A while ago I went travelling around Morocco with a total waster called Pete. I wrote this article as an entry for the Daily Telegraph’s travel writing competition, it’s basically just a description of what happened when we arrived . It’s pretty pretentious, but I thought that would mean I won. I was wrong, but here it is anyway.
As our taxi sped through the African night, I was grinning like a nutter.
Just that morning I’d been on a rainswept platform waiting for the train from Kentish Town to Cricklewood. We’d only booked the flight (one way, no return) five days earlier, after a few beers and staring down the barrel of the dark, wet British winter. Morocco sounded better.
I looked at the world outside; a group of laughing kids playing a game of tin-can football, stray dogs rummaging through rubbish heaps, a rusty moped – driver sandal-clad, one foot on the seat – that fizzed past the window with a metallic hum. Silhouetted in the distance the towering Atlas mountains, dusky brown with glistening white peaks by day, now the darkest shade of blue-black against the starry sky, stretched along the horizon.
The driver had decided I was mad the third time I asked him how ‘full’ he was in broken French, meaning to ask ‘how far?’ But he was just the first of many ridiculously good natured Moroccans we’d meet, and his deep bellowing laugh cut through the language barrier better than words could. Pulling up by a small gathering of people huddled round a curbside fire and handing us our bags, he smiled, smacked me on the back – ‘shukran!’ – and rumbled off down the dusty road.
I looked at Pete, my friend and travelling companion, and raised an eyebrow. Neither of us asked; we each knew the other had no idea where to go, and we didn’t have anywhere booked. So, figuring we’d find a hostel near the central square, we started off down the best lit street we could see, stopping every so often to ask directions in a language we couldn’t speak. Here and there we passed groups of men in robes, congregated under the luminescent white light of a single shadeless bulb, drinking tea, chatting, smoking shisha. We caught glimpses of family life through shutters and ornate archways, and walked on wide eyed.
An hour passed, and we knew we were lost. Lights began to go out, and at last we were alone between the stretching facades, save for the odd mutt padding softly behind, and a cat or two.
‘Speak English?!’ We turned. ‘I work at a hostel. We have beds.’
Later, we would learn that many new arrivals get lost in the winding alleyways like we had, overwhelmed by the intensity of it all. But for now we simply followed our new friend gratefully, and asked very little.
That night, for less than the cost of a London bus fare, we slept on a roof terrace beneath the stars.
We didn’t return home for quite a while. Strange, that.
By Max Klinger – follow me on twitter here