Finding Paradise (chapter 2)
The following is based on a true story about a journey I took with my boyfriend. We traveled through Morocco in the 80s and it didn’t quite go as planned.
Ray looked at me.
“Who is it?” he asked as he leaped from the bed over to the door, which incidentally was not a great distance. He stood poised by the door waiting for an answer.
“I am from ‘otel. You can let me in please?”
The accent was rather strong.
Ray hesitated a moment before opening the door.
We had been expecting someone to come to the room sooner or later, though not quite this soon. In Ray’s books they had warned about this. They said that the hotel might send somebody up to the room to sell a little hash to you, and once they have sold it, they inform the Police. The Police then come, take your hash and split any money that you might have parted with to seal the deal,with the hotel owner.
You end up without your money and your hash.
Ray opened the door. A young slim boy, about the same age as us, was standing on the other side, looking a little nervous. He might even have been younger than us. We invited him in and he sat down on the edge of one of the beds.
We asked about Ramadan and what was going on outside.
“This is Ramadan,” he said. “We spend a whole month where we cannot eat or drink, only after the sun goes down.”
“And then it’s party time,” said Ray grinning. “Are you a Muslim?”
“Yes I am,” the boy answered, “but is not all party, is very difficult time for us.” His dark brown eyes glowed.
We were amazed; we had come at a time when they had one of their most important religious festivals. During Ramadan Muslims are not allowed to eat, drink, smoke or have sexual relations during daylight hours and, above all, they have to be on their best behaviour. That could work in our favour. The only real disadvantage being that many of the shops were closed.
“So don’t you drink alcohol then?” enquired Ray.
“No, I cannot drink alcohol, I do not smoke hash either, but I can get you some if you want…” he sat up a little.
Ray declined the offer, he knew it wasn’t a good idea.
“I wouldn’t mind some orange juice though to go with this vodka,though.” he said, holding up our duty frees and smiling.
“Could you go and get us some?” he asked, “Oh and some cigarettes too.” he added, abusing the boys goodwill just a little more.
The boy said it was no trouble at all. Ray gave him the money and the boy smiled and dashed out to get the orange juice. I felt a little more excited about the idea of being here now. Chances are it would be safer during this month.
After a little while there was a knock at the door. The boy was back with cigarettes, the orange juice and some Coca-Cola.
Ray offered him a drink, even though he had said he didn’t drink. I didn’t really understand why he did that. I mean the boy had said that he didn’t drink or smoke and that he was a Muslim.
The boy refused Ray’s offer and I admired him for it.
We sat and chatted for a while. His English was very good. He never mentioned the hash again but eagerly told us about his religion. Telling us how hard it was during Ramadan and how they have to work all day without eating or drinking anything until sunset. It mustn’t be easy, when you think about it, especially in the warmer weather. Ramadan was not always the same time of year either. We respected his discipline with regard to his religion and found it interesting that one so young could adhere so well to his beliefs. It was something we had never really seen before.
He was very humble.
We asked him where we could go for a meal and he suggested a restaurant right next door to the hotel. We thanked him for his help and he left.
The meal was really tasty. I haven’t got a clue what we ate. It was sort of like kebab, without the pita bread or skewer, with some sort of sauce. Afterwards we went right back to our room and straight to bed. The next day we had to get up early, change some traveler’s cheques and catch the bus to Chefchaouen.
As soon as my head touched the pillow I was away.
I was woken in the very early hours of the morning by the wailing from the muezzin in the minaret — the call to prayer at the mosque. Dawn was breaking and the square was silent. The festivities had ended until the next evening. The cries from the muezzin had cut through the silence and into my dreams. This powerful voice crying out to the faithful, echoing in the silence of the night. It was eerie but at the same time kind of comforting. In no time at all I drifted back to sleep again.
We woke in the morning, gathered our things together and left the hotel.
In the Grand Socco, which actually means “big square”, there were all kinds of stalls selling vegetables, meat and some sweets, which were swarming with flies. It wasn’t very touristy, or hygienic for that matter and there didn’t appear to be many Europeans about. We went to a nearby café for breakfast and there we planned our day ahead. Ray wanted to do all the planning and preferred that I did not interfere.
That was okay with me, that way I was just along for the ride.
We set off to the bank to change our traveler’s cheques. However, finding the bank proved to be quite a task.
