Morocco | Dragged Face Down Across the Finish Line

Unfortunately, my Morocco diaries end not with a bang, but with a whimper: namely my own whimpering, plus a lot of shivering and groaning. I got sick – really sick.

Well, not that sick.

But pretty sick.

I don’t know how I got ill; I went to bed tipsy and fine and I woke up feeling a bit like ‘ow my head’, which is normal after drinking a bottle of wine, but the ‘ow my head’-ness stayed all morning and into the afternoon. I vocalised these concerns repeatedly, to the point that Sam had to tell me to shut up and stop being a fanny. It felt like flu, though I had no idea where I could have caught it. Dodgy food, dodgy water, who knows. My head was heavy, and I was feverish, exhausted, and increasingly delirious.

We left our hostel in Fez and slogged our way to the train station, then took the first train of our journey to Tangier. We had two trains to catch; there was a connection in a town on the coast somewhere. In our dehydrated and hungover state we managed to mistake carriage 27 for carriage 21 on our first train, which meant we were booted out of our seats after thirty minutes. The train was so crowded that we couldn’t make our way down to the correct carriage, so we were forced to stand in the corridor for the rest of the journey, trapped between a toilet and an extraordinarily vocal child in a pushchair, in the joining section of two carriages – a section that was so poorly held together that you could actually see through the floor to the tracks.

Fun fact: the toilets on the trains in Morocco empty straight onto the tracks. You open the toilet lid and look down and there is no bowl – merely a short shoot and then the dusty earth whooshing past. I didn’t take a dump on the train, but I imagine it’s a rather disconcerting experience, sitting down with your ballbag dangling over a scalding hot, flitting railway track.

By the time we arrived in Tangier I was three quarters dead and hateful. I tried eating a wrap bought from some fast-food place, but I couldn’t stomach more than a few bites. I was running on fumes; I needed a bed and twenty hours of sleep. There was still time for one last idiot decision, however: we chose to walk to the two miles from the train station to our hostel rather than take a taxi, because neither of us could muster the emotional strength to haggle with another bastard.

In a daze, then, I trudged beside Sam along Tangier’s waterfront. The city is fine; it looks more modern than the other places we’d seen, more familiar, but it’s not exactly clean, or indeed nice. I might be biased; I was too busy moaning and wheezing and cursing Morocco’s name to pay much attention to architecture. We made it 90% of the way there, but at the last stretch I gave up. The final three hundred metres was up a steep hill, and in the heat, with my two backpacks on, I knew I wouldn’t make it. I slumped on a bench and asked Sam to hail a taxi.

The cab dropped us in the old town, and I sleepily accompanied Sam to the hostel. Reception was up six flights of stairs, because of course it was, and during check in I struggled to keep my eyes open and focussed. I didn’t get the hostel owner’s name; I couldn’t form thoughts.

We were given our dorm and I climbed to the top bunk, took my clothes off, and lay face down, exhausted. My body felt like I was wearing a fat suit, like my limbs weighed a hundred pounds each. I would have to suffer a bit more before sleeping, however:

Enter the most irritating man on earth.

“Hey, what’s up children,” said an American accent. “Where’re you two from?”

Owhh. I lifted my head off the pillow and opened my eyes to acknowledge the lanky, curly-haired blonde guy who’d just entered the dorm.

“We’re from England.”

“Oh goody, even more Brits,” he said. “Ello mate. Seems like everyone I meet is British. I’m from the States.”

“Ha.”

“Bet you’re missing those beans on toast, right? You guys love that stuff over there.”

“…Yep.”

“You guys backpacking?”

“Kind of,” said Sam. “It’s just been five days. You?”

“Yeah dude, I’ve been on the road around Europe six months now. Say, how old are you guys?”

“Twenty-nine.”

“Ohh, pushing thirty! Gettin’ old, ha ha. I’m nineteen.”

“Cool.”

“So what’re your names?” asked the kid.

“Sam,” said Sam.

“What’s that? Som? Your name’s Som?”

He didn’t get it until we pronounced it the American way: Say-um.

“Oh! I thought you said Som, dude. And what’s your name?”

“Dan.”

“Dan and Sam. Y’all sound like a double act. Which part of England are you from?”

“Leeds. In the north.”

“I was just in England for two days, you know. That was enough, dude, honestly.”

“Hmm,” I replied, rather preoccupied with my slow death as the lights in the ceiling swirled around and merged with each other.

“Honestly man it rained so much when we were there. It’s just like… such a bleak country. Everything is so old, and it’s, like, so grey dude. No wonder you guys come over here for your holidays, ha ha!”

“Where are you from?” I yawned.

“Oh, I’m from Idaho.”

“Where?”

“Idaho.”

“Huh. Never heard of it.”

That shut him up.

*****

I slept for a few hours, shivering and sweating despite the AC pumping out cold air. Sam went out in search of pizza in the evening, and returned with two takeaway margheritas he’d found a short walk away in the old town. Again, I could only manage a couple of slices. We spent the rest of the evening on the roof terrace talking to a couple of Australian girls and a Moroccan guy, and then it was time for bed: my brain juice was fully depleted. I apologised to Sam that I wasn’t well enough to do anything fun in Tangier, but I think he was probably quite happy to have a chilled one after the mayhem of the last four days.

*****

We woke up at 5.45am with our alarms, and we hopped into a taxi we’d booked the previous evening. It was a one hour’s drive to the port (I’d accidentally booked a ferry leaving from a different city, weeee), and when we arrived we were informed that our ferry, which was due to leave at 9am, was delayed by three hours. The good news, however, was that the ferry preceding ours, which supposed to arrive at 6am, was also 3 hours late – and so at 9am we simply boarded that one instead.

After a long, confusing boarding process, we made it onto the ferry, where we bought two coffees, two croissants, and sat at a table at the rear of the ship. I was still shattered and feverish, but the knowledge that we’d made it to the end of our Morocco adventure made me feel a little better. When the ship moved off, we went to stand out on the deck to feel the wind and smell the fresh sea air.

Months before, at the very beginning of my trip, I had a conversation with a middle-aged German called Mike in Porto, in which he told me about a visit he made to Gibraltar. He told me that from the cliffs there, you can see Africa. I didn’t believe him at the time; I’d never heard anything like it. I told him I wanted to see it for myself one day.

Turns out, he was telling the truth. You can see Spain from Morocco and Morocco from Spain – and from the stern once we hit the open water, we could see both at once; one growing, one receding. It was a strange mixture of feelings, watching Morocco shrinking away from us. It had been a fucking intense few days, and in many ways the country had been unkind to us; our emotions, wallets and bodies had all taken a shoeing. But it was also an adventure, and adventures aren’t supposed to be easy. Nobody would read a storybook where everything went right; it’d be dull as shit. For real adventures – the ones that lead to great stories, the ones that help you learn and grow – you’ve got to get out of your comfort zone. And, of course, out of your comfort zone there also lies unpleasantness and scariness, and in our case, a fuck ton of goat heads. But hey – that’s the chance you take.

We took a photo, bumped fists on the windy deck, and headed inside to sip our coffees and watch Spain grow on the horizon.

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