The Land of the Berbers
Me (blue veil) on the camel trek
photo by Janet Weise
After over 24 hours of travel, I finally arrived in Casablanca, tired but anxious with anticipation to see two of my closest friends, Janet and Tiina. We were all converging upon Morocco, invited by our friend, Antoine, who was working on the film set of Black Hawk Down, a new film directed by Ridley Scott.
Antoine arranged for someone to pick me up at the airport, and there he was with a sign with “Black Hawk Down” written on it. I chatted with the driver on the way to Antoine’s house in French, while observing the landscape and people that drifted by. One very noticeable difference between America and Morocco was that it’s not unusual at all to have livestock, tractors, mule-drawn carts and such things to be sharing the road with the cars. It makes driving rather hazardous, and add to that the fact that it’s legal to drive less than 20/km without lights at night, and it can get really scary. Or, as Antoine put it, “driving in Morocco is sort of like a shoot ‘em up video game.”
I made it in one piece and I greeted Tiina and Janet, after so long, and it was a happy reunion. It was the first time Tiina and Janet had met, but soon after we all saw that we were three of a kind. A kind of ‘lunatic at play’ attitude affects all three of us! We’re all a bit nuts and like to have lots of fun…silly creatures that we are. We made great travel companions too, with all three of us devouring photography like mad. So we understood, of course, the need to stop, and take time for photos!
Antoine met us later in the evening for our first dinner together. We stayed with him for the weekend, going to the film set on Saturday and relaxing on Sunday and going horseback riding on the beach for two hours, being that Sunday was his only day off. We then departed for our adventure on Monday morning, boarding a bus for Essaouria.
A bus ride in Morocco is an experience in itself. This one was an 8-hour one too. I’m glad I experienced it, but to put in plainly, once was enough. The bus was full and we were sitting in the front. There were several people sitting on a platform in the front because there weren’t any seats left. There’s a doorman who ‘operates’ the door and when the bus starts to leave, the door is open and he runs to jump on through the open door. The bus will stop anytime someone on the street is there, flagging it down and you can pay the doorman for your ticket.
At each scheduled stop, people get on the bus, trying to sell things like mint, candy, cookies, bread, musical cassettes…anything. Some people got on and made speeches or sang, some people came on and just begged. The bus doesn’t stop very long so it’s impossible to get off and use the restroom. At least for the first five hours or so, there were no rest stops. Finally we stopped and I went to the restroom. It was in a cafÃ© and was one of those ‘squat toilets’ – not very appealing. To make matters worse, when I tried to leave, I discovered I was locked in – I couldn’t get out! Stuck in a revolting toilet! I tried the lock several times and banged on the door. Nothing. The top was open, so I climbed out over the top and jumped down. What a relief. After that I was always cautious about the locks on the restrooms. I didn’t want to repeat that experience.
After 8 hours, we finally arrived in Essaouria. This is a lovely little town on the coast – white buildings with bright blue doors…and very WINDY! It was rather chilly and I’m glad I had my fleece pullover with me. Our hotel there was a little, well…weird. It was okay, but the bathroom was a little odd. We discovered that the walls in the bathroom didn’t reach to the ceiling, but only about two feet above our heads. I climbed onto the toilet and looked over the wall and saw another bathroom. Our bathroom was open to another room’s bathroom! Of course, this room was only about $22/night for three people (and our most expensive room during our trip), but we still found this a bit strange. We never heard our neighbors, except once. We heard a noise and then Janet yelled out “hello neighbor”, only to hear some guy moaning! What he was doing with himself, or at least what it sounded like he was doing, I’ll leave to your imagination. Boy, did we have a laugh about that one!
The first night in Essaouria we went to a traditional Moroccan restaurant with live Berber music for entertainment. This was quite a treat and we’ll always remember the singer, playing a Berber violin and singing and dancing like a puppet for us. He is forever immortalized on my video too! Yes, the video was an added joy for our trip. Each evening, after the day’s activities, we would gather around my little camera and watch the daily video footage – it became a ritual.
We settled down for a night of rest and lo and behold there came a horrid noise in the morning – the blasting sound of awful and cheesy music coming from just below our window. Janet lifted her head and yelled “what is this, the wake-up call for the whole town?!” We had gotten used to the calls and singing from the minarets every morning at 4am, but this was something else. So loud and so obnoxious. It was, after all, May 1, and there was some festival going on below, and that was the reason for this horrible noise. So much for sleeping in.