Last week, we heard about Vince’s Moroccan adventures in Part 1: Intimidation, Mint Tea, and Hammams. It was nothing if not a heavy read, and this week’s tale’s both heavy and light in equal measure, as a good adventure often is. Vince is a mid-20s Aussie backpacker who recently spent 6 months in Morocco working as a surf instructor and got more than he bargained for, which he’ll continue to tell us all about in Part 2. –RationalMatthew
As my three month Moroccan visa neared expiration, I organised a trip to a small Spanish territory at the top of the African mainland known as Ceuta. My boss at the surf camp I worked at, Youness, decided he would make the 15 hour drive with me, escape his wife, and take the opportunity to look for a nice European car for the surf school which I could drive back for him.
An Unexpected Wedding
We drove the first half before stopping in the Moroccan capital Rabat. Now besides seeing the King of Morocco drive past us in a convertible Mercedes, Rabat was a unique experience for me for another reason: my first Moroccan wedding! Youness had a friend living in Rabat who was lending us his holiday unit in Tetouan, near the border to the autonomous Ceuta. Upon meeting this friend to pick up the keys, a neighbour had overheard our plan to drive the 15 hours straight and insisted we attend their daughter’s wedding which had just begun. Needless to say we immediately agreed.
Being the only foreigner there I had at least 12 other party goers around me at all times desperately trying to shake my hand, practice their English and hear me string together some simple and probably offensive Arabic phrases. Moroccan weddings are a very loud celebration, full of vibrant colours and an energy which allows revellers to continue partying until the early hours of the sunrise. Fortunately for me, after some conservative dancing so as to not be culturally insensitive (I did not gyrate as hard as normally), Youness insisted we hit the road again for the remaining 7 hour leg.
I arrived at the border around 3am, I had only my skateboard and a backpack with essentials, so naturally I was nervous at the thought I couldn’t return to my main luggage and surfboard in Taghazout. My concerns were short lived though as the immigration officer suggested I come back at an appropriate hour the next day and while he informed me I had to leave the country for two weeks he hinted that I explain my case to the supervising officer.
Twelve hours later I returned and while Youness waited in the car once more I walked through with skateboard in hand and backpack on. Just before I had the Official stamp me out of the country though I made sure I could get stamped straight back in. “No, you must be out for 24 hours” was the reply, so I snatched my passport back and called Youness for some translating. He came over to the officer’s window and ________________________________________________ on promises of jet-ski rides in Taghazout. The officer’s mood quickly changed and he merrily assured me I would be stamped straight back in. Across the 100m void I walked between the two countries, but I remained nervous about the arrangement that had just taken place and just had to assume that he would contact the officer at the other end of the void stamping travellers into Morocco and say something along the lines of “expect a blonde guy carrying a skateboard in just a second, don’t give him any trouble getting back in”. Of course my concerns were justified because as soon as the stamp-in officer realised __________________________ too. Problem was, I didn’t have Youness’ back up now, and if I was denied re-entry, Spain likely wouldn’t accept me either as I was still within 90 days of leaving the Schengen zone.
I had no choice but to cross the road just before entering Spain and try my luck at re-entering Morocco. Sure enough the officer stamping people in looked at me and said “Go see my supervising officer”. I pleaded back “Please sir, I’m a surfer and the season is only just coming in. Can you please just stamp me in for another 3 months?” A shake of the head and directions to the supervisor’s office was all I was offered.
At the surly supervisor’s office, I recite the same practised spiel about being a surfer and wanting to stay for the better waves. I ask if he wants to talk to Youness, who also has the original officer nearby. This higher-ranked fellow was in a bad mood, and me annoying him with my petty qualms was only making it worse. What made it hellish though was getting onto Youness but the line dropping out as I handed the officer the phone. The man was clearly a fan of bureaucracy, and constantly stared daggers at me; the tourist wanting to re-enter his country to, as he may have guessed, work illegally.
I made connection with Youness again, and thankfully the line didn’t drop out this time. I knew the answer before he handed the phone back though: “Return to the entry officer and apply for an extended 12 days with the police in Agadir.”
