A Strange Thing Happened On The Way To The Ferry: Twice.


What A Load Of Balearia

As we were heading from Spain into Morocco without a clue about anything, we bought an open ferry ticket. This one was good for 6 months, which was a smidgen more than the two or three weeks we had in mind, but allowed ample wriggle room for our total lack of forethought.

So many ferries, so little choice!

Balearia; not an expletive, but the name of our ferry company, have a choice of seven sailings a day. I must admit, that this is six more crossings than we need in any one day. We went for the 10am option, so that we could get to a place called Chefchaouen with plenty of daylight to spare. If we ran a bit late, it did not matter at all, after all there were another four crossings to aim for.

That mighty hurricane through which we had ridden our motorbikes, had caused the closure of the sea! Too dangerous for the car ferries to set out. We waited until the next day and tried again.

The dock side queue of cars, vans and motorhomes, at Algeciras was targeted by a team of druggy tramp-like people. They were trying to pull over passing vehicles to sell ferry tickets. I almost hit one man, who saw it as perfectly normal to leap out in front of a moving motorbike. Others were openly begging at the windows of the queuing vehicles. There is a Port Authority here and it needs to do its job and clear the area of all unauthorised personnel. These folks are a nuisance and a potential security risk.

To make matters worse, as we huddled on the quayside, trying not to make eye contact with the tramps, I began to think I might like to use ‘the ladies’. What greeted me defies description; but I’ll try. A Portacabin. Filthy outside. Mens and womens’ section. So far, so average. I stepped into the womens’ portion and was knocked back by the over-riding smell of faeces (shit) and, as my eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, the amazing filth of the room became apparent. I doubt if the sinks have been cleaned since the cabin was plonked into place and hooked up to the mains services. One sink appeared to have faecal matter in it, not much; enough. There was no hand drying facility and, no surprises, no soap.

The effect was outstanding enough to win the Turner Prize; I should have shipped it home and entered it. It is possible that you are thinking, it doesn’t sound so bad. But you have not considered the floor. I had a choice of cubicals. One cubical appeared to be out of service, so I followed a set of dubiously brown footprints that managed to stand out against the generally filthy floor, to the stall with a puddled mound of faeces. This, almost completely dried out, cracked and crazed splodge, had plopped onto the linoleum, just in front of the toilet pan. It took up at least a third of the width of the floor. Someone had missed the pan by about 6ins. This is what was trodden throughout the cabin, along with various ages of toilet paper scraps, some clearly faecally daubed. I placed my feet carefully on top of a set of well positioned shitty shoe prints, either side of the accident and hovered my rump above the toilet, whilst trying not to touch the faeces smeared walls. A total lack of toilet paper and door lock completed this grime worn, shit coated loos’ itinerary. Afterwards, with the tap operated using a wad of some of my spare toilet paper, I was able to swill my hands in cold water. I touched absolutely nothing as I left the little building to return to the queue for another hour. Much of my time was spent wondering if I had time to walk back to the loos to take a photo, but we felt we would board our boat at any minute.

Glad we dressed for cold weather.

We sat on the dock for 3 hours, in the freezing force 8 wind, with no motorhome to keep us warm, watching other ferries come and go. Ours seemed to be the only company unable to get it’s act together. Further delays followed and, eventually, another, heavier boat was deployed. ‘Rent a Wreck’ came to mind. It was more rust than paint and we were relieved that the crossing is only nine miles, swimmable from every point; should one need to bail out of this poor excuse for a vessel.

The Amman, Balearia’s rust bucket of a vessel

Our ferry left several hours late; the first and probably only crossing made that day by this lamentable company. As we left Europe, we pondered on how bad the Moroccan toilets need to be before they s(t)ink to the standard of Algeciras Port. We decided that nothing can be worse, but they could, with a huge lack of any effort at all on the part of the ‘cleaners’, be equalled.

Inside the Amman, the air conditioning system is state of the art and held in place by string.

