It would have been a great surprise if everything had gone smoothly during this trip. We were obviously aware of some difficulties and troubles we would have to face. But who could have expected that it would get exciting actually even before we stepped on Moroccan soil? We arrived at the Frankfurt airport tranquil, a few hours before our flight. This time hitchhiking went without a hitch. We had some spare time to relax and take a nap while waiting for the boarding.
It was two hours before the plane took off when we realized that Frankfurt Airport WAS NOT Frankfurt Hahn Airport from where our plane was supposed to actually departure!
So, thanks to me being extremely selective in deciding which part of the flight info is worth to acknowledge, we found ourselves one and a half hours away from the place we needed to be. It looked nasty.
Running out of the building, screaming (Ben) and crying (Marta), we tried to stop cars leaving the airport as we knew the last bus was gone. And then a miracle happened. A Tunisian fellow stopped and after 30 seconds of the ungainly explanation (sobbing plus a lack of time) we were inside his van speeding towards Frankfurt Hahn Airport. Even though the man was not going to our departure airport he spontaneously decided to give us a ride all the way (which is, by the way, 120 km from the city of Frankfurt, how does it make any sense?). We were completely stunned with how lucky we actually had been. Still overwhelmed by those unexpected twists of events, we arrived just on time to leave Europe as scheduled.
The first days in Morocco were truly wonderful. Ben, having fond memories of his previous trips in this country, tried to show me everything he loves about it. Wandering through the narrow alleys of the old town of Fes, he explained me what was the local food sold on the streets. He showed me the traditional handcraft and introduced me to the Moroccan music. Among various genres we highlighted the gnawa music, here is an example.
We tasted home-made couscous, ate tajine, harissa soup and even had some sandwiches with a sheep brain! We drank litres of tea with mint and amazing avocado juices. But nothing was as delicious as amlou– a paste made of argan oil and almonds.
We traveled through the northern part of the country where farmers cultivate an unusual crop.
Morocco is the world’s largest exporter of hashish. According to the World Customs Organization, the country supplies 70% of the European hashish market. Although statistics vary widely, hashish production is estimated to be 2,000 metric tons per year, with up to 85,000 hectares devoted to cannabis production, with a market value of $2 billion. We were shown how the marijuana plant is harvested, dried and “drummed” in order to produce hashish out of it. We listened to unbelievable stories of smugglers with jet skies going to Spain, helicopters landing at night with middle eastern traffickers inside and drug mules who were crossing the borders with up to 1 kg of tinfoil bags (called there pastiyat) filling up their stomachs. Here you can learn some more.
To be honest Morocco wasn’t really our travel destination of choice. We had only three months and, since we are going to come back there anyway, we were moving as fast as possible in order to reach sub-Saharan Africa. Though there was one major reason to come and stay for a while in Morocco. Back in the day, during his previous trip there, Ben met someone who literary turned his stay into an almost unreal adventure. While hitchhiking he was picked up by a man who turned out to be a treasure hunter, a mysterious and ultra rich guy with very influential friends. He combined the features of a charming and generous friend with a cruel and ruthless businessman. Incredibly smart, he changed his mood from one day to another which made being around him so damn interesting.
Long story short, they became friends. The Moroccan was always there for Ben, he respected him and treated him extremely well. Therefore Ben never judged him, never asked and let the friendship grow. Surely after receiving so much help, Ben wanted to give something in return. He found an opportunity to do so faster than he would have expected. His friend had been in financial troubles and needed a loan. And Ben offered to give him the money, everything he ever possessed, all his savings. Originally the whole amount was supposed to be reimbursed in a short time period, but that was never meant to happen. Ben was given a check as warranty however the bank account was empty and there were some more issues to overcome.
So, funny as it sounds, we were playing detectives, hunting the treasure hunter and trying to get the money back. In Kenitra, where it all started, we met Muhammad, our dear friend ever since, who helped us put this story together. After days of struggling we managed to contact the treasure hunter (who was doing business in a city close to the Algerian border) and made him give back what he had taken (Ben is very convincing). The hard part was over. Now we could move forward, towards Mauritania. But that didn’t mean the end of adventures in the Kingdom of Morocco.
