Many Germans will remember their 2020 Morocco holiday for some time. On March 20, Morocco declared a state of emergency because of the coronavirus. The borders have been sealed ever since, stranding many German tourists.
"It's 40 degrees (104 degrees F) here. I need to find a shadier place." Since mid-March, Simon and Anne-Silja have been living with their two sons, aged 6 and 12, in a campervan parked in the palm grove of Tafraoute, a small town in south-eastern Morocco.
For several days they were the only ones here. Until last Tuesday when 10 other motorhomes parked in the sparse shade of the palm trees. They all took the ferries organized by the German Embassy to Genoa or Malaga. Simon and Anne-Silja stayed behind.
"We are in no hurry, so we will probably wait until the borders open again and we can cross over with a normal ferry. The tickets for the ferries chartered by the embassy are exorbitantly expensive," Simon said. "We paid €100 ($111) for the outward journey. I have now heard of prices up to €1,500."
The family is doing well, the locals provide them with water, exercise books, and bread, couscous or tajine — there is even a pizza delivery service. "We really can't complain," said Simon.
From holidaymakers to inadvertent permanent campers
In winter, Morocco is a popular destination for European tourists. It is the high season for campers and caravanners. Germans, in particular, like to spend the cold season under the Moroccan sun. In only 40 minutes on a ferry to cross from Algeciras on the Spanish mainland to the enclave Ceuta on the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar. But the coronavirus pandemic turned sunny Morocco into a trap.
On March 20, Morocco declared a state of emergency, and virtually from one day to the next the borders were sealed. The German Embassy advised people to leave their cars and fly back, but that was out of the question for many people. An estimated 4,000 campers from all over Europe are still stuck in Morocco.
Like Simon and Anne-Silja, many of those still in Morocco have installed themselves in parking lots and adapted to the circumstances. One of those circumstances is a curfew. Anyone who has to walk the two kilometers into the village requires a permit from the head of the village. Long-distance travel is prohibited. No one gets from A to B. On May 19, the state of emergency was extended until June 10.
One day a boat will come
The German Embassy in Rabat said it does what it can to help. The Foreign Ministry has brought almost 5,000 stranded tourists back to Germany from Morocco since mid-March. Even after the official end of the Foreign Ministry's largest repatriation operation in its history at the end of April, efforts continue. In Morocco, two ships left for Europe on May 19 and 20 with a total of 110 camping vehicles on board, and four flights left this week.
"We cannot make a reliable estimate of the total number of Germans still remaining in Morocco, as there is no obligation for German nationals abroad to register. Many of those who now want to return had initially decided against going home; others are on-site with a vehicle and do not want to leave it behind," the German Foreign Ministry told DW. The embassy is also trying to find a solution for the remaining holidaymakers. The German Foreign Ministry assumes there are a few hundred Germans still vacationing in Morocco.
Morocco on the edge of an abyss
For Morocco, the coronavirus pandemic has been a disaster, and the economic damage has been enormous. An estimated 500,000 people depend on work provided by the tourism sector and hardly any of them are earning money now. Of the nearly 4,000 approved accommodations, hotels, campsites and youth hostels in the country, only 520 were open at the beginning of May. Tourism is the second-strongest economic factor in Morocco and accounts for 11% of the gross domestic product. A total of 11 million guests come to Morocco every year, 80% of them Europeans.
Muriel Brunswig said she loves Morocco and is very worried. The Freiburg native has been providing travel services to Morocco for over 20 years and has written several travel guides about the country.
"Fortunately, there is a government aid program, but, in the end, it doesn't reach everyone and in the long run the help is not enough to live on. In Morocco, most people live from hand to mouth. At the moment, I cannot imagine how the hygiene measures in tourism can be implemented in Morocco, but it is clear that if things do not start happening soon, many people in Morocco will not be able to survive."
She said she hopes that a solution will be found so that everyone can get through the pandemic crisis without too much of a bruising. She is doing her part and is not demanding back the money that had already been paid to her partners in Morocco.
"They are much worse off than I am because, compared to me, they have fewer reserves and larger families to feed," she said, adding that everyone is waiting for the moment when tourists will be allowed back into the country.
Everyone wants to go home
But the flow of tourists is currently heading out of the country and towards Europe. Maren and Ralf already left. They are back in Europe with "Grandpa Theo," as they affectionately call their converted 1966 Mercedes Benz truck. They left Morocco on May 21 with a ferry chartered by the embassy and are now chugging towards their home in southern Germany. Driving through the transit countries swiftly is one of the requirements for all those who are now on their way home with their camper vans. "Grandpa Theo" is doing its best, but with a top speed of 78 kilometers per hour (48.5 mph) the trip across Spain and France is a lengthy one.
On January 2, Maren and Ralf had entered Morocco and wanted to travel around the country for three months. In the end, they were there for almost twice as long. Maren and Ralf saw how one set of instructions followed another and soon nobody knew what was going on. Especially at the beginning of the lockdown many raced to the ferry in Ceuta, the Spanish enclave in Morocco. Only to find that they couldn't travel any further.
Being well-connected is half the ticket
Maren is a woman who likes to get things done, likes to keep things organized and rarely puts down her mobile phone. She started a WhatsApp group for stranded campers in Morocco, collected reliable information and distributed it. Those who would like to leave the country must actively gather information themselves, register with "Elefand," the electronic registration of Germans abroad of the German Foreign Ministry, and regularly scan the German Embassy's Facebook page. And distinguish misleading information from the truth. Which seems to be a real problem. Because quite a few motor homeowners invested money in ship transfers that did not take place at all.
Maren quickly became the intermediary between the German Embassy and the campers scattered around the country.
"You need a little bit of preparation time if you're going to travel almost 1,000 kilometers by motorhome to the ferry in Tangier," Maren said.
They made it on board the "Balearia" and quickly made sure that a few Belgians could also get on board.
"We'll be coming back," Ralf said of Morocco. "The people in Morocco are so friendly. It is a wonderful country. We have seen far too little."
Bye, Morocco! After almost three months in Morocco, Simon and Anne-Silja will also soon be going home
Simon and Anne-Silja will also be leaving Tafraout in the next few days, escaping the heat. They have now received an overland travel permit to travel north towards Tangier. From there they'll catch a ferry to Spain leave. It's a little over 900 kilometers to get there. A last chance to see at least a little bit of Morocco before a ferry brings them back to Europe.