Our latest rides in Morocco
20th February 2011 - Revolution in Zagora
Typical, I just wrote that everything was calm in Morocco and then the very next day, it blew up.
That day, Abby and me were walking through Zagora main street, on our way to pay another visit to our friend Larsin, his wife Fatima and the kids. We did spot a rather larger gathering than the previous Wednesday. There must have been about two
hundred people in the street, chanting slogans but we just passed them by, not caring much.
One of the shopkeeper whom we nicknamed Aladdin due to the large chech that wrapped his head, told us that the crowd complained about high prices but that
the King Mohammed VI was still pretty much loved and respected by everybody.
That wasn't exactly what the leader of last Wednesday demonstration had told us. He seemed pretty angry at the state of unemployment and social inequality that plagues the kingdom and he was directly blaming the monarch. That was the first time someone had openly attacked His Majesty in front of us, it sounded quite interesting but we were not going to take side more than we did in Western Sahara.
Don't get me wrong, I have stated in a previous entry that we were indeed quite shocked by the deep gap between rich and poor in this country but, unlike most western media, we didn't feel the right or desire to either encourage or discourage events nor convictions. I have learnt, a long time ago, during the Tien An Men uprising, that revolutions, like wars, generate horror on both sides leaving only desolation and sorrow. In Beijing, the TV cameras were only focused on the massacre perpetrated by the army. However my students at the Lingnan University of Hong Kong had given me a video tape they had shot during the events, showing what the people themselves had done to the soldiers they had caught. The image of that torched soldier, hanged by the neck to a burned truck, with his belly opened and his guts falling down on the tarmac will haunt me forever.
So we didn't join the crowd nor raise our fist in the air. We just bought a few candies, fruits and biscuits for Larsin's kids and sat in his living room for a warm cup of mint tea. And we spoke about the desert, about the great feeling it
generates while Abby softly swung Fatima's youngest son in her arms. Being in wealthier Ali's heavenly garden or at poorer Larsin's home, we felt in tune with both of them. One day, Larsin had told me with a sort of wet sparkle in his eyes, that Ali had shaken his hand once. I had told Ali about it and he had reacted well, with a sad smile that is. No one is guilty for being rich, for being poor, for being lucky or not. Both Ali and me thought that Larsin simply deserved better. They were both good, independent and free spirited men who took care of their family in a kind, honourable way, that's all that matters in the end.
Fatima, who had been doing some shopping with a few neighbouring ladies, came back suddenly, all excited. Larsin listened to her story with full attention and finally turned towards us to explain. The crowd we had seen in the street had apparently
turned berserk, setting fires, throwing stones at passing cars, attacking cash machines, hotels, bars that served alcohol and police stations. I looked at both of them carefully, trying to guess what they were feeling about it. There was a bit of
faint worry, a certain smile as if they expected something like that to happen soon or later, and definitely no desire to take any part in it. Larsin said that things definitely had to change in Morocco but obviously felt he was too old now. His
family was what mattered. He waited for a while, then he took his bicycle to go and have a look.
Fatima saw him leaving and I thought she would try to prevent him but no, I could see that she totally trusted him. He was no fool. He would be safe, there was no question of it. I could tell how those two totally matched. It comforted me. Still, I told Larsin to be careful but he assured me that he would ride his bike through small streets and paths he knew and we shouldn't be worried. "Have some
more tea, relax and wait here for my return." he said with a gentle tone of voice and a smile.
Larsin's father lived here, with the rest of the family. He looked very old and couldn't see very well. He was entirely dressed in white with a chech rolled around his head. He was coming in the room where we sat from time to time and Fatima
would pour a glass of tea and put it in his hand for him. Then the old man would leave and return to his room. A man, the age of Larsin, passed in the corridor, greeted Fatima in Arab and us in French and carried on his way to, we guessed, Larsin's father room.
Larsin came back an hour later without Fatima having shown any signs of nervousness and sat down next to us again. He had brought a little jar of alcohol of dates and a bit of kif to smoke. First he spoke in Arabic, telling Fatima what he had seen and then he turned to us.
- "The little streets were safe but I saw the police chasing some youngsters there. Actually only two policemen, chasing about two hundred youngsters." he said laughing. "I checked the avenue and yes, people are turning crazy there. There's a lot of rubbish on fire, stones everywhere and they broke a few windows at one hotel and at a bar that serves alcohol. Apparently it is the same situation in every Moroccan cities, Tangier, Rabat, Marrakesh, Tetouan, Nador, they all have demonstrations and fire in the streets. People are mostly targeting banks and police stations. I have never seen such a thing in this country !"
- "Do you think it's safe for me to walk Abby back to the Ali's place ?" I asked.
- "There should be no problem I think but there's no taxi no more, they don't want to get stoned, so why don't you just spend the night in our house ? We have blankets for you, you'd be comfortable and safe." he said while Fatima nodded.
- "Nah, thanks a lot but it's not that far, we'll just wait until things cool down a bit out there and we'll walk back to the hotel, I'd like to take a look too actually and take a few pictures. But thanks for your hospitality, it is so sweet of you and Fatima. Tell you what, if things turn out to be too hot out there, we'll just rush back here for safety if that's ok with you. By the way, do you think things will get worst in the next few days, like in Egypt or Algeria ? Should we get out of the country ? What do you reckon ?"
- "No worries" he smiled "Moroccan people are not like Egyptians. We like peace here. Anyway, if things turn really bad, come back here and we'll take you to the desert with us, no one will ever find us there."
I almost wished it would prove necessary ! We were very moved. Berber hospitality, huh, who can beat that !?
Fortunately or not, we didn't have to go back to Zagora but, a month later, now that we're in Spain, there's not a single day without both Abby and me are missing our friends Larsin and Fatima.
[If anyone who reads this is planning to travel to Zagora one day, check out our website at nishman.multiply.com, go to the Zagora photo album. You'll see a few photos of them, as well as Ali's guest house. I wrote Larsin's address and telephone number below his photo. This is a good man whom you can trust with your life. He'll take you to the desert, where very few foreigners go and you will never forget that experience. Or just have tea with them. If you're cool enough to know how to open your heart, you won't regret, I promise you. If you wanna double check, contact Damjan Voglar from Slovenia at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook, he's been to the desert with Larsin three times in the past few years and can't get enough either. He shoots superb photos, all alone, in the sand dunes, for days.]
Larsin excused himself, having to pray in the next room. During his absence, the visitor we had greeted before, when Larsin was in town, passed in the corridor and left the house. When Larsin came back, he opened the jar of alcohol of dates, which, this time, I don't particularly recommend to weak stomachs ! We smoked a few sebsis of kif and just relaxed while watching the news on Al Jazeera channel. The scenes of revolutions, on the screen, were passing from one country to the other but were basically showing the same events, people shot by snipers, blood on the streets, destruction, outrage, screams, flames, fists in the air and political leaders, with their determined faces of unshaken tyrants. None of us in the room felt like being actually part of that world. We just watched, shocked and sorry, aware that true evolution would only occur when people from everywhere would have found the freedom to achieve their goals and desires. Maybe in another 2000 years. I am a constant optimist.
