call), and e-mailed (receiving a BS response that my card(s) must be over limit—certainly not, and I'd tried several). I finally gave up on the old Mac and went to an internet cafe. I made more progress with a PC but still my card couldn't get through.

I've had this problem before. I called my card company and they weren't even getting the ping to accept or reject the card. It's to do with how the address is laid out on the web form, and how a USA address is structured.

Anyway, I gave up once I realized the only way to get on that plane was to give my credit card number to my Moroccan subordinate and have him call, or to ask a European friend to use the site. Enough already. Getting through to proved harder than dealing with multiple inconveniences for a whole day.

Or so I thought at the time.

Back in Barcelona, Clickair finally got me processed and onto the plane to Malaga. That's a city on Spain's southern coast. I disembarked there and had to choose: commuter rail to bus (39 minutes), then 2-hour bus ride to Algeciras with just a 4-minute change window? Or city bus to bus station and take the 1 hour, 45 minutes direct bus?

I caught the city bus. And when I got downtown, it turned out the bus was running at 12:30, not noon as it said on the website.

Okay, noon it is. Should be there by 1:45, plenty of time to catch the 3 p.m. ferry to Ceuta. That's a Spanish enclave on the Moroccan coast. I'd catch a taxi to the border, walk across, and take share taxis to Chefchaouen. I'd be there in just a few hours.

Or not.

The bus was delayed by traffic. I got off the bus at 2:40. Yikes.

I could see the port from the bus station. I hustled down there and passed by an agent's office on the way.

"Will I make the three o'clock?"

"No way. But there is another ferry at 4:30 to Ceuta. And a 5 p.m. one from Tarifa, but it goes to Tangier."

"Are you sure?"

"Absolutely. It's not possible. It's more than ten minutes walk from here, still."

Okay. He was right.

"There's nothing sooner."

"Yes, but it is the slow ferry. It arrives after the fast ferry."

"Are you sure I won't make the 3 p.m.?"

"Sure. Take the one to Tangier. There are more transportation options from there."

I did as he suggested. A bus took me to Tarifa, where I boarded a ferry with what seemed like hundreds of Moroccan women, all making an awful lot of noise. I retreated to an upper deck full of tourists.

I was running really late now.

Through the magic of time zones, I arrived shortly after 5. I steeled myself for an onslaught of touts and taxi drivers.

It wasn't so bad. I was fleeced by a taxi driver who suggested 5 euros was the going rate for going anywhere in Tangier. I knew it wasn't but didn't have the energy to haggle. We stopped at an ATM and then he dropped me at the gare routiere—bus station.

"Sorry, the 6 p.m. bus to Chaouen is sold out."


I went to all the bus companies. The next bus was at 8.

So I caught a bus to Tetuoan, which is an hour in the right direction.

The bus crawled over the steep, windy mountains. NOT an hour.

I stepped off the bus about five minutes after the last bus to Chaouen had left for the night.

I caught a taxi to the "grand taxi" station. That just means shared taxi.

For 30 dirhams, I was crammed into the back of a Mercedes sedan with three others. That's normal. Four in the back seat, two and a driver in the front. You can buy two seats for yourself, but I hadn't worked out yet that this was normal and desirable.

Two healthy-sized women and one skinny buy were in the back seat with me. It was cramped and awful. I thought my foot was going to fall off from being asleep for so long.

Finally, the taxi pulled up to a public square in Chaouen.

Now what?

1 comment:

Matt Hollingsworth said...

Ouch. Hope today's better!