To celebrate the availabilty of the 44-minute commercial-free episode, we're having a guest post by Clinton J. Wilson, who shares his misadventures in Morocco. He writes for Goway.com travel.
Misadventures in Morocco
I wasn’t really shocked to learn my friend had lost his passport somewhere along the desolate stretch of road leading us to our isolated hotel in the Sahara.
Somehow this seemed to be the logical development in the plot of our Moroccan vacation. It was right out of a Paul Bowles story. Our doom was imminent. It wouldn’t be long now before murderous Berbers would usher us into a small room and rob us of all of our remaining possessions before hacking us to death and burying us out in the sand. No one in the world would ever be able to trace us.
But I guess I felt I had too much to live for. I couldn’t waste my energy thinking about my friend, for I’d already given him up to the vindictive natural forces of the African desert. He had a fever, and was now missing his passport; I had to conserve my strength. There was the next day’s camel ride at dawn. I was going to have my “Lawrence of Arabia” photo op if it killed me.
But since we couldn’t check into our hotel, there was only one thing to do: drive back the way we came and investigate every point at which we stopped to get out of the car and take photograph and hope to find it before we’d driven the several hundred miles back to Fez, which is precisely where our Moroccan adventure took a sinister turn.
Actually, our troubles began in Rabat in what we innocently considered an auspicious chance meeting with Rashid. Smoking on the train platform waiting to board a train for Tangier, we met this friendly Moroccan man who offered us helpful advice about the country and provided us with his wife’s name and number at the office of tourism in Fez, where we were headed next.
We eagerly accepted the number and promised to call when we got to Fez, but this proved unnecessary as he happened to be the air conditioning mechanic for our Fez bound train. He sat with us in our compartment and engaged us in a sustained discussion about the culture of our countries. His eyes lit up when we told him we were staying at the famous Palais Jamai (our mid-journey splurge) and he proceeded to tell us interesting historical facts about this hotel and the surrounding medina. Before the train pulled into Fez, we’d agreed to meet up in a café in the Nouvelle Ville soon after arrival to make arrangements for a driver to take us into the Sahara.
At the café we found Rashid and met our driver Boutayeb and (unexpectedly) a guide, Moumou. It was all progressing quickly, but we agreed to their services and were swept off to a restaurant just after being told that they would be waiting for us the next morning to tour the city. This is the last we heard from Rashid, but we couldn’t get rid of Boutayeb and Moumou. We were hostage to their hospitality.
Things began to sour after the first day when we repeatedly found ourselves in shops that used Western guilt as a principle bargaining tool. We were shamed in to buying a pricey Berber carpet and some pottery that would most likely collect dusk on a hidden shelf before being thrown out to create space for more useful or attractive dishes.
We were desperate to slough off our guide and driver but they continually foiled us in our attempts to clear them of their services until we had to leave for the Sahara. Each day we’d return to the hotel annoyed and exhausted at not being able to wrest ourselves from their watchful eyes, so early one night we decided to explore the city for ourselves and set off confidently from the courteous fortress of the Palais Jamai, a beacon of French-owned extravagance nestled within the warren of the centuries old medina.
Palais Jamai offers the setting for much of Paul Bowles’s The Spider’s House, a brilliant novel of ethnic conflagration at the time of Morocco’s fight for independence. The hotel has its own private gate that leads directly to a large courtyard driveway with two narrow opposing entrances into the medina where we first spied shadowy figures lurking a couple nights earlier.
We walked tentatively into the unknown region of the of the old city, and it wasn’t long before we were joined by a trio of Moroccan teenagers led by Mohammed, a student with an excellent command of the English language. He was friendly and established instant report with us and it wasn’t long before he led us to an underground discothèque frequented exclusively by young, hip, alcohol-imbibing Moroccans.
We had a great time with our new associates at the club and met some stunningly attractive women, but back in the vicinity of the hotel we were forced to make a hasty retreat when Mohammad became confrontational after we refused his proposal to join them at a secret back alley brothel to smoke “kif” (otherwise known as hashish).
We read warnings in our guidebooks about hapless tourists being robbed or set up to be apprehended by the authorities in such shady establishments. Hashish is prevalent in Morocco, but still very much illegal.
The next morning we were able to dash from our hotel to Boutayeb’s car without acknowledging Mohammed and his gang loitering in the medina right outside our hotel’s private courtyard, but were stunned to encounter a strange man at the gate who shouted threats from the hashish mafia.
Our last night in Fez, beleaguered from trying to outrun the courtyard threat, desperate to be on our own but knowing we would still be at Boutayeb’s mercy in the Sahara, we feebly sipped our poolside cocktails through lips tight with worry.
So there we were, driving back to Fez, silent and wearily pathetic behind our seething Berber driver who was shouting what we could only assume was a string of murderous, anti-American curses. We were two withered kernels of loathing riding off against our wills into another disappointing leg of our journey, meekly hoping the hostility of the Sahara would wane long enough to let us discover the missing passport.
An hour after leaving the hotel in search of the lost passport, we came to the last lookout point we’d stopped at, which was now occupied by a large bus full of French tourists. After a frantic search turned up nothing, we approached some of the French tourists and explained our quest.
The buzz among them became instantly charged with enthusiastic interjections and gesticulations. I knew the tide was turning finally in our favor when the passport was positively identified by the cheering crowd.
Elated and with a restored sense of worldly confidence, we instructed a now smiling Boutayeb to take us back to our hotel in the desert, secretly anticipating — Inshalla — our eventual escape from the mystifying control of scheming Berbers.
The next morning, happily alive, I got my “Lawrence of Arabia” photo.
This was guest post was by Clinton J. Wilson. Clinton is an inveterate traveler who loves to write about his diverse experiences around the world. He studied in Australia and lived in Prague, Portland (Oregon), New York City, and Boise and has traveled extensively around Europe, Morocco, and the United States.
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