Moving on in Martinique

The last week or so had been exactly what I needed after leaving St Lucia. It has given me time to contemplate my decisions (good and bad) and remind myself of the great times I’ve had as well as my reasons for challenging myself to this type of travel.
After spending just over a week with Capitan Rui (who I sailed with from St Lucia) on his yacht, it was time for me to think about moving on to a new destination. So, backpack on, I raised my thumb for the first time since Senegal.

I have to admit I was feeling a little nervous at first. There wasn’t a great distance to travel but I was alone and unsure where I would be sleeping that night – neither of these things are new to me – but no matter how much I tried to deny it, even to myself, I was still feeling the effects of my recent negative experiences.


After a long hike up a hill out of town I only had to wait a few minutes before I had my first ride. I felt relieved and exhilarated, buzzing on the high of traditional hitchhiking once again! Two more rides, and some seriously dodgy French skills, and I was dropped right in the marina.
Thirty minutes later and I have a sign up in the marina notice board (though feeling less than hopefully with the 40 or so other similar posts) and have settled down in the marina bar with a coffee, desperately trying to listen for anyone talking in English (this is France and it seems only the French are here). I must confess to a rather unsuccessful afternoon, with not even the motivation to dock-walk (the common practice of walking boat-to-boat, making connections and asking if they, or anyone they know of, have need for/space for another crew member onboard).
I eventually decide to take a walk on hunt for a spot to pitch my tent for the night. Again, this was not my most successful venture, and decide on a spot just beyond the marina car park, knowing I was in full view of the road, but with thoughts of safety from nearby people. I return after darkness to a clearly not well inspected spot of broken glass, bright street light and dog shit. To make matters worse I had only just been told that I was breaking the law as wild camping is illegal. But it’s late and I have nowhere else to go. I only hoped if I was moved from my spot it would be by the police and not marina security – at least then I would have a cell to sleep in for the night, and maybe even a meal (I hadn’t dared to get my stove out here and was very hungry!)
The following morning, after a very restless sleep, before sunrise I was up, tent packed, backpack on and had decided for a safer, more comfortable place to stay that night, regardless of the cost…
I spend the next two nights in a campsite outside the town of Sainte Anne (only 20 minutes ride from the marina). Here I meet many long term campers who seem to have formed a community – each evening bringing food or alcohol, cooking, socialising and playing music together. The first night I am invited to join them for pizza, made from scratch and cooked on an open fire while listening to the beautiful sounds of their various instruments (randomly including a trombone – not the most backpacker friendly instrument I would imagine!), and discussions in a mixture of French, Spanish and a little English. It doesn’t matter to me that I don’t understand the majority of what is being said – I feel relaxed, safe, accepted and happy.

In the mean time my advert on the marina notice board had paid off… I receive not one, but two, offers to join boats – north to Grenada or south as far as Trinidad. The fact that Trinidad Carnival is known to be in the top three in the world and the capitan is planning to arrive just before it begins may have swayed my decision…


So in an hour or so I will set sail with Capitan Maurice, from Switzerland, and a French couple, to slowly island hop our way south via Saint Vincent and Grenadines, Grenada, Tobago Cays and eventually Trinidad.
I am excited for my journey ahead and look forward to seeing other countries, having new experiences and meeting new people. I have not given up on my adventure or belief in the kindness of strangers!

Ups and downs of St Lucian paradise…

Not all strangers are kind. In fact not all people you spend time with and get to know turn out to be kind either.

It is saddening to me that I am left feeling bitter and resentful about St Lucia even though I met many amazing people and, for the most part, had a great time.

I did promise not only to tell half the story. So here’s the other side of travelling – in St Lucia I was lied to, manipulated, used, threatened, followed and eventually, on what should have been my final night on the island, robbed at apparent gun point. I suspected there was no gun which was why the three men had to rip my bag off my arm while I, perhaps stupidly, grabbed at the guy with the “gun” then gave chase while the other two cowardly scumbags jumped back into the van with the waiting driver. (4 guys to rob me – these boys must be proud!)

So leaving the island with frightened, no money, bank cards, phone or camera it was difficult for me to focus on the incredible experiences and fun generous people I met while there. So I write this not just to tell you a story but to remind myself to focus on the good.

Well, arriving after 19 days at sea on a small boat with no fridge and no shower you can probably imagine the first two priorities for us was to wash then eat some good food. So after a quick clean up on the boat off we went for the most blissful cold trickling shower I’ve ever had!

