Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Travel Morocco 2/3

We were terrible tourists. The people of Morocco must have thought us good travelers or total idiots. All of the information we had gotten before our trip had advised us against following random strangers, eating at sketchy restaurants, taking unmarked cabs or buses, and doing just about anything else we would end up doing.

Being bad tourists did open up our inexplicable experiences though. On our first night we took an unmarked cab and ended up following a creepy man down some dark and very ominous alleys to find our accommodations. It is very hard to trust a toothless beggar to take you safely to your destination. Nevertheless, we ended up there. It was merely one of many odd and beautiful moments. For such a crime riddled country I never felt like I was in danger. But maybe the crime rate isn’t that bad? I only had a perception that there was a lot of crime.

Maybe that was just my Western sensibilities. No one ever gave me cause to suspect that the country was dangerous beyond the exotic diseases I could contract.

Anyways, the point is that the bus was rickety. The brown upholstery on the seats made me want to gouge out my eyes. Jarrod and I sat on the bus waiting. Many cars and jalopies pulled out and went on their way to their destinations. I watched with curiosity as people, cars, buses, mules, and carts shared a tiny lot while big buses and vans navigated not only the bustling crowd but potholes as well.

I didn’t understand the carts, I looked at them with a sort of detached curiosity. What were those carts? And then a man came onto the bus and tried to sell us snacks. He wasn’t the first one and there were tons of things sold by the parade of people as they stepped on the bus shouted about Allah or licorice, then politely left when no one bought anything. This went on for a full half hour.

Morocco is a nation of small business owners. In my micro-economics class we learned all about the supply and demand model. That was predicated on the assumption that there were an infinite number of small vendors and buyers who all universally agreed to a price. Morocco was the closest I have ever come to that. And prices still remained arbitrary. In fact, haggling was a big deal there. The price of goods rose and fell over the course of a cup of tea. It was fun and nerve racking. It was polite to bargain, and I tried my best to do so.

On the bus I declined to engage in haggling for snacks or Qurans. Instead I opted to sleep. The bus started pulling out. And I slept. When I woke up the bus was moving across the Moroccan landscape. It was Africa. A high desert landscape with few defining features. A run down abode here, a poorly tended farm there. The towns we passed were bizarre mixtures of collapsed ghost towns and ultra new faux Western style developments. The Ersatz qualities of the building were accentuated by the bright splashes of paint on the exterior walls and the utter lack of surrounding buildings. These were extensions of the town but distinct parts. The separateness was made all the more stark by the shifting clouds. The town would be in dark gray while breaks in the clouds hovered over the bright hints of Westernization.

We passed a lake. The road became windy. We stopped in a town and Jarrod made for the bathroom as quickly as he could. When he got back on the bus he looked shaken. He had peed into a hole in the ground. There were no toilets; just a hole.

I understood it immediately. Jacob had talked about holes in the ground and I had seen the infamous international airport bathroom signs that instructed people to sit on toilets and not squat on them.

I laughed and watched the landscape pass before me. We headed into the foothills of the Rif mountains. The air became more alpine and I started to wonder if we were even going the right direction. Then the bus stopped and the very nice man who had helped us the entire time instructed us to get off.