Dave Keetch writes: The romantically-minded would consider the following sequence of events as a twist of fate; that somehow it was cosmically predetermined that we would find ourselves nibbling from a boiled sheep head in the lounge room of the Moroccan family with whom we were staying with during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. And all because we missed catching a train by thirty seconds. The truth is, independent travel is the sum of these micro events — the flow on effect of every minor decision. The beauty of independent travel is willingly being at the mercy of the chaos of life, a chaos usually stifled by the orderly structure in our nine-to-five lives. Tomorrow can be anything you want it to be when you’re perpetually on the fly.
Our time in Rabat was drawing to a close. We’d miraculously obtained our Mauritanian visas and the time had come to move on to Marrakesh. For some reason, despite my partner and I being horrible early risers, I thought we’d have enough time to pack our bags, send some postcards, eat breakfast and still be able to catch the early train that morning. Well, backpacks are never easy to pack, the post office had one person tending to a long line and I’m fairly certain the cafe was waiting on a chicken to lay an egg or two before they could make us our omelette. With mouthfuls of orange juice we made the mad dash down Avenue Mohammed V to the train station, bought our tickets and resumed the mad dash to the platform only to see our ride disappear down a tunnel. Phooey. I was feeling a bit miffed. Catching that train was going to give me a couple of hours of late afternoon daylight with which I would use to get a feel for the Red City. It wasn’t a hopeless situation though, another Marrakesh-bound train would be due that morning and, at the very least, the wait would allow me to overcome my indigestion.
By the time we boarded the train, the orange juice had worked its way through me and after finding our seats I left my partner and went in search of the toilets. While there I chuckled at the expectation of returning to my seat and finding her accosted by a couple of over-eager local men excited at the prospect of sharing a booth with a lone Western beauty. I couldn’t have been more wrong. There she sat, in conversation with a young Moroccan woman, named Hajar, who was on her way home to see her family in Tiznit and celebrate Eid al-Adha. Like sisters, they shared stories and music, talking and laughing all the way to the Red City. She insisted that we come and stay with her family on the weekend. We politely refused at first, but it really was an offer that could not be refused, especially when the invitee is handing you an address and phone number with a look of absolute expectation. The weekend was only a couple of days away and Tiznit was south of Agadir. Agadir was even further south of Marrakesh.
We came to spend only 16 hours in the fabled city of Marrakesh. To be honest, I disliked the city, so we wound up relaxing in the sublime surrounds of Essaouira for a couple of days before journeying south. The streets were eerily empty that day we left Essaouira. Empty but for the pools of sheep’s blood. A casual reminder that it was Eid al-Adha. The only bus for the day took us as far as Agadir. After thirty minutes of nebulous negotiations we then forked out for a grand taxi to drive us to Tiznit. We arrived at night and I felt like an inconvenience walking through the door of this family’s home, a family of six, five of whom I had never met before. My fears of being a burden soon dissipated when I saw that everyone was clearly happy to have us in their presence. The kitchen became a hive of activity and a veritable feast was prepared before our hungry eyes.
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We showed photos of our families, talked politics (taking great care to stay seated on the fence) and the youngest child even had a go at converting me to Islam until I insisted that I wouldn’t be very good at it because I had slight case of dipsomania.
The intention to only stay a couple of days was noble, but a third day turned into a fourth day. I practiced my French, they practiced their English. We went to the beach and Hajar lectured me on the mathematical proof that God exists. We went shopping, watched Al Jazeera, helped in the kitchen and made a sizeable dent in the sheep carcass that was hanging up at the back of the house. The family was finally ready to let us leave, but more than likely they’d had enough of my appetite and disturbing lack of faith. They put us on a bus heading into the disputed territory of the Western Sahara and we waved them goodbye, wheeling off into the next chapter of our journey.
Most people visit Morocco and they wander medinas, eat tajines, buy carpet, ride a camel through the dunes and leave. I would have been happy with all that, but thirty seconds of tardiness transformed my experience of the country, but as it so often does while independently travelling, that same thirty seconds was responsible for another chain of events. And that chain of events would lead us to meet someone in Laâyoune who would change the entire dynamic of the rest of our journey through West Africa. I may have been miffed at the time, but upon looking back, missing that train was one of the best things to happen on the entire trip.
Dave Keetch recently spent five months travelling through West Africa.