It’s New Years Eve and we are on dry land so naturally we are wondering where the party will be that night. Within 30 minutes we’re talking to a rather eccentric, rather hungover English guy. He is there to visit friends who are working on a boat. Stu will soon become a good friend and a big part of my life in St Lucia. After a trip to town to try and find some accommodation (somehow unsuccessfully), Tanya, myself and our new friend Stu hit the marina bar for a quick beer before taking a walk to the boat his friends are working on. Now this isn’t just any boat – it’s a pirate ship! Little did I know that in the days ahead I would be calling this ship home.

We end up seeing the new year in, not dancing on a beach or in a bar or club but on Stu’s friends own private boat out at anchor, away from the crowds. I imagined after so long at sea it would be the last thing we would want to do but, in fact, it was the perfect evening. With the beautiful unconventional family – Stu’s friend Chris, his partner Ali, his strange little 13 year old daughter Noa (who collects rocks and has pet snails and who I now think of like a little sister) and 84 year old Capitan Kirk – one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

The next day we are soon offered a place to stay on a yacht with a professional skipper who sails for a living. We spend the following days sailing or having trips out on the dingy to beautiful beaches while enjoying good conversation, a little too much rum and a lot of laughs!

Tanya and myself have by this point decided to go our separate ways for now. She flew to Grenada to meet a capitan and begin another adventure from there. She is doing well and enjoying cruising the Caribbean!

But as I mentioned – the pirate ship would soon be my home… One day I go to visit the ship and find Noa struggling with her maths work (she lives on a boat so is home-schooled) I offer her some help and suddenly find myself with a new place to stay and a little bit of cash in exchange for maths lessons.

For the first week or so I stay on the boat with just the 3 local guys who work on board and find myself on many an adventure – beach days, BBQs, street parties, boat parties and a fantastic day when they invited me to Sefrou with a group of their friends for a road trip, music, dancing, waterfalls, swimming and a serious feast (these Rastas know how to cook – no disposable BBQs or frozen burgers here).

Once Capitan Kirk, Chris and his family and eventually Stu all move on board it is becoming a busy place with us all sleeping up on deck while work is being done down below in the engine room and cabins. I have been in St Lucia for sometime by then and realise I must move on (and as I mentioned all these good times had coincided with some rather shitty times) This is when I meet Capitan Rui who agrees I can sail with him for a week or so before he has to return to St Lucia.

And there my new adventure begins…!

My time in St Lucia was filled with so many incredible people and great experiences. I will not let the actions of one sad bullying individual allow me to stop believing in the kindness of strangers!

(Unfortunately I have no photos, as mentioned my phone and GoPro have been stolen. Only the above one that some kind stranger took as we sailed into Martinique then later found our boat and sent me them)

Western Sahara

Western Sahara is a disputed territory fought over by Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. There is a huge military presence, with around one third of the Moroccan army stationed here. There are many land mines (an estimated 5-10 million!), more so to the East but also close to the coast heading south of Dakhla (where I caused Tanya much concern by taking a little “shortcut” or two when heading off the road to get to the beach we were wild camping) and around the Mauritanian border.

We travel through this vast area on the west, where the tens of thousands of miles of near empty Sahara desert come to a dramatic halt as it reaches the rugged Atlantic coast.

Our first stop in this region is the city of Tantan. After a late start from Mirleft we arrive in the evening so quickly find somewhere to stay, eat some food and get our head down for the night. In anticipation of a night to be spent in the desert, we raise early and purchase eggs, veg and bread for that evening before we start the walk out of town, thumbs halfheartedly stretched out as we go. Before we reach a suitable hitchhiking spot a car pulls up. Enquiring in broken French if he will be driving toward Laayoune he smiles and gestures us into the car talking excitedly in a mixture of French and Arabic. We soon realise Badr is in fact not going anywhere near Laayoune, or even leaving the city. He takes us to his mother’s house where we join the friendly family for breakfast.

After some time we eventually communicate that we must be getting on the road. Once every member of the family has taken photos with us and made sure they have my phone number. They present us with gifts of jewellery and Badr takes us to the police checkpoint on the edge of town where himself and the police arrange out next ride.

We spend 2 nights in the beautiful Bedouin camp, where we are the only guests.

And, again, the rain has followed us!

Upon leaving the camp we are quickly picked up in a car packed full of people, luggage, misinterpreted conversations and laughter then soon find ourselves invited for lunch in the family home, not before a tour of Laayoune and even a quick nap.

