The walk to the station took about half an hour. The streets were still busy with people milling about or packing up their stalls. The train I was taking was waiting there. I had my ticket clipped before getting on.
It was quite chilly inside the carriage so I donned my fleece. The train was half full with people crashed out on the bench seats. I found a long, empty seat and plonked down on it. I had mixed feelings of hope and a gut feeling that the visas would not be ready for me.
The train left at 1am and moved off into the moonlit night. It soon picked up speed and the temperature in the carriage dropped. I donned my Gore-Tex jacket too too and tried to get comfortable by lying on my seat. I couldn’t , so I managed no sleep all the way to the ‘Casablanca Voyageurs’ station where I had to change trains.
I waited for about half an hour for the connecting train to Rabat. It was about 5.30am by now. The next train came in and I jostled my way into the 2nd class carriage which had a few others in it. I managed to doze most of the way to Rabat and came to in the morning light.
The train pulled into Rabat’s station at 7.30am. I walked out of the station and across a busy road to a café for a coffee and a couple of croissants. An hour to kill until the Algerian Embassy opened. I was feeling anxious and cold because of the cold, sleeplessness on the train. ‘God, I hope they’ve arrived’, I thought. I went to the loo, paid and headed off into the cool morning to the embassy. I stopped in ‘Place Abraham Lincoln’ to kill 15 minutes and watched the police trying to control the chaotic traffic.
I still arrived too early and kicked my heels outside for a time. At 8am sharp, in I went, hope being my best ally at that moment [or so I thought]. The ‘visa man’ turned up and gave me the bad news. He said to come back at 1pm because that was when the telexes usually came through. My heart sank.
I left feeling low, almost upset. Suddenly, I felt very lonely. Dan in Marrakech, Penny in Watford, parents at home. Me, alone in Rabat. I also had the delight of a bout of diarrhoea to contend with which had made itself known that morning.
I slowly walked to a park about 15 minutes away from the embassy and back towards the city centre and sat down on a cold, stone bench. I read my book for a while, trying to lose myself in it. Hope is a funny thing. It’s always there. Sometimes, it brings great joy and happiness. But, now it had brought loneliness! Then, I did something foolish.
A Moroccan sat down next to me and said hello in Arabic. We got talking. He said he was a professor in Arabic music at the university in Rabat. I told him I was a student but that I was waiting to get hold of Algerian visas. Uncannily, he said his wife worked in the Algerian Embassy and that she could speed up the whole process and get the visas by Friday. “Brilliant” I thought.
He took me off shortly afterwards to get things arranged. Firstly, he said I would need some money to buy some Algerian dinars. Then, I would need some typed letters in Arabic. We took a taxi to a bank. I cashed in £300 and stuck it firmly in a zipped pocket in my Rohan trousers (Smell a rat, yet?).
Next, we went to a typist who knocked up a letter in Arabic with passport details on some ‘official-looking’ paper the Moroccan had bought. We rushed out of there, with him saying “Walk fast! We have not much time” in French. I had discovered that this chap I was with was called Abdul. He then asked me to give him the money because we could not buy dinars in a bank in Morocco ‘because of the different system’. We had to do it in the ‘Ministry of Agriculture’ (The rat was really starting to stink).
I told him that I’d keep the money for the moment, my gut feeling telling me that this was not right. He then said that the change of money had to be done secretly because it was not strictly legal and he would have to do it. I said that I would not change any money unless I did it myself. He responded with a short speech about trusting him; that he had phoned his wife (When, exactly? I thought) to sort it all out; that he had paid for the ‘official paper’ and a couple of taxi fares and that I ‘had’ to give the money to him to change it secretly.
By now, we were near the large mosque in Rabat, walking towards the ‘Ministry’. I smelt a big, fat, dirty rat and told Abdul that I was not going to change the money until I had the visas. He became all upset that I did not trust him and that he had spent money on me to do me a favour and how lucky I was to have met him. I stated that all I wanted was the visas, nothing else.