After leaving Kenitra we grabbed an opportunity to spend some time on the countryside with another friends’ uncle -Hussein. He told us how he went on a container ship to Italy some decades ago and nearly died on it. He ended up living and marrying in the UK and finally got deported without a proper reason. His life is shattered ever since he came back. Hussein is truly something special, a bit of a lost person though. Stuck between his past and present, he wanted very badly to get his old life back and yet he could not achieve it. He told us stories about witchcraft and magic in Morocco, especially among Berbers as he was one of them. He acquainted us with believes and dark powers used by treasure hunters (!) which left us with eyes wide open and made our hair stand on end. Throughout the whole night we listened to legends of spirits guarding the treasures and about children sacrificed in exchange for the riches. After all the treasure keepers had their wishes as well. Children given to the djinns were supposed to have a distinctive physical feature- a continuous line crossing their hand palm.
Did we really believe all of it? Not totally, but isn’t there a little bit of truth in every legend? Ben has seen, heard and experienced enough to confirm that.
Later on we continued south. After visiting Tiznit and the beautiful Aglou beach with fishermen cave-houses we entered the Western Sahara. This part of Morocco is claimed by its inhabitants to be an independent country. Although the state has not been recognized by almost no other country in the world. Western-Saharans speak another dialect called hassaniya, which in fact is very similar to the Mauritanian accent, whilst all the rest uses Moroccan darija, three different Berber dialects and even French language in big cities. Women wear a robe called daraa which, tied in a special manner, covers all the body, including hair. It’s worth knowing that Men of the desert have clarified an explicit taste regarding feminine curves. Frankly speaking a girl needs to be fat in order to be considered desirable. The bigger she gets the more attractive she is. That’s why since their childhood women are fed greasy cream and sweets by mothers and aunts. One of the popular snacks (which we unwittingly tasted!) were dates dipped in sheep fat.
Travelling through the desert isn’t easy. Huge distances between cities makes hitchhiking risky as you never know if you reach your destination by dusk. Our last stop before the Mauritanian border was Dakhla. This city, located on the narrow peninsula, is a favorite spot of many surfers and kite surfers visiting it numerously each year.
As they say- first things first! After entering the city we immediately headed to the beach and jumped into the water. We loved the atmosphere there- everyone seemed to be very relaxed. People were smiling, children playing, like on never-ending holidays. There, like everywhere in Morocco, we met great people. Together we enjoyed the view on the Ocean during long walks along the coast and had a few glasses of… camel milk!
More than four hundred kilometers separated us from Nouadhibou- the first Mauritanian city we had been planning to visit. As there was nothing in between we had to take special measures. We would empty one of our water bottles while hitchhiking and show it to the passing drivers pretending to lack water (jumping, screaming and looking sad at the same time). As they stopped, it was much easier to persuade them to give us a ride further. It sounds quite brilliant, but the fact is that before actually getting a long ride we would receive six liters of extra water (which was not bad after all)! Eventually we reached the border just before sunset. It wasn’t totally stress free! The frontier between Morocco and Mauritania remains an old minefield. Moving on a mapped route, hundreds of cars maneuver between wrecked cars (exploited or burned) to reach the border crossing. The encounter with the border police went surprisingly easy and after only fifteen minutes we were already in Mauritania. Exhausted but ready to start another, even more exciting chapter of our African adventure we caught our next ride.
On our way through this beautiful land we have met the most wonderful and warm people (with a special emphasis on the Amazigh– the native people of northern Africa). Their generosity, hospitality and peace-loving nature left us speechless each day. Some of the goodbyes ended up in tears and some with ongoing friendships. All of them became priceless memories. Thank you very much Morocco for all the fantastic moments! We cannot wait to be back!
One thought on “Africa, part I: Morocco”
I very much enjoyed reading about your trip through Morocco. I like Morocco a lot and it’s inspiring to read about other people’s experiences there. Good you got Bens money back, that part really scared me!