DAY 13 – A BUSY DAY INDEED

Almost did a solid poo this morning. Progress is definitely being made.

Got up and booked flight to Tunisia for Tuesday (tomorrow) morning.

Leaving the hotel this morning I was offered a part in a Moroccan made for television movie. The comedy sketch involved 5 tourists, of which I would have been ‘touriste un’ (one), trying to book into a single hotel room. The punch line was the tourists calling the hotelier a racist after they were refused. I think some of the humor may have been lost in the translation. I had to turn the role down of course. The director was an idiot who couldn’t see why my character should be renamed touriste prime. Which worked out well as today was my only chance to see the Moroccan capital, Rabat, an hour up the coast.

Rabat is nice and a lot lest bustly than Casablanca.

Here’s a travellers tip for you. If you have a bad case of the squirts don’t look for a McDonalds. Look for a five star hotel. The bogs at the hotel Sofitel Diwan make it a veritable pleasure to have a runny bum and the roll of bog paper I stole is by far the best I have seen in all Morocco.

FINALLY A HINT OF ACTION ON TOUR

I tried to get into the YHA Hostel again and succeeded. This is great because it’s cheaper, cleaner, has a working shower and comes with free breakfast. Best of all I might finally be able to have a conversation with someone who speaks English as a first or even second language. After a much needed shower I was repacking my pack and the though struck me that the place has an eerie lingering stare feel to it. As if on queue a guy ‘appears’ out of the shadows of the bunks and invites himself out to dinner with me. He doesn’t speak a word of English but by the way he holds his two fingers up together the message is clear. Now I don’t want to sound like a paranoid homophobic but that’s not really my thing and I didn’t want to lead the poor bastard on so turned his kind offer of dinner down.

My dinner alone was an authentic Moroccan harira (delicious spicy lentil soup) and karaouni tajine (cows tail served with olives), which was served up in an authentic Moroccan diner called Restaurant California (recommended by Lonely Planet). The chef went to great lengths to point out that only men are allowed karaouni tajine and that it is like viagra for the Moroccans. He even drew me a picture of a bull with great emphasis on the penis and tail. This was followed by laughter, back slapping and hushed conversation about the problems with women today. I didn’t really understand a word of it but I sympathised anyway.

Back at the hostel I note that 10 or so of the 12 beds in the men’s dorm are now full. Later that night I am awoken from my sleep by the noise of a sleeping bag being vigorously rustled. My first though is that someone is having a wank and wants the whole room to know. I dared not look over the side of the bunk to see who the culprit is but from the direction of the noise I suspect it’s the ‘lets go to dinner’ guy. After a while it stops and I think thank god. Then a torch goes on. The last thing I see before it goes dark again is a clear silhouette of a condom cast on the wall of the dorm. Something akin to what Batman might shine on the clouds if he wanted Robin to pop back to the Batcave for a thorough seeing to. I’m definitely not looking over the side of the bunk now.

Some time later I actually manage to sleep.

DAY 12 – HASSAN II MOSQUE

More brown soup shitting before breakfast. A little disappointed as I had expected some improvement.

Tried to get into the international youth hostel again but it was full again. Am suspicious, as I haven’t seen a single person come or go the entire time I have lived across the square.

Visited the Hassan II mosque which is totally impressive on every front. Started in 1993 it was finished in only 6 years by Moroccan craftsmen working around the clock. It’s big enough to comfortably fit St Peters or Notre Dame in the main prayer hall, which fits 25,000 worshipers with room for another 80,000 fanatics on the esplanades outside. Isn’t it great what a little fundamentalism can buy these days?

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco

DAY 11 – SWIMMING AND OFF TO CASABLANCA

That’s today. I think I may have a dip in the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in my life. Then I might pop up to Casablanca and try to find a coffee shop that has French satellite TV so I can watch the All Blacks smash the Springboks.

