Wednesday, 3 August 2011
It’s Ramadan at the moment, so there’s a celebratory mood in the air, here in Morocco. This fair was just outside the main train station in Tangier.
I bought some tasty fresh-made potato chips while I was there.
“But wait!” the keen observer might say, “What’s this about a train station? I thought you were going to see Tangier?” Indeed, you’re right – I was. I had all the research complete – things to do, things to eat, places to stay. But Tangier, although it’s the 5th-largest city in Morocco, still leaves something to be desired. I simply didn’t think I’d have time to go further afield.
But I met a couple of fellow backpackers on the bus/ferry ride, an Aussie/Kiwi couple, and they said they were planning to take the overnight train to Marrakech, and on the spur of the moment I decided to tag along.
So I’m writing to you now from a hostel in Marrakech, where I’m waiting to check in.
The train here was great, incidentally. It took about 10 hours and I slept nearly the whole way.
I also had a Moroccan coffee in the train station, which was SO good. And I bought a baguette – which looked and tasted like a ham baguette. Which struck me as a little odd, considering.
Two notable “negotiations” – you’re mobbed by insistent taxi drivers as soon as you arrive in Tangier; insistent that they, and they alone, should take you where you want to go. Keep your hand on your luggage, lest they eagerly take it and start walking in the direction of their waiting vehicle. The three of us chose a taxi, but the driver we met first was insistent – he should take us; he was first; him and him alone. He badgered us and badgered the other driver. Finally the other driver gave up and told us to go with the first, something I was rather reluctant to do. But as soon as he had us in his clutches, he became a basket of smiles and a warm and friendly host, showing us the sights we drove past along the way and explaining what he could in his passable English. Which is his fourth language – he speaks Arabic, Spanish, and French, all of them better than English, he told us.
A taxi brought us from the train station in Marrakech to the old town where taxis cannot pass. We got out with our luggage, and what’s waiting for us? A man with a cart, eager to carry them for us and show us the way. Very eager. Cling-on-you eager. After a while it seemed easier just to give in – which is how they win, of course. But it was nice to be rid of my heavy suitcase. The price we negotiated – 5 Dhs, or somewhat less than a dollar – seemed fair. And he showed us right to our hostel. Whereupon he complained that the deal was not for five dirhams, but five-zero. Funny how we didn’t understand that at the start. So he badgered and cajoled, and then took his badgering and cajoling to the poor receptionist, going on for five minutes without respite, complaining, his soul wounded, while we all looked on in embarrassed silence. “Should we just pay him another five, maybe?” one of my fellow travelers asked. I had the change but insisted on not doing so, but so long as nothing was given, we couldn’t talk to the receptionist and check in, since he was monopolizing all her attention.
Finally, he left.
As I walk through the souks today, I’m sure I’ll have many more such stories to report.