In order to board our scheduled ferry from Tanger Med, Morocco to Sète, France, we were required to have documentation of a negative PCR test result within 72 hours of boarding. After spending approximately 2 hours paying and waiting in line, we were tested on the Thursday before our ferry. The testing facilities were reminiscent of “MASH” medical tents.
We were a bit worried that the results would be impacted by the holiday of Eid al Adha, but we were assured that would not be the case. We were told to come back after 2pm the next day for the results. The following day we returned to the hospital in Tetouan. I received my PCR test results around 2:30pm in the afternoon, roughly 26 hours after it was taken. Ryan however, who’s swab was taken within minutes of mine, did not receive his results until 11:30pm the night before our ferry. Talk about a little nerve racking. We had discussions on what to do if he was positive. Would I get on the ferry as planned and work on getting to Belgium to ship the van home while he was whisked away to a “quarantine” facility by the Moroccan government? Would I remain in Morocco with him and potentially miss our opportunity to get the van out of Morocco?
We fueled up the van prior to joining the 2 mile queue outside the port. For the next 12 hours, we waiting in various lines, undergoing various checks before driving onto the ferry. I volunteered to wait in the line to obtain boarding passes with hundreds of people who were not necessarily observing social distancing.
When I was two people from the front of my particular line, the man behind me said in English, “You need a stamp like this to get your boarding pass”. I looked at his paper and I looked at mine and indeed, I did not have the stamp he had on his ticket. After asking a few people where to get the stamp, I exited the line in which I had patiently waited for two hours to run to the parking area in search of the man who could stamp my ticket. I finally found him and ran back to the line just in time. I was a bit worried the people in the line would get all up in arms when I rejoined the line in my previous spot. Just a few minutes before I had left the line, a few Moroccan men started yelling and causing a ruckus when two elderly women were allowed to go to the front of the line. Luckily, the man who held my spot and told me about the stamp said something to the men who were a bit worked up and they calmed down. A few minutes later, I had our boarding passes in hand. After this line, we entered the vehicle customs line where they used a huge x-ray scanner on as many vehicles as they could fit in single file on the designated platform. From here, we entered an area where agents asked us questions and looked in the van. Then, we were sent to another line closer to ship. Here we waited for hours, lined up nose to tail. Finally, one-by-one, vehicles started driving into the belly of the ferry. Each vehicle was checked by agents and dogs. We have been told they are looking for drugs or human stowaways. By the time we made it to our cabin and the ferry departed the port, it was after 3am, 8 hours after the originally scheduled departure. Well, we were on the boat, that was something.
The following day, we met up with a few people on the ferry and discussed our different experiences during the lockdown. It is so interesting how different everyone’s experience was. Some people were stuck in a city and were unable to leave their apartment except for once a week to go to the store. Their exercise routines were limited to running up and down the stairwells and stretching / exercising in their apartments. Some people participated in group exercise classes, language lessons, crafts, and other projects within the community. Some people stayed in the same location for the entire lockdown, while others moved every month or so. Some people were able to walk around, while others were limited to a small area. Some people ventured out to shop as needed, while others had locals do their shopping for them. Some people had access to only small local shops and souks while others had access to hardware stores and supermarkets. Some people wild-camped, some people stayed in campgrounds, and some people rented apartments or rooms. Some people, like us, did a combination.
We arrived in Sète, France and were unable to understand any of the instructions announced on the ferry. We packed up our things and joined the hundreds of people waiting to disembark the ferry. Finally, we were allowed to proceed to the deck where our van was parked. It was like herding cats. People were basically on top of each other trying to get out of the ferry. So much for social distancing.
The only comfort was that theoretically all passengers on the ferry had a negative Covid test 72 hours or less before boarding the ferry. We drove off the ferry and entered another line to proceed through customs and immigration. The immigration officer took our passports, presumably scanned them, and returned them. The customs officer asked if we had cigarettes or vegetables and took a look in the back of the van. Within a half an hour, we were through the checkpoints and funneled out to the street. We both said out loud, “Was that it?”, and just like that, we were in France.
