UK overlanders in Morocco have been forced to fly home without their vehicles, after the Moroccan government shut down flights and ferry services in and out of the country on 29 November. Announced only the previous day, the closure of borders was in response to the emergence of the Covid ‘Omicron’ variant.
Paul Blackburn, Expedition Leader at One Life Adventure, was guiding in Western Sahara when the announcement was made, and describes the speed of the closures as ‘breath-taking’, leaving his convoy of eight vehicles with only two days to make the 1600km drive from Layounne to Tangiers.
Despite having return tickets booked with another ferry company, Paul booked a GNV boat from Tangiers to Genoa to create additional options for his group, but these tickets were soon cancelled. They then drove to the land border at Ceuta, on the advice of the Irish Consulate, but the border remained closed due to the ongoing dispute between Morococo and Spain. Finally the vehicles were driven to Marrakech where they were locked at a secure campsite, and their occupants flew home to the UK via Paris. All members were double vaccinated, and no quarantine was required.
Paul expects to be able to retrieve the vehicles in late January or early February, via a ferry crossing to Marseilles (unless the more traditional border with Spain has re-opened by then). Extending the vehicles’ 90-day temporary import papers should therefore not be required.
Help at hand... but not always
Although airlines and ferry companies were quick to offer refunds and options for bookings to be transferred to later dates, Paul reports getting no assistance or even a response from the British Embassy while his group was stranded, and its public guidance was published ‘three days too late’, says Paul. ‘We didn’t expect special treatment, but we did expect some kind of guidance at a time like that. By contrast, we contacted the Irish Embassy as well, as one of our group has Irish citizenship, and they replied within two hours with excellent information. So although the stock advice is to go to your own embassy for help, I’d advise anyone to try neighbouring country embassies if you don’t have any luck with your own. Embassy social media feeds are useful too – just be careful of the fog and misinformation that can spread online.’
Can we travel overland in 2022?
In response to the Moroccan border closure, One Life Adventure’s itinerary for next year will not include any attempt to drive to Africa. ‘North Africa is quite reactionary at the moment, and I don’t blame them. But for 2022 we won’t run any trips requiring anything more than a cross-Channel ferry, and we’ll stay within two days drive of the Channel,’ says Paul.
Returning home from countries on the UK’s ‘red list’ currently requires travellers to quarantine for 10 days at their own expense, but at the time of writing this list does not include countries in Europe or North Africa.
Local Covid regulations also have to be taken into account, in addition to restrictions imposed in a traveller’s home country. ‘I wouldn’t recommend travelling in France without the French TousAntiCovid app, in addition to the NHS Covid Pass app. It’s very good – the kind of thing we should have had in the UK.’
The UK government’s overseas travel advice can be found at gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice. Earlier in the year LRO reported on the difficulties of driving overseas, and we'll continue to help readers monitor the situation in 2022.