He started to get cold feet and made excuses about having to go to prayers. ‘Fine’ I said. I told him I was going to the Algerian Embassy soon anyway. He changed tack knowing that I was not going to hand over £300 to him them to ‘secretly’ change to then bugger off without a trace. He wanted 120 dirhams for the two bits of official paper and a card folder he had bought for me to contain all of the paperwork. I told him that was not going to pay him a penny there; that I was going to the embassy to see if authorisation had arrived. He could meet there after prayers to the sort the visas out.
Abdul got all uptight again but soon realised that he’d failed to con me out of £300. He shook my hand in a rather pathetic ‘after all that I have done for you’ manner and I walked off feeling relieved. I also thought I had been a fool even to contemplate going off with Abdul in the first place with a Moroccan stranger who had talked to me in the park. I should have known better. I felt angry with myself and had a sudden burst of irrational racism about Moroccans. I walked along scowling at Moroccans who passed by.
I returned to the Algerian Embassy and waited with a ‘French-Algerian’ man and two Peruvians in the waiting room. The ‘visa man’ again said our visas had not arrived.
Once again, feeling dejected, lonely and frustrated I left. I walked to the post office and phoned Dan in Marrakech. It was good to hear him [I had been away for less than a day!]. I told him the news and then went to find a hotel in the medina.
I found a room down a side road, dumped my bag and walked up the British Council buildings, keeping my eyes peeled for that con-artist from earlier in the day amongst all the other potential swindlers!
At the British Council, I sat down to watch Sky News for a while and a programme about herbal medicine before going back to my room. I walked along with an empty feeling inside me and the thought that I had possibly another four days on my own in Rabat which filled me with dread. At the hotel, I lay on my bed and lost myself in my book.
At 7pm, I went to a nearby restaurant and had a salad and lamb couscous for 35 dirhams. I thought about how well Dan and I get on together. At that moment, I was feeling pretty fed up and isolated. I missed Dan’s company. I got out my photos of Penny and stared at them long and hard.
Hope is a funny thing and a flawed strategy (I later realised!) when it comes to obtaining visas from obstructive embassies. It’s one of the main challenges of travelling. The bureaucracy that goes with some countries you travel is cumbersome. Sometimes, it is done on purpose to obstruct you. At other times, it is because they are trying to squeeze bribes out of you.
But, I was not dealing well with loneliness.
First thing, we changed the tyres on our bikes, putting on the ‘matrix’ gripped tyres on and folding up our ‘slicks’ onto the front panniers. The, we cleaned the bikes up a little before going for a ride around town, stopping at the train station to get a ticket to Rabat for me. There, I spent ten minutes trying to convince the ticket man that 1am the following morning was a different day than today. He was only convinced when the ticket was printed.
We were not overly excited by the ride. The area we were riding through was just outside the old medina. There was rubbish everywhere and the same old, grubby stalls. We had started to become bored with the medina, its run down streets, crap everywhere and Moroccans coming up to us and making stupid comments, trying to be our guides. It had become repetitive and annoying. We longed to get going again, to be on the road and to get rid of the frustration caused by the delays in getting our Algerian visas.
We went back to the hotel for lunch and spent the afternoon reading and sleeping. Dan and I talked about the things we missed from home and about what we planned to do when we got back. We miss quite a few things, apart from friends and family. Pubs, home cooking and cold weather were among the topics.
In the evening, we drank in our usual café and then listened to one of Dan’s tapes onto which he had recorded the Gypsy Kings and John Lee Hooker. Listening to that music felt therapy after several weeks of the Moroccan music. It’s something which we hadn’t realised we missed so much.
On the BBC World Service, there was a programme about the effect that Punk music had had on the music industry. Hearing the Sex Pistols on the Beeb sounded funny. I packed a few things into my backpack for the trip to Rabat to get the visas before getting the maitresse to let me out at midnight so I could walk down to the train station.
This morning, we cycled to the post office to use the ‘cabine telephoniques’ in order to phone the Algerian embassy back in Rabat. I queued for tern minutes to talk to a woman at the desk while Dan stayed outside with the bikes. I got to the front of the queue and asked to use the telephone. But, she told me I had been in the wrong queue and that I needed to be on the other side of the post office.
