Finding Paradise (chapter 5)
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.
We went into a local café we had seen in the square, the one over the road looked too expensive, so we opted for the cheaper looking one. The owner greeted us, and introduced himself, his name was Muhammad and his English was excellent. He looked like a grown up Mowgli from Jungle book. His eyes were large and childlike and he had the most amazing smile, he looked more Indian than Moroccan. We asked him what he had for us to eat and he said he could make us a cheese omelette. That sounded just the job, we asked for two cokes to go with it. We chatted while we waited for our food and looked around the café. It wasn’t too bad, it looked pretty much like cafés in Portugal to be honest. There was enough room for about 6 tables, there was a bathroom and it was quite popular with the locals also.
The long awaited omelette finally came and was eaten in no time; to this day, I swear, Muhammad made the best omelettes I had ever eaten. We thanked him, settled our bill and made our way to the beach.
It was very early on in the season and we assumed that was the reason why we hadn’t seen any other tourists. We stepped onto the beach; the sand felt good between my toes, and the smell of the sea and the whooshing of the waves against the shoreline made me feel so relaxed. I breathed deeply and just appreciated the fact that we didn’t have to rush off in a frenzy to some other destination.
Rocky embankments broke up the coastline and it was quite deserted. It felt like it was there just for us. We sat on the sand and Ray made a joint. He passed it to me; I only smoked a tiny bit, then lay down, so that I could finally relax on the beach.
“Well, we’re finally here then” stated Ray rather proudly.
I didn’t even open my eyes.
“Yeah. Just lazing on the beach is all I want to do now until Nigel comes over”
“We will have to see if we have any letters in the post office,” Ray continued. “ Nigel said he would write to the ‘poste restante’.
I didn’t comment on anything, I was just enjoying hearing the waves beating against the distant rocks. I was half asleep, at that point when thoughts are like dreams but we are not yet asleep, when I heard somebody talking to Ray.
´Is there no peace from these people?’ I asked myself.
Ray was explaining that we had been traveling and were tired and just wanted to rest. The person he was speaking to didn’t seem too happy about it, but he left us alone. It didn’t take long before we both fell asleep.
We just lazed about the rest of the day, and in the evening we watched the sun set over the mountain.
I squinted as I remembered what Nigel had said.
“I thought Nigel said that the sun set over the sea?”
“I know, I was just thinking the same thing,” laughed Ray “I bet you he has never even been here”
We both laughed and made up more things to laugh at. We were mocking Nigel but he was Ray’s best friend, they had known each other for years — well before I was on the scene. We were sure he would see the funny side too.
After watching the sunset, we went back to our room, and crashed for the night.
The next day we strolled around to have a look at our new location. It was the only place I had felt comfortable on the whole journey. I had found it all a bit depressing really. I didn’t want to admit it but it was. The way things had gone with my Aunt and Uncle when we had left Portugal — basically they had kicked us out, and the fact that Morocco was not as great as I had expected. Ray had built my expectations up so much, and they hadn’t been fulfilled.
We had only seen a handful of Europeans all the time we had been here; I had expected to see more. Nigel had told us so many stories
‘There are loads of hippies on the beach; it is just like a constant party, night and day. We used to roast chickens in the sand, and then watch the sunset over the sea.’
Maybe he had never been after all, and had just made it all up.
The thing that struck me most were the cultural differences, this I found fascinating; their arts and crafts, the food, the way of life and the Religion. The west doesn’t really seem to have a disciplined religion, it has religious cocktails. It just all seems to be about commerce, power and not at all about faith. I could see traces of the things I was trying to get away from in my society, creeping into this society. I was disappointed. The journey had been a strain to tell the truth, on both of us.