Larsin said that nothing would ever change, man was what he was. He said:
- "Have you seen that man who came earlier to visit my father ?"
- "Yes" I replied with a smile "we said hello when he came in. He has just left while you were praying."
Larsin suddenly looked hurt.
- "Oh, he left just like that huh ?"
He paused and added:
- "We were both in class together you know. But he came from a much richer family. So he carried on studying and now he is some sort of big potato in the administration. He is rich but look at me, we are the same age but I remained poor, there's nothing to do about these sorts of things."
I felt sad for Larsin so I asked him:
- "Does this man know how to read the stars in the desert ?"
Larsin looked surprised.
- "No, I don't think he does."
- "There, you see. Walk with this man into the desert and you will see who needs who !"
Larsin smiled and poured us another glass of killer date.
- "Just don't forget to teach your own sons what you know ! Cheers Mate !" I added, emptying my glass in one go.
We left Larsin's home late that night. We said goodbye for good, with a rock in our stomach that wasn't caused by fermented dates. Larsin said that he was glad to have met me, that I was special, really, before I even had a chance to tell him the
same thing. We gave each others a long, big, heartfelt hug. Then I turned to Fatima. I didn't know how to say good bye to her so I just looked deep into her eyes with my heart almost wetting mines by then, took her hand and humbly kissed it. She smiled, held mine and kissed it as well, completely in tune with my feelings. I'll never forget that moment. Why can't we all live like that, with our hearts, all the time !?
Goodbyes can be very special moments when a friendship prints itself into people's hearts. There's just no more time to express anything but the real attachment that exists between two persons. That's when two speechless individuals somehow tell
each others "please come back one day. I'll always miss you. You'll always be welcome. You dug your place in my heart so please don't leave it empty forever. You can count on me if you ever need my help or support coz you became like family to me." It's rare but it does happen.
I will never forget that road near Southampton where Geoff and us rode our bikes to the splitting point. We didn't even stop, there was no need for that. I just extended my left hand and he just tapped it with his right. That was enough, bang, a tattoo straight in the soul. Ain't bikers road Berbers anyway ?
Larsin and his eldest son Elias walked us back to the main street. We didn't say a word. Just another hug. They remained standing there, watching us go. We turned around and wave our hands goodbye and I saw Larsin handing Elias something. Elias ran to Abby and gave her a Berber bracelet before running back to his dad. I looked at Larsin, touched my heart with my right hand, bit my lips and turned around the corner, fast.
The avenue had changed so much ! It was absolutely covered with stones. Rubbish was burning everywhere. But it was calm.
Small groups of three or four people stood here and there, not agitated at all, immersed in their conversations. No one paid any attention at us. After a while a taxi actually showed up. I made a sign. It stopped. I was surprised it did because it
was already full. Two persons went down. One of them grabbed my arm and pushed me inside saying: "Hurry up!" Abby got in the back, I sat in the front and, leaving the two men on the sidewalk, the taxi left before I realised what had just happened.
These two totally unknown dudes had actually and without hesitation given us their seats rather than letting us walk that post-revolutionary avenue ! Damn ! How can we just not fall in love with this country !? It's like an oxygen mask for the heart. Thank you so much, you two unknown Zagora dudes ! I didn't even have the time to say it. That was so sweet of you !
Unbelievable ! Even in flames, Zagora has been heaven to us from the beginning 'til the end: 22 days of pure Berber paradise.
That evening, Abby made a very important point, in my opinion. She had noticed how Berber mothers always stayed with their babies, holding them almost non-stop, tying them to their back in a chech when they had to use their hands. It looked almost as if they feared putting their babies down on the ground. When they were idle, they would take them back in their arms to either play with them or milk them. The babies therefore never cried. They cheerfully smiled instead. I had noticed the face of pure bliss of Fatima's three months son as she played with him. His eyes had changed since we had first met him. They were more "there", sparkling, communicating already and yes, amused and almost cunning. Fatima would be taking care of her son for about two years before allowing him to walk out of sight.
We couldn't help but make the comparison between this boy's young childhood and the Western or Hong Kong babies daily lives.
Most mothers and fathers in "modern" worlds are merely allowed two or three months of "freedom" to stay with their newborn children. And even during that short period of time, which parent would hold their baby ALL the time ? Baby's territory is the cradle, full stop. Go figure why they cry so much, huh !? Nine months of pure bliss and bing, suddenly you find yourself abandoned, in laying position, in a cage full of weird teddy bears and spinning, blinking merry-go-rounds. You thought you were born ? Nah, you merely just get noises from the kitchen and changing TV lights from the living room. Time to time, someone apparently called "daddy", "mummy" or "nanny" shows up, gives you a fake smile and busily change your diapers or feed you a bib. Then it's back to the cage. By the time you've learnt how to express your disappointment without screaming (and
frankly, that isn't such a bad idea considering the circumstances), you're told to listen instead as cat Stevens rightly puts it, in a very old song. How could anyone be surprised if kids become selfish, Gothic or both? Most just become blank
I'm not denying people absolute right to make a living or to be exploited as much as the morale of western societies allows, I'm just saying that non-talking babies have rights as well, despite of their rare public demonstrations as a social group.
These rights are the same as those enjoyed by Berber babies: being recognised as entire persons too, with specific needs. I'm sure everyone would be growing to be more human, happier, much less angry, much more patient and confident, much less lonely, the list could be long. The entire society would benefit from it because blossoming people are more efficient, peaceful, productive, honest and calm. Or are we being overstressed in early age for any other particular purpose I wouldn't be aware of?
The solution? Household maintenance and mother (father) care should be rewarded with a valid salary. Give people a choice.
Can't blame parents for having little hyperactive, unsatisfied and uncontrollable monsters if not indolent, lethargic, slothful coach potatoes with the personality of a golden fish if they're deprived of their energy and time at work. No one
can be at the stables and at the fields at the same time. Give parents and children a chance! Seriously, what sort of parents does society provide kids with!? It doesn't stop there... for instance, what sort of life companion does society throw back
at us after a day at work? See what I mean? If food, shelter and safety were humanity first priorities, could love please be next coz wouldn't anyone dig having been treated like a Berber baby in their early months?
The next morning, as we packed our bike, Ali popped up and, reading the sadness on my face, he tried to cheer me up: "Nothing lasts forever" he said, "but you're welcome to return anytime you like. And if you ever want to settle down in Zagora, come to me, I'll get you a house at Moroccan price. I'll make sure you won't get cheated." And then he gave both Abby and me a Berber silver jewel. Abby got a pretty necklace and I got a silver Berber compass that helps them find their way in the desert with the stars. We couldn't take the bag of oranges from the garden since we were so loaded up already but we were touched anyway. Leaving Zagora was just excruciating ! Nowhere else had we got to know and talk happily with so many people and each of them, Ali, Mohamed, Aladdin, the mechanics, the shop keepers, Larsin and his family of course, dudes at the markets, each of them had become friends to us. They all made us feel at home a million times more than we ever felt at home in Hong Kong or in France. Thanks to all of them, the last letter of the alphabet will always naturally bring Zagora to my mind.
