I was up early to get to the hospital for 6.30am. Walking up to the hotel was, initially lovely. The air was cool enough for me to have to wear my fleece. The sky was dark blue, the sun rising orange and then gold in the east over the arid countryside.
I took a tin of Heinz Scottish soup with lentils for Dan’s breakfast. He was feeling better and said he was going to come out that day. Unfortunately, I had to go back to the hotel to get our cooker because the hospital kitchen was locked. I cooked the soup in his grotty room (there was some horrible liquid running right across the floor and I had an idea that it was coming from the loo next door). I kept his room door closed to keep any prying eyes out. Dan wolfed down half of the tin of soup because he had eaten virtually nothing for over 24 hours.
I left Dan and went back to the hotel for some breakfast. For the rest of the morning, I went down to the Kasbah which was at the bottom end of the town, a reasonable walk away. I walked past four Moroccan lads, one of whom said “Hello, it’s an American!”
I sternly corrected them “I’m not an American. I’m English”. They walked past me and the same boy, showing off, said to his entourage “The English are the same as Americans”.
Again, I corrected him in a loud voice. I find some of these Moroccan men pathetic.
The Kasbah was a typical structure of the country, its walls covered with a mud and straw mix, with a palace in the centre of it. There were a few tourist shops in the vicinity. I walked into the free part of the castle and walked about the narrow, dusty streets for a while.
At one point, a fat, old Moroccan woman rushed behind a female tourist ahead of me and slapped her bottom, which she then did to me as well. I looked at her, rather surprised, and walked on. There were a few dingy shops and alleys, but I was not very enthusiastic about looking around more, and I did not feel like spending any money or forking out for a guided tour around the palace, which was, apparently, being left to fall apart.
I returned to the hotel to read some more on my bed. At midday, I went up again to see Dan and cooked the rest of the soup and washed some apples for him. He was looking a lot better and was chirpier.
I left via the doctors’ house because I had left my t-shirt there. Hussein was in and I chatted with him for a while. As I was leaving, I noticed the grotty sate of their kitchen with half eaten food everywhere; dirty plates and dishes on the surfaces and a cat standing on the table eating the scraps. It was almost an unbelievable demonstration of the hygiene standards of even intelligent doctors.
I was amazed by the whole establishment. The rooms were dirty and smelly; the floors covered in fag butts and the walls covered in grimy fingerprints. Cats walked about on the dusty floors. The bogs were filthy and stank. In the wash area, the basins were clogged with discarded food. Cats growled around the waste bin in the loos, which was rarely emptied. It was pitiful and so easily rectified. It seemed to be a mixture of ignorance and laziness. A doctor had said to Dan that there were more problems with disease in Britain!
After lunch, I washed more clothes and then went down to the lobby to watch the Rugby World Cup where England was playing Australia. There were a couple of Moroccans watching too. It was good to see Twickenham on TV. It brought back happy memories of drinking beer before watching a match there, the atmosphere of the match and in the pubs afterwards while drinking with friends.
Towards the end of the match, a load of Aussies, Kiwis and an Irish girl (over-landers) turned up to watch the match. A Moroccan who had been studying in Brighton Polytechnic for three years brought them in. I was gutted when England lost 12-6. The over-landers all gave me a hard time when we lost which pissed me off, immensely.
I felt drained and went up the hospital and found Hussein. I told him my bad news about the rugby. Then, I found Dan standing in the main entrance waiting to go. He had packed all his bits into his sheet sleeping bag and had told the hospital staff he was leaving. They were rather surprised and asked what was wrong. (I didn’t have the heart to tell them that their hospital was a shot hole!). We stood around signing papers for a bit and left as soon as we could.
At the hotel, Dan lay on his bed while I went to get food. Coming back into the hotel, I saw Brian and Sarah again outside the hotel looking tired and dusty looking for a room. The only rooms available were 67, 82, or 92 dirhams a night. I asked the hotel staff if there were any cheaper rooms but they were all full. They took the 82 dirhams room (£6.45 a night) which had hot showers and running water. I helped them up with their kit and bikes before going out to get the food for supper. We ate beef broth, boiled eggs, French toast.
My feet have been getting pretty smelly in the boots I walk and cycle in. It’s getting a bit embarrassing despite washing my feet and socks as much as I can, and powdering them. Brian came into our room for a chat (I was desperately trying to keep my feet covered!).
