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لحجّي goes to المغرب

Ren and I got henna tattoos of the word on the left. This entry is all about what we did from October 12th until the 22nd.

Morocco Rococco - Oct. 12-22
The map is acting funny, so just zoom in on it by double-clicking.

On the pier at the port of the port-town of Algeciras, the Hajji is shining like a national guitar. We are about to board a ferry, and for once lose the highway, and lose the cradle of Picasso's and Orwell's and Hemingway's civil war. We're going to Morocco.

First stop in oooooooooh, big bad Africa! is that city shrouded in mystery and romance, Tangier. In reality, although we were only there for a total of about three and a half minutes, the place is pretty forgettable. Forget about it! Hajji sashays on down the road, in the dark in the dark continent, and we hit Asilah. It's a beautiful town with beautiful people who try to tell us all the beautiful places in their country to visit. We swim in the ocean, eat egg sandwiches, buy a map, and putt-putt-putter away, southbound.

Image of Asilah courtesy http://photosmaghreb.canalblog.com/images/asilah_4545b.jpg

On the way out of our first Moroccan town the next morning, we take on some hithchikers, as we do, trying to make someone's day, spreading nice feelings. We drop the German girl and Austrian boy not far up the road in another cluster of buildings and flamingoes but we don't see the flamingoes cus they are a...how do you say?...a fraudulent ploy to attract tourists. They do have active imaginations, those touts!! From this village called Moulay-Bousselham, the future turns ugly. We pass the on-ramp to the apparently very affordable toll-roads, sneering at those greedy little piglets in the Ministry of Transportation, and, with our Moroccan Dirhams safely in our pockets, pull on to the most grim and gruesome-looking piece of road you ever saw. "Look out Hajji, there's nothing but peril ahead!" She steams forward, a mask of unwavering and determined glee on her foxy face. "What a babe you are Hajj...what a goddamn babe."

I hope I never ever ever drive a maroony-roan-red 1981 VW campervan down a road like this again. I'll tell you just one something, and then you can paint it how you want to see it: it takes dear old Hajji two and a half gorgeous hours to drive 65 kms down that scrappy carriageway; it would have killed her to death if Rain and I hadn't stocked her so full of love before we left this morning.

Rain's drawing of that blasted road, scooped from the Hajji Diary.

The end of the day, Hajji whimpering for a rest, and we find ourselves further down the Atlantic coast of Morocco, in a nice and grubby and dusty neighbourhood of a town called Azenmour. We boil up some pasta, draw the curtains tightly, and lay down to rest and shake off the lousy memories of that road...that road, that goddamn gorgeous road, filled with poor boys and pilgrims with families, and we are in Morocco.

My travelling companion is 26 years-old. She is a child of Karyn and Victor's first marriage. And I've reason to believe we both will be received in this country; we feel safe, having learned from our experiences in Sarajevo, and North Africa does not seem as daunting as it may have done a few months or years ago.

But still, one night in Azenmour is enough, and at first light we steal away to go searching for a small road, pointing to a beach, that I think I saw yesterday. The fog is coocoo, and with all sorts of traffic on the byways, and beside the byways, the going is slow and not steady. We find it though, this hidden beach, and are introduced to what Philip Haworth had been describing us from when he and Winkle were in Morocco: miles of untouched sand beach, with nobody on it, and certainly no bogus developments screwing it all up. Plus a nice little wreck not far out.

Darling little place.

We park off the road, and waste the next two and a half days here, and guess what...it's perfect. Even the police, in cars one day and on horses the next, who come to sniff at us, turn out to be ultra friendly and just really curious, above all. In fact, it is the friendliness of the Moroccans that shines through, almost as bright as the African sun...and I have a swell tan. Nearly every local we meet seems to have a cute smile plastered on their mugs, and it's nice, no kidding.

Now take Marrakech: big, hyper-active city, but the people there are all helpful and sweet. When we are driving around in search of Yves St. Laurent's famous gardens, we ask a man on a bicycle. He tells us the way, and we make for it. Two blocks later we're lost again, and just as we're asking another set of people on the sidewalk, Bicycle Bashir swoops aside us and gestures to turn back. So we do, eyes peeled for YSL's plot, and we start to feel a bit frustrated at the invisibility of the gardens, but are rescued again by the bike man, who has obviously deviated from his own route to make sure we get to where we want to go. If consideration and kindness make up part of modern civilization, looks here like the white man doesn't have a burden anymore. As Sir Cecil Beaton wrote, recounting an evening in Marrakech spent with the Rolling Stones, in March of 1967: "Here in Morocco people were not curious or bad-mannered. Mick liked people that were permissive."

Marrakech is fun. We visit the medina both days, and the massive market that occupies the majority of it. Hawkers and touts, hawkers and touts...but it's all a blast. And both nights, we leave the city centre to itself and slink into a gas station parking lot where, true to Moroccan form, the attendant asks us with a smile what we are doing, and when told that we would like to spend the night, he shrugs his shoulders and says "Bien sur."

Everything that has happened so far in Morocco has been great. But the real memories, the true guts of the trip to North Africa, is all set to take place in the days after we leave Marrakech.

