After six nights in Mirleft and unsure of our next step (we are still trying to arrange our Atlantic crossing) I feel I need to explore some more. My new friend Hassan had invited us to come to his home town. Tanya chooses to stay in Mirleft and I set off on another adventure!
Hitchhiking with Hassan is quite a different experience than with Tanya. Though hitchhiking is common in Morocco for locals it seems that the combination of a local and a tourist together causes more concern. A truck stops and says he will take Hassan but not myself, many cars come to a slow to my side only to see Hassan and speed off. We are also slowed down somewhat as Hassan insists on taking me to numerous police stations along the way “so I know he is a good man and I am safe with him”, he tells me. I had no concerns but the gesture is kind. He explains to me that I am now his responsibility and that if anything bad happens to me the police will hold him accountable. He is my official “Garde du corps” (bodyguard). Along the journey, the locals we meet all presume I am Hassan’s wife. He does nothing to correct them just smiles when they tell him he is a lucky man (or so he tells me later, as they are talking in Berber). Eventually we make it to Bouizakarne where we receive a warm welcome from his parents. Then his father quickly takes my passport back to the police station, just to ensure all is well.
After having 3 nights in Bouizakarne with Hassan and his cousin Abdellah, one of which was spent on a friends remote family farm where we visit a lush oasis for an afternoon dip, Hassan must return to school in Mirleft. As we bid farewell to his parents his father passes me a note thanking me for being their guest, welcoming me back in the future and sending best wishes to myself and my family. I feel this beautiful gesture a true representation of Morocco – I arrive at their home, they give me a bed and food and then they thank me for being there. After much persuasion that I will be able to look after myself I part ways with Hassan and Abdellah (via the police station of course!) I rather enjoyed having my own personal garde du corps but, as always, I have the need to explore.
I head back to the city of Tiznet before getting a ride into the mountains. The scenery is stunning and, although the driver speaks no English, he seems happy to have me there, chattering quickly in French and stopping in various places for me to take photos. Around an hour into the journey he pulls over and picks up a young boy, perhaps 9 years old, who is hitching back to his home village. I was shocked to see such a young child getting in a strangers car. How different life here is to what I knew before. Unfortunately this ride was also my first chance to witness police corruption when the driver is asked to pay a fine for no apparent reason. Feeling bad I ask if it has anything to do with him driving me, but he insists this is not the case then drops me in the next village (whether this was as far as he was driving, fear of another fine or instruction from the police I will never know, but I certainly have my suspicions!) I am still around 40km from Tafrout, my planned destination for the evening, and the sun has already dropped behind the mountains, leaving me shivering in the cool mountain valley (leaving my rucksack in Mirleft I had packed light, with only a small bag and no jacket!) There is little traffic, no sign of a guesthouse certainly nowhere to pitch my tent in the surrounding rugged rock-face. Luckily a car soon pulls up, four men smile at me from inside. Though getting in a car, alone, with four men is definitely against all advice, I have no “creep feelings”, I am aware there is only one road ahead, which leads to Tafrout, and if I don’t get a ride within the next ten minutes it will mean I will be risking nightfall on route, or worse, darkness while still standing here. What other option do I have? So I smile back and squeeze into the back seat. The guys all seem friendly enough and we manage to communicate with mixture of Arabic, French, Spanish and English.
When we arrive in the town I explain I’m looking for a campsite (unfortunately my local sim wasn’t working in the mountains) It is explained to me that there is nowhere to pitch a tent only for caravans. I am invited to stay with the driver, he explains that his wife won’t mind. Hesitantly I agree to go with him, we have stayed with many people on our travels, perhaps it just feels different without Tanya here. I soon arrive to find the aforementioned wife and child are in fact not in the house. Oh, they live in Agadir? You omitted to mention this! Feeling alarm bells ringing I would like to leave but as it is now dark out, I have seen no hotels on the way here and my sim still isn’t working – I am at a loss as to my next step. Great Sally, you’ve really fucked up this time! He insists that he never meant to mislead me and there is a room I can sleep in alone, or perhaps with him if I prefer – I quickly tell him if I stay it will very much be alone in the room with the door closed. Making sure there are no more “misunderstandings” I literally spell it out in French then Arabic using my translation app. Think he gets the idea! I head to bed incredibly early, partly due to total exhaustion and partly due to wanting to avoid the awkward conversation that he keeps trying to lead into certain inappropriate topics. Of course I have my backstory of my husband who is working in Scotland and even my ring as evidence – I don’t like to lie to people, but for certain situations it is often the easiest, most polite way to convince a man you are definitely not interested. He clearly doesn’t believe me (I’m not a good liar!) and keeps asking for a photo. Panicking I show a family snap where I am sitting next to my brother, Graham. This seems to convince him and he leaves me to get to bed (where I make a mental note to make a “husband” folder in my phone gallery!)
I had planned on staying for two nights in Tafrout but decided I would head back to the friendly familiar faces and comfort of Mirleft. I raised early, made my excuses and spent the morning wandering round the beautiful area, viewing the unique rock formations and smiling back at friendly locals.
On the edge of town I had a lengthy wait for a ride, very little traffic and those cars that did pass stopped to apologise and explain they were driving locally. Eventually, with much relief, I saw a passed car break before shifting into reverse. Running up to the car I am greeted by a French family who are driving to Agadir and agree to drop me in Tiznet, which is only one 40km ride from Mirleft.
Tanya had gone back north to meet a friend in Agadir and will return the following evening so I spend the next day with Hassan and Abdellah at the beach, where they spend much time laughing at my naivety and warning me of dangers of being too trusting. Walking back to the house we come across a litter of puppies, looking hungry and alone. We look around and no sign of the mother. I decide I will pop back that night to see if she has returned. Late that evening back at Karim’s house I tell him about the puppies and show him the photos. Squeaking with joy and jumping up he says he will adopt one as they must be abandoned being so far from the town. So we head out in the dark of night for a puppy, returning with three.
Long story short – 48 hours later we end up with 6 little puppies running around our feet! One has been injured (most likely by a motorbike) and left for dead. Time to return some kindness and I spend a sleepless night with him, trying to feed, comfort and lifting him when needed as he cannot stand by himself. The following day I take him to Tiznet to the vet where it is confirmed that he has a broken hind leg and require stitches on the nasty wound on the front leg. After 2 more days he is able to slowly walk around and play with the other puppies. It is time for us to leave my adopted puppies and all my Mirleft friends for the direction of Western Sahara. Karim promises he will keep them safe and send me photos and updates. I’ve never had a pet before. Perhaps, if I ever do, I will start with one, not six!
So backpacks loaded up for the first time in over two weeks and off we set. We waving goodbye to good friends who, not long ago, were just kind strangers. Mirleft has a saying – Mirleft, never left. Well Mirleft, we left! But I can’t promise I won’t some day return.