At 7.30pm, I had arranged to meet Hussein and walked up to one of the big tourist hotels on the hill in the town for a drink. It was luxuriously furnished and totally out of touch with the realities outside. We sat at a table next to the pool and talked about Moroccan politics (in French), his ambitions, family, and the different ways in which a young person starts out in Morocco compared to a young person in England. It was interesting but our French was lacking the depth needed to really talk about things. We sat there for two hours. I felt tired so I made my excuses and agreed to meet up the following evening, before walking back to the hotel.
I went up to the room and found Dan and Brian chatting again. I joined in and we talked about bikes, cycling and travelling before crashing out at 11.45.
By the time my alarm went off at 6am, I had had hardly slept. At 6.20am, I got dressed and went to see Dan. He, unsurprisingly, had not slept well either, and felt hot and rough. I fetched his sheet sleeping bag so he could lie on something a bit more comfortable.
After seeing Dan, I cooked Hussein his first ever scrambled eggs for breakfast (which he seemed to enjoy) and then cycled into the town centre to look for a room in a hotel. I found the Hotel Royal for 47 dirhams a night (about £3.70 a night).
It was 10am by the time I had everything transferred into the hotel room. There were two other older Spanish mountain bikers leaving as I went in, at one point. They cycled wearing jeans! I was having a coffee when I saw Brian on the other side of the street with their bikes. I nipped over and said hello. They’d just got in after spending the night in Ait-Banhaddou, which they said was lovely. Sarah was shopping in the supermarket which stocked lots of decent tinned food, including Heinz tomato soup!). We spoke for a while before they headed off for Zagora.
I went back to the hotel room for a while before heading back up to see Dan at midday. He had another prescription for medicine to ease his throat. . Also, the doctor said she would give him a penicillin injection. I went off to get the medicine and hypodermic set for injection.
Dan had still not eaten. Poor sod. He upset me a bit when he said I should have not pushed him to cycle to Ouzazerte when all he had to say was “Stop!”. I didn’t say anything but I did feel a bit pissed off that an seemed to be blaming me for his condition. He had blamed me before for something of his own doing.
I left feeling a bit lonely and a little angry. Penny came streaming into my head and I imagined what she was doing. I bought some eggs and fruit for lunch. The rest of the afternoon I spent dozing, washing clothes, fiddling with the cooker, writing my diary and thinking about home.
I went onto the roof of the hotel to hang out my washing while admiring the magnificent views of the mountains and the dry surrounding countryside. It was warm and sunny. For supper, I had some Heinz Cream of Mushroom soup (which felt like a luxury and was very comforting.), bread and fruit. I lay about reading for a while before going up to the hospital.
Dan looked better and apologised for his outburst earlier. He asked me to get the penicillin from his bags so he could avoid having an injection. He had eaten a little couscous and was expecting to come out the next evening. We chatted for a while about how far we would get on our money and about food.
I left at about 8.15pm, dropping in to see the doctors. They asked me to cook them some more scrambled eggs in the morning. I walked back to my room where I sat about writing and listening to the BBC World Service.
I had a feeling going through my mind that the ‘travelling’ was only just beginning. It was probably because we had crossed the High Atlas and the terrain had changed so much. The dry land stretched for miles around and gave me the feeling of being just a dot on the horizon. The air is so dry that it makes my nose dry out enough to give me nose bleeds. Soon, we might have to start wearing our shemaghs around our faces to keep some moisture in our bodies and the sun off. I’m tired.
Dan was still feeling rough and still had diarrhoea. We decided to start a little later to see how he felt and if he improved. I went out to buy some breakfast and bought fruit and milk, neither of which is great for someone with diarrhoea. I cooked up some rice and heated the milk which we had for breakfast. It was not great.
We left at 9.10am into a lovely morning with cool air and bright sunshine. The first 15 kms to the top of the col was long, winding and steep. Dan was struggling. We stopped several times to drink and eat biscuits. At midday, we reached the Col du Tichka, which was a typical tourist spo. There were boutiques selling trinkets, stones, minerals and expensive drinks.
I made some soup while Dan lay down. A couple of coaches stopped, tourists rushing off, taking photos and rushing back onto the vehicles again. One Moroccan asked me to write a letter in English for him, which I did. Dan wanted to push so I said I would catch him up after writing the letter for the man.
The road further on dropped for about 20kms into a spectacular valley but Dan had to stop suddenly to go to the loo. His stomach troubles were taking their toll on him. He was getting worse with the loss of fluids from his body.