As we arrived in front of our hotel, Abby got down the Transalp and, as usual, went to check in. As I waited outside, a kid came up to me and laughed at my long beard. "Ali Baba !" he exclaimed. A bit blasé, I replied with a smile: "I know, I know, everybody calls me that way all around Morocco." So he looked at me again, thinking for a little while and then held his open hand up and with a enchanting tone of voice, he said: "Ali Bonbon ?" (Ali Candy ?)
I just burst into laughter, that certainly was a new and creative nickname!
We parked our bike right inside the hotel lobby and went out for a quick walk in the city. Apparently all the mountains that surrounded us had seen dinosaurs a little while ago. The little town specialised in fossils, particularly trilobites, ancestors of dinosaurs and first forms of life.
We sat at the terrace of a coffee shop to get a feel of the local atmosphere and didn't regret it. Soon Samir, the coffee shop owner sat with us and we started discussing the situation in Egypt. Another guy joined us, he was the owner of a fossils store just across the street. His French was excellent and as we talked about life in general, he told us that he would never get married with a Moroccan girl. I asked why not. He needed love, he said, he was looking for romanticism. Local girls are just doing their duty as a wife, he claimed. They'd never even say "I love you" to their husband. They only saw him as a source of revenue. He wanted more. He had a foreign girlfriend once, he said, but things went totally tragic. She was living in France but was born in Mongolia. They had been together for three years during which she would come to join him in Alnif as often as she could. Then one day, she announced that she would come and settle down in Alnif with him. But he was still living with his parents at that time so he told her that she wouldn't like it, as being the daughter in law in a Berber family wasn't a piece of cake with the whole family expecting the bride to work hard, sometimes even being beaten up by her father in law for being lazy and everything. She then replied that he didn't love her as she thought he did and committed suicide. He said that he had been dragging himself through life ever since as he knew she had been the One for him and he would never ever meet another like her. Moreover, he definitely felt responsible for her suicide and would never be able to recover from it. He was glad he had a passion for fossils as it helped him getting up every morning.
Damn, it almost sounded too dramatic to be true, Moroccans are very good story tellers, but Samir was nodding sadly at the young guy's words and there wasn't any irony in his eyes. So, we all sipped our cups of mint tea in silence for a while.
Then another tall Berber was introduced to us. Abdelhakim was his name. The sad fossil lover told us he had just won the first price as a Berber poet and said that his English was excellent. And indeed, Abdelhakim began explaining how he was
digging into Berber traditional culture, songs and legends to produce modern poetry. He had already published a few books and hoped to be able to move to the West to promote his culture.
We talked for a couple of hours with the three interesting men. We visited the fossils shop and were amazed by the professionalism of our sad guest. One could have sworn he had a doctorate in archaeology. This guy could have taught in any
university ! Actually he showed us a few books displaying pictures of himself standing proudly in his shop.
Then Samir, the coffee shop owner, decided he would show us the old Kasbah.
As we walked through the palmeraie to get there, he pointed at the dry landscape and said that the lack of rain was threatening the whole region. "Everything was green here a few years ago but now, look, there's hardly enough water to grow
anything. Even the palmtrees are sick. The King was due to visit our city and we would have convinced him to build a dam on the river that flows towards Algeria but the recent events on the 20th of February had him rushing back to Rabat so we missed our chance. We hope that he'll plan another visit soon, otherwise everything will just die around here."
Ahem... yes... and what would Algerian farmers have to say about that dam project? We didn't dare to ask.
The Kasbah was made of dry mud and was very old. He showed us his ancient house in a narrow street and explained how these walls were built. Only a few families still lived in the kasbah. Then Samir led us into the rare fields that were still green thanks to a few deep wells dug by locals. Abby was invited to do her bit of grass cutting, then our host grabbed a young goat and placed it into Abby's arms, telling me to take a picture. On the way back, we visited his brother's shop which also contained a massive collection of fossils and once again, we were impressed by the archaeological knowledge of Samir's kind relative.
We went back to our hotel with Abby and me debating about how Morocco seemed to count so many people with so much good will and dedication and yet, despite of their passion and efforts, they were rewarded with so little! It all seemed terribly wrong and unfair.
A strong desire for a different, better life looked definitely like the best way to unleash people's ability to do and produce their best... if they were free to do it of course. I had the same experience in my university classes in Hong Kong
where the best students I ever had the pleasure of teaching were coming from mainland China. Their learning ability and the high standard of their accomplishment had amazed and touched us.
The past few years in Hong Kong had slowly drained my interest in teaching until I finally went away on this trip, with a deep deep feeling of relief. But I felt that I could like it again here, in Morocco, for my students would surely be alive and fun.
The next morning, on the terrace of our hotel, as we were surrounded by flocks of little birds trying to steal our breakfast, we looked at the old mountains around us with different eyes, trying to imagine the Jurassic life that had once inhabited the
region. Then we said goodbye to everybody, refilled our tank and left Alnif for a short ride to Er-Rachidia near the Ziz Gorges.
On the way, we crossed the path of about 1200 Renault 4 taking part to a yearly rally dedicated to that particular model of old French car.
We stopped and took a few pictures while having a fag with a French student who had problems with his suspensions. He had been preparing for a year for this trip and was worried about not being able to carry on. We wished him the best and left on our equally old and fully loaded Honda with a grateful thought for Japanese technology.
Er-Rachidia - Gorges du Ziz.
The "room" we booked in Er-Rachidia was in fact an entire flat, a big one. It had two bedrooms, a large Moroccan style living room, a smaller one with satellite TV and a huge kitchen. There was a long corridor. The bathroom was at the end of it, the toilets were on the other side and a sink stood in the middle. We didn't applaud to the work of the architect but definitely enjoyed the amount of space. It wasn't very warm but hey, Spring was still a bit young and we weren't in Zagora desert
anymore. We just wore all our clothes, piled up on top of each others. We visited the town but didn't find it much of an interest. We left the following day for a much more beautiful journey to the Ziz Gorges, higher (and colder) in the mountains. A dam had been built and the lake that was formed shone under the sun with reflects of turquoise that enchanted our ride. We spotted a series of small dirt tracks all around the lake and promised ourselves to return and explore them later, once the bike would be unloaded.
We found a little hotel, in the shape of a kasbah, near a river, facing the mountains. The view was astonishing and we decided to stay. The patio, inside the kasbah, was planted with lemon trees and the sun made each fruit bright as a
light bulb. It seemed as if we were the only guests and the landlord welcomed us warmly, handing me a thick leaflet he had printed himself which explained the history of the region. The French Foreign Legion had been heavily involved in the
development of the roads around this strategic land and had even gone so far as to pierce a 60m tunnel in the rock to allow passage for all that military equipment that was required to control the rebellious tribes that once lived there. A source,
nearby, was called "Drink fast and run away", that's how rebellious these tribes, specialised in robbing the travellers, really were.