Ray was determined not to spend any money on the hustlers, he was sure we could find it ourselves. We walked from street to street trying to follow the map in the rough guide book. Unfortunately, the maps in the book were very ‘rough’ indeed and we ended up having a disagreement in the middle of the street. It wasn’t always that clear on the map where we should go. The street names weren’t always correct and the maps were poorly drawn. Ray couldn’t figure out the route to the bank on foot and he was getting very impatient.
Finally, he gave me the book.
“Okay then, you do it, Miss Know-it-all,” he said pouting.
“Ray, you don’t need to get nasty about it. I can’t make sense of it either.” I tried to keep calm and not to argue with him, there was no point. “Look. We can ask someone…a passer-by maybe?”
“Why not?” He exclaimed as if he was challenging me “Okay. Ask someone!”
So I did just that, asked a passer-by and fortunately they spoke very good English too. They explained to us how to find the bank and we found it no problem. We got some cheques changed and then we had to try and find the bus station. Again, this proved to be difficult. We decided that we would just walk around for a bit and then catch a cab.
At least we agreed on that.
We managed to catch a cab easily enough. It was just a question of sticking out your hand and one would stop, they were everywhere. We felt better this time as we had the correct currency. We told the driver where we wanted to go and he looked at us like we had asked him to tell us the square root of 456. The reason for his look became evident after the taxi drove for approximately 30 seconds and stopped in front of the bus station.
It was embarrassing.
Well at least we weren’t kicked out of this cab and there were no Bronx-like hustlers around waiting to confuse us even more. If that were possible.
We now had to catch the bus to Chefchaouen, but it wasn’t that simple according to the book, because there were no buses directly to Chefchaouen. We would have to stop in Tetouan, to change buses. Ray wanted to travel on the Moroccan buses, as they were a lot cheaper than the tourist buses and we had to go easy on the money. It was without a doubt the cheapest form of transport. The buses, however, looked like they wouldn’t last the journey though.
The bus station was full of Moroccans. We were hoping to see at least some other travelers, as Nigel had said, but there weren’t any. He had told us that there would be Hippies all over the place; but then again he had been in Morocco in the late seventies.
We managed to get our ticket to Tetouan. Two European-looking tourists got on as well and sat at the back with us. I think they were German. We didn’t exchange much conversation.
The bus had the legroom for a sparrow, even my short legs were almost tucked under my chin, and it was quite dirty too. I felt something crawling up my leg and quickly brushed it off with my hand, too scared to look down. I didn’t want to know what it was, I felt it might have been better that way.
The journey however, was fascinating due to the characters we saw, laden with livestock. There weren’t many stops along the way and we knew we had reached our destination when we pulled into a rather dark and tatty looking bus station. Our guidebook had advised us not to leave the bus station at all and said that Tetouan was a rather dangerous place.
We got off the bus and managed to buy our tickets to Chefchaouen, but we were given no information about which bus terminal it stopped at or what time it left. The ticket seller obviously did not understand English. He simply shook his head.
We went and asked an official-looking man in the station. He just pointed towards a group of men who appeared to be hustlers, as if to say, ‘Ask them.’ Ray was paranoid that these “hustlers” were going to try to rip us off but we both felt that we didn’t really have a choice. So, we chose one who was offering his services and he promptly guided us to a bus, put our things on the roof rack and after making other passengers vacate their seats, indicated that we should now occupy them. He had a very authoritative way about him. We could only hope we were on the right bus.
We knew that he would expect to be paid for this service of course. He asked us for 10 dirham. I shook my head and said that was too much. I offered him 5, but when I checked the money situation I found I only had a 10 dirham note. I gave it to him and told him to bring me back the 5 dirham change. He left the bus and Ray and I just looked at each other sure that we would never see the man again, not that we thought that he would be dishonest per se, but that he might at the least, be an opportunist. Much to our surprise, he came back with the change. This, it seemed, was one of the advantages of traveling during Ramadan, apparently people are generally more hospitable and honest at this time.
As the bus pulled away we saw the German lads with one of the hustlers leaving the bus station.
“I wonder where they are going,” Ray said staring at them out of the window
“The book said not to leave the station,” he sat back in his seat with his concerned look on his face, his lips slightly curled. Suddenly his mind appeared to be somewhere else. He rolled his dark curly hair around his finger, like he would when in deep thought.
“He said not to leave,” he repeated again. Only this time he said he instead of the book.