Meanwhile, the scenery was amazing, becoming desert-like, while in the valley it was green with palm trees mingling in the earth coloured villages. As we approached Ouzazerte, it became increasingly dry. Dan was stopping frequently and was looking awful. The light started to, putting and orange-pink colour on the land. It was simply stunning.
But, Dan suddenly felt very dizzy, giddy and weak with ‘pins and needles’ in his feet and hands. [He had lost a lot of fluid]. We had to stop. He couldn’t go on. He had done well to get that far but we had pushed our luck. Dan crashed to a stop on the dusty roadside and collapsed off his bike.
There was nothing for it but to wave down a car to see if I could get someone to take Dan to the nearest hospital, which was in Ouzazerte. I waved down the first vehicle that came past which was a lorry carrying a load of small rocks. I asked them (in French) if they could take us into town but they were only going a further 4kms up the road.
But, just then, a car pulled up behind and a man wearing a jacket and tie got out and came to the front of the lorry where I was standing. Fortunately, he was some sort of ‘head man’ for the region. He said he would take Dan to the hospital in Ouzazerte. As he said this, an old Renault 4 pulled up. A woman got out and came up to us. She was a doctor. I told her what I thought was the matter with Dan and she confirmed that we should get him to the hospital. Dan was whisked away in one of the cars.
I was left with the men in the lorry and the bikes. With the help of two of the lorry drivers, I heaved the bikes onto the top of the lorry and then jumped onto the top too. We quickly drove into town (which was quite fun because you’d never be allowed to ride on the top of a lorry in the UK). The evening air was warm. The lorry dodged past cyclists on the road and soon stopped outside the local hospital.
The three of us struggled to get our heavily laden bikes of the top. I thanked the lorry drivers for their help and offered them something for their trouble but they refused to accept anything. I thanked them again and they left. I walked up to the hospital gate, passing through a crowd of people and asked the gate guard if they had seen an Englishman going in. I told him my brother had been brought to the hospital by a ‘town councillor’ at which point he opened the gate straight away. I nipped back to get the bikes and wheeled them into the compound.
From there, I went into the hospital, found Dan and saw the doctor. The doctor said he had ‘flu, a high temperature (38C), diarrhoea and that he could either stay in the hospital or go to a hotel. We decided that he should stay in the hospital. I was handed a list of medicines to get at a nearby pharmacy. I rushed off on my bike and bought the medicines plus bottles of mineral water and yoghurts (For me. I was starving!). I had to hurry because visiting hours were coming to an end.
I returned and found Dan in a room by himself. I handed over the pills and a male nurse dosed Dan up. Dan’s throat was so sore that he found it difficult to swallow the tablets. I was told to go and cook up some rice for him because that was all he was allowed to eat (It was all self-catering in that hospital).
The kitchen was pretty smelly and unclean, like the rest of the place. The loos were next to Dan’s room were very smelly and the basin in it was full of discarded food. I took the rice to Dan but he was in no mood to eat. I left him there to get some rest.
My next problem was to find a hotel and to get the bikes there. As I was leaving the hospital, the gate man and the man I had had to hand Dan’s passport over to earlier, stopped me and said I could stay at the hospital. They took me to the duty doctor and sorted it out with him.
The duty doctor said I could stay in the doctor’s hostal across the yard. Hussein (the doctor) took me across and showed me into a room with a bed and room for the bikes. I got the bikes in and was offered the use of the hot showers. ‘Wow! Luxury’ I thought. I showered and changed. Hussein then showed me to a shop where I bought eggs and milk. Hussein said I could eat with them tonight. I felt overwhelmed by his generosity.
I took Dan his wash kit, towel, flip flops and book to him before returning to the hostal. There, I was made comfortable and chatted to the other doctors for a while before we ate. Various people came in and out to say hello and they were all told about my circumstances and our journey.
Finally, at 11.30pm, I went off to bed feeling quite tired after the nervous energy I had expended. I got out of my sleeping bag and crashed out but not before Hussein bought in sheets and blankets (He also said I could use his bed! I politely refused).
Distance 100.7kms Average speed 10.5 kmh Time 9 hours 30 mins
I had not slept well. We were up early, showered and away by 8.30am. We’d had a couple of cakes and yoghurt for breakfast and had stopped at a café for tea. I felt extremely sick after the cakes. We left the Djnaa El Fnaa, at last, and headed through the crowded, smoky medina and out onto the road towards Ouzazerte.
