Having arranged for some work to be done in Gibraltar, we took advantage of the intervening time to pay a visit to Morocco. We could have gone to the Spanish enclave Ceuta, which is only about 15 miles from Gibraltar. Instead we opted to go to Marina Smir, a bit further down the Mediterranean coast, but still only 27 n. miles. The marina was, until recently, operated by Marina Marbella but is now under Moroccan control…. and clearly they are still working out the kinks. For example, we were initially directed to berth alongside the quay by the restaurants but then were asked to move because the supervisor would be inspecting the marina in the morning and if we wanted to stay there, we should be “Med moored”, i.e. anchored or moored off with bow or stern towards the dock. We opted to go alongside Migaloo, an ARC friend’s boat, who happened to be there at the same time and were on a dock further from the crowds, next to a super yacht.
The marina itself is quite attractive with white-washed concrete piers, and Moroccan-styled modern buildings sourrounding the marina (as you can see in the photo at the top of this blog). There was a wide selection of cafes and restaurants within the marina, largely serving mostly Moroccan beach-goers or the huge number of jet ski-ers and small motorboat owners. People-watching was fascinating as clearly the normal islamic dress code didn’t apply here or at least, wasn’t enforced. The beach-goers didn’t start to show up until nearly midday and then many stayed until well after sunset, around 9 p.m. Indeed the music from the beach and restaurants kept on going until 2 or 3 in the morning! Clearly it was a holiday destination for many Moroccans. In the mornings, apart from the security guards, the only people about were those who water the grass and shrubs or those who pick up the trash both in and out of the water from the day before; a very clean area.
Our first evening found us venturing by taxi into M’Diq, with John and Cora from Migaloo. The city was heaving with people but eventually, around 11 pm, we managed to sit down at a second restauant and successfully order dinner; rather than pretending to understand our orders. At the previous establishment we met with no success as no food showed up during our 1-hour wait! We later found out that it was the king’s birthday that day, which explained the crowds. We saw at least two of his many palaces, both heavily guarded, during our short stay. It seems, however, that the king is popular with the people.
The following day we met Ahmed who offered to be our guide for a tour of Tetouan. He seemed like a kindly, honest sort of fellow so, after Migaloo departed and we took their spot next to the pier, we took Ahmed up on his offer. For sure we would have been lost had we tried to find our way through the narrow streets of the old city on our own. One street was so narrow, Howard’s shoulders almost touched both sides! Ahmed showed us the door to the house where he spent the first 5 years of his life and pointed out several of the 85 mosques in the city. There is, apparently, also one catholic church and one synagogue in the city but no signs of any resentment to either. Our tour included the medina where we saw carpenters, leather-makers, fresh produce stalls and stalls selling spices, dried beans, nuts, dried fruits, olives, etc., a communal wood-fired oven used to bake bread, meats or vegetables, the tannery (what an odour!!), plus a view of the city from the top of one of the buildings, where we we given traditional mint tea whilst being shown hand-made rugs made by local Bedouin, Taurig or Berber folks. We ended our tour in a very reasonably priced Moroccan restaurant where Howard ate chicken with couscous and I ate tastily spiced shish kebabs. Ahmed had kefta-style kebabs. We didn’t go hungry, that’s for sure!
We took the next couple of days easy, not venturing far from the boat, the reason being that first I and then Howard had mildly upset bellies. Saturday again found us taking a tour with Ahmed, this time to a huge market where all the local folks come into town from the mountains to try and sell their wares. It was incredible to see the chickens being slaughtered, the sheep and goats tethered awaiting their new owner (there is an Eid soon), fresh fish being sold without much refrigeration and little evidence of any ice, wonderful fresh fruits and veggies, etc. The last photo below is of hats typically worn by the Berber. Howard was tempted to get me one! These women were so colourfully dressed, usually with a bright red and white-striped apron to finish off. We probably were the only westerners present in the market.
The following day, Sunday, we headed back to Gibraltar. The departure formalities took longer than expected (about an hour) and included a request for us to bring our boat alongside the reception dock to collect the final piece of customs paperwork. I think they are very conscious of drug smuggling out of the country so reserved the right to search the boat, should they feel the need to. Indeed, a small yacht that was tied up to the reception dock had apparently been impounded recently while the captain and crew were carted off to jail!
It was rather foggy when we left but we assumed it would clear once we got away from land. Unfortunately that did not turn out to be the case as the fog persisted all the way back to Gibraltar. It wasn’t much fun crossing the shipping lanes when we couldn’t see the ships until they were almost upon us. Again, the AIS proved its value. We also needed radar to spot the smaller fishing vessels that didn’t show up on AIS. We altered speed and/or course at least twice to avoid shipping.
Now we are in Marina Bay, Gibraltar so have only a short walk to most things. Happily two technical guys were successful in sorting out the issue we had with our holding tanks. Now we just have to sort out the best plan for cooking gas. We have two small propane tanks but the fittings to fill the tanks do not match european fittings and in any case propane is hard to find. Tomorrow a technician should be visiting us to see if butane tanks would fit in our locker. Keep your fingers crossed for us. Alternatively we would have to find an adaptor so we could fill our tanks with butane.
What are our plans from here, you might ask? We are working on that. We have to be careful not to stay in Spain more than 6 months to avoid paying a hefty tax but we still need to figure out the details, as enforcement of regulations appears variable. Cartagena is looking attractive as a possible over-wintering spot.