Finding Paradise (chapter 4)

Chefchaouen — the view from our hotel room in the medina

The next day we woke bright and early again, after a perfect night’s sleep. The fresh mountain air filled our lungs. It certainly was different from what we had been used to in Liverpool, this clear air was knocking us out. I don’t think we had ever breathed real air before!

Ray decided that we would stay there one more night and that the next day we would make our way to Agadir, in the south. I liked that idea very much. We had a long journey ahead. First we had to travel about 340 km to get to Casablanca. Then another 468 km to get to Agadir. It was going to take us at least 11 hours and we planned to do it all in one go. From Chefchaouen to Casablanca should take about 5 hours and Casablanca to Agadir should take about another 6 hours. That was not including any waiting time in between.

We ate our regular cheese and bread breakfast and decided to go for a wander around the town. We walked out of the medina towards the first hotel we had stayed in. Close by there was a shop where we had seen people painting mirror frames on our first day in town. I had wanted to take a close look at them and maybe even some photos. The geometric interlaced design was incredible and all done by hand, no rulers or measuring. While we were looking at a man painting the mirror, we suddenly saw Yasser, edging his way towards us in its reflection.

“Oh no!” I said to Ray “can’t he just leave us alone?”

We didn’t turn around, but I made eye contact with him in the mirror, and as soon as I did so, he fell on the stairs behind us. It all seemed to happen in slow motion and we couldn’t bring ourselves to turn around and look at him, or even help him. Ray said it was my fault. He said that I had given him the evil eye. It was most bizarre. Yasser’s friend helped him up and they stared in our direction but they never came any closer. We watched them in the mirror as they both turned and walked away. We were fixed in the same position. Even the mirror sellers looked at us in an outlandish manner. He never bothered us again though.

After our supernatural experience we went back into the medina and we actually managed to find our way around quite easily. We were somewhat surprised. The narrow streets were full of life. Children ran by, young men walked at a slow pace like they had nowhere to go and young girls walked together giggling as they passed us. The older women were covered but the young girls weren’t. Their clothes were bright and vibrant; they all seemed happy. The air was charged — or it could have just been the hash we were smoking.

Ray wanted to buy some sandals. We went to a shoe shop and he managed to convince me to swap my boots for them. It was getting too hot for boots, I suppose and I also had a pair of sandals that I had been wearing. Ray only had trainers, so it seemed that his need was greater than mine. We bought a couple of djellabas, they weren’t as nice as Yasser’s but the cheap acrylic tourist version. Ray was thrilled with his “Jesus” sandals — he kept looking at his feet as he walked.

We went to the local shop to get our customary cheese triangles and bread to eat later on. We had to be careful with the money, it was running low (especially after spending it on hash and djellabas) and we still had a long way to travel.

Whilst we were smoking we didn’t seem to notice hunger too much. Cheese and bread seemed to satisfy the munchies. We were buzzing from the whole experience.

We got back to the hotel and we had only been in the room about five minutes when there was a knock on the door. Ray opened it. A tall blonde man stood at the door. He had long fine blonde hair, blue eyes and a wispy beard. He was holding a book in his hand like a priest.

“You’re not a Jehovah’s Witness are you?” exclaimed Ray laughing.

“ No” replied the man dryly, not seeing the humour in Ray’s response.

“I have something interesting to show you,” he stated, opening the book.

To Ray’s surprise, inside was a nicely flat-pressed piece of hash, almost the same size as the pages; just what Ray had been hoping for.

“Well, come on in.” he said excitedly, looking down the corridor before closing the door.

“Is that Moroccan or Afghan?”

“It is Moroccan”

“But it’s black like Afghan, the stuff we got was golden and soft”

Ray squeezed the hash in his fingers like plasticine; it was very pliable.

The man smiled, “It is like that before it is pressed.”

We could tell by his accent that he was German. He was very calm and precise.

“Is funny everybody want to see black hash. Look…” he took a little pollen and rubbed it between his fingers. “You see? It goes black.”

Ray seemed impressed beyond belief and didn’t criticize or nitpick; he had finally met somebody who knew more than him. He bought some of the German’s hash, and the German promptly left. We had to go easy on the cash when it came to food, but Ray didn’t mind spending it on hash. At least we didn’t chagne hotels this time though.