Ryan and I decided to head to a Lidl Supermarket. They had an entire display of pork products! We haven’t eaten pork in so many months, we went a little crazy buying salami and bacon. We stocked up on leafy green vegetables, another item we hadn’t had access to in many months, and various other food products that caught our eye. After restocking the van in the parking lot, we met up with our new French friends that we first met in the Covid testing line in Tetouan. They invited us to stay with them in their home about four hours North of the port area. We followed them to their home and spent four lovely days exploring their town of Crémieu, reorganizing the van, helping our friends unload their camper van after nearly a year in Morocco, and relaxing after days of stress leading up to and including the ferry out of Morocco.
From here we headed towards Germany. In a Park4night location we chose for a night, we met an amazing German family who were also spending the night in the same spot. We ended up chatting for hours and hiked with their family the following day. They even invited us to their home in a few days.
We proceeded to head East to met our Canadian friends who were able to get out of Morocco on a repatriation ferry to Genoa in early June. It was great to catch up with them again. This was our fourth time meeting up with the Yolo Family since we first met in early March and I’m sure it will not be the last time our paths cross. Since we were shipping the van back to the US, they asked us to take a duffel bag of winter clothing they no longer wanted in their van back to North America with us. We shuffled some things around in our van so they could lighten up their van. Living full-time in a van, we all learn what is necessary and what is not. It’s good to get rid of those things you do not need or use often.
We drove to Baiersbronn to visit with our new German friends for a few days. They showed us around their area, spent hours discussing all kinds of things, and opened up their home and family to us.
Then on to Wiesbaden, Germany. In late January / early February, we had left our skis / snowboard and a bin of winter clothes at our friend’s workshop. We were able to repack / organize the van, prepping it for shipping while under the shelter of a roof. Thank goodness because it started pouring down rain for hours. We had the pleasure of spending some time with Katharina who we hadn’t seen in many months. Unfortunately, Stefan was out of town, but I’m sure we will see him again someday in the not too distant future.
Then off to the Netherlands. We met up with our “lockdown friends”, Fer and Tina. They are the Dutch couple who spent three weeks at the hot springs in Fask and six weeks in Icht with us during the lockdown. We arrived at the Marina and they greeted us with, “pack a bag, we are heading out”. After a few minutes, we were proceeding onto their lovely sailboat / home and heading out to anchor for the night. It was like we had just seen them yesterday, although we hadn’t seen them in three months.
The people we meet along the way continues to be one of the things I like most about this lifestyle. I saw this cartoon the other day and it really resonates with me.
After saying good bye to our Dutch friends, we headed to the port to drop off the van. In route, we received a phone call and e-mail staying the port was closed due to a holiday. It’s kind of amazing that the shipping company was not aware of that, but it gave us another day to organize our things before dropping the van off at the port.
We rented an AirBnB between Antwerp and Brussels, where we were flying out of a few days after the RORO ship was scheduled to depart. We wanted to make sure the van actually got on the ship before leaving the country, just in case something went wrong.
After a few days in the AirBnB in Belgium, we were off to the Brussels airport to head back to the US.
We had made the decision early on to pay for the Premium Economy Plus seats to allow us to sit next to each other and minimize the number of people around us. Once we got on the plane, we realized we didn’t have to do this as the plane was around 15% full. We were both surprised the plane actually flew with such a limited number of passengers. We filled out a health questionnaire, had our temperature taken, and answered a few questions once we exited the plane. US immigrations and customs was quick and easy. This was a first for as us we usually have some kind of issue when entering the US from another country. After wearing the KN95 masks our new German friends gave us for 8+ hours, it was a relief to remove it once we were in our rental car.
The question is, was it the right decision to come back???
As with most things, time will tell…