We unpacked our load and jumped back on the saddle to ride those little "pistes" we had noticed around the lake. They were completely covered with unstable pebbles, sharp rocks, huge stones and slippery sand, and of course, they turned into mud paths as soon as we got closer to the edge of the lake. We explored several of them however and were rewarded with incredibly beautiful sights which were worth the effort. The problem with riding on dirt tracks while carrying a passenger and far too much luggage, is the tricky inability in which the pilot finds himself to raise on the foot pegs without quickly losing balance. Everything has to be done in sitting position. It slows down the bike of course but that, alone, isn't a real handicap except for the fact that 49.9cc mopeds could easily take over.
My 50 years old spinal column had already been roughly mistreated on those 130km of corrugated piste that separates Foum-Zguid from Zagora which had seen me speeding up to 80km/h in an attempt to smoother the ride. So far, it had not really complained about anything but when my wheels suddenly hit a rock that raised a little too high above the ground to the point that both tires were pushed hard and knocked onto the rims, I felt a sharp sting as two of my lower vertebrae entered brutally in contact with each other. However the pain quickly left my mind as I was too busy keeping the Transalp straight and I soon totally forgot about it.
We carried on exploring the tracks, eventually falling off after slipping at low speed on a naughty patch of sand. We wore our protections so that wasn't a big deal but getting the Transalp back up in that deep sand was. There wasn't any damage to
it, the soft panniers always protected the sides of the bike well when it dropped. But the path was narrow, edged by sharp rocks. My boots were simply pushed further deep into the sand as I applied all my strength almost in vain in an attempt to lift up the bike.
Damn, that was a tough job ! There was no way I could do it while facing the fallen beast. So I turned over and used that lifting trick I had seen done on "Horizons Unlimited" DVDs. That was better but then, how was I suppose to hold the bike
straight once it got back up !? The side stand was useless in the sand. So Abby went on the other side in order to prevent our grand-mothership from flipping over again. We were soaked with sweat but eventually, gradually, painfully, our dear
Grannie was back on her wheels. This time we didn't jump on the saddle. Out of breath we more likely sort of climbed back on it, trying not to let it fall again on that unsteady ground. I turned the engine back on. No puff, no smoke, no hesitation... that's what I called a good bike, thank you again Mr. Honda, for pushing it in that landscape would have been quite impossible in our state of exhaustion!
By the time we made it back to our Kasbah hotel, we felt fine and kicking again, refreshed as we were by the mountain breeze.
Just as we entered in the courtyard, we spotted two Moroccan dudes on a 125cc dirt bike. They seemed to have trouble starting the engine so we rode the Transalp to them. Maybe we could help. The pilot was desperately kicking and kicking again but nothing happened. So I just went down and told the other guy to help me push it. "No Dude, not in first gear ! Try second or third instead!"
The little bike soon came back to life and they left with big smiles and heartfelt thanks. No worries Mateys, loved to be of some help for once !
The landlord was having a rest in his courtyard and made us a sign to approach. "How was your ride ?" he enquired. "Great !"
I said, "We only went to the tracks near the lake but the sights were incredible !"
Then, looking at the peaks around us, I said: "I wish I could take my wheels up there !"
"Oh you can" the landlord replied, "Just take the path down my garden, drive to the river, cross it, then follow it for a while and you'll find the path up there. It will take you about half an hour on your bike."
Alright then, let's try.
We went down to the river. I told Abby to get down and let me cross it alone as I really needed to get up on the foot pegs and didn't know how slippery it would really prove to be but there was no hassle at all and I soon reached the other side of the stream. Abby climbed back on the saddle and off we went on a little track that seemed to get muddier and muddier as we carefully rode further. Then the track simply stopped. By then the river had tripled its size and looked pretty deep. If its bed was as muddy as the path itself seemed to indicate, we would get badly stuck in the middle and would require a team of tunnel digging Foreign Legionnaires to drag the bike out of it. Let's not tempt the devil, we had quite our share of efforts today already.
I turned over, tried a different path and the front wheel just plunged into a mud hole, sending us down - again! Abby didn't beat me with her helmet, which was quite nice of her really, but instead helped me raising the bike back up. I think we had it for the day. A nice cup of mint tea, that's all we really wanted by then. We returned to our hotel, parked the Transalp carefully on its side stand, pat the side of the tank for a job well done and rushed to our room for a hot shower.
Another guest had shown up in his car, an old torn out Citroen. One the wheels had barrel problems, he couldn't make it any further and the nearest mechanic wouldn't show up until next morning. We spent the evening happily chatting with him and
that's when my lower vertebrae decided to remind me of their existence again. Damn ! It felt as if someone had beaten me with a baseball bat ! I was a bit concerned this time. It wasn't just the muscles along the spinal column, it was the spinal column itself. I could just feel the pain with the top of my finger, right between the two bones ! I hoped for the best and decided that a good night sleep was probably the best cure.
But the baseball bat was still printed there as I woke up the next morning and tried to get up. I simply rolled on my side and raised up that way. Things weren't too bad if I stood really straight, I'd just have to forget my usual carefree, hippie
like, slightly bent silhouette for a while but... ouch !
Never mind, keeping moving was probably best, let's just get back on the road and see that nearby tunnel French military slaves had dug. We reloaded the Transalp, hooked the GoPro cam to the front of the fairing and sent our greetings to the
khasba staff. We waved that French dude goodbye. He was still waiting for his mechanic.
The ride to the tunnel was, once again, totally astonishing. It was amazing how the path was suddenly blocked, as if on purpose, by a rather thick piece of rock that just jutted out of the mountain. There was just no logic to it. It looked as if
some god had decided to split that region in two. The Foreign Legionnaires had carved some words on the rock, once the tunnel was done: "Nature blocked the way, the Foreign Legion said "Pass anyway", so we did." How sweet and tender... for several of them had actually died in the process. I'm not usually fan of army stuff but I had to reckon that the accomplishment was quite admirable.
Bouarfa - Figuig
Having seen the tunnel and despite the sights being still splendid, we decided that we shouldn't go as far as Midelt since we wanted to push to the remote South-Eastern part of Morocco, up to the Algerian border in Figuig. We had quite a bit to travel through until we'd get to Bouarfa so, let's just turn back right now, before it got too late.
It didn't prove to be the best ride we ever had. The landscape was pretty much the same as on the way to Dakhla, a desert of rocks with very few vegetation. We refilled the tank whenever we would cross a rare town which, since there were no petrol stations to be found anywhere, required some help from locals in order to reach the right grocery shop that had fuel in jerrycans. We did well, we basically bought all the juice the first grocery shop still had in stock and managed to only fill
half our tank. The next city had a bit more in store and we managed to make it to Bouarfa without hitting the reserve. The constant wind made the trip tiring but at least it was constant with no sudden, balance threatening, bursts. I just had to
keep the bike bent, steadily, against the flow, like I'd done most of the way in Western Sahara. I think I could sail now.
