I made my way south from Seville to a small southern port town situated on the coast of Spain. Here I boarded a ferry to take me across the Strait of Gibraltar into Africa. On the ferry crossing I found myself surprisingly relaxed and even receptive to the conversational overtones of another traveller. He was from France with no fixed plans beyond visiting Morocco.
As Morocco was a former colonial country of France and as French was still spoken there he offered to help me out with the local language. It was an offer I was very grateful to accept and we agreed to start our travels into the unknown together.
The ferry passed the famous Rock of Gibraltar landmark. It was not long before a larger more mysterious landmark, the continent of Africa, came into focus. The land looked inviting, an entrance to adventure, love and pain which somehow stretched all the way down to Cape Town in South Africa. As the ferry docked in the port at Tangiers I said a few private prayers before Sebastian and I walked down the gangplank towards customs.
I had referred to my Moroccan guidebook on the ferry crossing. This stated unequivocally to keep your head down, walk quickly and talk to no-one when entering Tangiers. This was because the unemployment rate in Morocco was high and when not fishing, ripping off the tourist was the best way for the locals to make a living. The guidebook went on to state the locals would attach themselves to any tourist and not leave them alone until they had made a financial gain.
I took the opportunity while waiting in the customs queue to inform Sebastian of this advice.
Past customs and leaving the port behind, we were greeted by a horde of Moroccan males offering us their friendship and help. Well the guidebook seemed to be on the ball so far. I continued to push ahead, avoiding eye and conversational contact of any sort.
I suddenly stopped, noticing Sebastian was no longer walking beside me. I turned my head and with anguish noticed he was in a friendly conversation with a small group of locals. Shit!
Sebastian and one of the locals walked up to me. Both had a huge smile on their face.
The local spoke English and stuck his hand out in friendship.
"My name is Karim. Want to buy a rug? Best quality and prices in town."
I had just landed in a foreign country and I still had to covert my currency. The longer this guy spent with me the more he would realise I was a prime target for a rip off.
What was I thinking about? He would have realised that already.
I instinctively knew I had to somehow detach myself from this Karim.
I tried to be friendly.
"Look, I'm not interested in buying a rug so can you please just go away."
I tried to ignore him.
I then tried to lose him. From the port I walked away from the town centre, away from the currency conversion booths and along the beach which lined the ocean front of Tangiers. I thought if I walked up and down this beach for an hour or so surely he would lose interest. But I forgot he was a fisherman with a whole day to spare. The reeling in of his catch was now only more of a challenge and therefore more worthwhile.
I tried sarcasm which he only found amusing and tried talking in riddles which was for him a free lesson in English.
I finally gave up.
At least he had given up on selling me a rug and now just wanted to take me to his brother in law who had â€˜the best currency conversion rates in town. I relented, wishing I had the foresight of Sebastian who had already converted his currency back in France.
Currency converted, and small discrepancy in the correct rate later noted, Karim then took us to the bus station. Despite his earlier protestations that without his assistance the station would be impossible to find it was a prominent building situated on the water front.
Sebastian and I then booked our tickets for Casablanca. The bus was due to leave within a short space of time.
Now that he had gone down all possible avenues in his pursuit of wringing money out of me Karim took the opportunity to offer me some additional advice. It seemed genuine enough.
"Look, don't trust anybody, especially the locals."
Well, thank you, but I had already read that in my guidebook. For free, by the way.
We said our goodbyes. I had the impression he had enjoyed his day and did not begrudge the fact I didn't offer him a monetary tip for helping us find the bus station.
Sebastian and I then boarded the bus, heading south towards Casablanca. It was not long before night encased the outside of our tomb and Sebastian struck up a friendship with some more of the locals. He departed with them at some stop before Casablanca and disappeared into the darkness. He was obviously in Morocco to experience the local culture whereas I was just trying to survive as best I could.
I debunked from the bus at the Casablanca terminal in the middle of the night and asked for directions to the cheapest hotel. I was pointed in the general direction of a host of deserted streets. Cautiously I tried to find my way in the dim darkness towards some hospitality. Eventually I came across a steep flight of stairs which led to the foyer of a hotel. I assumed it must be cheap as by its appearance it would have to be on the city council's list of destructible sites and facing imminent demolishment. I was subsequently staggered at the price they wanted to charge for a room. I hastily retreated down the stairs to look for a cheaper hotel and get back some of the money I had lost on the currency conversion.
Ten metres down the road I noticed a shady figure standing in the shadows. It was the same figure I had noticed following me from the bus station. I rethought my position, turned around and clambered once more up to the hotel foyer. I paid for two night's accommodation instead of the one, thankful the proprietor hadn't taken my decline of his initial offer as a personal offence.
It was a new day, one for new experiences in a foreign country; experiences such as a shower involving no more than pouring a cold bucket of water over ones head and the toilet been no more than a hole in the floor.
Morning chores completed, I then went to a nearby outdoor restaurant for breakfast. Surely this should be a better experience, eating the local Mediterranean cuisine in an outdoor setting. But it was hard to relax when the service I received was distain; as if they would much prefer to piss in my food than serve it to me on a plate.
After breakfast I walked down the wide boulevards where the variety of goods on offer stretched to different colours and sizes of rugs. Luckily I was able to walk down the boulevards amid general disinterest from the local salesmen.
I then went for a walk to the Hassan II Mosque. This Mosque stood as one of the biggest in the world and had a huge courtyard. The Mosque was located near the ocean and after taking a few photos I walked back to my hotel via the ocean front route.
A car had broken down. I interrupted my walk to give the driver and his companion a hand to push-start their car. They appeared grateful for my help. Suddenly a van which had been driving along the road stopped and a person dressed in an army uniform disembarked. Pointing at me he spoke to the two car occupants in a distasteful manner. It appeared they were been chastised for fraternising with a westerner. As I was the only westerner in the vicinity and was constantly been referred to through finger pointing I assume he meant me. I was told to be on my way through shooing motions. I guess it was nothing personal. It is a strange world in which we live and I was just getting my first glimpse at another side of it.