The first 30kms were rather dull and flat with lots of kids pestering us, as usual. After this, we entered the foothills of the High Atlas, the road winding steeply up through small farms. Half way up, we bumped into two cyclists, Brian and Sarah from Christchurch, New Zealand. They had stopped under a tree. I pulled up and said hello. They, too, had cycled from England but had taken the train from Tangiers to Marrakech.
Dan was quite far behind and had been complaining of feeling stiff and achy. He pulled and put his bike down before lying down. He did not feel well. Poor sod. Brian and Sarah went on. I cooked up some rice, sardines and tomatoes for lunch. Dan was feeling awful. I packed some of Dan’s stuff away for him and gave a pot of yoghurt to a hungry looking boy who had been lingering nearby.
We carried on up the steep road, Dan gradually dropping back. We came to the top of this first hill and whizzed down to the bottom of the next hill. The road came into more arid looking terrain with grey, brown and green colours in the earth and rocks. We went through small villages with snotty-nosed children shouting “Monsieur, Monsieur! Donnez-moi un stylo, dirham, bonbon!”
“No! Bugger off!” was my usual reply or, occasionally, a boot up the back side if the angle and speed was right [We were not particularly tolerant of these kids, as you have probably gathered].
An ‘overland expedition’ truck came past, the trippers waving and smiling at us. Fleets of Land Rovers stuffed full of tourists would come past us that day in each direction. Dan was weakening severely and kept stopping to knock back ‘Lemsips’ to keep himself going.
Eventually, as the light was going at about 1800, we came into Taddert, a one-horse town, if there ever was one. Ahead, I saw Brian and Sarah walking up the street. They saw me and started to imitate the children we had seen on the way up. I laughed. They told us where to find the hotel and we moved on.
It was ‘Auberge de Noyer’, the only hotel in town which meant they had a monopoly which was reflected in the price. It was 70 dirhams for two with no showers and with electricity between 6pm and 10pm. Brian and Sarah helped us get the bags and bikes in.
We had a coffee at the bar because it was quite cold. Dan went straight to bed. I stayed on and ate a tajine with the Kiwis. We talked about Morocco and their travels. They had been travelling for six months with another six months to go. I paid my bill and went to bed feeling quite tired, but had a shave before hitting the sack.
Distance 93.45 kms Average Speed 9.9 kmh Time 9 hrs 21 mins
I awoke feeling hugely philosophical about our situation. The window was open, cold air was pouring through and I was warm in bed. I lay around for a spell and read, finishing my book, ‘Lord Jim’, at about 7.45am. I got up, washed and went out for breakfast, which was my now usual of pain au chocolat and black tea. This breakfast was becoming monotonous and, for some reason, I craved a bowl of cornflakes [which are so dull!]. I went back to the crappy hotel, packed and left, full of hope, yet with a hollow feeling of impending disappointment lingered in my stomach.
It was sunny but cool as I ambled through and out of the medina, past the beggars and up into the main road of Rabat. Firstly, I went to the English bookshop and exchanged my book for 20 dirhams, buying ‘Monsignor Quixote’ by Graham Greene. I, then, sat opposite the station in the sun, reading.
Every time that a Moroccan sat next to me or near me, I felt uneasy. One such man sat next to me. I waited in anticipation of his opening line but none came. I felt relieved. After a couple of chapters, I made my way to the British Council again, where I killed a couple of hours watching the news.
At 11.30am, I left to buy lunch which consisted of a Snickers bar and a coffee before heading to the Algerian Embassy. At the end of the street of the embassy, I noticed the English couple from the day before who looked stressed, looking at the ground and running their hands through their hair. I went up to them to say ‘hello’ as cheerfully as I could. They had been told to come back later and they were, justifiably, fed up. I popped into the embassy and was also told to come back later.
I left hurriedly and caught up with the couple, whose names were Lindsay and Stuart. I told them my news and chatted with them, once again sharing our frustrations on the way to the British Council. I showed them where it was, where we had a couple of coffees while waiting to return at 1pm. Both Lindsay and Stuart had been in the London Metropolitan Police in Brixton and had taken a couple of years out of their jobs to travel down Africa to Cape Town.
At 1pm, we walked back and sat down in the waiting room once more. (Before I had actually waited at the end of the street so I would not crowd the waiting out too much, but I could not stand waiting around out there so I joined Lindsay and Stuart). We talked amongst ourselves about why it was taking so long, who issued the visas and how we agreed that Rabat was a pit of a place.
