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Adventures on buses, trains, ferries from Asilah to Porto

If you’re like me and like to subject yourself to various amounts of self flagellation and sado-masochist torture, then one can attempt to make the trip from Asilah to Porto without stopping. There are no direct flights from Asilah (obviously!) to anywhere; hence one must get either to Tangiers to Casablanca for flights to Portugal or Spain. Flying in Morocco can be prohibitively expensive and highly inconvenient, unless your schedule involves midday flights.

 Getting from Asilah, Morocco to Porto, Portugal without flying involves 6 steps.

  1. Asilah, Morocco to Tangiers, Morocco – first class train ticket is 25 dirhams ($3CDN)
  2. Tangiers Train station (Tangerville) to Tangiers Port via “petit taxi” 20 dirhams ($2.50CDN)
  3. Tangiers Port to Tarifa Port in Spain with free transfer via bus to Algeciras, Spain (€28 or 280 dirhams)
  4. Algeciras, Spain to Sevilla, Spain – bus ticket is €15
  5. Sevilla to Lisbon – bus ticket is €36
  6. Lisbon to Porto – first class train reservation with a Eurail pass is €4

Total cost of the journey is €87, which is pretty expensive in the grand scheme of things but getting from point A to point B in the shortest duration is not the purpose of why I’m here traveling.

Instead, one can think about this journey in the following terms

  • Possible human drama observation  i.e. Eavesdropping or “Macco-ing”
  • Multiple navigational failures and resets i.e. Getting lost
  • Enhanced problem solving skills i.e. How to ask for a drink without paying?
  • Cross lingual communication enhancement i.e. How to ask for a drink without paying in a different language?
  • Cross border passport analysis and procedures i.e. why does the police search the guy with the Djellaba, but apologizes when he sees a Canadian passport? Yet while searching a Senegalese guy in a suit, grunts and expresses outright surprise that he was in Morocco and can afford the ferry to Spain. 
  1. Asilah to Tangiers:

Like everything else in Morocco, one must get accustomed to the Moroccan pace of things. Having left the  Al Alba hotel in Asilah, the taxi ride took 3 minutes to get to the train station on time on a rainy day, which meant according to Moroccan travel rules, that the train would be least 30 – 45 minutes late, since one thing was early. This was if the train was actually running.

As per schedule of a 30-45 minute delay, no one bothered to post an announcement about the delay or say something in French, English, Arabic, Swahili or even goddamn Pig Latin. One has to go up to the counter and ask if there is a train delay. Now I really shouldn’t be frustrated, since this is the standard Moroccan customer service experience. The businesses are doing the customers a favour by providing their time and service and not the other way around. I am a bit pissed though since this is a colossal waste of my time – I could have taken the bus from Asilah to Tangiers, in the same time.

Like everything that seems to happen, the train being late provided me with some grand entertainment. These two girls from Tangiers (I found out from the Asilah train security guard, who happened to know Mohammed and Omar and had seen me in the past two days in Asilah), were making conversation amongst themselves, the guard and anyone else they could find, which also included me.

 One of the girls was this very brash young girl (for Morocco, of course) and not very pretty at all, came to make conversation and ask all the usual questions – except that she didn’t speak any English – the security guard was translating … of course she didn’t know where Trinidad was … why would she? She was making random conversation with strangers.

I finally figured out that she was asking if I would buy some food for them, of course they had talked to two other men who were there, also asking them for “some gifts”. It was a bit sad, in that girls were hustling, but they managed to get on the 1st class carriage with me, with no ticket, by simply “sweet talking” the conductor – which was awesome to see. On my carriage, they made conversation with another guy in 1st class and he bought them some soda and a sandwich each. In this culture, women do have all the power, like everywhere else, but they have to be even more subtle in their manipulations here.

2.       Tangiers train station to Tangiers Port:

Getting from the Tangerville train station into the Tangiers Port can be a bit of a hassle, since one has to find a “petit” taxi that will accept a large backpack in the trunk. Fortunately, after a couple weeks in Morocco, I now know the following

  • How to flag a taxi
  • Cut in front the person who will cut in front of you, that includes women in hijabs and burqas (they are ruthless).
  • Negotiate my 20 dirham fare and eliminate the “No, no, quarenta /cinquenta negotiation) and be on my way using the little functional French I know.

Once in the Port, one has to master navigating the touts who will come around you and offer all their services, since this can be quite annoying. Reciting a well practiced “No Shukran” seemed to work for all but one tout, who insisted on taking me into the FRS ferry office but made the mistake of asking for my passport – that receives an automatic “Fuck off … now!” I won’t even give Police my passport unless there is an official reason for them to see it. Finally, getting to the ticket salesman, there was another young guy behind the counter. I gave the ticket officer my passport and paid my 280 dirhams not €28 (as advertised), which would have been 315 dirhams and waited for my passport. The young guy hands me my passport, and then has the audacity to ask me for a tip of 20 dirhams … to which he got a polite “I could have filled out my own passport, I speak and read English also, thank you”, but he made one last sorrowful plea for something for tea …  I relented and gave him 10 dirhams.

