Our first night in Morocco has us kept at the airport, the customs guys being confused about us wearing ties and not having a concrete destination. They also lost Adams bag, my Olympus-walking-stick I had been carrying for almost a year, and we were stuck with a 20 euro cab ride into town (apparently there are bandits around the airport so we couldn’t sleep there…). Our cab driver was a man in a full robe called a Djellaba, almost a wizard robe really, with dark eyes but a more or less friendly vibe. He took us through deserted streets to drop us off in the middle of Agadir. Due to being absolutely exhausted, some locals walked us literally around a corner to find an expensive (for Morocco) 10 euro hotel, asking for a 10 euro tip in return. Hah. A silent old man, probably angry at being woken up at 3am, showed us to the basic of basic rooms. We crashed, thankful for a bed.
Our next few days had us acclimating to our first Muslim country. Our couchsurfing hosts introduced us to Moroccan tea (godly), couscous, argan oil, the local bread(circular bread with seeds that costs less than ten cents a bun. One of which can be a meal!), and the souks (markets of so many varying things). We rented a car with the others and discovered some out of the way spots such as Paradise Valley (very green Valley of swimming holes), some beaches, and a hot spring we were fairly certain wasn’t a touristy place (oh those are so hard to find).
From Agadir we hitched north, passing beaches and meandering through low hills and little villages. One ride recommended the small surfer beach of Imsouane for a night, so we did just that. In this area there weren’t so many girls wearing the head scarves, and the vibe was quite mellow and liberal. At first. Everyone was so nice to us the first night, talking away and making us feel welcome.
We camped out happily on the beach, waking up in the morning to find a little Moroccan guy stumbling upon us, immediately offering tea and bread. This was Mehdi, our new friend. We spent the day talking with him, about his desires to see the world outside Morocco (visas aren’t so easy to get), and just mellowing. We drank a lot of tea. Later in the day a dog decided to hang out with us, following us around and sleeping nearby wherever he could find shade.
On the morning we were to leave, the stray dog that had adopted us was barking at some of the locals. He chased the ones that ran (that’s what he does, not in an angry way), and at one point a child’s dad came running after him, throwing stones. As the dog hid behind us, the man started picking up big rocks, enough to easily kill the dog. We ended up standing in front of him while another Moroccan tried calming the guy down… We left not so long after, leaving the dog in that town because… What else could we do? I really hope nothing happened to him, but the longer I stay in Morocco, the more I see how cruel so many people are to animals here.
As we hiked up out of town, we tried our hitching luck, but ended up paying 40 cents to one of the local taxi guys, which Mehdi happened to be catching a ride with as well. At this point he then decided to join us for a while, which of course we couldn’t say no to. Three guys hitching is never a good thing, though.
So there we were on the side of some hot dusty road. We started taking the hitching in turns, as it was bloody hot and there really isn’t so much point in more than one guy holding his thumb out. Adam went first, scoring a single ride to Essaouira, our next destination. But only room for one. For the next three or four hours it was just myself and Mehdi… And the sun. My time was spent watching garbage fly by, a few dogs rummage through other garbage, and a few donkeys packed down with all sorts of things wander up and down the many trails leading off to… Wherever.
We did get to Essaouira, eventually. We then had to find a phone to contact our couchsurfing host, which isn’t as easy as one might think. Wandering through packed streets, being told a payphone is this way when another person says it’s that way, all the while Mehdi thinks we are talking about kite surfing and he’s trying to lead us to the beach. We even met an Italian guy, more than likely a little high, who had told us he just came back from “working as a donkey in the desert, being paid shit.” We did eventually find our couchsurfer man.
Ali had never hosted before, and wasn’t the happiest at seeing Mehdi. We hadn’t had a chance to tell him he randomly decided to follow us, or that he would still be following us, and didn’t quite get the numerous times we told him he might not be able to stay the night. Drama ensued, awkward drama that we were just getting too tired to deal with. But without getting into it, Mehdi eventually left, and we continued on.
The next day Ali helped me haggle down someone to get my very own Djellaba, and the usual wandering through streets ensued. We even found a happy little dog out on the far reaches of town, who sadly disappeared when we headed back into the concrete jungle.
That night we slept in some bushes on the outside of town, spending a few hours trying to find a spot out of the wind and away from prying eyes. Funnily enough I woke up around 3am to hear the crunching of leaves, and seeing an old man slowly making his way through the bushes towards us. He quickly made an exit once I sat up, running away and mumbling Arabic.
The road from Essaouira to Marrakech took us four rides and up about fifteen bloody degrees. Adam also forgot my leather hat in one car, which I shall of course always remind him of.
Marrakech, oh Marrakech. I had read of the insanity of it’s markets, of how everyone is always trying to sell you something, how the narrow winding streets can have you lost almost immediately, yet with all that said it still keeps a certain charm… All of those things were right. After a few days wandering all over the medina, I had a love for all the spice and tea stalls, and found the alleys and maze-like neighbourhoods interesting to get lost in.. But it’s crazy. It was here where we became disheartened with people. It became so hard to tell if someone was being nice, or just trying to get money out of you. We made a decision to disappear into the mountains for a few days.
Ramadan began on our last day in the city. This means that after sunrise and before sunset, Moroccans may not eat or drink. That’s actually law. It’s a month of reflecting on oneself, if I understand correctly, and working on becoming a better Muslim, I suppose. Many people take the day to rest if they can, and not so many travel, which means for us hitchhikers it just got a whole lot harder.
We paid this tribike sort of vehicle to take us to the outskirts, then ended up taking a taxi into the mountains, as hitching was definitely going slower. As we ascended, more trees appeared, more green, more water! In the little village of Imlil at roads end, we of course had people trying to sell us maps and make us pay for a place to stash some of our gear. Luckily we found a genuine and helpful person that not only let us store our bags at his house, but also lent us his map of the mountain! Additionally, we found a couple more locals of the next village up the trail who showed us a place to sleep. It was such a relief to find people who were kind purely to be kind.
We awoke bright and early to find an old man staring at us. No saying anything, just staring. A bit used to this now, we just packed our bags and headed on up the mountain.
The trek up was lovely, watching the little villages behind us grow smaller, and most signs of human life disappear as we wound our way through the valley and up to the refuge at around 3200m. The village we began at was around 1800m. It took about four and a half hours to reach the refuge, before waiting for the next day to finish the last leg to the summit. Too hot.
At 5am we began our ascent, following the the lights of smaller tour groups far ahead of us, as they found their way through the very unmarked trail. Somehow I managed to wear shorts and a sleeveless shirt all the way up, while people passed us up and down with thick down jackets, toques, gloves, and other quite warm gear. I couldn’t understand how they weren’t boiling! It really wasn’t that chilly.
Nearing the top, the lack of oxygen was noticeable. While the path wasn’t so steep, it was difficult and slow going. But we did it. At 4167m we reached the top of North Africa. Adams first mountain, as well! Out of our Morocco experience this far, it was our happiest moment, lazily gazing over the jagged mountains all around. We couldn’t see the Sahara, unfortunately, due to a bit of cloudiness.
From Toubkal, the next destination was the Sahara. At least as close as we could get. This was “down season” for the area, due to the heat. Of course myself and Adam felt that since craziness had surrounded us for a fair chunk of our Moroccan adventure this far, we might as well head to where everyone’s been telling us we would be crazy to go at this time of year.
Heading back down the mountain, breathing in the fresh air while trying not to slip and kill ourselves (I managed to smash my tail bone pretty hard. Go me!), we looked forward to the next leg of the trip.
Oh Morocco, what next?