The village was full of fishing boats; It was very basic. There were no big hotels or tourist complexes — which was fine by me. Just outside the house we were in, there was a street with about five houses on each side that led to another few similar streets with more blocks of houses. They looked more like little grottos along the sandy paths, modest structures with tiny colourful windows and doors — almost like the dwelling of mythical creatures, like Hobbits or something. Some of the houses had roof terraces, where freshly laundered clothes were blowing in the warm morning breeze. We walked around and then made our way to the post office. It was closed. It was about 9 am in the morning and it was closed, we thought maybe it was too early.
In the square they were selling fish, and vegetables. It was just like a market. There were no women to be seen, the men were doing the shopping and chatting on the corners. They carried their little plastic shopping baskets, those brightly coloured “vintage” ones that were quite popular in England in the 80s. We found it quite amusing.
The men just seemed to be standing around, some were shopping, others were smoking and looking at us curiously as we passed. It didn’t look very touristy; that is what made it more attractive. The main road cut through the village and on the other side was a café, the expensive looking one. Beyond the café was a huge mountain; that side didn’t seem to have any houses. The village ended at the road basically.
We decided to go and get some breakfast from the Muhammad’s café. He made us some toast and coffee, and spoke cheerfully to us. We were drinking our coffee and chatting when a tough looking tall, shabbily dressed man with a skin head and an earring walked in. He introduced himself to us.
“Hi, my name is Jerry,“ he said in a strong scottich accent
He smiled and he shook Ray’s hand.
“I am Ray. Wow. You’re the only English person we have seen since we’ve been here!”
“ Er, I am not English, I am Scottish, and when they invent a Scottish passport I’ll go back“
He looked like he was in his early 20s, and a little crazy. He asked us about our trip and why we were there. I was rather concerned about the numbness in my thigh though, as it still hadn’t gone away. I told Jerry about it as I was worried that it might be some kind of tropical disease. When I told him, he started to unbutton his pants.
I wasn’t expecting that reaction.
“That is the strangest thing..” he pulled his trousers down to show me, “because I have a scar in the exact same place!”
´Okay. This guy is definitely a nutcase´ I thought.
He then said that it was probably because we had been sitting down so long on the bus, and would most likely go away after a few days. He was really quite friendly and we talked some more. He ordered a coffee and sat down with us.
“Are you travelling too?” Ray enquired
“No, I live here. I decided that it was time to leave the rat race and return to a more simple way of life.” He drank his coffee. “Anyway I have to go now. Nice talking ta ya.”
He left just as abruptly as he had arrived.
Ray said to me later that Jerry was most likely on the run and was probably only staying there because he couldn’t go back to England, or Scotland or, because he had broken the law or something. He looked quite tough with his tattoos; he even had a few scars on his face.
We stayed in the café a little longer and spoke to Muhammad. He told us how Morocco was a very poor country and the wages were very low. We couldn’t understand how Coca cola was so cheap, and butter. Muhammad explained that the butter was taken from the Butter Mountains in England; it was less than half the price we payed for it in the UK!
He also said that one day he would like to leave Morocco and travel through Europe. He showed us a framed inscription on the wall.
“You see this? The king wants everybody who has a business to have a picture or something written about him, it is the law.” He smiled, even though he didn’t look too happy about it.
“I didn’t want a picture,” he said.
After our chat with Muhammad we went onto the beach for a joint and just spent the day lazing round. At lunchtime we ate some grilled sole. They were grilling it in the square, it was ten a penny, and delicious.
In the afternoon we strolled along the beach and over the rocks. We would see people sleeping under them in the shadows. We found it so strange, but it must have been the norm. We also found the “crap drop“, or rather a place where everybody defecated over the cliff, near the beach!. Luckily we never had to do that, we had a toilet.
However later on that the evening the toilet proved to be a new experience. It was dark in the bathroom, well you couldn’t really call it that. I was perched over the hole and had just started to pee when the hole moved, it was like a bad trip. Suddenly cockroaches came scurrying out of the darkness; loads of them. It was very hard to stop what I was doing, in fact impossible. Believe me when you are having a pee and a handful of cockroaches gather round your ankles it is not a pleasant experience. I moved my legs in the hope that they wouldn’t crawl up them. That was the close encounter we now had to experience when we used the toilet at night. We tried to avoid it at all costs. Ray kicked one once and it literally exploded. They were the biggest roaches I had ever seen, they were about 3“ long.