We tried checking in at the first hotel we found in Bouarfa but Abby didn't like it so we carried on and stopped in front of a very luxurious one at the end of the city. By then, I needed to go to toilets so badly, we changed our routine. Usually, I
stay with the bike while Abby checks in. That gives me the time for a fag while I dismount the GoPro and store it back in the tank bag. I don't really know what went on that day but the Transalp was left out of sight for a few minutes and when I went to park it in the hotel facility, I noticed that the GoPro had gone. Did Abby take care of it. Ahem... probably not as the cam stand was still hooked on. Damn, it was broken ! Had we lost the cam on the way ? Surely we would have noticed something.
Both Abby and the palace hotel owner decided that it must have been stolen by the two or three teenagers they had spotted hanging around the bike while I was in the bathroom. So the cops were called for help. Our host was very angry:
"No one steals from my clients!" he exclaimed "It's the first time something like that happens! I don't believe it! Right in front of my hotel! What will it be next time? They'll break a windshield to steal what's inside parked cars!? It's unacceptable!"
Wow, wow, wow ! I wasn't really sure if the cam had really been stolen. Workers nearby had indeed stared at me with a weird look when I went to park the bike inside, as if something had gone wrong, and I did see a few youngsters hanging around but that didn't constitute any proof. All those tough dirt tracks we had been riding on lately could well have been cracking that plastic stand for what I knew. I didn't see or feel or heard the cam fall off but at the speed I usually rode and with all that dust on the road, it wasn't really surprising. I just didn't know for sure. But well, if there was any chance to at least get the cam SD card back, I would be happy not to have lost those gorgeous sights we had shot in the Ziz region earlier
A few minutes later, a car full of policemen in civilian clothes stopped in front of the gate. They were very kind, polite and efficiently professional. They asked to see the bike. I showed them the broken stand but made sure to leave the robbery
option open to doubt. The hotel owner was still feeling sorry for us and he had me write down my parents address so that he could send the cam to them, should it be found. He would even post it registered! He said that his friend, the Prince of
Kuwait, was due to visit him two days later with his royal team of about 1000 persons but that meanwhile, we could have a suite instead of just our room for the same price!
That's what I call a nice treat!
We moved our dusty biker stuff to our new shelter, composed of a large Moroccan style living room on the ground-floor, from which a marble staircase, built in a sort of round kasbah tower, led up to our luxurious bedroom, set as a mezzanine, with a panoramic balcony and a large cosy bathroom. We felt like the Prince of Kuwait himself!
The following day, as the hotel staff had gone frantic preparing the palace for its royal guest, Abby and me decided to get closer to the Algerian border and ride about 100 km away to Figuig, famous for its forest of palm trees. Since the GoPro was gone, Abby resumed her manual filming with our Canon cam, as she had done a few months before when that definitely cursed cam had broken down. We hardly met any other vehicles on that desert road. The view on the mountains in the back were splendid however, much nicer than the previous day.
We encountered a police road block on the way as we approached Figuig. Two policemen came by and, with a nice laid-back attitude, invited us to take off our helmets and dismount our Transalp for a bit of a chat. Why not indeed, we were in no rush. Once their duty of checking our papers was accomplished, we answered their questions about where we had been hanging around and how long we had travelled and did we ever fell off and how did we like Morocco etc. A couple of dogs were lazying around and we enquired if they were good at protecting their tiny police shack. They surprised us by saying that indeed, the dogs were a good alarm system, at night, against the wolves. The wolves!? "Oh yes" they said, "there are lots of them in the mountains nearby." Damn! we had never thought of that on our remote dirt tracks, did we!? How fast do wolves run? Probably as fast as a 49.9cc moped, isn't it! Jesus, we were doomed!
The two policemen led us to the back of their shack and showed us a little dog house they had built with bricks and wooden boards for the six little puppies the female just had. How sweet of them! The shy mother was milking the puppies and the two cops were watching her, with tenderness in the eyes. One of them, with a cunning smile, said: "You can notice how both the female and the male are black, but the puppies are white... I wonder what really happens around here!"
We shook hands and left them to their desert solitude, waving goodbye, with a feeling of sympathy I had absolutely never felt after any of my too many unpleasant encounters with the Hong Kong or French police. That's to show how uniforms don't necessarily have to wipe off all kindness from their owners. Showing a bit of humanity now and then instead of those zero tolerance, deep frozen faces is nice. Who's serving who anyway? There's no Erasmus exchange programs for cops in the world of police? Again, what sort of security does society throw at us!?
Am I being a little too harsh? Go to http://nishman.multiply.com and search for my "Hong Kong cops" stories in the tags.
These reports were also published on "The NOT South China Morning Post", a webzine held by Dr. George Adams, British writer, barrister and world famous defender of Human Rights.
Figuig was in fact a set of five distinct villages that had joined together with, indeed, a large forest of palm trees at its feet. There were no apparent road leading to Algeria, the border between the two countries being closed since ages but, unlike in Aoussert near the Mauritanian border in Western Sahara, we had no problem refilling our tank at the local petrol station. We refilled our energy as well with a cup of strong coffee at a terrace nearby while some youngsters riding mopeds showed up to contemplate our metallic stallion parked in front. I learnt to wave at these riders as if they were on bikes - first of all, they could take me over easily on dirt tracks - and second, I had noticed the care and efforts some of them had put in customising their machine, regardless of the power of the engine. Even the way they parked them on their add-on side stands, dirt bike style that is, could easily translate their passion for two wheels vehicles. I had exactly the same
moped when I was 16 and I was probably just as frustrated as them not to be able to upgrade it to at least a 125cc dirt bike.
I could understand their feelings. And sure enough, now that I sat on that bigger Transalp of ours, waving at them the biker way, never failed to raise a certain light of joy and satisfaction to their eyes. It is sometimes quite easy, and very cheap,
to make people feel happy and proud so why not? After all, which GS1200 owner wouldn't be glad to have a moped rider come to the rescue on a remote sandy track, huh!?
Back to our temporary luxurious lifestyle, we took a good smoothing bath and had dinner. The Prince of Kuwait was due to arrive very soon now and already flocks of spotless white 4x4 Toyota cars had invaded the palace hotel private garage,
surrounding our humble Honda.
Oujda - Nador - Taza
The ride from Bouarfa to Oujda wasn't the most exciting we ever had, at least not at the beginning. The rocky desert road soon turned very windy to the point when the flying dust and sand became as hazardous as any thick fog. Our throats felt dry
and our eyes were itching, even with our balaclava and full helmet on. The Transalp, however, didn't seem to care at all.