I went to the other side of the post office and gave the people running the telephone system two numbers to try. Both numbers turned out to be private numbers and not the Algerian embassy. I then went to a post office worker who had a telephone directory and obtained the official number.
I rang up and asked if our visas had arrived. They had not. What a blow! We were just dying to get going out of Morocco. We’d been there for three weeks and we were looking at another two weeks, at least, before we were going to reach Figuig which is the main border crossing into Algeria. It was very frustrating. We left and went to find out about train times and ticket prices back to Rabat.
At the hotel, we saw the two girls who had arrived the night before. They wanted to borrow our ‘Africa on a Shoestring’ guide. Dan offered for us to show them around the centre of town. Soon after, we took them around the market square, and had snakes put around our necks before buying lunch and a cup of mint tea.
In the evening, we went out again and took them around the medina. Yolly wanted to buy a small killim for which I did the bargaining (and enjoyed!). On coming out, we went to our usual food stall and ate. Dan had a Moroccan man hanging around him who would not go away. The man was waffling on about the countries he had visited including New York and Nepal, plus some other unlikely place. Dan was using his ‘positive dissuasion’ style to get rid of the pestering Moroccan.
Meanwhile, I had got talking to two Moroccans near to who were interesting. They were technicians for a film studio which was filming a British production in the country (I think it was ‘The Dream Prince’). They were based on Ouzazerte and they said they would show us around the studio when we were passing through. They were very friendly. However, because they were not eating, the stall owner asked them to move along to let customers sit down. We left soon after. Dan got rid of his ‘cling-on’ who immediately moved on to pestering another European tourist.
I was approached by someone selling post cards who actually turned out to be a very bad pickpocket. The boy had a go at taking whatever was in the breast pocket of my shirt. I grabbed his arm and threw him off. Little sod! Dan, Yolly, Claire and I chatted in our room until midnight. In that time, the girls showed us a theory they had which involved a ring on a piece of cotton held above the palm of your hand. The way in which it swung told you your sex (as if I needed to be told!), as well as the sex and number of children you will have. (I can’t remember the results for us). We tried it on them and cracked up laughing when it hung completely still. It was a fun evening.
Woken up at 6.30am by the old mother talking loudly outside our room. I had to get out of bed quickly and go to the loo. My stomach was not good. Damn. I dressed and went off to get some breakfast for us. When I got back, I had to go to the loo again. Damn. I took some Immodium to try and get rid of it.
After breakfast, we walked around town and past the five star hotel ‘La Momounia’ on the edge of the medina. We sat in a café admiring the view of the mountains again with their snow capped peaks. Walking back to the hotel, Dan took the long route through a park while I had to take the short route to make sure I got back there in time. Damn. I took another tablet. We spent the rest of the day lying about reading and sleeping and went back to the café with the veranda for tea while watching the people, tourists, hustlers, donkeys and moped riders.
We cooked up a curry for supper but, unfortunately we burnt it and it tasted disgusting so we threw most of it away and ate yoghurts and fruit.
That night, two girls came into the hotel, one English and the other Australian. We said hello and, later, the Australian, Yolly (short for Yolante) came down for a chat. They were travelling around Europe and Africa for a few weeks or for as long as their money lasted. Yolly had been working in Bristol (which she hated) and came from Perth originally. Claire, the English girl, was from Torbay. We talked about Marrakech and the places we’d seen in Morocco so far. It’s always good to compare notes with fellow travellers.
The mother of the ‘Maitresse d’Hotel’ woke me up with the noise of hacking cough; the noise of her using the loo and farting while on it. She is a Berber woman (tattoos on her face) and suffers from laryngitis. Then the children were up making a noise. It was 7.15am.
I lay in bed for a while before getting up for some breakfast in the room. While eating a bowl of cereal, I spilt half a bag of milk on the floor. I streamed out of our room under the door and into the hall outside. There was a knock on our door. When I opened the door, it was the maitresse. I had a cloth in one hand and apologised immediately for the spillage. But, she did not seem concerned and got one her cleaning girls to mop it up.