Later that afternoon we decided that it might be nice to have our cheese and bread on the rooftop of the hotel. So at about 7pm, we grabbed the sleeping bag, some pillows, water, the bread and cheese, and set off to the upstairs terrace. The sun was just about to set and the view of the Rif Mountains was incredible. Our room faced the mountain but the view from the rooftop was spectacular, we could see the whole town and its surroundings. Above us a sky full of stars, that looked so close, you could almost touch them. We lay the sleeping bag on the ground and placed our food on it like a simple offering to an unknown god. We sat down and admired the view. Ray rolled up a joint.

We had just started to smoke it when a Moroccan boy turned up with a few other people. They lay rugs on the floor and scattered some cushions about. Then they placed a few bowls of fruit on them, a tureen of soup, some bread and some really strange looking food. Our mouths were watering, and we secretly hoped that we too would be invited to this Sunset Feast. Our cheese and bread looked very sparse in comparison. The German was also there, with a few others. They invited us over to sit with them.

Of course the sun had set now and it was time to eat. Fasting time was over for the day. I noticed a bowl of interesting looking fruit I didn’t recognize until one of the Germans said:

“Take one. Is fig, good for the shit.”

Well that was one way of breaking the ice.

I did try one. It was the first time I had ever eaten fresh figs, and it was delicious. We ate, smoked, and talked till the early hours. There were a few German men and a couple of Moroccans too. They were all very friendly. One of the Moroccans even offered me food from his plate. I reckon he was going over the top a bit though. The whole experience was surreal, like some kind of vivid dream. Of course the hash might have had something to do with all that.

Up until then we had been buying bottled water, but the well-traveled German informed us that the tap water was fine in this town; it was all clean water from mountain springs. That was really useful information even though it came a little late. He also told us of his journey to India and how he hadn’t experienced as much of a culture shock there, as he had in Morocco. Ray was fascinated, that was just what he wanted to do. Traveling to Morocco seemed like a trip to Bournemouth in comparison to the German’s explorations.

All in all it was a nice way to end our stay there. We had another early start the next day and a long journey ahead. So we called it a night.

Ray woke up at 6 am on the dot and shook me frantically

“Come on we have to get the bus at 7:30 and I want to get to the station by 7 am”

I didn’t even have time to wake up properly as I sat myself in an upright position.

Ray rushed round getting our things together. I sat there trying to open my eyes. I wasn’t too coherent in the mornings, and the truth be known I was tired of travelling, I just wanted to enjoy a beach somewhere and get some sun. My thoughts of beaches and relaxing were suddenly cut short as Ray started to freak out.

“What are we gonna do with all this hash?”

He had a point actually, there were so many police checkpoints along the bus routes, we would have to hide it well. Ray was obviously hoping I would come up with a suggestion, he had no idea where to hide it. I held on to the sleeping bag not wanting to get out of bed, then a thought occurred to me.

“Why don’t we put it in the sleeping bag?”

Ray Thought it was a great idea. So I got to work and opened it up, placed the hash inside and sewed it back up again; I always travel with a needle and thread.

Sorted!

We got to the station in the nick of time. The bus was about to leave. The journey would take about 5 hours to Casablanca, and I was not looking forward to it. This time I made sure I got my window seat, so I wouldn’t have the Pied Piper sitting next to me. There was minimal legroom, even for me and I have short legs. The rows of tiny black seats were packed very close together and Ray was almost covering his ears with his knees. He didn’t complain though, the view was just so awesome. This journey was similar to the last, only even more barren. The weather so good too, about 20ºC but comfortable, and the Moroccans were still wearing two or three layers of djellabas. It was okay for light trousers or shorts with a t-shirt, but three djellabas!?

As the journey went on I found out that my seat wasn’t so good after all. I was sitting on the right hand side and the window frame was only attached at the top, so every time we steered to the left it would swing out, and then crash back down again. Every time — for the whole journey! Luckily there was no glass in it.

