Monday, October 3, 2011

Our first impression of Morocco.

Let me give you a little more detailed description of our arrival in Morocco than I did in my brief previous post. We left Gibraltar with in mind to go to Tangier on the Mediterranean coast of Morocco. Following the Spanish coast to avoid cargo ships in the Strait of Gibraltar and the counter current, we changed our mind and stopped in Tarifa, Spain. Nothing special so far except that it made us change our first destination in Morocco. What you should know is that we chose our destinations based on the information we have and that in this case our main source comes from a cruising guide published by Imray in 2006. Six years is usually not much but for Morocco it is the day and night since, as we would soon see, the country has undergone major transformations in recent years. Because of this, the descriptions we had of the various ports of Morocco were completely wrong. But at that time we did not know yet and decided to head for Port Larache where we would supposedly be able to anchor and spend a few peaceful days. So we left the beautiful beach of Tarifa and headed south. Our crossing of the strait was, as you know, enhanced by the meeting of whales and dolphins but they were not going to be the only mammals we would meet. Indeed, homo-sapiens inhabiting every inch of the planet was not far away and after only a few dozen miles in Moroccan waters we were boarded by the Marine Royale of Morocco which is roughly the Coast Guard of the country. A small routine check is nothing very troubling when the boat is at the dock but at sea things are a little different. There we had to haul down the sails and prepare for the docking of their zodiac. Strangely, we had completely finished our operation while they were still working to put their zodiac in the water and we had to wait for them! Finally, two men came on board, asked for the usual information they wrote on a piece of crumpled paper, briefly inspected the inside of the boat and then left. This was done in a polite and friendly manner and of course the fact that we spoke French facilitated the entire process. But the routine checks are fine for the authorities of the country but are completely useless to us, and above all it made us lose almost an hour in our very tight schedule that day so after our characters in uniform have left Chocobo we were not sure we could make it to Port Larache before nightfall.

It was then with all sails open and the port engine fully engaged that we just barely reached the mouth of the river to Port Larache while the sun was putting his pajamas to go to bed on the horizon. At very low speed with eyes riveted on the two depth gauges we traveled up river to a place that seemed correct to anchor for several days. But these few days have quickly turned into a few minutes when the visit arrived. This time it was the port police who kindly told us we could not stay in this peaceful and secluded (and free) spot and we had to moor in the noisy, dirty and obviously paying port of Port Larache. So with the sun already below the horizon, and under the close supervision of the police, we raised the anchor and went to attach Chocobo to a rusty metal dock on which our shoes became stained with red paint and rust hence redecorating the top of our white deck into an abstract cave painting expressing in a way the sense of appreciation we had at the time of the welcome we’d received by Moroccans so far! In no time, the arrival of a “luxurious” catamaran in the port was quick to attract attention and the dock was filled with onlookers coming out of nowhere but also officials of each department the government found useful to invent to govern a port, all armed with paperwork to make me self-digesting my stomach. For you see, papers take a long time to complete when typing at the computer with two fingers or when one does not really speak anything but Arabic, and with all this Danielle and I didn’t have the time to eat anything and our last meal dated back to that morning! However, notice that all this time everyone was very courteous and even if they were a bit lost about what to do with us people were still trying their best to make things easy.

It is then in this picturesque setting and permanent odor of fish that we spent two nights in Port Larache until the wind turned north to continue on our way to Rabat, the capital, which according to our wonderful cruising guide has no facilities for yachts and is not a port of entry and therefore no official is present. However, by talking to people here we quickly learned that Rabat is now one of the main ports for yachts with a large modern marina and the main port of entry for yachts! It's worth paying $ 80.00 for a book that useful! But during our stay in Larache we wanted to visit some places and just to make things more pleasant than they already were a cold front passed over the region bringing with it the first rain for over four months, a temperature of 20 ° C (68 ° F) and humidity near 100%! You can only find conditions more miserable than that in Montreal during fall! Finally, we only went to the ATM to get some Dirhams then returned to the warmth of the boat to watch movies the rest of the day. The next day it was two happy sailors who left Port Larache in fourth gear. At this point, our only idea was to navigate directly to the Canary Islands and to forget about Morocco altogether but as we headed for the Canary Islands a small fishing boat approached us. One of the men on board was making the sign of a cigarette and I signed them to approach. In Gibraltar cigarettes and alcohol was cheap and we had a good supply of brandy and Marlboro to give as gifts to Moroccan officials but as it turned out this practice must be obsolete because no one ever asked me anything close to a bribe and they never made me feel that I needed to give them any kind of baksheesh. Danielle ran inside and came out with a half liter of brandy and a pack of cigarettes which immediately raises cheers of joy from our seafarer colleagues. Sometimes in Muslim countries brandy is worth its weight of gold, but here we got a bag full of small soles that will give us three meals of fried fish with the first one that evening. This little happy interlude with these fishermen has boosted our morale relative to Morocco and we finally decided to head for Rabat and give a chance to this country of sand and ancient culture.