The next day we lazed about again and took a walk up the beach onto the rocks. We found a very friendly man grilling fish and eating watermelon. He was Moroccan, somewhat older than us and his English was excellent. He told us that he was from the north and came to the south every year on holiday. He seemed paler than the other Moroccans we had seen, his hair was fair too. He looked very happy as he grilled his fish. He offered us some sardines and showed us how to eat them with bread. Spontaneous lunches are always the best!
We sat and talked for quite a while, or rather Ray sat and talked. I just appreciated the view. After a few hours we thanked him and continued down the beach.
Later on Ray had said he reckoned the man we had been talking to was gay. I hadn’t really thought about it. He seemed quite macho to me.
To one side of the beach in the distance was Agadir and to the other was a place they called ’Break point’ where Ray’s book had said was a hotspot for surfers. We hadn’t seen many of these surfers though.
That was basically how we spent our days, just walking up and down the beach. One day in one direction another day in another. One day we even got a bus to Agadir. Agadir is quite a modern city. After the Earthquake in the 60s it was completely rebuilt. It looked actually more like Portugal, than morocco. It seemed to lack the Islamic quality that we had seen in the other places we had visited.
I remember we walked up a road full of high-tension power lines! They were actually on the pavement, like maybe trees would be, in Liverpool — all the way up the road. We couldn’t believe it; it was so dangerous. Not ideal for flying kites…
We met some more young Moroccans. They invited us back to their house, I got a bit paranoid because Ray was so trusting, I suppose it wasn’t a bad thing. I was just untrusting. We accepted their invitation and went back to their apartment and met their sister. She made earrings and they were trying to get us to buy some by the looks of it. We smoked a joint with them and talked about the differences between their culture and ours. It was very different. Religion dominated theirs, basically and although it wasn’t as strict as Saudi Arabia, it was still a big part of their daily life. They had to go to the mosque 5 times a day, and they could not drink alcohol. There were places where they could buy it illegally but if they were caught they could go to prison! We suppose it was like drugs in The West. They also can’t eat pork either. At least they could smoke hash! Women generally were not allowed out on their own. They had commented on how recently this was changing. Although they didn’t see it as a good thing.
Their sister showed us a tray of earrings she had made and told me to pick a pair I liked because she wanted to give them to me. I felt a little awkward taking them because they were so poor, this was how she made her living. I picked the simplest pair she had; I didn’t want to appear greedy. Ray said I was stupid and that I should have chosen a more expensive pair. I didn’t really care what he thought. Since we had been in Morocco it was like he thought I no longer had a brain, and I couldn’t think for myself. He had been annoying me so much. We had spent far too much time together and were getting on each other’s nerves. The fact that there were no other English speaking or even non-English speaking Europeans, didn’t help.
The days seemed to go on forever.
The next day we had breakfast at Muhammed’s, luckily it was so cheap, we could eat there every day, as long as we didn’t have any luxuries. I was dying for a Bounty — but they were £1 each!
We lazed about on the beach and had a swim. The water was cold but it was the only way we could really get a wash. After our swim we decided to get some lunch. We got the fish from the square and picked up some mint on the way home to make mint tea. It didn’t turn out quite as we had expected — it was awful.
That afternoon we went to watch the sun set. We sat on some rocks on the right hand side of the beach, in the direction of ‘break point’. No longer had we sat down and skinned up, when a young Moroccan climbed over the rocks towards us.
I could feel my muscles tightening up
“They just don’t give up, do they?”
“It’s ok I’ll deal with it”
Ray stood up as the Moroccan approached.
“I would like you come to my house for a drink” Declared the young man in his pidgin English.
The boy looked like he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. He puffed out his chest and stood boldly, it was almost like he was ordering us.
“Sorry mate, we’re tired, maybe another time”. Said Ray.