We enjoyed Morocco. Fourteen days of exploration, which we are documenting and posting on this blog, but not this page. The time came for us to head back to Tangier Med, our embarkation point for Algeciras. When we arrived, we had cleared the port, entering Morocco inside half an hour, with everything done. We had high hopes that our exit from this modern port would be equally quick and efficient. How wrong we were.

Goodbye lovely mint tea.

As we rocked up to the the port of Tangier Med for our return journey, it was a breezy force 5 kind of day; bracing dinghy sailing weather. The sun was out, but we could see dark clouds near the surrounding mountains.

We checked into the Balearia desk. It was 10am. We were told the ship wouldn’t be sailing until much later; something to do with weather. Well, here’s news for Balearia, there is always weather, get used to it. So our 12 O’clock boat might not sail today. We went into the little port cafe and drank tea. Wally spotted a couple of bikers who had just arrived from Spain. They had been transported here by Balearia and had a miserable tale to tell.

They had arrived at the Spanish side for an early ferry and for what seemed to be no reason, had waited hours on the quayside for the ferry to set off. The sea was calm, they said. Their reading of the situation was that Balearia waited for enough vehicles to line up to make it financially viable for them to sail.

About 1pm an official looking man rushed into the cafe, and took Wally to the Balearia check-in desk. Wally handed over our last note, 200DN (£20 app.), and was told that a boat was about to leave and if we hurried we’d get on it. They implied that the money was a fee, as there had been a change of carrier. They wouldn’t give the name of the replacement boat. As we left the cafe, we realised that we didn’t have enough moroccan money left to pay in full for our tea. There was no time, luckily perhaps, for me to go and demand our money back, as it dawned on us that we had probably been ripped off. We rushed to the dockside, completing paperwork at the various drive through booths as we went.

A number of ferries had moored in the dock, all of them for other companies. We were turned away. We were ushered into a short queue where, once again we waited. The sun went in, the wind grew stronger and we were getting colder by the moment. After over an hour and at real risk of hypothermia, we shuffled over to an office block and sheltered there in the lee of a defunct Coke machine. Then it started to drizzle. Some men came out of an office and took us in. They were members of SLD, Societe De Lamanage Du Detroit, the professionals who moor and free the ships that use the port. They made us hot mint tea and carried on working around us.

Inside the SLD office that sheltered us.

A Balearia boat arrived. We left the sanctuary of the SLD, and rejoined the queue. It was another hour before the authorities noticed that there was a line of about 10 vehicles sitting waiting to board a vessel; any vessel. We think it was our SLD heroes who tipped off the ferry company. As it is their job to moor the boats, they know what boats are coming and going and when and they knew we were due to board a Balearia boat. We are pretty sure they knew no boat was due on our mooring that day and notified the authorities.

On the cold, wet and windy quay side once again – SUCKERS!!

Suddenly someone in the queue broke ranks and hurtled off. Like horses out of the traps, we careered after the breakaway vehicle. A nondescript car had been deployed to fetch us. Only one person in the queue had noticed. There was always any number of vehicles moving about the docks and I have no idea why this one caught the attention of that particular driver. We followed at high speed and travelled for a surprising distance, eventually coming to rest at the jaws of the same rust bucket that had brought us to Morocco a couple of weeks before. Our 200DN fee was not for a change of ferry company. It was theft.

At least something on the ferry appeared to be in reasonable order.

We had been hanging around, cold, wet, hungry and angry for over 5 hours, purely for the convenience of Balearia. We are not valued customers, we are cash cows.

The North African coast.

When we returned to our campsite, it seems this delaying sailing routine is Balearia business model. Those at this campsite had not realised that it happens to other people. They all thought that they had been unlucky.

Personally, I think we were ripped off, as was another person on the boat that day, by a person who had no business being in the port and by the Balearia check-in man. We were also neglected. Surely a ferry company has a duty of care for it’s customers? Dropping customers off at dusk, in an unknown country is appalling. We could not make it to our chosen destinations on either leg of our journey, and had to hastily make other arrangements for our first night in Morocco and our first night back in Spain. This puts people in direct danger and in some cases, where accommodation has been paid in full, in advance, can leave people short of money.

We wont use Balearia again on this crossing and we strongly suggest you don’t either.

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