Morocco, The Opening Chapter Jan. 2015

Tarifa – Tangier

On the morning, I left the hostel in Tarifa, Southern Spain, in search of a cafe near the port. After finishing breakfast and making my way to the ferry, I spotted a fellow traveler on a bicycle. The guy was German and on the run, on the run from his past. He told me how he was involved a messy divorce. We were two extremes, he was carrying all but the kitchen sink. Two of this two of that, six t shirts, six socks, six pairs of pants and that was just the start. Not to mention his dog travelling in his trailer. Most days around 15 or 16:00h he would look for somewhere to pitch his tent and perhaps twice per week, he would take a hostel. I’ve really got to use my tent more, it’s only been out of its bag once.

The journey by ferry is a short crossing and there are three ports to choose from. I opted for Tangier Med. I knew what to expect as soon as I hit land, the land of Morroco. There are plenty of locals at the port, hovering, waiting to pounce on a tourist. They offer assistance and then hassle the pants off you until cash exchanges hands. ‘No thank you. No thank you’ were my replies.

I cycled out of the port and into ‘The Medina.’ A medina in Morocco is ‘downtown’ and this was, downtown. Cycling up a very steep hill with market stalls either side of me, displaying brightly coloured cloth and loads of shit that nobody wants to buy. My first job was to find a hostel, I wasn’t going to stay in the medina because I felt, if I was out late that night, I wouldn’t want to be walking amongst these dark alleys alone. Tangier is no different from any other poor city late at night, and after all, this is North Africa, hardly the land of the gentry and the civilised. That’s not fair, I’m comparing Tangier to the whole of North Africa. Let’s see what unfolds as the days go by.

Arnie!

Arnie!

I cycled a short distance where I was met by a roundabout, loads of cars and what seemed to be thousands of people, predominantly looking poor and a de shrivelled look to go with it. I spotted two army guys with a policeman in the middle of them. I asked the guy in blue where I could get some accommodation? Whilst he was talking to me I couldn’t take my eyes off the machine guns held by the guy in the army. I was right next to him and had I stretched my finger out, I would be touching a machine gun. I knew the answer before I asked the question, they were never going to let me take a photo of them or hold the gun. The policeman was having a right laugh with me, but no matter what I said or inferred, the army guys didn’t budge, not a muscle moved.  Up one more road and there was a sign ahead of me, high and to the right, ‘hostel.’ I carried my bike up a couple of steps and through the large wooden, painted red double doors and into a reception hallway. No desk, no chairs, just closed doors. A huge staircase was to my right, it twisted this way and that way until I’d climbed three floors. A guy was waiting for me, ‘come in come in,’ he primed me with a smile. What was strange with this guy, was how tall he was, but likely, even more obscure, he had his own teeth and was clean. He didn’t have the look of a Moroccon either. Yes, his skin was the right colour and his eyes were black, but there was no menace to him.

The price was 150 dirham, about £12 and that included a shower that ran cold water and a sink which did the same. It did have a double bed. The sheets and blankets were as old as the hills. They didn’t look particularly clean and whilst they didn’t smell dirty, they didn’t smell clean either. He showed me the communal toilet, only one fly, I was surprised. Give it time I thought. It consisted of a traditional toilet and a hole in the ground with two slightly raised platforms for one to put his feet on whilst stooping. The toilet didn’t flush, I don’t think it was supposed to either. The instructions were simple. Sit on the loo, put any used paper in the bin, fill a bucket with water and pour it down the toilet. There was a time when a place like this would have sunken me to great depths, not now though, I’ve became accustomed to, ‘you get what you pay for.’ I liked the guy.He was different to what I had met so far. He was helpful and told me of a few do’s and don’t’s. His message was clear, be careful.

image

I dumped my things in my room and went for a stroll with my iPad, passport and wallet. I could survive if anything else went missing and I could buy a new iPad, but if my wallet and passport went walkabouts, Id be stumped! My passport was in the wallet that protects my iPad, they were both under my cagoule and out of sight. My wallet was in my pocket with my hand on top if. Everything was out of sight and nothing was easy to get at. I felt relatively safe. I’ve never been anywhere before where I was the only ‘white’ person. Mmh, ‘white,’ I wonder if I’m being politically correct? It’s better than ‘white honky’ or ‘custard mush,’ but then I don’t care anyway.

I’d walked around the side streets and a few alley ways looking for somewhere to eat. Every place was a cafe where the food was sold cheaply. One particular place I liked the look of had an open kitchen. Not a kitchen like you’d expect but a workspace to prepare the food, and cook it on a small oven and a cash register on the front counter. It was packed and because of that, I nominated it as where my lunch would be consumed.

Healthy, tasty, cheap!

Healthy, tasty, cheap!

