NEW! A Hashmark correspondent’s adventures in Morocco:
There are benefits both to traveling alone and to traveling in company. There is, however, only one way to describe the transition from one to the other: unpleasant. First comes denial. Unable to come to terms with the lack of companionship and irked by that dead end that comes directly after finishing something and discovering that you have no idea what to do next, I paced, worried and feverish. I then replaced my friends with a book, finishing “Earthly Powers” by Anthony Burgess in three days, thinking of little else in the process. Having completed that, a sense of excited acceptance came over me, gone were the days of shakes and obsessive pen chewing. This change was helped along by the reemergence of this trips buddy from Canada: Guy, with whom I share not only a language but also a propensity for making distasteful jokes about the overweight Spaniards, who have flocked here over the past few days in droves. With acceptance has come adventurousness, no longer tied down by the tepid and tame Pascoe or the fun but reclusive Duncan, I have begun taking large hikes up around the “horns” that surround this little town, jutting up from its sides like a broken bone from a leg (an analogy that will become relevant as the story continues).
My first walk of any length came yesterday when Guy and a Portuguese chap named Miguel, who looks like a razor wielding pimp just returned from teaching one of the punters a very good lesson, but who is infact kind, honest and charming, asked me if I wanted to walk up to a deserted village. We trekked and scrambled up the hillside for about two hours, Guy, whose lungs are tar-caked at best, looked close to death. Rounding a rock face, we came across a small hamlet of around two dozen crumbling buildings and a dilapidated mosque. From there, there was a panoramic of the Rif mountains, stretching east away from the declining sun and the distant Mediterranean to the north, partially obscured by the mist below. What was on our arrival partially obscured fast became totally so as moisture congregated in the high skies around us. “Sheet,” Miguel exclaimed as he realised, incorrectly, that it was about to rain. “FARK, FARK, FARK.” he yelped as the hail hit, stinging exposed areas on our tretcherous stampede back down the steep slope. Aside from the gripping cold our descent was surprisingly successful. We arrived back at the Hotel, shivering, and the Swiss owners laughed at us while making tea.
Today, Guy and Miguel having gone on a days van ride to buy a hatchet, I was left alone, aside a Derby van driver and his manic Japanese wife, again. I decided to take a less adventurous hike up to a distant mosque, just visible from the hotel rooftop. Half way, I was feeling very good, exercise had pushed hormones around my blood stream in a manner that prompted completely unjustified elation. I sat a while on a rock and counted seventeen minarets from my position (mosque counting has become a hobby). This was interrupted by the aggressive scuttling of a three inch orange and black scorpion. Spooked, I got up and sharply continued my ascent. As soon as the shock of the scorpion had died down, I spied a huddle of men, grouped around a source of pained screams. As I got closer I saw that these were coming from a young man and a twisted bicycle wreck. his leg had split below the knee and his bone protruded a good four inches from the shin. I was not left to ogle for long. Two men in green uniforms, wielding AK 47s, shouting in angry Arabic, strode toward me. Grabbing my shoulder and continuing to shout, they escorted me back down the path from whence I had come. No longer was the scorpion of any concern, indeed, for the first time on this trip I seriously considered the likelihood that I may have to , at some point, catch the midnight express. They spoke no English, but barked a lot of Arabic, so for the half hour it took them to take me to the police station, I was in a heart pounding, muscle trembling panic. Once I got to the station, things took a dramatic upturn. Not only did the forgiving, English speaking officer search me and find nothing but fifteen Dirhams and a fossil that i had picked up, but “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees was being played in the cell next door. Maybe, I thought, “Moroccan prison will be a fun and funky affair.” I was never to find out. It was explained to me that a French gang had been busted up those hills with 400 kilos of hash, and the army was now patrolling and looking for western gangsters. The officer also told me that I looked like “the criminal sort”, before telling me I could go. With a frenzied relief I did just that. Having made it, sweatily, to just outside the front door, A voice stabbed from behind me; “Oi English.” The officer pointed suggestively at the holster on his hip and said with remarkable candour: “Next time. BANG, SHOT.” I have since resolved not to climb that hill again