We spend the following days covering hundreds of kilometres of arid desert as we head south to Dakhla where we meet a friendly Swedish-South African couple and spend many days camping out under the stars with them in the region.

The kindness of strangers is extended once again where Tam, a keen outdoors adventurer and collector of many travel gadgets and accessories, begins gifting and trading his belongings to make our kit more practical for our lengthy trip. So after four days of fun, hiking, wild camping and one sunset skinny-dip we sadly part ways with our new friends, promising to meet up somewhere around the world in the near future.

Mirleft – never left!

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!

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Hitchhiking with Hassan. my pretend husband!

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.

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Heading into the desert to the farm the car kept breaking down, I wonder why…

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The guys took me to an oasis for an afternoon dip

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Tour of the farm land

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.

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Only vehicle for 2 hours…


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.

Morocco – Marrakech to the Coast

Marrakech seems a sharp contrast to the Morocco we have come to know and love. It is big and busy and loud. The beautiful caring Moroccans who yesterday were inviting us for food in their family homes are now shouting at us, grabbing and dragging us in every direction. Both Tanya and myself are experienced in large busy cities like Delhi and Bangkok but something about this city makes me feel slightly uneasy – though perhaps it is just my utter exhaustion after such a long day. It was with great joy and relief when we see Oulliam’s smiling face great us, like an old and familiar friend! We have a rather delicious (if not exactly traditional) dinner of sushi as we chat away together, mostly in broken French. The following day he takes us out for breakfast where Tanya and myself (rather embarrassed!) walk into a very fancy restaurant wearing our very unfancy backpacker clothes while Oulliam insists we look lovely. After breakfast he takes us for a tour of some of the sights of Marrakech. It seems much calmer and safer in the bright daylight with our local host than it did when wandering around lost and alone the previous night. Marakkech is infact a beautiful colourful and buzzing city – when you go to the right places.

Unfortunately Oulliam must head out to work then back to Casablanca but insists we stay another night in his home to have time to explore the city some more and even relax by his pool.

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Having a well deserved dip in the pool in Marakkech

Feeling we have had enough of Marrakech and craving the sea air we get on the road early for Essaouira. After a few short rides around the outskirts of the city we have barely raised our thumbs when a bus pulls in. “Autostop – Makenis fluss!” I shout over the busy traffic and wave them on. “Ok, no problem” calls the driver and out jumps the conductor to open the luggage compartment then ushers us toward the bus. We look at each other. We’re not paying for it so still hitchhiking – right? Tanya’s smiling nod confirms my silent question. So we squeeze into the tightly packed bus bound for Chichaoua.

One more ride and we are at the coast. As Achmed pulls into a view point for us to take a photo I feel the fresh breeze against my skin. Essaouira is living up to it’s local title – ‘The Windy City’.

After a quick tour of the town it is agreed that we will stay with Achmed for the night (which soon turns to 3). He is a young, though very successful, business man who seems to find our lifestyle and lack of financial motivation in life almost unbelievable but yet rather intriguing. He goes as far as to offer to pay for our transport and accommodation for the remainder of our time in Morocco, which we decline with thanks, explaining that we have enjoy travelling this way. Tanya and myself spend the days exploring the slow paced city while in the evenings we are together with Achmed drinking local wine and smoking shisha.

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Beautiful boats in Casablanca

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Casablanca is a slow paced fishing town

I find it amazing how we have stayed with various different people each with very different backgrounds and lifestyles yet all happy to share their lives and homes with two unknown backpackers.

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Stuck in a traffic jam outside Essaouira

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Don’t fancy his job!

 

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We were invited for lunch when passing this bird shop/farm outside Agadir

Arriving in Mirleft the sky is ablaze in fiery reds and oranges but as the sun quickly disappears into the ocean we are aware that we must soon find a safe place to pitch the tent. The young doctor we were travelling with asks where we are going to which we reply with a shrug and tell her we can just hop out where we are. She tells us if we need anything we can ask for her at the hospital where she works in the next town. Waving goodbye we head off in the general direction of the ocean, hoping to find a secluded spot on the beach. A lot of chatting with friendly locals while walking we are soon invited to stay in a guesthouse for free as they do not want us camping on the beach. We agree to pay something towards costs and settle in for an evening of laughter, music and, of course, tagine. We will spend the almost two weeks together with Karim (who amongst other things is a surf teacher!) and his many friends who come and go from the house.