The cloud didn't last very long however and then the green replaced the sandy yellow. We had reached blossoming valleys and sharp green fields. The contrast between the two regions had almost caught us by surprise. Strangely, a sort of melancholic feeling came up with it as well. That vegetation reminded us of Europe and, with it, the necessity we had to leave Morocco very soon.
The sight of Oujda McDonald didn't help us get rid of the set back feeling. Everyone inside, from the expressionless cleaning agent to the western looking, French speaking Moroccan customers felt like we had moved too fast from another world. So we went to the market instead, after waking up in our hotel the next morning. We didn't regret. This country is at a turn of its history. The ol' lovely, smiling, cheerful Morocco was at the market. The stressed out, milkshake-moody, sundae-gloomy kids of tomorrow's Morocco was at McDo. Fortunately, the market was still far larger and busier. May Allah keep these harmonious proportions for a long long time... but then again, I'm not a very good Muslim.
On the way to Nador, we rode in the Gorges du Zagzel, a cool but beautiful ride and later on, feeling starved, we stopped at Cap de l'Eau (Water Cape?) for some great seafood. The ride along the Mediterranean coastline was a complete treat for the eyes. Nador however, with all its ill-fated signs to the exit border and to Mellila, a Spanish enclave like Ceuta, didn't inspire us to stay more than a night. We decided to head South to Taza rather than continuing our route along the
Mediterranean coastline which felt a bit as if we had already left the country.
That was a good move. We soon found ourselves surrounded by Spring. Everything was in full blossom. It smelled so good. The shades of green, the fields sparkled with tints of yellow and purple flowers, the mimosa, the small water falls jumping into twisted valleys, all these were very good reasons for slowing down and enjoy the little roads that led to Taza.
In fact, the scenery was so refreshing, the next day we just had to commit a sin. We gave the bike a well-deserved rest and took a taxi to the mountains, up passed a waterfall and to the Gouffre du Friouto, a gigantic pothole we had planned to
explore. That allowed me to relax my back which still wasn't feeling at its best and enjoy the landscape freely. After such a long ride, it did feel good, I recommend being a passenger from time to time, it gets the eyes off the road for once.
I think our driver liked his job that day. We just let him show us places around and every time there was a spot worth a short walk, we would let him park and get off his Benz for a while, climbing to the rocks, approaching a few lazy horses, taking pictures of a sleepy cow and enjoy the panorama that spread at our feet, far to the horizon. Everything was green and blooming, such a contrast from the dry land we had first encountered last September when we first arrived.
It suddenly occurred to me that I had not refreshed in any Spring season for ages. In fact, since I had moved to Asia, I couldn't make up much difference between winters and summers let alone Springs and Autumns. Yes, raining seasons made it even more humid than usual but in Hong Kong, Thailand or Indonesia, temperatures always remained well above 0 anyway. In South-East Asia, it's "bloom as you please" and tree leaves fall only from old age, not frost.
It felt good to see all these fresh colours of Spring again. It's always like that isn't it, one needs to deprived oneself of something for a while if one wants to get to appreciate it fully. Have something for granted and it just fades. It's a very
tiring set of strings that pulls a human constitution really. But that's probably what got me on the road in the first place, I can't complain. Beatitude or the ability to gape forever in total bliss isn't a thing for this world, I was once told by a
preacher. You get it in Heaven if you can make it there, by worshipping the Lord. I remember my imagination going wild with scores of stoned hippies, Woodstock like, raising as a single man as the MC announced: "For the second time on stage in 2000 years, please welcome tonight... Jesus Christ and the Bipbopapostles !"
but then again, I'm not a very good Christian... more a shameless fan of The Who, this scene is obviously borrowed from "Tommy" ! Anyway, I never saw that preacher again.
After a couple of hours frolicking in the yards, we reached the Gouffre du Friouto by a stiff little road and a guide took us in while our driver decided to have a siesta on the back of his taxi.
We should have taken our headlights but the guide's torch proved about sufficient. The dimensions of that cave were quite impressive. It must have been about 100m deep but, since the early eighties, concrete stairs were now safely taking the
tourist down instead of having to rely on cords and fit alpinists.
At the bottom, the guide led us to a sort of squeeze between the rocks and we had to crawl down to reach another set of stairs leading to another chamber. The pass was so narrow, we wondered how fat people could make it and indeed, the guide
confirmed that a lady had once found herself stuck there. I hope they didn't have to disengage her by cutting off pieces like that dude, who had to slice off his hand that had got trapped by a rock, did.
Of course there were tons of enormous stalagmites and stalactites to be seen and some of them made rather harmonious sounds as our guide tapped on them. Some were absent, gone to other countries as they had been taken away by unscrupulous visitors.
Personally I might fall for a really cute skull in an ancient crypt but a stupid stalactite, I just don't see the point.
Why, would I keep plaques of tartar from my teeth ? Now then !
Going down was quite alright, a bit slippery but ok, no particular claustrophobia. The way up was different. That's when we truly began wondering why those stairs were built so damn high, cursing the architect and sweating enough for the formation of another forest of salty stalactites. Our guide might have looked as happy as a goat in an argon tree, jumping with arrogance from one step to another but Abby and me have knees accustomed to Hong Kong electric staircases and air-
conditioned elevators. They felt quite shocked and surprised and bitterly complained about being reminded of their original purpose. By the time we had climbed back up the 520 steps to the top, I swear the squeaks of our menisci were distinguishable and echoed in the cave to the point when we feared to become the cause of a sudden landslide.
Once out of the cave, we expected to receive at least a T-shirt but no, there was no rewards.
Out of breath we nonetheless managed to wake up our chauffeur and resume our little excursion of the region before returning to Taza.
Mohammedia, Chefchaouen, Al Hoceima
Spring in Taza had a strange effect on us. It sort of flipped a fresh page open in front of our eyes. I suspect that's what Springs really are for. And the title for that new page was: "How to not return to Hong Kong if we can avoid it?". Ah, so
that was that annoying little anxiety that, faintly, teased our nerves from time to time !? We never could totally get rid of that little pest. Maybe that's why some say the best part of a trip is its preparation. Because then the next step is the trip itself. Once one begins that journey, then the next step becomes the return to normal life, an excruciating perspective.
Or perhaps I think too much. Anyway, the fact was we couldn't retire yet, we were just taking some time off. We WOULD have to go back to work soon or later. It felt so good to forget about it... but it did lurk back into our minds from time to time.
The fact was we didn't absolutely need to go back to Hong Kong if we found a job on the way. Morocco would be such a great place for us to settle down. We loved it as simple travellers so just imagining living there was a pretty seducing thought.
How much were teachers like us worth here ? Where would we stay ? How would we live ? Would Abby find a job too ?
It's very hard to set ones mind back to these sorts of things when all the organisation work one has done lately resumed merely in riding a bike and finding decent places where to stay, see and eat.
But if we did put our feet back on the ground for two minutes, our situation was quite simple really. We could leave Morocco and carry on with our journey and arrive in Hong Kong in a few months, with very little money left. Or we could try to stay in Morocco for a couple of years and work for a living. Then we could still carry on with our journey and do the same thing somewhere else if we fancied the place, like in Greece for example.