We stopped about four times. The first time the police came on and did their stuff, we were quite pleased with ourselves because we had hidden the hash so well. They searched a few people and Ray said that they were most likely looking for alcohol. They asked to see our passports, looked at them, then gave them back. They didn’t search us though. They had probably never even seen a tourist on these busses!

At the next stop some people got off and others on. The ussual beggars got on the bus, some with missing hands and others with other deformities. We gave a few coins to them. The Moroccans just turned their gaze elsewhere. We found them to be a bit aloof, or maybe they were just tired of it. Perhaps they took this journey everyday. We might feel a little aloof after travelling 11 hours.

One of the passengers even brought his motorbike with him; it was placed up top on the roof rack! It was so amusing. Apart from the bus stop, there didn’t appear to be anything else around but mountains, shrubs and sand. At this bus stop there was a huge rock with ‘Fanta’ written on it. We thought it was amusing, and wondered just how far these people must have walked to get the bus. In the UK we took everything for granted. We never had to walk more than 5 minutes to catch a bus.

The other two stops were pretty much the same, the passenger with the motorbike got off, took his bike off the roof rack and drove off into the horizon. The scenery just got better and better. In the latter half of the journey we could even see the sea, we were now traveling parallel to it. I watched the world pass by the window; that was the only thing I really liked about traveling, not having to think or react, just observe.

The journey was taking longer than expected and Ray started rummaging in the bags.

“I am hungry, what is there to eat?” I asked him

“ Well, we have water and…some bread and cheese”

He sounded disappointed, like he had been expecting to find macarin and chees or something.

“We really should buy something else” I laughed “A pizza or a hamburger, or even a kebab”

“You only eat junk food,” laughed Ray “you are not refined at all. I myself would prefer lobster perhaps, with an egg salad on the side.”

We both laughed at ourselves even though we were getting a bit sick of eating the same thing, we were hungry and never had much of a choice. We wouldn’t risk eating anything the kids tried to sell on the bus, no matter how persistent they were. Sometimes you would have to say no to them three times.

We ate some bread and cheese and drank some water. We talked the whole time, excited about our adventure. The tension from spending so much time together had lifted. The evening before had done us both good, the interaction with other people had taken the strain off a little, not to mention the food. I was enjoying this ride more than the others, I even thought about keeping a diary.

During the journey and we dozed off a few times, which wasn’t such a good idea, but at least it was another way of killing time.
We finally arrived in Casablanca at about 4:00 p.m. and the bus to Agadir was leaving in two hours . It had taken us nearly 7 hours to get there. We hadn’t accounted for the stops. The next trip to Agadir was also going to take about 7 hours, all going well. From there we were going straight on to Taghazout. The downside was that in a few hours it would be dark. So this trip was going to be less scenic. We went and got some things to eat. More bread, cheese and water. Ray was a vegetarian, and to be honest I wouldn’t have fancied eating the meat, and most definitely not the ham, even thought it was looking more apetising now.

The bus ended up leaving at about 6:30 p.m., which meant we would get to Agadir at about 3 a.m. Not really an ideal time as we couldn’t afford a hotel and didn’t really fancy walking round that early in the morning. The bus set off and we drove along the coast for a while and then headed back into the hills and sand dunes. Ray hadn’t smoked anything but tobacco the whole time. He didn’t seem to need anything else; it was as if he was high on the trip alone. Yet he had still spent all that money on the hash. He was finally fulfilling his dream. He was in an Islamic country: Allah and all that stuff…

The world continued to pass by the window, and I fell deep into thought and zoned out for a while. After an hour or so we made our first stop, we were unsure how many there were going to be along the way. It could slow us down considerably. We talked about Nigel and what he would think if he could see us.

“Nigel went straight to Agadir, by plane,” Ray scoffed. “We have traveled all the way from the north to the south.”

“Yeah. I can’t wait to settle somewhere. I am getting tired of travelling!” I said longingly.

Nigel was a long standing friend of Ray’s and he had constantly bragged about the time he spent here in the late 70s. It was almost like Ray had to prove something to him by coming here.

I fell asleep watchin Ray curl his hair around his finger as he does, wondering what he was thinking about.