The ‘visa man’ came in and said there was no news. I had had enough. I reminded him that I had been waiting for over 15 days now. I was getting cross and starting to put some malevolence in my voice. I demanded to speak to the Consul. I asked why there was a problem. I wanted to know what was going on and why it was taking so long. He said it was not his fault and went away to check something.
Two smelly Frenchmen cane in, filled forms in and were told it would be about a week to obtain their visas. ‘Ha!’ I thought, ‘Make that two weeks’.
Soon after, the ‘visa man’ came back into the room with a piece of yellow paper. “It’s here!” he said. I could have yelled with delight. That release of tension felt wonderful. I felt myself shaking with nervous joy. He called me into his office where I filled in a duplicate form onto which he stuck our photos.
I was still shaking when in came an English girl came in to get her Algerian visa. She was given the same spiel about having to wait for seven to ten days for it to come through. She spoke in Arabic and was planning to work soon because she was running out of money. I told her that I had waited for fifteen days and she looked perplexed.
Nevertheless, it was a good moment seeing the ‘visa man’ put that coveted stamp into our passports. He told me to remain in the waiting room while he finished off the paperwork.
Back in the room, I sat feeling very excited. Lindsay and Stuart were looking glum but congratulated me on getting our visas. I sat and waited there until 3pm with them In the hope that they would get their visas too. But, no luck. In there, we went through theories that it was not actually a telex from Algiers that said whether we could have a visa or not, but it was, in fact, it was all decided locally and that you had been messed around long enough before you got your visa. The fact that I had got angry and had asked to see the Consul may have contributed to the sudden appearance of our visas.
We left and walked down to the English bookshop. Lindsay and Stuart walked around the shop while I stood outside, waiting. I told the shopkeeper my news, at which he smiled and said “At last!”. I said goodbye to Lindsay and Stuart outside the station and said that we would probably meet again on the way down Africa because they were taking the same route as Dan and me. They walked off into the medina and I sat in the station café and wrote my diaries. The waiter seemed to recognise me as he patted me on the back when I ordered some tea. Either that or he was in a particularly good mood.
On the train, the camaraderie of the compartment sparked up when a plump woman came into the carriage at one of the early stops. She started chatting and was soon spoke to me in French. I put my book down and told her what I was doing. She talked about Princess Diana and asked whether she and Prince Charles were going to get divorced. A little later, she took out a box of homemade cakes and passed them around the carriage. She gave me some bread and another man offered me olives. I was starving so I gratefully accepted. It was an amazingly kind and generous, and was in such contrast to the jaundiced view I had formed of most Moroccans I had met up to that point. It was totally unexpected.
I soon arrived in Marrakech and walked back to the hotel to give Dan the good news. He was very pleased and we decided to set off the next day. Dan was complaining of having a very sore throat.
I walked briskly to the station, a walk which was getting too familiar. At the station, there was a large collection of soldiers and other jostling to get a ticket. I joined the back of one queue and, eventually, bought my ticket, while stopping a few queue jumpers in the meantime.
The train was packed. I sat down but was moved off by the original occupier. I soon found another seat. The carriage was full of people lying on the seats if they were long enough, or, if they were too short, had people crunched up on them. I was on the latter type of seat, unfortunately and I took ages trying to get comfortable.
The train moved off at 1.10am. I could hear various snoring, snorting and throat clearing noises for most of the journey to Casablanca. I had very bad gut ache which signalled imminent diarrhoea and I contributed to the stink in the atmosphere with some shocking wind.
At Casablanca, as before, most people piled off to wait for the connecting train to Rabat. On the connecting train, I found a seat and dozed most of the way to Rabat. I got off full of hope and expectation of getting our visas. I even looked up the time of a time of a morning train back to Marrakech which left at 11am in anticipation that I might be on it with visas in hand.
I had a coffee in a café and arrived at the Algerian Embassy at 8.30am. I was soon told to come back at 1pm. I was feeling quite tense with the awful feeling of disappointment in me. I had had a dose of diarrhoea too which had happened the last time I was in Rabat too.
For the next few hours, I sat about reading and killing time in the café at the British Council. At one point, I walked past the US Embassy where the policeman stopped me for a chat. They were interested in the journey I was doing and I explained my challenge with the Algerian visas.
