Travel in Morocco would have been great if not for the actual travelling bit. That was when you met all the hustlers and punks who made your life a misery. Standing at a bus stand in a desert town on the way to Marrakesh, the same old shit started up again. The tickets were twenty dirhams but the guy loading the bags on the back wanted ten dirhams for half a minute’s work. They only ever charged the Westerners and if you refused to pay they threw your bags down in the dust.
After a fierce argument we eventually got away without paying but it felt like a fistfight was going to break out at any moment. Then once on board the conductor tried to overcharge us on our tickets. We had to fight for ten minutes before he gave us out full change and even then he threw it in our faces. We were paranoid for the whole journey that at one of the stops he might throw out our baggage.
Otherwise we passed the day watching out the windows as we eased down a gorgeous mountain road towards the plains of Marrakesh. As peaceful as the scenery was we could feel trouble coming somehow. The very first thing to happen upon arrival in Marrakesh was that some guy tried to steal my guitar before we’d even left the bus. When I caught him he just shrugged and got down.
The moment we stepped down around fifty tour guides, touts and taxi driver jumped on us, tugging on our elbows and trying to pull us away before we’d even collected our bags. Whilst they were fighting amongst themselves we made a dash for a taxi stationed on the other side of the road. The driver promised to find us a cheap guesthouse.
The driver took us to the old part of town and then he disappeared to make enquiries. Ivan and I were both thoroughly stressed by now and traded insults that we wouldn’t have said to our worst enemies. Neither of us took it personally though. The driver failed to reappear and we got pissed off with waiting and went off to look for ourselves. Everywhere wanted ten dollars and up but as I had about 70 bucks left in the world this wasn’t on. We finally got a bed on a rooftop for 5 dollars just as our taxi driver turned up, ready to kill. We had to throw him the taxi fare as the landlady slammed the door in his face as he cursed us.
We turned around to climb the steps of the guesthouse and a dog promptly ran out and but Ivan on the ankle.
“Oh, he is not a bad dog!” The landlady assured us.
“What are you talking about?” Ivan yelled as he fended off a further attack. “He just bit me!” She just shrugged as though she didn’t take him seriously.
We were given two thin, dusty mattresses on a cramped roof space near a dingy, smelly toilet. We sat on our bags in disbelief.
“Man, what a shit hole.” I said and at that precise moment we jumped as something went clattering on the bathroom floor. Upon investigation we discovered that the toilet seat had jumped off onto the floor in agreement.
The marketplace the next morning was just as obnoxious and I added Marrakesh to my list for nuclear annihilation. It sneaked in at second place just behind Agra, home of the Taj Mahal.
We completed out errands as fast as we could and headed out towards the Atlas Mountains. Here there were plenty of the indigenous Moroccan population, the Berbers and they were noticeably calmer than their Arabic countrymen. The hotel we found was owned by an Arab however and he reused to let us go outside after 9pm. It was absurd. A group of Berber students came along to help translate and they ended up inviting us to come and stay with them. The manager then went ape shit and one of them discreetly slipped him twenty dirhams to calm him down. We later had to confront our new friend and oblige him to accept the money from us.
They were eight young guys living together to study the Koran and languages. They were absolutely delighted to have us and the slightest thing we did caused hysterics all round. They were so sweet and innocent that Ivan felt almost too ashamed to smoke his hash pipe on the balcony. Almost.
The oldest of these students broke our heart. He was waiting to go and study languages in Amsterdam and had already wired the tuition fees to his brother who was living there. That had been ten days ago and he couldn’t understand why he hadn’t heard from him since. We offered him encouraging words and tried not to imagine his brother passed out drunk on the floor of a brothel.
I’d been travelling with Ivan for ten days now which was something of a record for me. Whenever I see friends travelling together for months or years at a time I always wonder how they do it without killing each other. Ivan was very cool but we’d already wished each other dead several times to our faces. I was beginning to enjoy watching him struggle with his stupid Mexican hammock that he carried in the vain hope of finding two trees close together.
He, in turn, had got quite fed up with a bizarre energy exchange that took place each time he lit up his kif pipe; he was the only one smoking but I got stoned out of my mind whilst he only ever got a light buzz. At first it was quite amusing but he’d gone to a lot of trouble to find hashish this good and didn’t intend to waste it on me.
We parted the best of friends though and still are whenever we bump into each other around the world.