EMAILS I DONT WANT TO SEE

Now that I am travelling I have become very particular about what sort of emails I want to receive. The following is a list of emails that I have no interest in:

  1. Offers to lose weight fast (not too big an issue)
  2. Offers of university degrees (reasonably sorted in that area)
  3. Offers of instant finance with no credit check (although I may change my mind in a month or two)
  4. Offers to see Brittany spears naked (love her but if she won’t return my calls…)
  5. Jokes (will have to rely on own limited wit for a while)
  6. Jpegs/gifs (love them but they take too long to download)
  7. Complaints about how long my emails are

Ok that’s all for now. Sorry about spelling, typos, capitalisation, grammar and tense (some was written at the time and some more recently).

CASABLANCA REWRITE

This was going to be a cracking day but it turned out to be my worst yet on tour. I got scammed 5 Dinah loading my luggage at the el Jedidad bus station. It was only 30p but it’s the principle and I am a little over being scammed all the time in Morocco. I got the shits on the bus on the way to Casablanca. It had to happen sooner or later because I’m eating all the local stuff. It’s worth a little anal insecurity though because the local food is pretty tasty.

Only just made to the bus station before having a big brown soup of a poo. Then had 4 cabbies refuse to use the meter for the short trip to the hostel and instead offer me special, fresh off the boat, 3 times what it should be, tourist price. The last one was nice enough to point me in the right direction though. Or so I thought. About a kilometre down the road I asked another guy and I had been sold a dummy. A 180-degree dummy. Grrr! By then I was a little over walking in the hot Moroccan sun so I flagged another cabbie. This guy not only used the meter but he spoke English as well. Things were looking up. Until I had paid him and I realised that he had had no idea where we were going. Grrr. luckily this new place was easy to plot on the Lonely Planet map so I started the 2-kilometre walk to the hostel. I didn’t cab it as I was a little over cabbies by this stage. Got to the international youth hostel and it was full. Booked into a run down place just across the square. Dodgy room. No shower. A toilet that backed up and 3 long flights up. Feeling decidedly, and understandably I think, anti Moroccan by this Stage so I had McDonalds for dinner in protest. One nil the Hubster. Until I squirted it out 2 hours later. One all. And again an hour after that. Two one Morocco.

DAY 10 – ON THE ROAD AGAIN – EL JEDIDAD

The buses in Morocco go something like this. You arrive about half an hour before the departure time to secure a seat. Upon entering the bus you cram yourself into a seat that would be a bit tight for the stars of “Midget Double Special”. This should give you about an hour before the bus actually leaves. But don’t worry because you wont get bored, there’s always a show before departure. It starts with people who will try to sell you all manner of wares from water (warm and cold), tissues, flax fans, shoes, sandals, jewellery, watches, sweets, cakes, gum, salvation to snake oil (I may not speak Arabic but I know a hustler shifting snake oil when I see one) this is interspersed by people in various states of depravation and deformity begging for money. The worst of the latter group was a guy with NO ARMS and you had to put the money in his pocket for him. After several repetions the bus is finally allowed to begin its journey which is regularly punctuated by police checkpoints (every 100 to 200 kilometres), stops in every town you pass through, stops in every donkey market you pass through, stops to pick people up in the middle of nowhere, stops to drop people off in the middle of nowhere, stops to refuel at petrol stations and stops to refuel in the middle of nowhere when the bus run out of gas.

The bus drivers seem to fall into two main categories: retire petit taxi drivers whose nerve has finally broken and people who lack the calmness and good judgement required to become petit taxi drivers and are just killing time waiting for a ‘good’ job where they can be shot out of a cannon (or similar).

Went separate ways to the cunningly linguistic Brits today who are off home via Spain and Portugal.

Port, El Jedidad, Morocco

el Jedidad is based around an old Portuguese fort. As far as I can tell I am the only English speaker in town today so I am getting used to fending for myself again in a country where English is a distant fifth language after Arabic, Berber, French and Spanish. An example of the difficulties I have been experiencing is that I now know how to ask “how much” in French but I rarely understand the answer is since my knowledge of French numbers is limited to the numbers 1 to 29 with a big gap up to 69 followed by another large gap up to 100 where I top out.

On the plus side I have found an internet cafe that does 4 hours internet for under two squids. Which beats the hell out of staying in my room (the worst room yet) at night talking to the bugs in broken French.