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Didn’t catch any fish but Sally made a new friend!

Tanya and myself had two attempts at fishing in Mirleft and, technically, we got fish each time – though just not with our lines. The first day I got chatting to a friendly young guy who studies in Mirleft, Hassan. As we sit getting battered by the waves with increasing ferocity we chat about life and travel. Having both been unsuccessful with the mornings fishing we agree to meet up later that day where he will show me the best spot, only accessible when the tide is out. I clamber back up the rocks, soacked to the skin, to Tanya who is basking in the afternoon sun. When I return alone that evening I am disotintated by the dramatically changed coast and unable to find my new friend so choose to perch myself on the cliff and enjoy the cool breeze and the magical sunset. As the sun disappears into the horizon I turn back to town before total darkness encompasses me. Hearing heavy footsteps running behind me I suddenly feel very alone and far away from town, perhaps I should have returned sooner. As the footsteps come to a stop next to me I turn to see Hassan’s exhausted face smiling at me. He had been fishing and caught sight of me climbing up the cliff edge.

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Stunning Mirleft sunset from the cliffs

His evening’s fishing was more successful than the morning and he has four fish so we are invited for dinner at his house he shares with 5 other students. We wander back to collect Tanya and head off through the village. As we enter his small house his roommates all imadiatly jump up to politely greet us. The evening is spent enjoying Bèrbère singing while Hassan plays the guitar and learning new card games while one of the guys cooks up the fish in a delicious tagine. Later they escort us back to our house and exchange numbers, agreeing to meet another day for some fishing. Our other attempt at fishing ends when a local fisherman tells us it is not possible to catch where we are at that time and passes us two fish. Yet again the kindness of strangers helping us along.

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Sharing the love in the “hippy village” of Mirleft.

Morocco – The Kindness Continues in the Atlas Mountains 

After a quick coffee in Tiflet Othman dropped us at the toll “peage” on the outskirts of the town. A policeman approached us and after asking our nationality he tells us the best place to catch a ride, then proceeds to approach cars to help us arrange a ride toward our next destination – the small traditional mountain village of Bhalil. When we are dropped some miles from town it is already getting dark and the sky is threatening rain. Luckily we are picked up by two young men who insist on driving off their route and right into town, clearly concerned for our safety and questioning where we will sleep for the night. We assure them we will be fine. Though as we clamber out the car into the buzzing old town we realise it may be more difficult than we hoped. Definitely nowhere to pitch our tent we stroll into a cafe. All eyes are on us. 

From what I had read, this village does not get many tourists, especially two girls with backpacks wandering around lost, late into the evening. The owner of the cafe, Yusaf, approaches us and we order coffees (though somehow Tanya gets only a glass of warm milk). His English is near perfect and we ask him if there is a cheap hotel in town. He tells us there is a hotel close by and he can take us there but we soon realise the price is way out-with our tight budget (this is apparently the only accommodation in town). Perhaps the cool night will be spent taking turns each sleeping in a damp doorway while the other keeps watch.

Clearly seeing our options are running out Yusaf kindly offered us to stay with him and his family for the night. Ten minutes later, we have a bed made up and after the traditional welcome of milk and dates we are sharing a meal “my family eat together, and you are now part of my family!”, Yusaf tells us. We all chat away in a mixture of  broken languages, Yusaf assisting the conversation with much translating. We thank them for inviting us into their family home and they thank us for bringing the rain from Scotland (apparently there has not been rain in some time and it started the moment we wandered into town).

It is beautiful to hear Yusaf talk of his family and the love for his wife and mother. He describes a pyramid with Allah at the top, family in the middle then life, business and home at the bottom. A home and work is important to hold up the love of the family and God. He also talks rather frankly of the marital arrangements, causing his young wife to blush when he explains the tradition of the wedding night (exactly one year ago that day!)

Later he takes me aside and I receive the same advice we have had many times before, and will hear many times again – be vigilant and don’t trust everyone; we are two young woman putting ourselves in vulnerable positions and many people may try to take advantage in many ways, he explains. I thank him for his advice and reassure him that we are always aware our situation, trust our instincts and will not take any unnecessary risks.

Raising early the next morning only Yusaf’s mother is up. She has been hard at work in the kitchen preparing a meal. We are invited to eat with her while the rest of the family stay sleeping. Along with the usual khobz we have crepes and fruit, accompanied by home made honey, jam and a type of nut spread (not dissimilar to peanut butter) and, of course, plenty good strong coffee. With a belly full of food and the rest of the family still sleeping we head out to explore the village.