Dan was sitting on the edge of his bed eating and egg butty. He moved so he could fart, but he let out more than just a fart. He was still not feeling well and spent the next hour washing his clothes.
Before lunch, we went back into the Djmaa El Fna and sat on the terrace of a café [which I am certain was the one that was bombed this year] to watch the chaos below and to look at the mountains to the south. I read my book for a while Dan wrote up his diary. After a good spell sitting in the warm sunshine and getting fed up with watching the droves of coach delivered, Spanish tourists arriving who were being herded into square. We left to buy lunch and to get back to the peace of our room.
There, we ate and listened to the BBC World Service where Dave Lee Travis was the DJ. The World Service has become an important part of our travelling lives. It keeps us informed, entertained and amused for hours. We listened through a small but excellent short wave radio made by Sony.
In the afternoon, Dan and I had a confrontation over a small misunderstanding about money. I told Dan to stop patronising me and he’d been doing so for two months. Dan asked why I had not said so before.
We left, after simmering down, to buy olive oil, cereal and beans (which I left in the shop) plus a small lump of meat. We made up a stew of the beef, potatoes, carrots, onions, some sort of white radish/parsnip shaped thing, bouquet garni, spice and some soup for stock. It turned out well on the pots on our paraffin cooker. For pudding, we ate a delicious local melon before hitting the sack.
The drawback of staying in a family hotel is the noise that the family makes when they get up in the morning. I was woken up by the sound of children talking and running about. Their mother shouted at them from time to time as they ran amok. It was about 7 o’clock. I got up out of bed and ate some breakfast after my rude awakening.
For the rest of the morning, we made the most of the comfortable beds and read our books. I finished reading Hemingway’s ‘Death in the afternoon’. Before lunch, Dan and I strolled into the centre of town, dodging touts and ‘guides’, who were keen to the point of desperation to show us around the medina and the other sites in Marrakech.
We went into the medina by ourselves where we bought a few cakes and carried on into the covered market. At one point, a man on a bicycle ran into the back of me. I turned around and told him to mind where he was going. He was on the wrong side of the road and retorted some bungled English back to me. We passed lots of carpet, brass and leather shops before heading out into the open air market.
We bought some delicious pears, a melon, oranges and tomatoes plus some Edam cheese before stopping in a café and sitting on its veranda for a drink with a view of the famous market square. We watched the Moroccans going about their daily business, snake charmers, men with monkeys which sat on the shoulders of the tourists, and acrobats earning their living from the visitors.
Lines of tourists poured off coaches and were led in rushed groups through the stalls in the market and its chaos of hustlers pestering them to buy their goods. Beggars walked next to the tourists pulling at them and their clothes. Some of them looked extremely flustered and bewildered by the whole, high pressure experience.
Another coach came into the square full of European holidaymakers. Some of the men in the coach were filming the scene at a safe distance from the reality of the place. “Why don’t you get out of the coach and enjoy yourselves?” I thought. Dan and I were smugly used to the hassle that we received although it still annoyed us intensely.
We couldn’t help laughing at the coach tourists who had not had the chance to gently slide into the ‘sales war zone’ of Morocco. It’s likely that they had come from a secluded holiday resort on the coast and the coach, which had been their haven, suddenly pushed them out into the throng of hustlers and beggars in Marrakech.
We returned to the hotel for lunch and a short kip. We needed money so I went to a local bank to change $100. We had been spending far more than we expected in Morocco too. The sooner we get out into the countryside, the better. I got back to the room and read (The Grapes of Wrath) and dozed again.
Dan was in bed and was not feeling too good. The Immodium tablets he had taken for his diarrhoea had not worked and he was feeling drained. We went out into the evening air to a local pharmacy to get something stronger for him, after which we went into the melee again for supper. There was a spectacular sunset over one of the mosques. There were still masses of people in the square and smoke from the cooking fires was everywhere, mixing with the aromas of the food.
We bought some doughnuts and watched a snake charmer with a black cobra and a few mean looking vipers in the foreground. Next, we went to a stall I had visited the night before (and from which I had not got the shits) and ate. Dan had brochettes and I had kefta plus a load of chips from a nearby stall.
