Tricks for Travelling Solo
Nature abhors a vacuum. So without a travel companion, my psyche simply split and I could talk to my other self.
We didn't always agree but it was nice to have someone in a tight spot.
I was nervous setting off from Fez to back-pack so I bribed myself. Two nights of sheer indulgence - an eco-gite in the mid Atlas Mountains. A traditional Moroccan mud-brick farmhouse, lovingly restored, with thick hand-spun Berber carpets and rich in cultural heritage. A remote utopia where eagles soared above stony slopes crossed only by goat tracks.
Morocco by Grand Taxi
It was a long journey and I would do it all by Morocco’s Grand Taxis - shared cars that plough between regional destinations. On the second day I was decanted on a deserted road and waited for Aqilah to pick me up. (It wasn’t that simple, but I’ll cut to the chase.)
When I got to Aqilah’s house, his lovely wife brought out warm bread, olive oil and peppermint tea. Aqilah wanted me to book mule rides, a kayak on the lake or a birdwatching expedition for the next day and it took some persuasion just to get him to take me up to the farmhouse.
It was a stony, uphill track and, at a distance, the gite looked splendid.
Très Jolie - On Closer Inspection - Très Terrible
Aqilah showed me where I would sleep on the upper floor. At first glance it was pretty with fresh blue and yellow paint-work; it took a second to see the filth. The dirty carpets and grubby mattresses; a couple of which were draped with stained sheets. The droppings; everywhere - rats or mice - gerbils or jerboas - or all of them. I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing, but strangely docile, I followed Aqilah down to the kitchen. Platters and bowls encrusted with leftover food, days or months old, sat on stockpiles of grimed and greasy plates. Every surface etched with the grot of ages.
No wonder the website said no chemical cleaners; no cleaners at all
Stunned by the sleaze, I tried to see the bright side. I waved my hand vaguely at the mud-brick fortifications behind the house, which were mellow and shapely in the afternoon sun.
“Très jolie!” I said.
My psyche is shouting differently; très filthee…, c’est crasseux.
Aqilah was delighted and took me on a tour. He beckoned me over to see the underground olive press and opened a chute. His shining torch revealed a ghastly accumulation of rubbish, plastic bottles and tin cans.
As we walked round to the house I realised much of the rubbish hadn’t even got that far, the whole place was one big tip. I felt, by then, quite spooked to be alone on a blasted hillside with this man who thought it très jolie. I got interrupted.
No Gill, you said très jolie. And you just paid Euros 40 a night to stay in a squalid ruin.
I know but I'm here and there must be something good about it.
Très jolie - this guy is bonkers - he just took you to show you his rubbish tip.
Why did I say très jolie? It is très terrible.
But Little Bits Were Très Jolie
I sat out on the little veranda and read, trying not to indulge my rising hysteria when up the hill came Aqilah's wife with a tangine, fresh bread and a thermos of tea.
The warm dusk settled with her arrival, scribbling out the scruffiness, caressing the crumbling mud walls, infusing the painted woodwork. She had a strong, sun-beaten face and she patted my hand, grounding me and I could not help but relax. What else was there to do? What's a little bit of dirt between friends?
After dinner, with a candle in a glass jar, I wriggled into my silk sleeping bag liner and wrapped the pillow with my scarf. I slept soon enough but was plagued with bad dreams. I twisted hearing small scuffles in the room and brushed my face imagining things crawling over me.
In the morning my dreams were fully realised - tiny black mites were running over my cheeks, behind my ears, through my hair, along my arms, over my hands.
I jumped up and had stripped naked by the time I hit the shower. I turned on the tap but there was no water at all. I grabbed my towel and flew down to use the trickle of cold water from a tap outside the kitchen. I splashed water everywhere, combed my hair vigorously and rubbed myself with lavender and tea-tree oil.
“Douche, Madam? Pas de l’eau,” said Azilah.
Forget the Breakfast
He went to get breakfast but soon reappeared with his finger dripping blood. I had no plasters, but poured tea-tree oil in the cut. He yelped and took off down the hill.
I packed and followed suit. Bugger a bloody breakfast, I wanted out of there.
He met me on the path. I told him I was not staying. He was disappointed. He said there was no ute so there was no way for me to go. He also wanted me to pay for the next night. We had an impasse.
I Set Off Down the Road
It started as a pleasant stroll along the lakeside, greeting a boy herding goats, then an uphill haul to the main road which was actually quite a minor one. That took an hour. I was hot, tired and hungry. There was nothing on the road, no house, no shop, filling station - nothing, and nothing for it but to keep walking and hope for a bus or a taxi.
I practised Thich Nhat Hanh’s walking meditation. Then I listed the reasons why the situation was good: Vitamin D, exercise... The list was so short, I moved onto affirmations. I said out loud, "I am OK, I am strong, I am OK, I can
walk a long way."
Sweat trickled into my eyes, but without shade I just needed to keep walking.
Affirmations are all very well, but I knew I was talking baloney; the next town was 30 kilometres away, my pack weighed a ton, the sun was hot and I didn't have enough water.
I’ve never hitched.
In Morocco? Are you mad?
So I Tried Hitching
I heard a car coming so I stopped and patted the air at waist level which seemed to be a slow down, stop, look at me sign and I thought less likely to be misinterpreted than sticking my finger in the air. The car pulled up. He was helpful and told me I was on the right road for Azilal. Another car stopped and another. They reassured me I was going in the right direction. None of them offered a lift.
I began to think that I would skip hitching and go straight to holdup.
The universe likes a joke, the next guy who pulled up was a policeman. He drove me into town, took me to the Grand Taxi stand and organised the next leg of the journey. I offered money for petrol, but he would not hear of it.
It was the next day before I started to itch.
Footnote: On TripAdvisor, subsequently two people shared a similar experience - well not quite; they took one look and didn't stay but just got into and onto their respective vehicles, a car and a motorbike, and got the hell out of there.