Bhalil is a beautiful mountain village set back some distance off from the highway with nothing but mountains surrounding it. Because of it’s secluded location it has kept it’s traditions more so than most other towns and villages in Morocco which, with better connections to the cities, bring in modern life and tourism.

As we explore a warren of streets and alleyways luck strikes again and we bump into Kamal Chaoui. He comes across us as I am taking a photo of the stunning contrast between an old crumbling building and the bright colourful doorway next to it. He explains in perfect English that, like us, he sees the beauty in places others do not. Kamal is actually the owner of the guest-house we were recommended the previous night and leads tours of the village for his guests. He describes, with pride, the things that make this small village so unique and offers us to view one of the 500 ancient caves that are still used today (around 100 of them as homes). As we descend down into Abdel Latef’s workshop it is like entering Aladdin’s cave. There are artefacts ranging from old Ethiopian sculptures, photos and paintings from all corners of the earth, records and tapes, jewellery, old electronic devices, beautiful crockery and about anything else you can imagine. My eyes didn’t know where to look! He is a carpenter and artist, doing much work for Kamal both in the guest-house and around the village. Though he is clearly a collector of, well, almost everything at heart. As we exit the cave Kamal appears again and invites us to view his guest-house and the incredible views from the roof terrace. He introduces us to a woman and asks us to share our email and blog details then, again, off he runs. The views from the terrace are wonderful but it is the stunning attention to detail in the guest-house that really amazes me. Delicate hand crafted woodwork and traditional art bring real life to the many rooms and hallways.

The following days are spent slowly making our way through the scenic Atlas mountains, where we are picked up by various cars and trucks. Two young men from Fez are out for a drive and offer to take us to Ifrane. As we drive they ask about our countries and how they compare to Morocco. They talk of people in non-Islamic countries having bad views of Muslims. I insist that the majority of people do not hold these ignorant opinions. We agree that in any religion, race or nationality, of course there are some who do bad but a very small minority. They talk of injustice and racism in countries like America and UK. It is saddening that they have this idea of what my home country believes. Not as saddening, though, that for some it is true – this is what they do believe. I promise them that though we cannot change the world I will share the stories of the goodness we have received from Moroccan people.

Morocco So Far – Our New Family

With such an eventful 7 days in Morocco so far I feel there is enough to write a whole book.

Arriving in Tangier we were on such a high to set foot on African soil that it was all a bit of a blur (though that could be partly due to the truck driver hotboxing the cab on our first ride!)

We climbed into Mohammed’s truck one last time for us to drive off the ferry together then he waved us off in the middle of the busy port in Tangier. Trucks and buses swerving around us we stumbled off in a random unknown direction. Eventually, with help from police and dock workers, we made it up to the highway.

Trying to avoid the swarms of taxi drivers approaching us we kept walking till we were happy with our spot on the busy road. Once again we got our sign at the ready and thumbs out. Unfortunately, the taxis soon arrived, one after another, trying to insist that they will take us and lowering the prices as we decline. We have to keep explaining in very broken French/Arabic/Spanish that we do not want a taxi “auto stop seulment“… “makeneis fluss“… “no denero“… we plead with them. (“Hitchhiking only”, “no money”). As I approach a car that stops, I am, again, surrounded by people talking to me in various languages (none of which were English). I glance over at Tanya for help, she replies only by taking a photo of my panicked face from a safe distance. One of the young men had come to see what was happening and tried to translate Arabic to Spanish (which was marginally easier to understand) Finally I said the right combination of words and he manages to wave the taxis away and tells me that here is no good for autostop (hitchhiking) and we should walk for 5-6 minutes to a better spot where the truck drivers stop for coffee. I run back to Tanya and we grab our bags and we head off, with our new friend Abdoul carrying my small backpack and our “Assilah” sign while posing for selfies. Fast-farward over an hour we are still walking. “Cinq minutes” he replies again when I question how far. He tells me if he had said how far it was from the beginging then maybe we would lose motivation. This was most likely an accurate statement.