At 12.15, I returned. A ‘silver haired man’ told me nothing had arrived for me. I said that it had been 15 days since I had applied (for the overlanders, it had been eight days) and I would wait until 1pm to see if anything arrived in the post. The ‘silver haired man’ is not very helpful and quite condescending. I preferred to wait for the ‘visa man’ to give me the bad news than this irritating man.
At this point, an English couple walked in and sat down. They had driven from England in a Land Rover and had been waiting for a week for their visa. I told them I had been waiting for over two weeks and their faces dropped. They looked really fed up and frustrated. I knew exactly how they felt. All the time you spend planning saving and working hard to organise our journeys and now we were being held up by bureaucrats who seem to not care about how they are messing you around.
Eventually, the ‘visa man’ gave us the bad news. My heart sank. “Perhaps, tomorrow” he said. The English couple smiled resolutely but I could see they felt pretty low too. We walked together for a while tearing strips off the Algerians before we split; them to their camp site and me to find a hotel in the medina.
I walked slowly through Rabat feeling lonely, distressed, let down and isolated. It was awful. I thought about phoning Dan but thought the better of it. He would know that I had not got the visas when I failed to show up that night.
I faced another night along in Rabat. I found a hotel in Rue Sebbahi in the medina which was 40 dirhams for a single room. Getting into the room had been a problem. The lock was dodgy and I had to ask for the help of another guest. The room had a basin, no shower and the flimsy door lock only added to my sense of vulnerability. I got in, shut the door and lay on the bed, frustration and anger welling up inside me. Tears of frustration started to stream from my eyes. I hit the bed with my fists, angrily.
I thought about Dan waiting. I thought about Penny and what I would do for a hug right now. I must have lain there for about twenty minutes in that state. I felt tired and upset. I put my fleece over myself and dosed off for a couple of hours.
I felt better when I woke and lay there thinking about Penny and what she was doing. At last, I got up and went out at 5.45pm to find some food. I tried a couple of cheap restaurants but, in the first one, they had nothing on the menu which I wanted, and in the second, they took so long to even appear with a menu that I got up and left.
Instead, I ate food from some stalls in the medina. I ate kefta in bread, a jam doughnut and a sweet bun. I, then, headed back to the dump of a hotel at 7.30pm. I hadn’t realised how much I missed people until I was in situations like this. I missed Dan. I missed Penny. I missed my friends and family. I had only seen Dan a matter of hours before but being alone in a foreign city exposed just how much I valued ‘my circle’. I even missed the circle of other travellers we had met in Marrakech.
I realised that I was not good at being on my own. I expect that sentiment goes for about 90% of people in the world. I found myself praying (to whom, I don’t know) and hope that the visa would arrive soon. Obtaining the visas was starting to become an obsession and waiting any longer was going to crack me up.
I thought about my Mum, who had been divorced from my Dad a few years before and who had been having a hard time with ‘new man’ before we left (The shit had hit her). I could do with a good chat with her. I must write to her soon.
I hated this waiting around. I had almost come to the end of my book, Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad, and I wanted to save some for reading on the train but I felt that I might be there for much longer, so I will need to buy another book.
I tossed and turned all night and I eventually woke up feeling really fed up. We’re still here. Waiting, waiting, waiting with our money gradually ebbing away. I was not in a good mood. Dan showered and we went out for something to eat.
We met Bill and his girlfriend, Kate, at the café. John and Millie then came along too. We talked for a while. John and Mila had been travelling together for two years and had some interesting stories to tell.
At midday, we left and went back to the hotel. Dan wrote a letter (which was his first since France) while I listened to some therapeutic music (John Lee Hooker). It makes a lovely change from the local music which always seems to consist of much howling, waling and badly tuned instruments screeching in the background.
In the evening, we went back to the café to meet Bill, Kate, John and Millie. I talked with John and Mila about cameras for a while. They had a small video camera which they used sparingly. Many of the tourists off the coaches have video cameras and they walk about with them as if they were Clint Eastwood carrying a pistol at the ready filming every single action in Marrakech. But, John and Mila were more subtle about it.
For supper, we all went to the soup stand first. John and Mila then went off to another place while the rest of us found a stall serving fish and chips with fried aubergines for £1 each. It was very good. Feeling full, Dan and I had an orange juice and went back to our room.
I lay on my bed and tried to snooze but I couldn’t. All I could think about was the impending train journey back to Rabat. I had a hollow feeling in my stomach of the impending disappointment with the Algerian Embassy once again refusing our visas.
