We’re up at dawn and go for a quick dip in the sea, with the guys from the military looking on with incomprehension. Who would chose to jump into such cold water? Their faces seem to say.
By the time the sun rises, we are already on our way. We stop for breakfast somewhere high up on the cliffs. Just when we’ve sat down to a plateful of scrambled eggs, a boy appears, satchel on his back. He starts to talk to us in Arabic. How I wish I could understand more. But it is clear that he wants money from us. All through Morocco, we have searched for ways to deflect this energy of begging into a more positive contact, a more fulfilling and lasting exchange. This time, it is hard. The boy is in some kind of distress. I don’t understand what he’s saying. We offer him food but he declines and wants money. He starts crying. He says something about his parents, or his family, and something else about his school. My guess is that he has to pay for something in school that his family cannot afford. Or maybe he’s putting on a really good show of distress. If we had more language between us, I’d be able to react more adequately. From everything we have seen in the last months, it doesn’t make sense to just give him money. Let’s say, it is as I seem to have understood. He needs money for school. Lets say we give him some and he delivers it. What does that solve in the long run? Next time he needs money, it’s the same story. Also, how do his parents feel if as a foreigner I help out with something that they would like to be able to offer themselves?
It could also be that he was a refugee, but in that case I would have thought he’d gladly accept the food.
Eventually he walks away. As soon as he’s gone, I see other solutions to this situation. I should have offered to come with him to the school, or to somewhere where there’s an adult who can translate, to find out what really is the matter. This would either have called his bluff, and/or I might have been able to really help him in some way. I feel so sluggish sometimes. All my creative thinking goes out the window when in a situation!
I look out for him as we travel on, but cannot see him anywhere along the road.
Before we head for Tangier, we stop off once more in Tetouan. The old medina is calling us once more, to stock up with spices and dried fruit, and to immerse ourselves one more time in the beautiful chaos, full of colours, sounds and smells, that makes the Moroccan markets so inimitable.
We get lured into a beautiful ancient Pharmacy, with shelves upon shelves of jars full of mysterious herbs and spices.
Our last stop in Morocco is not far from Tangier harbour. We have arranged to meet up with a lovely young German family we met in a campsite some weeks ago. As we follow a bumpy road through the hills for the last 20 miles to Tangier, rain settles in properly, running down the roads and turning any earth patches into mud bogs. The landscape could be northern Spain, or even Wales, witha bit of imagination…
We park up next to the family’s 4×4 and invite them for a meal chez restaurant Rozelaar. We talk about our travel and share plans for the future. Their older child, a boy of 6 years, wants to go to school, so it’s time to settle down and they are heading back to Germany to buy a house, having traveled for a couple of years. It’s nice to see their happy anticipation for this next chapter in their lives.
Despite the rain and windy gusts, Frank and I take a little trip to the local market. We get chatting to a street vendor and the conversation turns to the King. Just as we have heard it all across Morocco, there is a strong support and admiration for the king from this man. He tells us that just the other week, the King came by in a car, just him and his cousin, no bodyguards.
We want to write a letter to the King.
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We steer out of town. Once more the sea is calling us, but this time it’s the Mediterranean. Park4night tells us of a spot in nature, in a valley towards the sea. Little do we know that to get there, we go along one of the steepest roads yet and, by what I can glean in the moonlit night, one of the most spectacular valleys. We have to come back this way one day, in daylight!
After about an hour of zigzagging to the point of total disorientation, we arrive in a quiet spot, a dry riverbed by the looks of it, but we think we can risk it, it hasn’t rained in a while…
We have a quiet night, only broken by the occasional snuffling of some animal outside, maybe wild boar. The next morning, we discover we have parked amongst lavender fields. A little stroll towards the river takes us past some people loading earth from the dry river-bed. We greet them when we pass and only get a scowl in return. This is very unusual for Morocco, and it makes us think that they must be up to something shady.
We drive on down to the sea by Oued Laed, where we spend the rest of the day chilling and catching up with writing and admin.
