Another fine mess.
When you’re looking for somewhere quiet to reflect on life. Away from the pressures of western society and all its associated navel-gazing Morocco is as good a place as any to start. If you find yourself in search of a break from the unscrupulous, the incorrigible and the downright nefarious then Marrakech might be less than ideal. Should it be that you need some calm refuge from the hassle of the outside world, the chance to move at your own pace, to breathe. You should stay as far from the medina as humanly possible.
What on earth was I thinking? As I’ve mentioned before, life in the centre of that wonderful city is as frenetic as it is frantic and, often depending on your mode of transport, it’ll occasionally dip into frightening too. Now combine that with the resultant hangover of the sort that can only truly be brought about by far too much rum and you’ll understand why I lasted two days.
You’ll also understand a lot more about my first day back than I possibly ever will. On inspection my notes descended past their usual illegibility at roughly the same time as my plane into Menara airport. Any budding graphologists are welcome to try their hand at deciphering my lost night on the strict condition they never tell me about it. On the bright side, I’m yet to have my hopes and dreams dashed across the porcelain by the local water – you’ve got to appreciate the little things.
Morning of day three finds me in Gueliz, the new town, one-way coach ticket to Agadir grasped in sweaty palm and beginning to melt in the already rising heat, all the charm of rendered tallow. Fortunately the air-conditioning is good, the place names translate hilariously and the scenery is as stunning as ever.
Heading out of Marrakech the scenery expands on either side, dusty red fields crisscrossed with irrigation ditches and lattice work demarcations. Then, depending on who is fucking around with which particular curtain at a given time, you begin to see the High Atlas range rising in the distant haze.
The next couple of hours are a bit dry so I suggest a touch of eye-spy-a-serious-safety-hazard, chuckle at the unfortunate nomenclature of the passing settlements or maybe just pray to the heavens as any reasonably minded Moroccan passenger should do.
As the ruddy, scree-banded landscape draws in and the ubiquitous, spiky green shrubs become more abundant you’re afforded brief glimpses, between the surrounding hills and curtain-botherers, of the staggering snow-caps that lurk behind.
Distant kasbahs blend almost perfectly with the surrounding valleys. Squat blocky pertrubances built from same rough-hewn, red rock about them with only the occasional minuret or football field to distinguish them.
The best way to tell the current gradient on Maroccan public transport is by the whining of the brakes. And as the pitch increases towards screaming, but hopefully not terminal, crescendo you expect the Atlantic to make an appearance, if only a distant one. What you get is anything but a disappointment; stretching off to the south as far as conditions allow is perhaps one of the most breathtaking vistas Morocco has to offer.
Hills interlocked by truncated valleys give way to each other in ever increasing magnitude like some impossibly perfect Mandelbrot set. Even the colours hold true in this fractal masterpiece of nature. Those nearest are speckled with a close pattern of the familiar dark green shrubs that peter out as altitude increases along with the snow cover.The immediate valley is rust which becomes mustard as the hills grow, then hazy green-grey and finally a deep slate of unimaginable age and grandeur. This, you realise, this is a place you cannot help but reflect.
Agadir bus station is, typically in terms of Moroccan civic planning, a long way from anything else and the on-site Taxi’s run to a staggering tariff. Two hundred dirham for the 15km ride to Tamraght seems laughable when you’ve just travelled from Marrakech for half of that. Chat to a couple of the cabbies and they’ll begrudgingly knock a quarter off the price and put you in a taxi that will make you wish you’d payed full.
Each major city seems to have a different colour scheme and preferred model when it comes to taxis; Essaouira is full of blue Dacia sedans whilst Agadir seems to prefer dinky red Peugeots. My taxi however was a mustard yellow Mercedes-Benz, clearly of ex-Marrakechi stock, and wouldn’t have passed a visual check by Stevie Wonder.
The only thing more disconcerting about this particular cab than it’s obvious state of disrepair was it geriatric driver. Considering no-one over the age of 60 should be working this guy clearly had the system beaten. By at least two decades. Better still he’d been rudely awoken and sent on his way for a quarter less than his usual fare.
As we moved away from the station it became clear we both had a similarly lacklustre grasp of French. All the more time to listen to the engine tapping disconcertingly. Anything more aggressive than a course correction would bring the crunching sound of ruined bearings only too familiar to a serial car abuser like myself.
Time to buckle up you might think but not according to my driver. Who meets my attempt to grab the seatbelt with a ‘Non, non! Is ok!’
‘Really?’ I asked. ‘So you’re a safe driver?’
A question that seemed to amuse him no end. Whilst he continued to chuckle at this joke I turned my attention to anywhere but through the front windscreen. Fortunately the Atlantic view as you leave the city and the vantage point over the enormous Agadir Trading Port is plenty, well almost enough, to take your mind off the road.
The port itself became Morocco’s main import and export hub in the 1800’s when newer, larger vessels found themselves unable to enter the shallow waters of the traditional port of Mogador further north up the coast. From above it has an almost Hollywood backlot feel with its high walled warehouses, palm-lined streets and shanty fish stalls.
Credit where credit is due, we only came close to crashing once, perilously close albeit, but I don’t think it was our fault. Tamraght is a surfers paradise, the perfect place to slow down. There are a number of surf-centric hostels and if Lunar Surf House is anything to go by then I imagine a lot of people leave with fond memories.
Sunset on the beach near Devil’s Rock is really something to behold and the seafood is understandably excellent. As ever my grasp of foreign languages turned the simple process of ordering food into another round of roulette. This time dinner came with a face. I’ll have to admit I find fish on the bone intimidating. But as any gentleman knows; if you can’t look it in the eye, you certainly shouldn’t be eating it.
Dessert was a much easier course to navigate – creme caramel. Who would have thought? I guess some things are universal. For instance ‘fuck sake’ seems to feature heavily in Arabic when playing games of table football. Not that all things have to be, sometimes you just need the right tone; ‘stop playing table football and pick up that fucking towel’ comes across clearly even to a Johnny Foreigner like myself.