One of the guys spoke to me in Moroccan, I hadn’t a clue. I just muttered ‘Moroccan’ and pointed at something that looked like a green soup. I had to share a table, which I didn’t mind and neither did the young lady. I knew she was young, she had braces on her teeth. A short while later her friend arrived. Similar age but very smart, chatty and constantly smiling. We discussed, my travels, her religion and the food at the table. I was enjoying myself. I liked the look of what she was eating and so I asked her to order me some. Whereas us Brits have salt and pepper at the table, we had ground red pepper and ground cumin. The girls got up and went back to work, leaving me at the table. Only a few moments had passed and the smart girl tapped me on the shoulder, ‘I’ve paid for your lunch,’ she then went on to say, ‘Welcome to Morocco.’ You could have knocked me over with a feather duster, I was gobsmacked. Just how many more unbelievable people can I meet? Hopefully hoards of the little darlings.

I was getting tired and so I made my way back to the hostel. Surprisingly, Lilly, or Mr. Fester weren’t there to greet to me, and it did surprise me because of the way they looked. So much like a lot of the locals. There were some strange contraptions that were used for vehicles. The most odd being, the front end of a motorbike, with a carriage-like-box at the rear, sitting on an axle with a wheel at each end. A trike to all intense and purposes. Some filled with chickens, some filled with people. A strange affair, regardless of the cargo!

Local taxi service and distribution vehicle

Local taxi service and distribution vehicle

I rested back at the hostel which means spending hours on the iPad researching stuff. It was time for me to go out again, it was about 18:00h. Should I shower before I go out? I took another look at the towel I had been given, that answered my predicament. I went out a trifle musty, still cleaner than the thousands of people I was going to pass by outside. The guy who worked at the hostel gave me the name of a road, where I’d get food that was made for the locals. I found the road and fell upon a butchers, come small general store. I’d got a ten hour bus ride tomorrow to Marakesh and I needed provisions for the journey. (My time in Morocco is limited, hence the bus ride of about four hundred miles. I have my bicycle route planned from there but with another two lengthy bus rides). The assistants in the store were very helpful and very patient with me. It’s not easy to learn a few basic words and phrases in Arabic.

I found somewhere to eat, another cafe. I asked for lamb but they had sold out. He offered me a part leg of beef, I didn’t want that, nor chicken. ‘Come on he said, come with me.’ The two of us went to the butchers where I’d just got my provisions, I was recognised instantly. He got four lamb chops. We went back to the cafe and he cooked them for me, along with two huge green peppers, four sliced pieces of chicken breast and a plate of fried fish. I’d never seen so much juice come out of a lemon with one squeeze. Just like water from a tap it was. I ordered a large coffee, he went to another place and bought me back my drink. This guy didn’t smile but I can’t knock him; the food, the price and the service was great, just great.

By now I was quite familiar with streets of Tangier. I walked back to the hostel, it was dark and time for an early night.

Tangier – Marakesh

I woke in the dark, felt fine, looked at the clock, 06:30h, felt shit! How does that work? Think it’s called auto-suggestion? That’s where, you think you should feel shit because it’s early, so you do. I wished I’d never looked at the bloody time. I’d got a taxi coming at 09:30h. Well, I had plenty of time didn’t I! I messed about for a bit online prior to getting up, then I went to the cloakroom before washing my hair over the rusty shower cubical and then I dried it with a dirty towel. I washed my hands again and dried them in my hair.

I took my bike with me in search of breakfast. I found a nice place, dirt cheap and a waiter who spoke Arabic, French and a little English. He was really helpful whilst I was quizzing him over what to have to eat. He took my order and all was swell.

Enjoyable breakfast

Enjoyable breakfast

After giving the order to the kitchen staff, he appeared again, just pacing up and down looking for custom. I can’t remember what I wanted help with, oh I can, it’s just came to me. ‘Excuse me please, excuse me,’ I asked him how I would get to the bus station? Suddenly, the guy had lost his tongue, he wanted to help me and speak a little English when he wanted my custom, but now was different. He’d cast his net and I’d been caught, money in the till and no longer helpful. Then, it’s time for me to go, ‘the bill please,’ ‘certainly sir’ he nodded and smiled. Yeah, I knew his game, now it was approaching ‘tip the waiter’ time. Well my watch was very much different to his watch. My watch said, ‘eat mud sucker, ‘. I don’t know why I just went into B.A Baracus mode, ha? Needless to say, the best he got was a thank you and a smile. They know you know, they’re not daft!

My taxi didn’t show. I’d used him the day before and when we agreed for the pick up the following day, I could tell it was going to be a ‘no show’ by the lack of conviction in his face. Whilst he was running me around yesterday, looking for bus, or train tickets, every time I asked something of him, he would repeatedly say in Spanish, ‘no pasa nada, no pasa nada,’ He was Moroccon but knew some Spanish. ‘No pasa nada’ translates to, ‘don’t worry or it’ll be fine.’ So when he said the same phrase without conviction, I highly doubted I’d see him again.

