Single photo Honorable Mention in National Geographic Contest 2009
"Why are you choosing this bus and not an airplaine?" young and astonshed Mohammed asks me in a strict Naples dialect, learned in few years he came to work here for contructions: "are you escaping from something? Or because you want to carry on drugs from Morocco to Italy? You don't know Moroccan police. They put you in prison in the desert and throw away the key!".
100 euros is the price of a ticket, for a bus from Naples, Italy, to Casablanca, Morocco. This is the way that several Moroccans chose all the years to back home. Young and old single men or entire families -often only Arabic speaking- all meet up in front of Naples Stazione Centrale Garibaldi in a sunny morning, waiting for a common pullman of Italian company but with drivers from Morocco. Three days, two nights over Central and Northern Italy, south of France, the Mediterranean coast of Spain, on a ferry at Strait of Gibralter, and then, Morocco.
It's spring. I have only a small Nikon film camera with me, and color film slides. The challenge: experiencing this bus journey, and then exploring Morocco for first time, all in about two weeks. No particulary directions, not knowing any Moroccans, no maps, and as tradition, no so much money. I know it will be not easy taking pictures on the bus. Over privacy generally to respect, according to some interpretations, Islam has seriuos restrictions about beeing photographed in public. Then the ride is not so comfortable, people can get nervous. Just on highway off Naples, a fight with few punches among two men, about the right or not to get off shoes in the hotness, is the beginning of the journey.
But also quietness. And in the silent noise of the ride, alternating with Arabic music and Muslim prays Sura chants from mobile phones, I start to know people on the bus. Moroccans regularly in Italy, or with no any visa, are the only travelers: cooks from Northern Italian towns restaurants, construction workers from Naples, olives-pickers from Calabria, as another Mohammmed, a man speaking only his Amazigh Berber dialect, tells everyone the story of his Italian landowner of South that makes him working undocumented, but pays him every year extra expenses, as the ticket to go in Morocco and back to work in Italy.
Very hot during day -no air conditioning- pretty cold in the night, it is a hard test for travelers, restlessly sleeping, and for the only two drivers. At second day one of them got angry with me, suspecting I was taking photos of him while he was sleeping, and firmly pretending the film roll by my camera.
Stops are just few gas stations and the Strait of Gibralter: there, some mysterious luggage have to be carried on little ships going to Morocco, over Spanish border control, by sea. Then bus and passenges are embarked on the ferry, approaching Moroccan soil. Over the Strait, Ceuta is the last European piece of land: a free port, autonomous Spanish town in Morocco extreme North, a desert place, where Moroccan police is looking for quick little bribes by every travelers. Several cabs are waiting in the sand wind possible customers to drive them to the nearest towns. We have passed what ancient Greeks called 'The Pillars of Hercules', the legendary gateaway into the Mediterranean Roman 'Mare Nostrum' Sea, guarded by Hercules, one of the border between Europe and Africa.
The bus keeps its travel to South. End of ride is Beni Mellal, a town almost at the geographic center of the country. But I will off before, at Casablanca.