Coming to Morocco is a true test of “Western guilt complex manipulation”. It is amazing how much money Moroccans can extract from “Westerners” simply by tugging on heartstrings, claiming 16 children, saying they have a sick wife or children, saying they have no job or any of the litany of excuses you will get. When in the US/Canada etc, most people have no problem refusing these requests, but when they come to  <insert african country>, they feel like every time they give money away or get ripped off, they are helping people, so they justify getting ripped off with the excuse that it will help someone. Calculating the fiscal effect of “Western guilt complex” isn’t that hard. The equation I have come up with for this is simply:

It is the (price paid for Moroccan goods by a foreigner – price paid for the same Moroccan goods by a Moroccan)/(cost price of the Moroccan goods) , that percentage is the “Western guilt complex” fiscal effect. From talking to people across Morocco, I assume this effect adds another 250% profit to any sale or purchase by a foreigner. It is why these vendors will wait for the tourists, because not only can they charge more and make 8 times for profit, but the sale will never be negotiated in good faith.

3.       Tarifa Port to Algeciras

This is as simple as grabbing the ferry bus from the Marina to the Algeciras terminal.

4.       Algeciras, Spain to Sevilla, Spain

Finding the bus station involves a 10 min walk from the Marina terminal. The information booth at the port was quite helpful since they had maps that showed the step by step directions from the terminal to the bus station. A nice bonus was finding free Wi-Fi in the Algeciras bus terminal, which is really helpful if one is planning on the fly.

5.         Sevilla to Lisbon

From Seville to Porto, there is no direct bus or train. There are four choices

  1. If a Eurail pass is on hand, then one can to go from Seville to Madrid and then take the “Trenhotel” into Lisbon, and then take the 3 hr express to Porto. This involves a lot of money, if one doesn’t have the Eurail pass and one must get to Madrid

                                                   i.      First class seat reservation on the overnight train from Madrid to Lisbon is €10

                                                 ii.      First class reservation from Lisbon to Madrid is a mere €4

2.   The other choice is taking the bus from Sevilla to Porto, which is a 12 hour bus ride. This is a painful option especially in sitting on a bus next to a gamble of people who might or might   not have showered, or god forbid you get to sit next to the “White rasta backpacker”. I would rather get “Black Plague” or an STD than sit next to one of these confused travelers. The badge of honor for them is having the odour of a sweaty cesspit (much like walking in the Prague subway during summer), I don’t know why this seems to occur. If we were living in the Matrix, they would be an illogical occurrence, a useless sub-routine or an IF statement without an ELSE clause.

3. Flights but this would destroy my budget as a last minute flight is approximately €150. This is ridiculous, and I don’t really have to be anywhere for any certain time, so why bother.

4. My preferred option was taking the bus from Sevilla to Lisbon and then the high speed train from Lisbon to Porto in first class. Finally getting to Sevilla, the bus was going to be late but the €36 fee to get to Lisbon wasn’t the worst thing ever. The best thing about being around the bus station is that there is also free Wi-Fi around the station. The bus ride being about 7 hours isn’t the greatest thing ever and of course being back from Morocco where everything is dirt cheap in comparison provides a bit of sticker shock to me.Bus travel for me, is a love/hate thing as I promised myself years ago that overnight bus rides were over for me, since I hated the bus ride from Montreal to Toronto but for some reason, I’m ok with this long haul bus ride, probably because it is to somewhere new for me.

6. Lisbon to Porto

No fuss, no mess, no problem. Direct trains operate frequently from 5.30am. Eurail pass holders pay €4 for a reservation … normal one way cost is €40. 2hr and 45 mins, you there. Wasn’t that easy?

Total time of journey : Only 23 hrs!

About Rishiray

Rishi Sankar is a PeopleSoft HRMS Project Manager and Oracle Solution Architect. Over the past 10+ years, he has managed to combine his overwhelming wanderlust with a desire to stay employed, resulting in continuing stints with 2 major consulting firms. He documents his adventures around the world on "Ah Trini Travelogue" with pictures and stories from the road/tuk-tuk/camel/rickshaw. You can follow him on Twitter at @rishiray and on Facebook at "Ah Trini Travelogue . He doesn't like Chicken Curry but loves Curry Chicken and is always trying to find the perfect Trinidadian roti on the road. He also doesn't like cheese and kittens ... and definitely not together. E-mail from his blog is appreciated like a 35 yr old Balvenie at [email protected]