The boy did not look happy. He turned around and walked back over the rocks rather briskly. Then suddenly he fell quite awkwardly. We sniggered at his misfortune; in fact it was hard not to really burst into laughter. He got very angry and rolled up his trousers, so that we could see his scraped, bleeding legs. They were pretty bad, but we still found it amusing. He then pointed to the other rocks over the other side of the beach and declared stoutly;
“The rocks are better over the other side!”
This made us laugh even more. It was his way of saying
So we did, laughing all the way.
That night we went to Mohammad’s café and a huge cockroach landed on my head. I didn’t realize it was a roach until I had knocked it onto my knee. I thought it was a sparrow! It had wings! Wings! I knocked it off my leg and felt a chill all down my spine. Of course all this was done by candlelight on one of our regular ‘stay behinds’. I feared to imagine what the floor was like — I was almost glad I couldn’t see it. We had become quite friendly with our local barman, and stayed late at the café most nights. He had even been round to our place and smoked with us on a few occasions, and told us the most amazing stories about the tourists that had passed through the village over the years.
He told us of a woman who used to walk on all fours with oranges in her hands; and about the drug crazed ‘hippies’ and ‘Junkies’ that had passed through. We thought that must have been what Nigel was on about. It was plain to see that it had all finished now. Muhammad explained that the police didn’t want anyone camping on the beach anymore, those days were gone. No more hippies, just Moroccan tourists and a handful of Europeans and surfers.
We saw quite a lot of Jerry; he also had many stories to tell. He told us one about a man in the village who had taken acid once, and never ‘came down’. We had often seen this man walking around. His head was shaved and full of scares, from the beatings he used to get from stealing. He collected shiny things, like keys, spoons, sweet wrappers, metal bowls and buckets and, hubcaps, the latter didn’t go down well with the locals. He seemed oblivious to it all though and just went about collecting his shiny things like a human magpie — maybe he was trying to attract a mate.
One day Jerry bought a donkey. He became the main attraction of the day and most definitely one of the stories that would be told to future tourists. The men in the square laughed so much, they cried. Jerry had no idea how to control his new donkey. He certainly looked the part with his traditional clothes and everything, but he just didn’t seem to have what it takes. The donkey bucked and brayed as Jerry tried to control it. The villagers were in tears watching him trying to mount it. In the end it ran off into the mountains — muchh to Jerry’s disappointment.
The next day a European couple tuned up. We thought that they looked French and I was really envious because the girl spoke perfect French and she was eating a Bounty! We couldn’t afford that. We thought that they must have been rich. She was tall and had short black hair with a strange rubber hair clip in it. The boy looked like a surfer, just like the kind you would see in a comic strip; The quiff, like a big wave on his forehead, broad shoulders and a very nipped waist. I really wanted to talk to them but Ray wasn’t too keen on it. So we didn’t — well not straight away anyway.
That evening we had a meal at Muhammad’s place. We all paid a little each and he made a traditional Moroccan Tagine, served in the dish of the same name. We didn’t have any plates or forks as Tagine is to be eaten with bread. Muhammad showed us how. There were about 6 of us. Ray and I, the comic surf couple, who we found out were actually from New Zealand and a couple of German men; six of us all together, all eating out of the same dish.
Doesn’t sound too healthy I know; but it was delicious. Ray and I were very stoned that night. One of the German men reminded me of Ronnie Barker, a British comedian. I was about to tell Ray, but I got the giggles. I dropped my napkin and bent down to pick it up from under the table and to my surprise, ‘Ronnie’ only had one shoe on. I couldn’t see the other one anywhere, or even a sock. I really started to chuckle now. I whispered to Ray and he looked under the table too. He also got the giggles. We were the only ones laughing and everybody just looked at us. Even the boy who was waiting on the table started to laugh. It was so funny. What made it even funnier was the fact that no one else was laughing. So we laughed even harder.
We were beginning to look like the tourists Muhammad had told us about.