We get chatting to a couple, who have traveled the world with their large 4×4 vehicle. They say it’s quite easy to travel on through Mauretania and all the way down to Senegal. Hmmmm, maybe some time. But we’d need more time than our normal 6-8month window of traveling. They’d taken a couple of years to travel down to Senegal and then take a ferry (with their vehicle!) to Argentina and made it all the way up to Alaska. They spoke about their 25 year old daughter, who is married and with child and a good job, who accused them of having abandoned her. It’s not easy for the children to understand their parents’ travels, we have found that too. This kind of traveling is not a holiday, as some might think. In fact, we work more than we would at home. In my case, there is all the administrative work related to organising the various events I run in a year (amounting to about 20 hours of desk work per week), plus about two months per year of teaching workshops and at festivals abroad. There is the daily physical routine of yoga to maintain our bodies for the times when an intense phase of dancing and teaching hits us and there is my daily instrumental practise. Then there is writing the blog, which in the case of Morocco may one day make it’s way into book-form. We also get involved in farm work wherever help may be needed, mucking out, mending walls and fences, cutting hedges clearing the undergrowth, planting, hoeing etc.
Frank makes a lot of marmalade, which gives us an opportunity to reciprocate the locals’ generosity with something home made. In Europe he also gets quite a bit of massage work. The van is ideal: the massage table fits perfectly and a quick blasting of our wood burner cranks the temperature indoors up to over 25 degrees.
Living in the van is also connected with some daily physical activity, such as finding and cutting wood, sourcing water etc. It’s a different life, but after 4 years of living it, I wouldn’t call it a holiday by any description. Yes, we are in a camper van, yes, we travel, but that is where the similarities stop.
I’m not complaining though. It’s fab. Today, my office looks out over the sea, tomorrow I hear the frogs croak by the side of a little stream, or I’m overlooking a peaceful campsite. When I’ve had enough of sitting still, I take the bike and ride along the promenade, feeling the spray of the sea in my face and the wind in my hair.
This particular beach is under army surveillance. In fact, the next few days show us that the whole of this coast is heavily guarded by the military. We get talking to a soldier early one morning, who tells us they are on the look-out for drug traffickers and for emigrants attempting to cross the sea.
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(This chapter continues from two chapters ago…)
It is a bright and sparkly morning and after our Yoga session inside the van, we take a stroll down to the house, marmalade in hand. The dogs and the geese make a real racket when we approach, and the woman I met the day before waves us into her courtyard where she has prepared a lovely breakfast for us, with fresh bread, scrambled eggs and olives from her own garden. We have our limited conversation on the topic of our respective families. How I wish I could speak a bit more Arabic! We spend a lot of time just smiling at each other and showing each other photographs, but somehow we manage to exchange quite a bit information about our lives. The 21-year old daughter is at home, meticulously sweeping the yard with a broom in one hand while holding her mobile in the other, on which she receives a constant flow of messages from her fiancé.
It is ok to speak about this in the presence of the mother, and it ellicits a happy smile in the daughter, so I presume all is going the right way for everyone in this family, and it’s not long until the marriage.
When we leave, we are showered with gifts – Olive oil, freshly pickled olives, Beldi Lemons and we ‘retaliate’ with a jar of Frank’s marmalade. We invite the mother and daughter to come and have a look at our van and they extract a promise from us that we come and visit again next time, insh’allah.
On our way to Chefchaouen we stop once more to buy more pickled olives and beldi lemons from a family with a roadside stall. We chat for a while in the morning sun before heading off again. Just as we’re saying good bye, they bring out a litre of Leban beldi as a gift.
We have two important missions today: Frank needs to find somewhere to watch the 6 nations Rugby match and I want to buy myself a shorter, more westernised version of my Jellabah in Chefchaouen, one which won’t look too strange once we come back into Europe.
We find a place to park Emma in town and go and explore. It’s amazing how much less energy it takes to go to a place that you’ve been to before. When you know a few things already, such as where to park, and how to get to the town centre from there. There’s something to hold on to, a familiar structure that allows you to economise with your senses and go about your business with more clarity. And yet, straight away, the mind looks for new things. We choose a different route up into town, one that leads through some back streets. We pass the workshop of a very skillful carpenter working on various Andalusian designs. He kindly takes the time to show us the various patterns. Some of it is highly decorative writing. i find it impossible to see the letters, even after a few months of reading practise…
We then head for the top of town to the cooperative where we bought or first jellabahs. However, I don’t find what I’m looking for there, so we stroll back through the old town. I see two jellabahs that I like but only buy one.
After a delicious lunch, Frank settles in to watch Rugby in the van and I head out to buy vegetables – and the other jellabah that I saw but didn’t allow myself to buy earlier. Maybe I want to hold on to Morocco…
It is dark by the time we leave. Frank has seen his two games of rugby, and I, the Minimalist, have managed to obtain two extra jellabahs, in addition to the one I already owned!
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