At 11.45, I packed my bag , had a slight panic when I could not find my passport and was let of the building by the maitresse at midnight.
Slept poorly. We were up early. I had a shower so I could feel as though I had got the odours of Rabat off me. Dan and I then phoned home from the post office and just caught our Dad and Stepmother as they were leaving for Turkey. It was good to hear them. Saskia (our sister who was four at the time) spoke on the phone too. We updated them about being three weeks behind on our plan and not to send any post yet to our pre-arranged locations.
We, then, headed back into town to get some breakfast. On the way, a hustler came up to us and starting probing Dan. He told him he did not want anything. I spun round to face the hustler and told him the same and to go away. He looked surprised but persisted. Walking on for a few paces, the man followed still. Dan turned around again and shouted, at the top if his voice “FUCK OFF!” The hustler carried on walking with us for a moment but then slid away shouting insults at us. We’ve tried diplomacy but it does not work. Being rude and aggressive to the people hounding us seems to do the trick.
Soon, we picked up another mad hustler who followed us speaking in Arabic in a frenetic way. I kept telling him to go away (Imshee) but he was nuts and kept on at us. He wanted Dan to change a100 dirhams for him. He kept pushing the note at Dan. Dan tried to flick it out of his hand. The man continued and continually muttered until we came near to a policeman when the nutter drifted away.
Spending time in tourist traps like Marrakech is not a good idea. You get hustled to death. We were starting to get a very jaundiced view of Moroccans because of the constant hassle. Tourists are seen as a good way to make a living in a fairly poor country. It is usually the men who are pestering you. The Moroccan women keep the country going. The men we saw were quite pathetic and spent a lot of time sitting around drinking tea.
After some food, we put our front panniers on the bikes and headed off for a ride towards the mountains. It was lovely and warm on the road. It felt good to be out and away from the town. Our bliss was short lived. We picked up a ‘kling-on’ cyclist. We slowed down to let him pass and kept on his tail, like a pack of wolves. He tried to race off but Dan kept on his tail for a while which tired him out. The kling-on pulled over, knackered.
I caught up and we cycled on for 30kms along a steadily climbing, straight road. The odd coach came past and a few cars hooting. Soon, we came to a small village, Ourika, and stopped for a quick drink. Then, up into the foothills of the High Atlas, the larger mountains looming, snow-capped beyond.
We passed some villagers selling local rocks, fossils and minerals. Dan stopped to take some photos. A boy came up and tried to sell us some rocks. One was an egg-shaped marble in light brown colours. The other was a rock which had been chipped in two to reveal a bright purple collection of cobalt crystals and small stalactites. They were impressive but we declined.
Slightly beyond this, we turned onto a mule track and took this dusty path for a while. It followed a dry stream and, eventually, led back out to the road. It was good fun in the dirt. We carried on up the valley, the main river flowing amongst small boulders. There were remnants of a house near the river which, we later learned, had been washed away by serious flash floods in the valley six years earlier.
We had a cold drink at a small shop. It was lovely and quiet. The air was fresh and with good views from the shop. We decided to cycle back on a slightly different route. We turned off to the right of the main road and went through a village before climbing onto the edge of the hill from where there was a great view. Below us, large areas of olive trees stretched away into the distance. In the plains beyond, we could just about make out Marrakech.
There was a long straight road before we went onto a rough track. It was an un-surfaced road which led back to Marrakech. The track was dusty and dry for most of it. We slowly made our way along, dodging stones and ruts past some surprised looking Moroccans. A couple of times, we negotiated some wide but dry wadis which had indistinct tracks on them. It was fun but demanding. Then the road returned to tarmac all the way back to the city.
Again, we picked up some kling-ons but lost them as we dodged through the narrow streets of the medina which tested our handling skills. After dropping the bikes off, we went to sit in the café where we met Bill (whom Dan had met while I was in Rabat) who was an English homeopath. He had been on a trip into the mountains for a week climbing Mount Toubkal. He was interesting and had been to Marrakech before, saying it was the worst the hustlers had ever been.
We talked for a while before going to the square to eat. We had soup (1 dirham for a bowl and it was delicious) then onto a kebab stand, before returning to the café for a coffee. The soup stall was amazing. It was fast food. You sit down and get given an earthenware bowl with a rough wooden spoon. The stall runners rush about heating up more soup, washing bowls and spoons, refilling bowls, cutting bread and shouting at each other. It was very amusing watching them.