Abdoul speaks a mixture of Arabic, French, Spanish and German and is currently learning English, it is difficult to keep up as he constantly switches between languages though he is having such a fun time walking with us and talking that we can’t help but keep on walking and laughing. His energy is contagious! We reach the spot where the truck drivers stop for refreshments and he approaches one driver after another and in Arabic asks for us if we can get a ride. A huge smile spreads accross Abdoul’s face when he eventually scores us a ride and he ushers Tanya and myself into the truck, passing up our heavy rucksacks. We bid our fairwells in various languages and off we set with Ahmed who, within a few minutes is laid back, foot on dash, with a phone in one hand showing us Moroccan music videos and a joint in the other (which we graciously decline when offered a draw.) He stops on the highway and a young guy jumps out of the bushes “hashish!” Ahmed exclaimes and hops out of the truck to do his deal. After we decline to buy some we are back on the road and soon arrive a few kilometres from Assilah, our planned stop for the night. One ride later and we are having a well deserved rest in a quiet cafe while working out where to rest for the night.

The town itself is beautiful! We stay in a budget hotel, wake up early and spend the morning wandering around the madina exploring the streets of stunning whitewashed buildings stained with vivid colours. Though it is beautiful I feel the lack of engagement saddening, like there’s an us and them. I long for a more authentic Moroccan experience, away from the crowds.

On the day we depart Assilah, during the long walk out of town I find myself wondering out loud “remind me why are we doing this again…?” My question is soon answered!

We are picked up immediately upon reaching the roundabout on the outskirts of town. Oualid spends the journey talking to us mostly in French and showing pictures and videos of his family, friends and homes. Though he doesn’t speak much English I am finding communicating easy, I would like to think it is my improving French but most likely due to our miming, slow talking and his patience with us. He has a house in Casablanca and in Marrakech where, when he hears we plan to go there, he offers us to stay. We exchange numbers and agree we will send our location to him if we arrive on Tuesday as planned and he will come meet us. Coming close to Rabat he pulls over. We will be taking the slip road heading East inland toward Fez and he will continue South to Casablanca. He escorts us accross the highway to a safe hitchhiking spot. Mere minutes after we wave off Oualid we are squeezing into a small van stuffed with fruit, vegetables and our soon-to-be new Moroccan family. Barca is a very loud, very expressive and very funny woman (even though we barely understand a word each other say we will shared a lot of laughs together!) She is in the car with her son Othman and a family friend Marwan. Soon there is an invitation to join them for Moroccan couscous at her home – an offer to good to pass up! Little did we know as we took the turn off the highway onto a dirt farm road that we would spend the next 48 hours with Barca, her husband, their two sons, daughter-in-law and two adorable grandchildren (Yusaf who’s 8 and 3 year old Marwa).

Laying down on blankets in the shade of a large oak tree, sat around a small plastic table and sharing a delicious home cooked meal with these complete strangers while speaking together in some French but mostly sign language, smiles and laughter feels weirdly not-at-all weird! After we eat, the family joke with me that Moroccan tradition says I am now engaged to Othman as we have shared his mother’s couscous. Next thing we know we are being ushered into the house by the ladies and given Moroccan dresses to wear, which causes much halarity for all. As the air heats up in the afternoon sun the whole family, us included, retire for a nap. And apparently then we will eat another meal and we must stay the night!

Their home was simple and basic but filled with love and laughter. The kitchen was in a separate building, everything made by hand by the women who work so hard to care for their family. From milking the cows by hand to kneading the khobz (bread), to gutting the fish brought back by the men, keeping this family fed is a full time job! Water was pumped up from the well to a pipe where buckets can be filled as and when needed for washing, cooking, drinking, and toilet – an out house with squat. The family and ourselves slept in an open space upon mats on the floor with an abundance of blankets and cushions making it comfortable and cosy in the cooling autumn nights but still cool and airy during the warm days.

The children bonded with us immediately, showcasing perfectly the beauty in innocence. They don’t care where we come from or what language we speak as they excitedly chatter away to us in Arabic. And in some ways it doesn’t matter that I don’t understand the words, seeing the joy in their eyes light up when I grasp an instruction or say an Arabic word is enough to know they are truly happy to have us there. In the time between meals (a rather over-generous five per day!) we play with the children and help them collect fruit and vegetables growing on the land, learn some Arabic words and spend time out in the car with Othman meeting many friends and family (where I’m consistently introduced as his wife-to-be!)

On the second day we agreed to stay another night and leave early the next morning though it was after 3pm, and a lot of pleading, that we eventually departed. I feel sad to leave. It felt like home. Though physically sharing nothing in common with my childhood home, it had a familliar feeling of love and acceptance. I hope to one day see my Moroccan family again…