Monday morning we set off, the Hajji caravanning us back into the wilds of the inner country. Buzzing along gracefully, Hajji is like a clipper ship found its steady wind. Nothing can stop her gallant gallopping, nothing except engine failure or a blown tire...we opt for the latter. A strange sound reaches our ears from the rear of the van, and we stop to investigate. Finding nothing, we set off again, slowly. Three seconds later an explosion, the likes of which Vince Coleman would recognize, (http://www.histori.ca/minutes/minute.do?id=10203), assaults us. The rear drivers'-side tire is blown.

Hajj limps into a service station not 200 metres away, and slows to a stop. A crowd of four surrounds us, and considering that the population density in this area is about 10 per square-km, this is a hefty gathering indeed. Amongst the onlookers was an old hobbit of a woman, all covered up from head to henna-covered toe, including these radical Terminator style sunnies. She takes the lead and starts bossing the timid men, hooting and tooting along in Arabic while talking gently to us in French. The men set to work trying to loosen the bolts, but even the local strongman can't make 'em budge. Then the skies open and tubs of hail start to fall. All work stops and Hajji is moved into the shelter of one of the work bays. After mint tea & bread and oil, this African Bilbo bravely leads us out into the elements, telling us that we are going to stay at her house in the brush tonight.

Having stripped us down, the shuffling little broad presents Ren with some sweatpants and a green and gold traditional hijab, lending her some modesty, while I am told to wear her absent son's track pants and underwear...so friendly! Her clay and dung house has an open courtyard within its walls, from which various rooms jut off. By now the sun is down, and the only light is from an old tin kerosene lamp, its flame flickering over the heavily-furnitured living room. All types of setees and cushions are lined up against all four walls, and we learn that all three of us will be sleeping in here tonight. But before sleep, she's got to feed us. She smurfs out of the room back into the darkness, and within 20 minutes comes back with an earthenware pot in her hands, giving off steam and smells, (the pot not the woman). Dinner: pig-stomach tajine prepared by a walking talking Allah-fearing woman. We chew politely, forever, till we can't chew no more. The dish is taken away, and Ren is queezy. Lights out.

Before sleep takes me that night, I see in the darkness Rain getting out of bed and heading to the latrines. She comes back to tell me she's got the skitters. As if I didn't know that, as if I didn't know my own Rain. As if I'd never noticed the way she gets when the skitters take hold. I'd seen it coming a mile off.

The next morning, we visit Hajji at the service station and are told by Mohammed, the main man there, that a tire could be hard to come by. He might know a guy, that guy might know a guy too. At least they've replaced the blown one with our spare...but we really need a new one; that spare isn't fit either. Hours later, our Moroccan Mama, (as she has commanded us to call her), leads us to a Shell a few kms away, and starts to negotiate with Kacem, the boss. She comes back to us, kicking dust up, talking like she's the one who owns the shop, like those shoe salesmen who say things like "Well, I just got a shipment in last week, and I could probably rustle up a pair for you in my supply room." Alright bud, you're wearing a ref's jersey - you don't own the damn place. Moroccan Mama tell us that we can get two brand new tires, (one to replace our spare, another to replace the fast fading other rear one), for "cent quarante." 140 Dirhams?! That's a steal...like €12! "Do it up Mama!" So the fellas get to work. 30 minutes later, Hajji is kitted up, looking darling, and the dirty business of the money exchange pops up. With a smile on my face I hand Mama a 200-Dirham bill. She balks...and tells me she needs six more like that. Slowly, I realise what has happened. That brain behind the Terminator goggles is a bit old and wimpy, and what our ancient hostess has done is mess up big time with the money. When she told us "cent quarante", in her muddled-up mind this meant one-hundred and forty...thousand...Francs!!!! These days that means 140 Dirhams; not €12 but more like €120! This is not such a good price; the tires are removed. Thanks Mama...we'll get some used ones tomorrow.

After another sleep at MM's house, Ren is still feeling lousy, and I wake up not feeling so damn sweet myself. Looks like I've got the skitters too, and a fierce headache to boot. Bilbo springs into action.

So there's a woman North of Marrakech, who calls herself Maman Maroccaine. And as I'm lying there and she's rubbing lemons all over my forehead, home remedying me, I say "Whoa, so this is what she means." She means she wants us to stay with her forever and ever and ever and be her little children. Ren finally gets up and says that I have a fever, and that she is going to Hajji to get me some pills...and MM doesn't let her leave. She's telling us that she will take care of us, that we will stay with her, and Ren and I get the exact same vibe the exact same time: "Misery"!

Moroccan Mama, readying to slaughter one of her chickens.

We finally flee the cabin in the woods, take Hajj back to the Shell, she gets her two used tires slapped on, and we drive. We drive far and fast, always North. One more night, this one spent in another gas station lot halfway between Marrakech and the Mediterranean, and make it to Tangier, and the ferry that will take us back to Europe. There's no obligations now.

Hajji adventure continues! What do you guys think?

Posted by rencous 10:33

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What a wild and crazy adventure... this one even more wild and crazy than some of your other ones. Glad you managed to get away my little Hansel and Gretel.

by Mama K

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