While sitting there, a trail of tourists following one man carrying a stick in the air cruised past us like a herd of sheep. We laughed and the two men running the stall laughed with us. Then, there was a commotion as the shoe sellers next to us picked up their goods and hid them behind the stall we were sitting at. They were searching and looking into the square at something we could not see. They tottered about nervously. Were they selling goods illegally and looking for a policeman? We never found out why they were so nervous.
Meanwhile, more tourists streamed past in their groups, looking bewildered, worried and out of place, still being pestered. We ate our food and watched people go past before paying up (about £1 each) and went to a fruit juice stall where we asked for a mix of mandarin and orange juice mix. As we drank our delicious mix of juices, two female beggars approached and started to hound us.
One, in particular, caught our attention. She was small, dressed in a brown djellaba and a black veil covering her face from below her eyes. She asked Dan for some money. She had beautiful eyes and she knew it, playing up to try to get some money out of us. For the first time, we gave in and gave her one dirham. How weak! She soon left having made an impression on us.
Another woman came up to us to hustle money out of us. While she pestered us, she pinched mandarins from the stall when the owner had his back turned. She managed to pinch what looked like a dozen and then hung around us speaking in broken English. She touched Dan on his chest and said “You are good friend”. Then, “You want to go to bed?” Ha! Under her veil, we could see a row of blackened teeth. A line of tourists files past as we drank. The hustlers were forcing hats, bags, knives or jewellery to buy at them. Poor, flustered people.
It was time to go. It had been a fun evening in the Djnaa El Fnaa. As I was turning out the light, I could hear two Englishmen outside who had been guided here by a Moroccan who was negotiating a tip. Morocco really is a sales war zone.
I got up and went out to get some breakfast. It was sunny but chilly. A policeman was outside on the road stopping the occasional car. Something stirred in the back of my mind about the previous night.
I walked into the shabby, little town and bought eggs, bread and milk. Back in the room, we had cereal and coffee. The eggs, bar one, floated in the water we had boiled to cook them so I threw those ones away.
After eating and packing away most of our kit, there was a knock on the door. I opened it and there was standing a policeman who asked for our passports. He went away with them saying he would not be long.
Next, I went outside to get some fresh air and I saw the policeman from earlier who said we had go to the police station. What on earth was happening? We quickly finished off packing our kit and were led by a young boy to the station where we went through a small gate into yard in which some chickens were running around.
Inside the building, we were invited to sit down while they too down our details. One policeman interviewing us talked while he wrote. There were four or five other policemen in the room. They were all very friendly and relaxed despite the potentially disconcerting fact that they had our passports. We were soon allowed to go once they had asked us about our occupations. They wished us good luck with the journey.
As we were cycling out of town a little later on, we saw why there had been such a fuss about us. Up on the hill to the left and behind the town was what looked like a communications station including a tower covered in satellite and microwave dishes. On the edge of the town, we saw the same policemen from earlier who were dealing with an overturned lorry.
On we went through the now glorious morning sunshine. We had wonderful, clear views of open, lightly undulating ground, scattered with brown buildings. It was lovely sight. We sped along, although Dan was quite a way behind me.
The town of Ben Gerhir soon came up with a sign outside it saying ‘Town of the Future’, which seemed quite far off the reality of the place. We stopped to buy some supplies, before cycling on and past an army base.
The road stretched far into the distance. In the distance, we could see the High Atlas mountains, looming in cloud. We had lunch of rice, tuna, peas and tomatoes away from the road. On, on we went.
South of Sidi-Bou-Othmane, the local police stopped us and took down our details. They were friendly and shook our hands as we left. We climbed a small rise from where we could now see Marrakech in the distance.
We arrived in Marrakech at 4.30pm and found the ‘Hotel Atlal’, which was 70 dirhams a night. It was clean with hot showers. Dan was not feeling well. At 6pm, I went out into the famous market place of the Djmaa El Fna. The market was an amazing sight of small stalls cooking kefta and kebabs, fruit juice, books, shoes and trinkets; all of which were lit by kerosene lamps.
