The Morocco Hitch: a narrative.

The French Bit: Bon-Jour!
As I write I am sitting on a small cushion in the back of an unmarked white van. Manouche jazz is pumping from the crackling sound system. The two girls are upfront staring out across the vast motorway system of Northern France. Surrounding me; decorating the walls, lie trapeze harnesses, juggling sticks, huge novelty worn down ties, clown make-up, a locked thatched chest which I do not dare to open and multiple other intriguing and mysterious items. As the van comes to a rather abrupt halt I slide forwards on the floor towards the driver’s cabin. No, I am not being kidnapped by a travelling gypsy or a Stephen King-esque circus clown, I am on my way from Amiens to Rouen hitchhiking a ride with a generous and incredibly funny actor-come-musician.

My two team-mates and I have just spent a good two hours lounging about in our new friend’s house, Emily, also an incredibly kind natured person, studying, I think medicine given the abundant quantity of journals on neuroscience and the ‘Science of Forgetting’ that lined her bookshelves. Either that, or they were both in on a scheme to, without our knowledge or memory, drug us and harvest our organs – hence the books. However, as far as we know, this was not in fact the case! Not only did Emily cook us lunch, but she also let us use her shower. So, while I strummed away on Christophe’s guitar (Christophe is the actor-come-musician), my teammates washed one after the other.

The hitch has so far not gone without its complications, but it most definitely has once again, as with Jailbreak, shown the fundamental good-nature and hospitable character of select humans willing to take forlorn travellers along the road for nothing but a conversation. I suppose we were just thrilling personalities to get along with, even with the linguistic barriers – or maybe that helped! Even on that note, joking aside, when fatigue sets in or the will to talk fades (which for me is extremely rare), a quiet and comfortable ride is by all means accepted, and even cherished by most hitchers and most hitch-ees.

Sleeping Rough: Very, Very Cold.
The climax, to date, of the trouble that we have faced was in finding ourselves completely lost outside Blangy-sut-Bresle having been taken there by a motorist intent that we could hitch out way onto the motorway to Rouen. This was, of course, bound to backfire, and we spent the night in a shoddily assembled tent with rain pouring in through the insecure sides. Not getting even a minute of sleep, paranoid about the compromising position of our tent, and the harrowing and aggressive wind, I got up from my prone and hapless position at five in the morning. I was suspicious of the supermarket near which we had set-up camp and the possibility of it coming to life and crow-barring us up and out from our sincere lack of slumber. Realising only then that it was, in fact, Sunday and that the supermarket would have been closed all day, we walked through the morning fog, laden with ridiculous amounts of luggage, to the motorway where, due to the considerable lack of traffic and the excessively early time at which we had begun, we failed continuously at our dangerous attempt to hitch either on the slip road or on the motorway itself.

Breaking Away from the North.
Right now I am sitting in a Total gas station just off the motorway leading down from Bordeaux and Biarritz to the next stop, only thirty-odd kilometres away, which is San Sebastian, and Spain! As I stare half awake at the empty lorries and vacant petrol pumps I appreciate the sheer immensity of what we have so far managed. Starting this morning in Alencon, having been dropped there late the night before, we have had a hectic, rushed, and remarkably productive day. Firstly being picked up by a man who worked as a kitchen salesman, he kindly took us all the way to Chateaumur where we got out first dose of real French sunlight, and the refreshing taste of Coke and coffee! From there, having bought brioche and tabouleh from the local Intermarche – unintentionally linking our ultimate destination with the country we were in – we managed to get a lift to Poitiers where a kind woman driving a Bentley told us about her children, being our age, who had hitchhiked themselves at some point, as had she.

Pyrenees or Portugal anyone?
Finding ourselves stuck for the night at this service station we once again slept out in the open and would have taken it in turns to sleep had I not completely lost track of the time and forgot to wake them up when it was my turn. At about seven in the morning, having tried to hitchhike for a while and having asked many French, Spanish, Sengalese, and even Moroccan drivers for lifts, we jumped into the leaking but stylish and efficient car of a friendly Kiwi surfer called Rowan who took us not just to San Sebastian, but to Bilbao, then Burgos, then Valladolid, then Salamanca, then into Portugal, down to Lisbon, and right down to Albufeira! The long, vacant motorways of the Algarve lit up as we powered steadily down the spine of Portugal to the upbeat sounds of The Shins and Radioshack, and some very essential American punk rock and 80’s pop music. Reaching Albufeira late at night, we had a celebratory meal at the McDonalds to wrap up the trip and waved farewell to Rowan, our most recent and I think we would all agree, best hitch.

