I recently embarked on a road trip from Taghazout, Morocco to Barcelona, Spain. I basically begged to get a seat. My thoughts being it would be a good way to see some of the in-between. I got more than I bargained for, culminating in one of those adventures that are horrific at the time but turn out to be one of your best stories.
We were travelling in a van. A van filled with three travellers very ready to get out of Morocco, 27 surfboards, a Moroccan, and his boxes of no doubt counterfeit merchandise. We made a “drop” of the latter two on the side of the highway just outside of Casablanca. Only slightly shady.
Next up was travelling along nicely for hours. For me, that meant sleeping and I was awoken by the van pulling over, not for one of the boys bladder breaks, but the van had in fact conked it.
Several push starts, driving in second gear, and a few arguments with tow truck drivers later, we were in the little town of Asilah. The mechanics couldn’t do anything that night so we slept in the van, minus any luxuries of pillows or sleeping bags. Asilah gave me my first experiences of a shanty town, sweat shop, drop toilet and wearing all your worldly possessions and still unable to stay warm.
With the mechanics basically useless, we were then towed to the big city to a friend of friend’s mechanic. The best part about this travelling with a friend who may or may not be currently blessed with good luck is these adventures you find yourself in. The craziness then turned into one of the most “authentic” parts of my trip. After being stuck with an unmoving vehicle for yet another night, we were faced with the dilemma of sleeping in the van again. This time in the abandoned industrial streets of Tangier. The celsius was even lower and we knew this wasn’t the best option. We held hope that the car may be fixed that night and we could hit the road, but it wasn’t to be.
The options were presented of a hotel another half an hour away, or homed in one of the mechanic’s abodes for the night. So we jumped in the mechanic’s hatchback with all our gear not safe to abandon on the streets, but leaving the van and surfboards in the care of the street’s night guardian for a nominal fee.
We were all hungry and quiet delirious at this point, not sure what was to come next. Our host stopped at the souk, and when he returned with bread that was the freshest we had all ever smelt, we knew we were going to be okay. Turning into his cul de sac, I think we began to question it all over again as we were greeted by rocky roads, street dogs, malingerers, and general shabby looking conditions.
Walking into their home couldn’t be different. It was spacious, clean and very Moroccan, yet with all the modern necessities. (Word of warning. Even in a home Western toilet, there can still not be toilet paper. Always be armed with some.) We were buoyed to hear the wife could speak some English. She was as lovely as a new bride could be. We enjoyed the fresh bread, better than anything we’d experienced in Taghazout, homemade smoothie, chicken and vegetable tagine and a banana, pear and strawberry number she’d knocked up because she didn’t know there would be guests. It was all divine and as hungry as we were, we eagerly dug in. I was quickly sated.
The next part was the best part. A shower. The boys knew how much this would make a difference for me and my sanity and insisted my stinkyness jump in. I was reminded to take my clothes in with me by everyone. What do you think guys, I came down in the last shower. Well considering my own last shower was days beforehand, I suppose they were righteous to question my retention of Muslim-country shower etiquette. It wasn’t like the hostel walking around in my towel and wet hair. I washed my hair and cleansed my skin, left feeling about a 100 bucks. When I stepped out, it was close to bedtime. It was possibly one of the strangest sleepovers I’ve had, van excepted. The three of us were going gaga over the softest warmest blankets we’d ever come across, on mattresses on the floor. We watched a little of The OC before finally unable to keep our eyes open any longer and a grand sleep took over.
It was tough to find motivation to get up. But when we did we were greeted by a breakfast of baguettes, croissants, the usual spreads of cream cheese, apricot marmalade, butter, nutella substitute, and argan oil. A sweet milky weak coffee also prepared us for the day ahead. I couldn’t be happier with the situation and more grateful for the hospitality.
The boys went with the husband back to the mechanics to fingers-crossed get the van going. The wife offered for me to stay and wait here. I did my best to help clean but it wasn’t long until we were talking and learning from each other. She was very keen to talk about the Muslim faith. I tried to ask as many appropriate questions as possible. Surely my lifestyle is not approved. We watched the Quran channel and she explained her prayers.
We went for a little walk to the shops, My host covered up of course. I asked her what she thought of people like me not covered head to toe and she basically said each to their own culture. I enjoyed getting to know this person in the warmth and comfort of her welcoming home.
Then we lazed on the couch for the rest of the day watching movies. I felt terrible for the boys. They didn’t rock up until 1am but the car was ready and we were rushed to get going. We drove straight to Ceuta getting through customs and passports with minimal difficulty at about 5am in the morning.
Ceuta is this town which is still on the African continent but is part of Spain. You cross the border and it becomes all things nice and Spanish. We found a spot to pull up and get a couple of hours sleep before we could try and get a ferry in the morning. Well actually the spot found us with the car conking out again. We just slept it off and woke in the morning to a bus honking us because we’d parked in a bus stop. The car started again and we were off…It stopped again mid-drive, stuck at an intersection. We coasted down to the harbour and found sanctuary in McDonalds for a while, with wifi, McMuffins and working toilets. So nice to have you back in my life bacon.
We found ourselves again hanging out at yet another mechanics. This time it was the timing belt which luckily could be fixed that day. We took a stroll around town, had a feed and waited it out until we were good to go. Off we went to exchange our ferry tickets only to find out our ferry company wasn’t running that night due to weather. I could hear the laughter of the gods. Another cold night in the van it was. We had some drinks and tapas which helped with the whole lack of spirit thing. Moroccan belly hadn’t yet escaped one of the crew who crawled through the van window with a trusty pair of socks, only to be found on the side of the road by the police.
Eventually morning came and our ferry was still not running so we found another and got the hell on the next boat. I was very focused on the horizon during this choppy cross. Delirium the only thing keeping us together as we drove the 12 or whatever hours straight, making it to Barcelona as shells of human beings in the wee hours of the morning. After five days and four nights of roadside hangs, van sleeping, and tests of our patience and strength we made it!