I sat at a small stall and ate some kefta, after which I bought some freshly squeezed from another stall. I then bought fruit and nuts from other stalls. It was good fun.
I returned to the hotel. Dan was feeling better, so we went out and walked around the Djmaa El Fna, stopping to buy cereal and fresh doughnuts. What a place. The medina off the marketplace was soon shutting down for the day as we walked into it, so we soon turned around and found a bar in which to have a drink before heading back to get some sleep.
Distance 104.9 kms Average speed 15.8 kmh Time 6 hours 34 mins
We woke up listening to the rain outside. I went out and found a nearby market to buy breakfast. I bought cereal (Frosties! In Morocco?), milk, bread, and eggs. We ate, packed and left by 9am. The traffic out of Casablanca was appalling, and the fumes were choking. This was their ‘rush hour’.
We soon got past the fumes, lines of mules and carts, taxis and bustling people, out onto more open road. The land seemed barren with thin grass amongst the rock earth. Rubbish lorries drove past us dripping foul smelling liquid from their tail boards and bits of debris into our path. They took it to a huge dump on the right of the road to Marrakech. There was rubbish everywhere. Roadside stalls were selling sandstone ornaments which were carved and cut by chilly-looking men in situ.
Dan’s bike developed a clunking noise, so we stopped and tried to sort it out. But, we could not find its source. It would have to wait for the service it was going to get in Marrakech.
We stopped in Berrechid for supplies at about 11am, stopping for lunch a couple of hours later. Lorries and cars were driving past us far too close for comfort, knocking us around in their wake. We had found ourselves shouting and swearing at them in a vain attempt to show them our displeasure and our impatience with their lack of regard for our presence on the road. The drivers hoot at us, showing their annoyance and implying that we should ride on the shoulder of the road. But, we refused to ride there because, more often than not, the shoulder is rutted and pot-holed which makes it uncomfortable and difficult to ride.
We stopped to cook up a lunch of rice, tuna and peas on an official looking piece of concrete with had man-holes in it. A man came up from a nearby building site and said hello. We politely said hello and then ignored him in our attempt not to get involved with the usual intrusion. (It may sound narrow-minded of us to be so frosty towards the locals, but they generally were after something from us other than a friendly chat. We had become very suspicious of people walking up to us in Morocco). He soon took the hint and walked back to the building site. Privacy is sometimes hard to find when you are out on the road and you feel vulnerable when you have nowhere to hide!
While we were eating, Dan and I sat in amazement watching a storm in progress which was not far away, to the north of us. On the left edge of the storm, we could see a wind funnel forming; a long, dark tube coming off the main body like the hose on a vacuum cleaner. The wind funnel broke away from the cloud and then shrank towards the earth. The main storm was flashing with lightning, with great, dark streams of rain being dumped on the flat farmland below. To our rear (to the south-west), we could see another storm. It was a terrific sight.
We cycled on into Settat, passing the ‘Royal’ racecourse on the left of the road where the small grandstand was full of people, with racehorses being trotted around for the punters to view. Entering Settat, it seemed like a modern and smart looking place (probably due to the presence of the royal racecourse). We quickly passed through.
The road was quite flat and we sped along. Dark clouds loomed ahead, the countryside looking drenched after the recent downpour. The air temperature dropped so I donned my waterproof. Soon, we came into the rear of the rainstorm and were given a good watering. The terrain changed noticeably just north of a place called Mechra-Benabbou, becoming sandier in texture and orange in colour, almost as though it was the first sign of the desert ahead.
We crossed a swollen, chocolate coloured river, still getting a good soaking from the rain, and thought that we might have to camp out that night because time was pressing and the light was starting to fade. The rain stopped but it was still cold.
I got the ‘bonk’ soon after the river which I remedied with a few lumps of cream cheese I had with me and a couple of spoonfuls of strawberry jam. I soon felt a fresh as a daisy with some energy back inside me.