CARL: Sava bugs?

BUGS: (silence)

CARL: dacor bon nui bugs

BUGS: (more silence)

CARL: (sigh)

CARL: zzz zzz zzz zzz

BUGS: munch munch (noise of bugs eating all Carl’s clean boxer shorts)

CARL: zzz zzz zzz zzz

BUGS: (burp)

DAY 8 AND 9 – MARAKESH MARKETS AND MADNESS

Sleeping on roof of Hotel Afrika to save money, perfect for the warm Moroccan night air. Spent as couple of days exploring Marrakech with Emma and James. The highlights include a large souk (market) and Diemaa el-fna, a huge square which by night is rammed with makeshift restaurants, fresh orange juice stands (about 100) story tellers, magic acts, dancing cobras, chained Barbary apes, Berber acrobats, locals in traditional garb all of which are available for a photograph – at a price. I had my photo taken with a snake that was thrust around my neck and was then told that the cost was 100 Dinah. That’s taking the piss a little when you consider that I could have had 50 glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice for the same price. Obviously 100 was the piss takers starting price so we negotiated. This means I gave him the two Dinah that most people tip for photographs and walked off while he cursed me loudly in Arabic.

Marakesh market in the main square, Morocco

Marakesh market in the main square, Morocco

Marakesh Souk, Morocco

Was in an Internet cafe later that afternoon having rather a loud moan about slow download speeds, as you do when you go from a shared 2000k connection to a shared 56k connection. I turned around to see the owner on his hands and knees praying to Mecca. Felt like a bit of a rude tourist git for a while. Especially since he was undoubtedly praying for more bandwidth.

DAY 7 – BACK TO CIVILISATION

Spent the day in a hotel in Risanni waiting for a bus. We were offered quite a good deal – a day in the relative cool and shade of a hotel in exchange for buying some food and a few drinks. The quality of the deal declines throughout the day as we struggle to get a menu with any prices or a straight answer about any prices at all. In the end out deal goes completely sour as our host’s sexual advances towards Emma become too offensive and aggressive. Sometimes it’s useful to be a 6’4″ skinhead.

Caught overnight bus to Marrakech.

DAY 6 – CAMEL TREKING IN THE SAHARA

Sahara camel trekking, Morocco

Arrived in Risanni at 7am and immediately left with 2 Brits (another Emma and a James) and a yank (Kristen) for the massive deep orange dunes at the edge of the Sahara. An hour later the four of us are sipping Moroccan whiskey (very sweet tea crammed with mint) negotiating a camel trek into the dunes for an overnight excursion. The new Brits have a host of language skills under their belts that are coming in mighty handy. Emma studies at Oxford and speaks fluent French and Spanish and is dabbling with Portuguese. James studies at St Andrews also speaks fluent French and Spanish and a smattering of Japanese. Another hour later despite some impressive literary credentials and a dogged determination to get a good deal we find ourselves out negotiated by the locals yet again.

Our trek leaves at 5pm so we have the day to waste. The heat here is something that has to be experienced to understand. The prevailing wind is blowing off the stony dark grey plains at the beginning of the Sahara and into the giant dunes. I decided to do some hand washing and have a shower. As an indication of how hot and dry it is my clothes have transformed from dripping wet to bone dry the time it takes me to have a shower and a shave.

The four of us set off for the dunes at 5 and spend about 2 hours riding to our overnight camp. My camel, Bob Marley, is a pretty good-natured beast and the journey is over in no time. On arrival we spend another hour climbing the dunes, which proves tiring and frustrating. Every time we think we are close to the top there is yet another little bit to climb. In the end we give up and head back to camp for an authentic Berber tachine (meat and veggie stew) and a sleep under the bright Sahara stars.

Bedoin hut in Sahara, Morocco

DAY 5 – A STEP BACK IN TIME TO VOLUBILIS

Roman ruins at Volubilis, Morocco

Brad and I are overcharged (again?) for a trip out to the roman ruins at Volubilis, which are still in pretty good condition. Left Volubilis, Meknes and Brad at 2pm to go to bus station to wait for a bus to Sahara border town, Risanni, which leaves at 11pm. with 9 hours to kill I set about achieving one of my main tour goals, mastering the java programming language. 7 hours later I’ve only read 70 pages (of 1100) and have sworn a death pact on Ivor Horton the author of ‘beginning java’.