At the café, an Australian, John, and a Portuguese woman, Millie, sat with us. Dan had met them while I was away. We talked for a while. Bill told us about an Indian sundance he had seen in California which involved men fasting for three days in a sweat tent before cutting a slit in themselves with a razor blade; passing a hardened needle through the hole on either side of his chest. These were then attached to a pole in the centre of the tent and around which they danced with the needles eventually the needles ripping through their skin.
It was late so we soon departed and Bill had to go to the airport to pick up his girlfriend.
Bloody early morning prayers! Woken up again by their megaphones blasting away the early morning peace. I’ve noticed some pretty disgusting habits of the Moroccan men. One particularly nauseating habit is coughing and snorting up phlegm which usually results in them spitting it out onto the streets. They appear to have no qualms about doing this. It’s the norm.
I got up and went to my normal café, where the waiter greeted with “Ça va?” and shook my hand (Not all Moroccans are of the pestering type!). As usual, I had a coffee and a croissant and then went to the British Council to watch Sky News for a while. At one point, it announced that it was midday so decided to go up to the Algerian Embassy via some shops for lunch.
What I had not realised that it was midday on Central European Time, which is 11am in Morocco (GMT). So, I turned up too early and I was confused until I realised my mistake. I returned to the Algerian Embassy after killing some time nearby only to be disappointed by the news from the ‘visa man’ again. I said I had been waiting for 12 days for our visas which surprised him who proceeded to talk to the Consul. Still no luck. “For sure, it will be here on Monday”, he said.
“Peut être”, I replied, glumly and left.
I then had to hang around for four hours to get the 1822hrs train to Marrakech. I sat in the centre of Rabat, near the station in the warm sun. Rabat really is a soulless city. I had a sandwich, and jumped on the train and read all the way back for four hours. I arrived back in our room feeling a little more than fed up. I talked with Dan about my adventures in Rabat for a while before hitting the sack.
I could not live in this country. Every morning, at about 5.30am, the Imams blare out their monotonous cry on megaphones at the top of the minarets, calling their flocks in to chant and pray for forgiveness for their sins. I would say much the same thing if I was living next to a church back home! Every morning in Morocco, I have woken to this noise and I curse and swear, wishing I was out of the Islamic world in a place where I could get some sleep.
I got up, went out and sat in a café within the walls of Rabat’s old medina and had a couple of croissants and a Lipton tea (black with sugar) for breakfast. I sat there watching shifty Moroccan after shifty Moroccan walk past. I read my book for a while and then headed back to the hotel via the market where I bought bananas and some soap. The people in the shop were very friendly. I had been into it a few times and each time they say welcome with a beaming smile and shake my hand.
At midday, I got up, ate the bananas and, once more, went back to the Algerian Embassy. I sat in the waiting room, as usual, and the normal routine ensued with the ‘visa man’ saying he would go and look to see if permission had arrived for our visas. He added that the mail hadn’t arrived yet. ‘But, hadn’t he said that the news normal comes through via Telex?’
Meanwhile, an American man wearing a T-shirt, light coloured cotton trousers, leather boots done up half way, wearing an old suede jacket and carrying an old canvas rucksack came in. He was told that his visa might arrive overnight.
‘Bastard!’ I thought.
I chatted to him for a while about the American and English bookshops in Rabat because he was looking for a guide book. He soon left to get his papers sorted out. The ‘visa man’ came down and told me the good news and said “Maybe tomorrow”. Ha! I had heard that one before.
I walked back to my room feeling fed up but, in the back f my mind, I had been expecting it. I phoned Dan and told him that I would be back tomorrow. Rabat was getting me down.
I finished ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, an excellent read which I had studied for A-level exams, but which I had not fully appreciated when I was doing so. I took the book to the English bookshop. The owner said “Hello, again”. Rather surprised, I returned his greeting and asked if I could trade my book. “Fine”, he said. He would give me 3 dirhams for it. I picked out Conrad’s ‘Lord Jim’ which was 60 dirhams! I paid him the difference, nevertheless.
I bought bread and cheese for supper on the way back to the hotel. I read for a bit yet I felt fidgety and restless, having caught up on sleep. So, I went out for a walk around the medina before going back to my room and eventually relaxing enough to sleep.
Will Hawkins lives in Lincolnshire with his family, works in a technology company in London and does as many micro-adventures as he can.
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