Back into Spain, Coasting the South Coast.
From the centre, we walked out to a service station on the road to Faro and from there, with the help of approaching a stopped car and asking where they were going, we got a lift to the centre of Faro where we met an ex-Rhodesian paratrooper who had fought against Mugabe’s regime and then fled Zimbabwe having been integrated into the newly formed army, serving amongst those who he had previously been fighting against – and to his bad luck, who had shot him in the legs and feet, twice in the stomach, and once been the cause of a piece of shrapnel that dug its way into his skull. The reason I can attest to this part of his story being true, is because he actually showed us the lifelong scars that riddled their way down his calves and the mark on his head when the metal had entered. We then stayed in a hostel for the night, which we all massively appreciated – despite rising tensions amongst us all. I then proceeded to shower twice, having not done so once in the past five days of travelling.

Port Escape: Algeciras.
Sitting in the port town of Algeciras staring at the empty plates in front of me I gasp for fresh air having stuffed every last portion of my stomach with fresh cod and prawns, and something resembling plaice in texture and consistency. The aromas of cinnamon, turmeric, nutmeg, and a dash of chilli emanate elegantly from the warm dishes. This is, without a doubt, the warmest food that has touched our lips of any from the past six days, aside from a ridiculously expensive takeaway pizza that the owner of the hostel where we had stayed the night before had ordered for us completely incorrectly but very kind-heartedly at about half-past midnight when we arrived in Algeciras. The town automatically withdraws itself from traditional Spanish culture as that of Cadiz is remarkably Africanised. The food is that of a port-city, offering an expansive and varied selection of seafood adorned with African spices and exotic herbs. The people have a slightly darker tone and annunciate their ‘S’s’ more than elsewhere in Spain, as a driver explained to us they do in Sevilla. The buildings appear a lot more worn down but remarkably sturdy. The air is fresh but has the lingering smell of fuel escaping from the port. The sky is clear. The streets either lined with palm trees or the harsh tones of modernisation and change in the form of fencing or building works. The people: polite, intensive, interested. We are clearly on the border of continents.

Crossing the Mediterranean
The boat veered slowly into the port. The ship’s horn resounded and the docking bells sang. Several people lined up to disembark on the cargo bay of the ship, waiting for the gangway to be lowered for the few passengers to get off. Helping a man with what appeared to be his lifelong possessions (in weight and quantity), we got off the ship and ran as fast as our legs (and the bags on our backs) would allow us in an attempt to make the last evening train down south to Marrakech that would leave at ten past nine. Unfortunately, seeing as we had had to get the slow car ferry across from Algeciras, we got to the train station a few minutes late and had missed the train. We then walked around the city for a little while and found a cheap hotel after entering another, finding out it was too expensive, accidentally smashing a (as far as we were told) invaluable vase, and apologetically leaving the scene.

Port Success: Tangiers
The divers and very confusing mixture of languages spoken in Tangiers consisted of French, Spanish, Moroccan, and Arabic, as well as a small amount of English. This was epitomised by the maître-di, who spoke all of these languages fluently, at a very reasonably priced restaurant where for about sixty Dirhams (six Euros) we each managed a substantial and undeniably mouth watering meal of couscous with chicken, chickpeas, herbs, spices, and other assorted vegetables. What seems relatively simple was actually extremely wonderful and the few ingredients were made to seem many by the exponential effect of the exotic spices used to spruce up and extenuate the flavours. To top it all off, for desert, we split between us a classic Moroccan rice desert which was essentially a crème brule with a hint of lavender and no hard sugar caramelised on top; a slice or tiramisu; and a lemon tart. Altogether, the meal was taste-bud shattering and fantastic. The standard Moroccan sweet mint tea followed on as a complimentary addition to the meal, which according to the waiter, who immediately took a shine to us thinking I was an American surfer because of my Oakley-like metallic mirrored blue-tinted sunglasses, was the prohibitionist replacement for whisky. This was, he said, aside from the one subtle difference between the two which is that where large amounts of whisky puts you gradually to sleep, large amounts of this not only wakes you up, but keeps you buzzing for hours to come!

Train Ride via Oasis, Destination, Marrakech
We woke up early the next morning, against many of our wills, and took ourselves and our bags down to the train station where we bought tickets for the train down the coast to Marrakech. The journey was incredible. Staring out of the window one could see such a cultural and societal hotpot of financial and emotional well-being. The open countryside directly outside Tangiers, in the suburbs, was, whilst pretty, layered with rubbish, in which people lived, worked, and even bathed. As you go further out into the country, aside from a few small villages dotted around the suburbs, the scenery was stunning. The land fertile, the grass abundant shades of green. The people become increasingly cheery to the extent that a girl smiles at us as the train pulled out of the second or third stop.

The train ploughs through the bumpy terrain, coasting lightly, meandering slowly through the shapely ground; penetrating the luscious rolling fields. Topping all this as the soundtrack to our journey, the slightly irritating and fuzzy sound of Arabic music permeating from the low quality speakers mixed chaotically and haphazardly with the sounds of individuals playing their own music out loud from their various phones and the occasional laptop. The combination of the beautiful and vastly different countryside and the atmosphere of the train itself put its inhabitants off sleeping… or maybe it was just me.


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