An Australian couple on a fully laden motorbike zoomed past us. We pushed on. Dan was feeling tired and weak, probably as a result of his recent stomach problems which had almost cleared up.
The light started to but the sky was clear; it’s orange and then purple light shone onto the orange ground and surrounding hills, making the whole area look stunningly beautiful. The houses we were passing were now the same colour as the ground they sat upon.
It was quite chilly and dark now, and we were about 4 kms from the next town or village, Skhour-des-Rehamma, according to our map. Just up ahead, we saw vehicle lights and, as we neared, it became clear that there had been a road accident and the ‘Gendarme Royale’ was present. Dan and I were now riding on the shoulder of the road, aware of the danger of Moroccan drivers at night.
We passed the accident and, finally, the street lights appeared of the town we had seen on the map and we sped in. On the left was an auberge. They had a spare room for 50 dirhams which we took.
We were cold and tired so we decided to have a couple of hot drinks in the bar to warm up as they took down our passport details. We chatted in French to the man who wrote down our details. He happened to double as a technician for the Moroccan Post Office.
We told him about our jobs (I had previously decided that I was a student of English literature at Newcastle University (which is where Dan had actually gone to university), deciding that telling people I was an ex-soldier was not the best start to a conversation with a stranger). Dan told him about his job as a micro-electronics engineer. The man replied that we should not talk about such things because people will talk. (We would soon find out why he had said that). How odd, we thought.
We went back to our room and cooked up some supper in our room. After we had eaten and washed up, there came a knock on the door. I made towards the door and there was a second knock. Such impatience! It was a policeman. “Papers, please!” he said. We showed our passports and, after a quick inspection, he left. That was all a bit strange.
Soon, we were in our sleeping bags and on our beds. It was cold in the room and we were still cold from the day.
We returned to the Algerian embassy where they said we would have to wait 7 to 10 days for our visas. It costs us 250 dirhams each for the privilege of waiting for them ‘telephone or telex Algiers’ for the go ahead to issue the visas, according to the official we were speaking to. We filled in a form each and handed over the money plus a couple of photos each.
What a blow. Before we left, two Australian girls came into the building who were part of an overland expedition company. We got talking to them and they said the British people on the expedition with them had been given the same treatment. [So, it seemed like this was deliberate policy to mess the Brits around by the Algerian government. Great].
Outside was their truck, a converted four ton Bedford lorry. What a miserable way to travel down Africa, I thought. I didn’t think I would like that at all, being cooped up in one place all the time. I had spent enough time in the army in lorries like that and they are not comfortable if you are sitting in the back.
We wandered back to the ‘Cockroach Hotel’, the name we had given to the Hotel des Voyageurs, feeling pretty fed up about the seemingly inevitable delay. For the rest of the time in Rabat, we read, wrote, I ate (Dan was still starving himself), went to an English bookshop and went to the British Council buildings to have a look around at what they had.
Rabat is not the nicest of places and we were glad to get going, despite the delay in getting our visas. We had decided to press on and one of us return later by train to pick up the Algerian visas.
I had not slept well, having had to get up during the night to use the loo and also feeling very hot all night. We left the hotel at 8.00am and made for the Algerian embassy to try to get our visas sorted out. On the way, we stopped at a smart little café (well, compared to what we had been used to before then in Morocco) for a coffee, orange juice and a croissant. We arrived at the embassy just after 9am.
I felt a bit nervous about going in and had my expectations set about whether we would get our visas straight away or not when what looked the like janitor said “Where are you going?” in French.
“To find visas”, I replied in French.
“Do they work on a Saturday where you live?” he retorted.
The stupid bog cleaner was starting to annoy me. He told us that the embassy opened at 8am on Monday. We left feeling pretty pissed off. That meant two more days, at least, hanging around in Rabat.
We walked back, stopping at a photocopy shop to copy the receipts for our carpets. For the rest of the day, we sat around or dozed on our beds. Dan was still not feeling well and had decided that he was not going to eat for 24 hours to try to get rid of the diarrhoea.
Day 59, a Sunday, was a fairly uneventful day of reading, writing, shopping for food and sleeping.
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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