I have an idea to start a course for salesmen, and it’s held in Morocco. Seriously, one day of working alongside a Moroccan vendor and you would be the craftiest, sneakiest, most conniving salesman ever back in NZ. There are volumes of books that could be written on their techniques.
We took the road to Marrakech from Casablanca and on the way we were waved down by a motorist who had his bonnet up on the side of the road. Actually, despite my introduction on sneaky sales techniques I think this guy was genuine, but the conniving will come into this story later.
Anyway, we picked him up and he seemed quite refined. We dropped him at the nearest mechanics and he asked us to drop a note to his family which was on the way to where we were going. A few ssalamu´lekums and some French later and we were sitting in his cousins house drinking mint tea. I´m pretty sure his cousin was the real deal. He was very refined and had that sort of proud Berber air about him. He was dressed in traditional clothes and said he and his family traded with Arabs, Africans, and Touareg across the Sahara. It’s amazing; we met so many people who spoke English, Touareg, Arabic, French, Berber, Spanish, and even German. He was no exception, saying he had learnt his English from the BBC.
Money from trading is a powerful motivator for learning a language. Being a trader of course he was an opportunist so he showed us his store of rugs, chests, jewellery, cloth, and shish (turban type wraps).
He was extremely polite about it though and didn’t push anything on us which was my first indication he was genuine. We didn’t buy anything, mainly because we weren’t looking at that stage but also because we didn’t know what prices to expect. He told us some prices which he said were his cost since we helped his cousin. Later we found out they probably were, based on research, so that was my second indication. It was a real experience to have that hospitality and hear his stories so we were pretty happy with that detour.
Clive made a very pertinent point whilst driving through one of the many towns. He said “I wonder if they run out of things to say“. I thought it was kind of funny coming from him but he was so true. It seems that if the Moroccans aren’t trying to sell you something they´re sitting on the side of the road drinking whisky Berber (mint tea) and chatting. Probably about these random Kiwis driving past in an extremely dirty silver French car!
We got stopped for the first time by a cop on the way to Marrakech. It amazes me that even in their heat they still dress in full pants, jacket, white belt, holster, and hat. Actually I think that time of year when its ´only´ 39 degrees is cold for them.
Anyway, he pulled us over and asked to see the registration papers etc. I showed them and everything was of course in order. We had been told by Yassine that most cops pull you over because they want bribes, their pay is so low. But I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong.
“There’s a stop sign there, you were supposed to stop. The fine is 400 dirham.“
“No, it was a road works sign“
“Yes, but you must stop there“
“No you don’t, you only have to go slow, which I did“
Some more thought on his part. “There’s a solid line in the middle of the road, you crossed it and you´re not allowed. The fine is 400 dirham.“
“Yes I did because there´s a truck parked there and I had to cross it to pass“
“It doesn’t matter, you´re not allowed to cross the line“
“Umm yes you are if you need to pass a parked vehicle“
He could see he was getting nowhere. A big sigh… “Where are you from?“
His mood immediately lightened which I thought I´d capitalise on. “You know NZ?“
“Yes of course, I see in movies“
“Oh, which ones?“ Oops, bad idea, if he doesn’t know the name it makes him look bad and he may get angry again. I helped him out… “Lord of the Rings?“
“Ok my friend, you may go“
He probably had more compliant customers later in the day. The next time we weren’t so lucky, I was speeding admittedly. 14 kmh over the speed limit. A very gruff policeman who apparently didn’t care about the tale I told.
“We´re poor travellers discovering Morocco and we still have a long way to go.“
“These are your problems“ with a shrug.
The fine was 400 dirham. Clive added his part. “What about if we give you 200 dirham ($40) cash and you don’t write out the ticket?“
“Ok, give me give me. You go.“
Bribery and corruption I tell you.
Marrakesh was everything I expected it to be. Snake charmers, snakes (the animals as well as the shop keepers), a mazelike Medina you could get lost in just like that, and plenty of tagine food. I’ve decided to love tagines, so easy and tasty.