DAY 4 – FOOTBALL FEVER IN MEKNES

Arriving in Meknes I met a guy from Toronto called Brad who turns out to be quite good value. His best story is that he was on a train near Fez a couple of days earlier that wiped out a truck that had stalled on the tracks. He said there were bodies all over the place and it was 45 minutes before the first ambulance was heard. I though that shit only happened in the movies.

Having a look around town we end up in a packed ‘sports cafĂ©’ watching Morocco play Senegal to qualify for the 2002 football World Cup in Korea. Morocco only needed to draw to earn the elusive qualifying place so the atmosphere was tense but confident. Watching football here is totally different to watching it in England. The major difference is that the people in Meknes were wired on caffeine instead of being sloshed on beer. Just after kick-off one of the locals asked us if we are supporting Morocco to which we replied, “Of course we are!” We both wanted to live to see the end of the day after all. In the end it didn’t turn out to be that dangerous as one mouthy Moroccan twat bagged Morocco continuously for being shite and got nothing more than a few dodgy looks.

At half time the guy in front of us offered us a mouthful of a clear liquid that he had been slowly sipping. His look suggested that we are about try something that would give him great amusement at our expense. A quick sniff and a sip later revealed that he was drinking something like what ouzo might be like if it were much much weaker. Clearly what passes for hard drinking in Morocco is a little bit different to the rest of the world.

In the end shitty passing and a lot of wasted opportunities cost Morocco the game one nil and everyone stalked out in a huff.

DAY 3 – FEZ

Hard working donkey in Morocco

Got up early for breakfast and left for Fez. I’m on a shoestring budget for a long trip and I have been taking a bit of a financial battering travelling with Emma and John due to their willingness to pay the first price picked out of the stratosphere by the locals. The final straw came today when I left them to pay our faux guide, Mohamed, for our tour of Fez. Faux guides are men who take you on tours but who aren’t licensed to do so. The reason that Fez has tried to licence the guides is the too many tourists have been given dodgy tours of carpet shops and other establishments where the faux guide can earn a big money through commission. This is pretty much what we got except I refused to but anything since I am trying to watch my money and anything I buy I will have to carry for the next three months. This didn’t stop Mohamed trying though and in every shop we were subjected to a sales pitch from the shop owner and from Mohamed. At the end of the day Mohamed to Emma and John to the cash machine and they paid him the equivalent of a month’s Moroccan salary for showing us around a bunch of his mates’ shops. They were a really nice couple but if I go on like this I’ll have to head back to London in a month.

I have been brushing up on a little local lingo since the language seems to flip flop between Arabic, French and Spanish and almost never seems to settle on English.

There are two types of taxis in Morocco. The grand taxis are mostly old Mercedes from the 70s and early 80s and are used for intercity work. The petit taxis are all Fiat Unos and are used for work within the cities. The petit taxis in each city are all the same colour and each city has its own colour, which is kind of cool. The taxi drivers here are easily the maddest fuckers I have ever had the fortune to travel with. Worse than the tuk-tuk drivers in Bangkok. Much worse. The root of the problem seems to be that they are paid solely on the distance they travel and the time they take is irrelevant. So the sooner the passenger leaves the vehicle the sooner they can endanger some other unlucky bastards life. To maximise their profits the following distances are measured in millimetres, the speed limit appears to be relative to much space you have to accelerate in and I don’t know what road lines are for but it sure as hell isn’t for indicating where you can and cannot drive. A good example of how mental these guys is occurred on our ride out to dinner this evening. Our driver sped across an intersection crowded with people honking at pregnant women and children forcing them to dive for the safety of the sidewalk. I have yet to see an old or even middle-aged taxi driver. Whether this is because their nerve breaks or if they just don’t last that long I do not know.

Later that night I took off to Meknes. On my own.