That did sound more reasonable. Anything that could postpone that dreadful return to Hong Kong sounded reasonable to us anyway.
But then we needed to do something about it, like take some information, see the possibilities, send applications, in short get out of our riding gear a little.
-"I know someone in Morocco who could answer these questions and give us a feel of what it's like to live in this country." I said to Abby. "My mom told me about the daughter of one of her friends and ex-colleagues in Le Mans who lives here since 35 years. She's got a law firm in Rabat or Casablanca. Maybe I could find her on the Net and ask if she could see us."
I did find Nelly easily and sent her a mail where I introduced myself and Abby and asked if we could meet. She promptly and very kindly replied, inviting us to come and spend the week-end with her and her son in her quasi-seaside house, near
Mohammedia a few kilometers away from Casa. We jumped on our Transalp and rode all the way from Taza to Mohammedia in one go.
We reached Nelly's home without too much trouble and Naima, one of the helpers, opened the gate for our heavy Transalp. A German shepherd and a husky came to greet us as well.
I love dogs... cats too but to a lesser degree as so many cats are complete little monsters. Dogs are my preferate. In fact, I must confess, I used to like animals better than human beings until I discovered that both sides were the same, i.e living creatures busy to survive at least until they died.
There are lots of dogs in France. Many are employed as guards. They hang around all day in the garden of the house which they're supposed to defend and protect. There's a sign on the gate that warns the potential intruder: "Chien méchant" (Nasty dog). When I was a kid, some of those dogs used to take their job quite seriously and would jump at the gate and bark loud at any pedestrian unfortunate enough to have chosen that side of the pavement to pass by. Most people would have a jump, swear a little and carry on. Not me ! I would stop, look at the dog straight in the eyes and talk my sweet way until, passing my arm through the gate, I could pat his head and get my hand all licked. I was convinced I could become a lion tamer when I'd grow up. One day, I embarked a wandering dog back home by simple, gentle eye contact. It followed me there. We had just adopted each other when, unfortunately, my dad kicked it out of our garden with a handful of gravel. Still, such were my powers !
So imagine the distress when the same self-appointed lion tamer, many years later, got attacked by a mad German shepherd on a hongkongese island ! That beast must have been raised to kill. It first chewed one of my arm which I had used to protect my throat when it had jumped to it. Then it left that arm to attack my neck again, which of course, I protected with my other arm, which it chew too before I could, with an adrenaline fuelled shoulder, break open the door of my neighbours and rush in, in good time too as I just could feel sharp teeth trying to grab my ankle this time.
Fortunately that dog had also been trained into not murdering people indoor and make a bloody mess. So it just stood there, at the door, groaning and mouth watering, and watched me stand on my neighbour's dining table, as if I had just been served for lunch, a poor chair in my hands as an hopeless shield, while drops of my blood slowly made my whole position quite slippery.
Strange dog... chasing people indoor ? What sort of training had it been receiving ? Nonetheless, it had been a scary scaring experience. I still like dogs though... mostly small ones.
However, I still remember lesson one: if you're scared, the dog feels it and recalls its wild instincts.
But the lesson never said how to NOT be scared.
So there I am, riding a ton of bike down the narrow alley to Nelly's garage with a German shepherd and a husky sniffing both my legs as if I had hidden a kilo of pork meat in each boot.
"I'm not scared" I thought to myself "I've got protections this time, haha, any of you dogs try bite my Fox boots and you'll be off to the vet dentist in no time !"
Fortunately Naima locked them both in their space before I could do any harm to their dentition.
We entered in a most beautiful house and were led to the guest room. While Nelly was on her way back from the market, we unloaded our bags, took a shower and changed clothes.
An hour later, feeling refreshed and presentable, we ventured into the living room just as Nelly returned. We introduced each others and sat in the large leather sofas, near a lit fireplace, close to Nelly's talkative parrot. We could see the garden, or should I say the park, just behind the pool, by the bay window. Flowers were blooming everywhere. A huge old tree was nicely providing shadow in the middle of the sunny garden. Very cool !
We soon met Yassir, Nelly's eldest son and we talked about our times in Le Mans, Nelly's hometown in France as well as mine.
We had a delicious dinner with Alison, a British friend of hers who had travelled quite a bit and our conversation soon turned about our respective journeys. To our surprise Nelly said that we knew Morocco better than she did even though she had
lived there for 35 years. She had never really visited the country, spending most of her time at work or with her children and returning to France for holidays.
We asked Alison how she was making a living and she told us that she taught English and gave some cookery lessons too but things weren't easy. Yassir, who's in his early thirties, is in charge of his late dad's textile factory. He remarked that
despite being half Moroccan and speaking Arab fluently, his employees would always speak to him in French. It reminded me of my eldest Eurasian daughter who, in the reverse, dislikes when Hongkong people talk to her in Cantonese. I can't quite figure out why and can only guess that the realities of life could somehow be different for mixed kids. I have always idealised the thought of having mixed children, people with two passports, two cultures, two languages but maybe things are not that simple. Could it be that my Eurasian daughters, having been educated in a French international school, prefer to be identified as French rather than as Hongkongese ? But why ? Hong Kong people are wealthier than the French, Hong Kong is modern and blooming, noisy and diverse. France is just a holiday destination to my kids, so what could explain that "talk to me in English" attitude ?
Hmm... maybe it isn't the "French" thing that matters as much as the "expatriate" one. Western expatriates enjoy a privileged way of life in Hong Kong and probably everywhere else. By essence, privileges are inequalities that are as much enjoyed by their beneficiaries as granted by the general public. Colonial prehistory or not, it takes both sides to make it exist even if everybody would rather be part of the most comfortable one. That's why Yassir has the label "French" even when he tries to push his Moroccan half (who knows, perhaps his employees even take pride in working for a French boss rather than a local one) and that's why my little princess gets unpleasant when locals mix her up with one of theirs. Being part of a privileged minority naturally creates the illusion of having obtained better chances for an easier survival, it often is... that's not something to give up easily even if it makes Dad mad... I understand Darling, just don't vote National Front ok !?
Where was I ?
Life at Nelly's home was very relax, peaceful and laid-back. We spent the week-end chatting, eating delicious food, roasting in the garden, having naps and watching movies. We had a really sweet time. Nelly having to return to work, we left the next Monday as we still had enough time for one more city, along the Mediterranean coast, called Al Hoceima. We would leave Morocco by Melilla this time as it was the last open border we had not tried yet.
Al Hoceima being quite far from Mohammedia, we first rode back to Chefchaouen. It was a while since we had met Joseph and Trevor and the road back up there should be beautiful in this season. It was, it really was but we got there by riding on the worst tarmac roads we had ever experienced in Morocco. I don't know if it had seen recent flooding or what but there were more potholes on that road than real tarmac. Then we got seriously lost. The Garmin was useless as it mostly was the whole journey, at least in Morocco, the map wasn't too accurate either and we got stuck at a sign less crossroad: left or right ?