Head down and resigned to having to leave in 12 days at best, hope flared as I spied the original officer as I approached the stamp in desk. “Look,” he explained, “I don’t have influence over that man, but I am above the stamping officer so I’ll tell him now to give you the three month stamp and he can’t refuse. I overheard the supervising officer talk with Youness but couldn’t risk requesting you get the 3 month stamp in case ________________________, but now once you get this stamp we don’t chase it up so he’ll never know.”
After an hour of not technically being in either country I received my stamp and didn’t waste haste leaving, in case someone changed their mind! Our return journey went hassle free after some celebratory drinks and some much needed sleep. Soon after our return though I did get pulled up by a random road stop. Luckily though I had my good friend and surf camp manager Hamid with me, and he could adequately explain to the police the reason for the bald tyres, cracked windshield and missing mirrors by ____________________ as he looked at my licence.
Crazy Camels and Sure Footed Donkeys
Experiences with Camels and Donkeys in Morocco are unavoidable as they are abundant throughout the whole country. My first experience with both a Camel and a Donkey at the same time was a real highlight for me.
I was leaving Tamri beach where a local camel herder kept his 100 or so camels (he was a very wealthy man considering they are worth anywhere between €1000 and €4000 each!). I was with Hafid who just so happened to be from the same village as this herder, and thus they were old friends. The herder was carrying an old, dirty plastic bottle which he had filled with camels’ milk, which is quite rare and very expensive. He saw me eyeing it with curiosity, which soon turned to trepidation as he explained he had just milked one of the camels whilst waving the old bottle in front of my face.
“You must taste” urged Hafid, so I reluctantly obliged and although the milk was warm from being so fresh, admittedly it was quite pleasant due to its sweetness. Now happy that I had tried some camels’ milk, and content to continue on home, I did then notice that the herder was atop a donkey! Being attracted to their big ears and placid nature, I decided to ask Hafid to ask the man in Arabic if I could have a ride of his donkey. The herder nodded his consent and showed me how to jump on.
The way to mount a donkey is to jump straight onto the upper back (base of its neck) with both legs off to the same side. At first I was a little sceptical of doing this rather than the traditional saddle straddle, but I was assured that donkeys are incredibly strong. True to the herder’s word, saddleless, and legs dangling to one side made for an extremely comfortable ride, with none of the bouncing around and leg chaffing like on a horse! The best part though was how well trained the donkey was. A little tap on the bum got him trotting at a comfortable pace, a gentle push on the side of the head in the direction you wanted to go and it would turn that way but my favourite was getting it to stop by whispering “shhhhh.” From that moment on I fell in love with Donkeys and vowed to ride them again whenever I got the chance which was of course a handful more times whilst in Morocco.
As for the camel rides; much less pleasant. One of the first things I did in Morocco, before arriving at the surf camp, was go on a camel ride into the extremely hot, remote Saharan Desert with some friends. Now riding a camel may sound like fun, but they are stinky, your legs cramp up and your bum gets very sore, very quick.
On the way to our camp which awaited us for a sleepless night in the Saharan Desert, for some reason, the camels suddenly got spooked and took off galloping which the guides certainly didn’t expect, resulting in them taking off in an awkward, painful sprint for about 30m. Luckily the guides, who lead the camels by a rope out the front, managed to calm the beasts before anyone got thrown off.
Unfortunately I can’t say we were all as lucky the next day on the return journey. An American man named Mike was on a particularly restless camel, and whilst he managed to absorb the first few bucks after accidently dropping his water bottle onto the animal’s foot, he was eventually tossed down from the 2 metre high camel’s back onto the rocks below. Too bruised to get back on, Mike and his guide switched jobs and Mike was left to walk the remainder of the journey back through the Sahara desert leading his nemesis camel by the rope.
I had countless adventures during my all too-short visit to Morocco. It is a beautiful country and I met some friends that I hope to be in contact with forever. I can recommend it either as a respite from the Schengen zone or for a dedicated adventure, and I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have! Mafi mushkila.