I waited an extra ten minutes for him, I couldn’t wait any longer, I had a bus to catch. Nobody wanted to give me a lift with my bike, they can be choosy because of the amount of people this city holds. I asked a policeman where the bus station was? ‘Ohhhh, it’s a long way, four or five kilometres,’ he said. As far as that I thought??? He was great, he blew his whistle and flagged a taxi over. The driver wasn’t having any of it, their voices were raised but the taxi driver didn’t back down. No bike in the car! He was fluent in English. He ushered the cop away and made an arrangement with me. Fifty dirham and I would follow behind him. Great, that’s about four quid.

I had a coffee at the station and waited for the bus. I’d been on the bus a couple of hours when I realised I’d left my charger to the iPad at the depot. I wasn’t surprised, I’d been feeling quite tired and flustered. I didn’t let panic creep in, you soon learn how to keep that emotion at bay when you’ve had them in the past. Bloody awful things they are, shocking too! If I was ever on the T.V show, Room 101, panic attacks would go in the box.

Ok, so I was in North Africa, but surely Apple have a store in Marakesh? I hoped anyway.

The ten hour journey flew by. It nearly didn’t though, nobody told me I had to change at Casablanca. I don’t know why it is, but when travelling alone time passes so quickly and yet, when with somebody you know, it’s all you can both do, not to moan. Strange that one!

It was about 20:30h when I got off the bus in Marakesh. By now it was pitch black and I’d got to cycle to the centre of town. The bus depo was on the outskirts. I’d cycled close to an hour and didn’t seem to get be getting any closer. The place is full of cars, cyclists and people. I got along side a guy on a bike, his bike was a knacker but his duffel coat was smart. He cycled with me and took me to the centre. I was quite frightened, cycling through pitch black tiny streets with garages either side with the doors open. Locals were selling everything from car tyres to food. Then there were rough looking poor guys just dossing. It was a huge culture shock. I can’t put into words how this placed look, but I can say I was scared. The fear subsided as I got to know the city more and what held it together. It wasn’t crime, though obviously it went on, it was the locals buying and selling off one another.

We cycled through the main square of the city. People flooded it in their masses. Families, kids, sole adults and a few tourists. I was still scared. He found a guy who was standing still just in front of a very narrow unlit alleyway. They chatted, then we followed. It was a maze of these alleyways, we were passing plenty of riads (hostel types). We eventually get to one which was going to be my home for two nights. One hundred and twenty dirhams.

Wadda y'xpect for about a tenner?

Wadda y’xpect for about a tenner?

I then went back into the square for a kebab. The guy in the kebab shop was very welcoming. I needed to feel that. Back at the riad I was ready for bed.

The next day was steady. I’d got a couple of chores to do then I was free to do as if pleased. I cycled lots and the more people I met, the I became less frightened. Come the nighttime I had no fear of going out and not returning until dark. Typically, I searched for an Indian restaurant, thankfully I found one. It was set within a very luxurious hotel, ay ay I thought, this is going to be good. Nah not really. I ordered biryani, tasted nice enough but was anything, other than a biryani. I asked the doorman, ‘where was the chef from? IIndia’ he told me. During my meal I asked another waiter the same question. Sri Lanka this time. My, this guy is unsure of his origin, he’s certainly unsure how to cook Indian food!

Marakesh – Essoruira

I’d done a deal yesterday. Essoruira was one hundred and fifty miles away and because of my limited time in Morocco, I had to get there quickly. The only option I had, that might be affordable, was to get a ride with a company that offers excursions. Sorted, three hundred dirham, about twenty three GBP. Genious, must remember that! For a comparison I asked a taxi driver to quote. About £130 he wanted.

The he night before I’d set the alarm clock. I woke before it with an hour to spare, so I dozed off. Next thing, I wake naturally to sunlight. I jumped out of bed as quick as a flash, I knew the alarm failed to go off. I’d got exactly nineteen minutes to get to my meeting point. Everything was packed, I dressed quickly and out of my door I hurried. Incredible! There is a toilet I have to pass en route to reception. The door is more than half open and what do I see? A guy having a ‘tom tit,’ he’s standing up, well stooping over the hole in the ground. My eyes were still blurred from just waking up and my mind had yet, to get to grips with the fact that I was awake. It registered but an image didn’t store, just an unwanted memory. Was I bothered? No, I didn’t give a shit! Ha, get it?

I’d only got a short ride and so I made it with five minutes to spare. It was nice to see the start of the day in Marakesk, early morning. Next to where I was meating the mini bus was a lock up garage, the whole street was predominantly garages that were used for retail purposes. This particular garage had a counter that ran parallel with the side wall. Behind it stood three people. One making flat bread, one serving chick pea soup and the other taking the cash. I had a bow of soupl, a dirty bowl, but again, what could I expect? I’d just had breakfast for forty pence.