The group of pedestrians that approached us said: "Left" but the car driver who stopped next to us said "Right". We chose to believe the guy on wheels. He was right, soon we really could enjoy the landscape again instead of slaloming our way through.
However it felt as we had lost a few degrees temperature in the potholes. The air was definitely fresh, the constrast with Mohammedia mild weather was rather sharp.
I found my way through Chefchaouen medina and rode the Transalp down the very narrow path up to our old parking spot in front of the Baraka Hotel. Going out for dinner that evening, Abby and me couldn't help but compare the warm feeling Berber people had given us in Zagora with the "spoiled by tourism" one we usually encountered in Chefchaouen. It's always easier in the South isn't it, France, Japan, Spain, China, India, Taiwan... except maybe Thailand or Indonesia where it's cool everywhere.
Damn, we should have tried South Mauritania then... nah !
We had not seen yet what the North really had in the sack for us. It took us by surprise. Joseph had somehow mentioned that sometimes, even in this season, people got lost in the mountains and died of cold but, busy as we were creating conic paper artifacts, we had not paid any particular attention to his comments. We should have.
The next morning, having miraculously extracted the Transalp from a medina filled with caravans of bricks loaded donkeys, Abby and me innocently rode further away into the Riff mountains and we soon reached Ketama, also known as Hashish City. As usual, about everyone on the road had biped us, headlighted us, yelled at us, shown us samples and pretended smoking joints with exaggerated frantic gestures, a truly interesting display of instant commercial approaches since I wasn't going to even slow down. By then, the temperature had really dropped and it started raining. We stopped near a petrol station, refilled the tank and rushed for a hot cup of coffee (with no hashish thank you) to the shop nearby.
That felt good but didn't last long. As soon as we left Ketama, the rain began covering my visor, the cold made it impossible to shut it down completely because of the dew and the fog became so thick, we couldn't see the other side of the road. Did I mention the potholes the size of Olympic pools ? Or maybe they served as water containers for the herds of sheeps that, even here, had the guts to cross the road at random ? Add a mad wind to the misery and don't be too surprised if we've got no photos to show for it for we were too worried our skin would stick to the cam cold metal.
Two policemen stopped us a few kilometres away from Ketama but obviously we didn't look like drug trafiquants and they let us go with the usual "Welcome to Morocco !" even though we had just told them we were on our way back to Spain. In fact, in Morocco, you're welcome everyday of your stay... if you're a tourist. If you're a drug trafiquant, I don't know.
Al Hoceima is a very, very remote city, far, far away in the North, at the end of series of almost uncrossable stiff mountains which no one has ever really seen since they're hidden in the thickest clouds of fog the skies have ever produced.
I've seen narcotics burning tons of marijuana at once and the air was clearer than this... or at least at the start. My headlights were totally inefficient, I dreaded having another vehicle coming in my back, not seeing us... sometimes I even
wondered if the bike was on a road at all as it felt as if we were floating in cold wet cotton. The view must have been really nice by clear weather though... if that ever happens but we had come the wrong day, it was closed.
No worries, roads do end eventually, Al Hoceima was in front of us for sure otherwise we'd be swimming in the Mediterranean sea by now. Not that it would feel much different but at least we'd see some fish fooling around. That wasn't the case. Yet.
And sure enough, suddenly, the weather cleared up as the road went down and out of the clouds. We reached our destination with that feeling of accomplishment that makes you look at people around as if you were expecting them to applaude or
something: "Hey you there ! I've just arrived from Chefchaouen you know, by the road mind you, with my motorbike you see defreezing here ! So ? Ain't you going to say something about it !?"
Still, despite of that world record, our unimpressed hotel manager wasn't willing to give us any discount at all, would you believe such a disgrace !? Tss ! Sharks don't exist INSIDE the Mediterranean sea, of course, they're all on the shore now !
We liked Al Hoceima despite of the gloomy weather. We had some walks in the hills around and enjoyed the magnificent sea views. We had extra time to sit at the terraces of coffee shops, our favourite activity, and that's when it happened. One
morning, at breakfast time, the news broke up on the large flat screen tv sets that hanged in the main room of the coffee shop and it just froze us still, mouth semi opened, a piece of toast in the hand. Tsunami always hypnotise me, like all the
natural disasters. Reality then is at its rawest. The balance of strength is so disproportionate, it drains all mine away just looking at it. No one could wish such a disaster to Japan, not even the whales. First the earth, then the sea, then the
contaminated air... damn ! Was Mount Fuji going to erupt as well, we were missing a bit of fire for a complete picture of hell !? Who's the most frightening terrorist now huh ? It sort of blurred the family picture of the ten penguins led by a
palm clapping dwarf and their modern crusade against the green "Joker" in Lybia.
To vary our world news entertainment, King Mohammed of Morocco, soon after, came on screen and made a speech, a "historical" one according to the same mad dwarf in Paris. He said he had heard his people during their demonstrations of the 20th of February and he assured them that he was going to review the constitution towards a more democratic one, or at least appoints someone to do so. He asked the political parties of the country to come up with a list of suggestions. No kidding, things were going to change, there was no point dusting any guillotine and he wasn't going to defect to Saoudi Arabia.
Yeah, smart. Good timing too... I don't believe one second that changes will occur effectively but at least no one was shot.
A few activists were badly beaten up by the police, in Casa, a few days after the speech, which didn't really help proving me wrong but we're fortunately still very far from Hassan II's "années de plomb".
Suddenly, an old man entered the coffee shop, ordered breakfast in Spanish and, pulling a recorder out of his pocket, began playing a little melody. Everybody's attention immediately shifted from the tv screen to him... that's what I like in
The next day, as Abby and me were having a quiet walk around the city, I looked at a gigantic, building size, poster of the king and thought how Sarkozy never ever had such a big one and never would. The kids of France, some of them from Moroccan origins no doubt, hopefully accompanied by my own rebellious daughters (ahem), would just immediately tag it with funny disrespectful comments, there was no point to even try. Mohammed VI is a lucky king, his posters were never damaged in any way, anywhere we'd been. Unless perhaps... hmm, remind me to check if they sell paint canisters without permit around here.
Exit to Melilla (Spain)
And then it was time to go. Too quickly and without our consent our visas were about to expire. The ride to Nador from Al Hoceima wasn't making things easier as it was a real treat for the eyes again and then the border popped up before we could even realise what was going on. At the border, we gave all the coins we had left to a dude who was hanging around and fixed the paper work in no time. Then we shook the custom officers hands and said thank you, go figure why!? The next minute, we were in Spain and things looked different already. The Spanish customs just waved us pass which surprised me a little.
Posted by Pascal Leclerc at April 28, 2011 01:15 AM GMT
Weren't they going to search us a bit ? No sniffer dogs ? Nope, nothing. No smiles either though and no more welcome to our country !
Damn, we left Morocco !