However Marrakesh was the first place I started getting what Ill choose to call Moroccan stomach, which lasted much longer than what Clive or I could have imagined. For me it wasn’t so much as being sick, because I wasn’t, but there was an ever present grumbling in my stomach which could never quite be appeased or settled.
The next day we were on towards the Sahara. I felt a bit under equipped passing all these four wheel drives with snorkel, water and fuel spares, and countless other items. Here we were in a Renault Clio 2, 5 speed manual, 1.5 litre diesel, 5 door hatchback in silver. I think you get the picture.
The drive was absolutely stunning though. Huge rocky mountains, then as we got closer each valley was dotted with an oasis here and there full of palm trees and mud hats, and the occasional fort. It was exactly as I had imagined and was very African. We free camped along the way for a night, Clive running ahead of the car as I drove it off road to make sure it didn’t get stuck. And then, as every Saharan resident should do, we dressed up in jalabas, scrounged for firewood, and cooked pasta for dinner. Back to the basics. We did do up the zips on our tent very well to deter any scorpions or snakes wanting some company.
Don’t you hate it when you forget there’s a time difference somewhere? I forgot Morocco was two hours behind Europe. I had changed my watch on the ferry over but not my phone. Consequently we got up at 5.30 am in the Sahara. Oh well, at least we got an early start to the day.
So it’s still early as were heading to the Sahara and picture this. It’s in the middle of absolutely nowhere, just a solitary straight road on a huge rocky plain so we decide to stop to take a photo. The only reason we wanted a photo was because it was so desolate. Clive jumps out of the car and walks off the road a bit, I’m just getting out of the drivers seat when I hear something like the sound of falling rocks. I look around and see this Moroccan practically rising up from the ground like some prehistoric orc about 100 meters away. Not knowing what to believe or expect I call out to Clive “check this out man!“
The guy runs towards another depression in the ground, picks up a bike and pedals furiously towards us. It’s the middle of nowhere here so I´m ready for anything and Clive arrives to back me up. He nears us, skids to a halt, throws his bike on the ground, pulls a metallic object of the back, runs towards us, opens the case, and asks us in French if we´d like to buy some mineral fossils. Un-flippen-believable. Can you imagine it? Border of the Sahara, big gravel plain, we stop to take a photo of its desolation, and one hundred meters away a guy rises from the ground to sell us something. We didn´t know whether to laugh, cry, or just take off.
He explained his family lived in a cave type thing he came out of and he sells minerals. He seemed like a nice, mid 20´s guy, with completely rotten teeth. Evidently we didn´t buy anything but we felt genuinely sorry for him. He must cycle at least 20 km each day to the nearest town to sell his fossils. In hindsight we should have given him a few dirham but we were just so taken aback. He was probably so excited, we were the first and last tourists to randomly stop right outside his home and we didn´t even buy anything.
Speaking of stopping randomly, we drove through a small village completely off the beaten track just to see what it was like and pretty much all the locals stopped in their tracks and just stared. One little kid was so amazed he grabbed my hand, wouldn’t let go and stood there staring at Clive, me, and the car.
A couple of older kids weren’t so lost for words though. They ran up to the windows and yelled “bon bon ou argent” which means lollies or money. I left those rascals in my dust, it doesn’t take them long to learn tourist equals money. I think for a lot of older people that’s their raison d’être.
Anyway, the Sahara was absolutely worth it. Think of the pictures you´ve seen and then imagine being surrounded by that. Flowing orange dunes, a few palm trees, and fewer camels. We took a ride on the camels for a while. It felt like reggae music, sort of an offbeat lope. On the way back we got into a conversation with a couple of female teachers who were taking their class on a trip. I think they did the Moroccan version of hitting on us but unfortunately I was the only one speaking French. Clive just stood there and looked pretty; I think he got the idea though. It was also a surprise to see that, we thought they were usually pretty conservative. That’s the thing with travelling I guess, you´re always surprised.