Street food stop

Street food stop

The basket on this motorbike was full of bread, chocka block it was, the guy had just started his rounds. He stacked  himself handsomely with about a dozen or so, wedged between his palm and his chin. This was an art, a balancing act.

How many to the gallon?

How many to the gallon?

It was from here I got the mini bus to Essrouira. I couldn’t wait to get there, I was in desperate need for a rest. How lucky was I? A friend had treated me, two nights at a five star hotel with dinner and a massage. I still keep meeting brilliant folk.  The hotel was on the sea front and it didn’t disappoint.

The journey went well and we stopped twice. The first stop was to capture an image of goats in Argan trees. I’d heard of pigs in blankets but never goats in trees.

The goats climb the trees in search of food.

Stock image, mine was unrealistic

Stock image, mine was unrealisti

Our next stop was at another incredible sight. Women at work and making use of the nut, Argan. These Berber (Berber is a language synonymous with Nortnern Africa, predominantly part of Morroco and Algeria. It dates back more than two thousand years) women have been doing this process for hundreds of years. Cracking open the seeds produces a rich oil. (Argan to the Moroccons is what olive oil is to the Italians). They each have a process that passes on to the next worker. Each line contained about eight or nine workers, all doing different jobs by hand.

image

No slacking now

They are produced for consuming, Argan oil, Argan butter and a type of honey made from Argan. I ate more than I should have done. A small taste of each one wasn’t enough, it was too good not to be greedy. Other uses include, soaps, skin care, shampoo and natural remedy sources.

image

Ping, went the taste bud

Only a short drive and a hop off the bus and I was in my hotel. It was around 13:00h I think? I didn’t leave ithe hotel for the rest of the day. There was no point just using it as a place to rest my head. I was there to enjoy it and relax. I’d got another day off tomorrow and then it was back on the bike. I’d missed it, there are so many benefits to me that cycling has to offer. It works.

Dinner was excellent, I did have to make on suggestion to the manager. When my dinner was served it was not much bigger than a Magnum ice cream. I waited to see if any vegetables were due. None showed. What I had was three tiny circles of lamb, resting on a bed of mash potato. The manager was a good guy, we’d been laugh g previously. So when I complained I could it in a manner that was ‘taking the piss.’ I did and he laughed with me, in fact his belly was wobbling. ‘Is this it, I querued?

image

My Lamb

You have to be joking, that ain’t gonna fill me, look at my size.’ It was at this point he was laughing. He arranged for me to have twice as much meet and a mashed pot of vegetables. I waited another half an hour before it arrived. The veg. was cold in places, not warmed through, but the meet and tatties were divine, the taste was out of this world. I’d been in the restaurant for two hours, it was time to go. ‘John’ delivered my chocolate desert to my room. More food in bed.

No sooner than I woke I was back in the same restaurant. I couldn’t wait for breakfast. Bloomin’ eck I ate, it was gorgeous, plenty of that Argan butter too. The sun made for a brilliant blue sky on the morning and it lit the ocean like gas to a stove.

The Sex Pistols

The Sex Pistols

'Something Else'

‘Something Else”

I was sitting in the reception area, the ocean to my right and the hotel pool to my left. I’d planned on staying in the hotel for a couple of hours more. I couldn’t wait a moment longer. I donned my shorts, cagoule and trainers and then bang, I was back on the bike exploring.

image image

I rode the short distance to the port, passed security and through an arch into the medina. Just like every other medina, lots of alleyways and lots of lock up garages. The difference with this one is that it’s set up for the tourists. The stuff on sale was generally of very good quality. The hand made crafts and the paintings were excellent. I rode through the maze taking picture where I could. From the entrance it only looks small but this really was a tardis.

I’d seen enough of the tourist trap, I wanted to see the real town. It was no different in parts to Tanger or Marakesh, poor and run down. Perhaps a little better, just maybe?

The weather wasn’t forecast to be good for tomorrow, plus it was hellish windy and the locals had told me not to cycle, for the road was poor. I knew what they were saying made sense but I was trying to find a way of justifying cycling. I had been all day. I hadn’t came up with a suitable plan, so when I passed the ticket shop for the buses I decided to stop and inquire. It was a two hour journey and would cost about £7 with my bike. I bought the ticket, no there and then. I went back to the hotel to think some more.

En route to the hotel I could see large animals on the beach in the distance. It was a short detour, I went for a scout about. We’ll blow me, bloody camels on the beach. That made my day, I’d seen camels before in Dubai but it didn’t matter, it was as if it was my first time.

image

The day soon enough came to a close. There was time for a bath, packing stuff away and eating dinner before bed. Tomorrow’s bus leaves at ten.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s