A Border Incident

I’ve not really blogged much concerning my travels in Morocco this year; I had meant to do such at a separate blog, but haven’t… So instead I will share, insha’allah, a few travel narratives here, coming in no particular order. Here is the first such installment:


On arrival in Morocco my passport was stamped with a ninety day standard tourist visa. Unfortunately, my plans called for a stay slightly longer than ninety days, and since I did not wish to fill out the burdensome paperwork and face the infamous Moroccan bureaucracy, I opted to simply make a jaunt from Fez up to Ceuta (or Sebta, if you prefer), one of two Spanish-owned and operated cities on the North African coast. Besides being an opportunity to recharge in a European city, I could also renew my visa without any trouble. Or so I thought.

Ceuta is a nice enough little city- large town, really- stuck on a peninsula that sticks out from the northwestern tip of Africa, just opposite the Rock of Gibraltar. It has changed hands repeatedly over the past few millennia, but the Spanish have held it down for the past few centuries, and look likely to do so for a while longer. As much as Morocco may complain and refer to Ceuta and its sister, Milleta, as occupied cities- which, granted, they are- no one stands to gain much if the situation is changed, or at least as long as the two autonomous cities are duty-free zones, and the cheap(er) cell phones, digital cameras, and liquor continues to flow for Spanish and Moroccan day-trippers.

Crossing into Ceuta was no trouble. A grand taxi ran me from Tetouan to just short of the border, where a shifty-looking man presented me a blue form to fill out and tried to direct me to the proper line, then demand the obligatory dirhams as a tip. Better than one guy I’d run into at the bus station in Tetouan, who wanted Euros- which I didn’t have… The border is pretty obvious, marked as it is by a wide barren strip that was literally burned out- still smoldering in fact- while I was there (brush fire perhaps?). Beyond this demarcation line is a network of fences, ditches, and guard towers, the whole thing bristling with guns and barbed wire. I made my way on foot across the frontier into Spanish territory with no trouble- the Spanish authorities didn’t even stamp my passport- perhaps this is done on the ferry out of town? Within a few minutes I was greeted by a bright blue sign proclaiming Bienvenido a Espana.

After a day of hiking around the peninsula and enjoying views of the Mediterranean, I spent my evening and night in dear old Spain nicely enough, enjoying good Chinese food- pork, at that!- washed down with a Mahou beer. Later I looked up an “Irish” pub which, despite stupidly loud techno music, did serve me up a decent pint of Guinness. After that I went to bed, all well with the world.

The next morning I took the bus back to the frontier, and started across, expecting no trouble. Some friends of mine had taken the same trip a few weeks before for the same purpose, and had run into no trouble- other than having to make someone stamp their passport. No such luck for me. I presented myself to the border guard in charge of stamping passports and what not. He looked at my visa, then typed my visa number into his computer, then scowled. He dithered about for a few minutes, during which time I became worried. He stepped out of the post, and did not return for a few minutes. When he finally returned, he informed me that I could only stay in Morocco a few days, and that in fact he could not stamp my passport, or something to that effect. I protested. He handed me back my passport and pointed to an office across the frontier and told me to go there. I dutifully obeyed, climbing over the obstacle diving the coming and going lanes (marked with Do Not Cross signs of course) and over to the office, where other disconcerted foreigners were queued up in front of the window. I joined the queue and thought of the ludicrous idea of not being re-admitted to Morocco.

When I had my turn at the window, I began to explain my predicament in my halting but mostly correct fusha Arabic, thinking how nice it was that I could express myself thus. The official inside quickly grew weary of my Qu’ranic-sounding discourse and interrupted me in English… My passport disappeared inside for a minute, then re-emerged, with “No trouble. Give your passport to that man-” man inside the window pointed to a shuffling fellow in uniform who was busily talking to himself and not seeming very interested in the still confused and disconcerted foreigners standing about. We- myself and the other confused border-crossers- handed our passports over, and followed the swiftly moving official back over the obstacles and towards the post. He handed back passports to one group of French students and waved them through. I noticed- thanks be to God- that he had also handed them my passport, so I ran after them and indicated the mistake. They handed me my passport back and I chased after the official, who had by now saddled up to the post. Once again my passport entered the unhappy post, and the absent-minded official insisted to his dutiful comrade within that I was no problem, let him through, or something of that nature. His mission fulfilled, he ambled off. Mr. Dutiful Border Guard gruffly stamped my passport, looking none to pleased at what he no doubt thought an irregular operation.

I was deeply pleased to at last leave the frontier. I scooted through the last gate and in minutes was in a grand taxi on my way back to Tetouan and then on to Fez, very gratified that my brief encounter with the Moroccan bureaucratic machine was behind me.

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