I was woken suddenly, by a lot of people talking, there seemed to be some kind of problem with the bus and we had all get off and wait for about an hour while they repaired it. It worked but it didn’t sound too good at all, and it was a lot slower now. At least we got to stretch our legs a little. Ray and I never spoke much for the rest of the journey, we were both so tired.

We finally arrived in Agadir at about 5:30 a.m. Which was ideal, because the bus for Taghazout was leaving at 7am; it would be light soon so it wasn’t too long to wait. We waited around for a bit until it was light, then we left the bus station and went for something to eat. We bought some sandwiches from a café with meat in them! We must have been deficient in iron by now because we actually enjoyed them, and were past caring about hygiene policies.

Satisfied with our hearty breakfast, we went back to the station and caught the bus to Taghazout; a small fishing village about 20 km north of Agadir. We were about to go to the same spot where Nigel had been; where he had all the adventures he had told us about. We were going to see the sun set as he had described it. Ray was so excited.

I was tired and just wanted to crash.

The journey from Agadir to Taghazout took about an hour. There was the expected police roadblock on the way, just outside Taghazout, which we were used to by now. We had even forgotten about the hash.

When we arrived at the bus stop in Taghazout, people swarmed to the bus. They pushed and shoved one another as they climbed aboard as we, amongst others, tried to get off. They had bags, bottles of Argan oil and bicycles, no goats or bikes though.

We were finally here!

We stepped off the bus into what must have been the village square. It was just a sandy square without any pavement at all. There were tiny houses dotted around the square. Groups of men were scattered about, some standing, others squatting. A small round faced Mexican-looking man came running towards us, He was offering a room to rent. We were more than interested after our 18-hour journey. He told us to follow him and we did. We would take any room, the state we were in, and I think he knew that. We had to sleep in a horizontal position. My right hip had gone completely numb with sitting down so long.

We followed him down a dusty road past a café; which would later become our local hang out. We passed some tighly packed houses, a post office and a grocery shop and eventually came to a clearing that lead to the beach. The fishing boats were sitting on the sand and the local fishermen were selling to the locals straight from the boat!

The “Mexican´s” house was facing the beach and cost £10 a week! He took a 20 dirham note, opened the main door and lead us down a small corridor to our room. He said he would be back later with the change.

The room didn’t have any furniture, just a foam sponge on the floor, which must have been the bed. We weren’t too bothered though; the view from the window made up for what was lacking in the room. It was excellent. We were facing the sea and the beach was literally just outside.

We made ourselves at home. The room had blue walls and a yellow window that opened inward, the paint was chipped and it looked ‘stressed’ — I liked it. The room was clean though. I made the bed up for us to sit on and then opened up the sleeping bag and took the stash out.

Ray made a spliff and I was nodding off when there was a knock at the door. Damn, we hardly had any time to chill! It was the landlord. He gave us our change and smiled, eyes glowing.

“You cannot smoke hash in the room”

We could hardly believe what we were hearing. Were we not in Morocco? The country of kiff — where hippies can smoke and run barefoot on the beaches? Apparently not. Ray went into shock.

“You are joking?” He stammered

“ No joking. Is big problem with police. Please no smoking in room,” he walked away down the corridor.

Ray looked pissed off. We had just traveled over 700km to be told this.

“Let’s eat some then” he said — ever optimistic.

I didn’t really know if I wanted to eat some, but I was still feeling a little hungry so I did. We rested a little and it wasn’t long before we were laughing about it all. Ray just didn’t seem to get tired. He sprang to his feet.

“Let’s go down to the beach, we can sit on the rocks and smoke a joint.”

“ We should really get something to eat too,” I pleaded, “I am starving.”

Ray agreed.

“Okay, and we can have a scout about, and see just what there is around here.

We locked our room, and on the way out, we found what apeared to be the toilet. It was in a small cubicle-like room near the entrance of the house, almost like a cupboard. It also had blue walls, a tiny window and just a hole in the ground! It was pretty hygienic really — all you had to do was squat.There was no running water in the house though.

We decided it wasn’t going to be a problem not smoking in the bedroom, or not having running water. There was a huge beach just outside the door!

Chapter 5

Artist, Portuguese teacher, Singer / Songwriter, Writer and Philosopher…kinda…