The next day I was off to a town just north of Rabat called Kenitra. I would be meeting another Couchsurfing guy to travel to a place called Chefchaouen. This guy was a typical reggae loving hippy and seemed nice enough, if a bit clueless. But first, I had to wait a little while for him to arrive.
So, I do what I usually do, which is find coffee. Which would be easy in many other parts of the world, but is nearly impossible in a bullshit patriarchal society where public space is the sole domain of men.
I walked past café after café filled to the brim with nothing but men. Men watching soccer, men drinking coffee, men playing cards. Nowhere were there females. I finally found refuge in one café where there was a gal drinking coffee with her husband and daughter.
Really, all you want is a cup of tea and a snack, but instead you get the patriarchy.
It’s not that I can’t settle down at any of the other cafes I passed- it’s that I don’t want to. I don’t want to be the only white person, or only female. I want to feel comfortable in my environment, not stared at. That’s too much to ask here, and although in a sense I’m used to it and expected it, I resent the hell out of it.
Oh well. Caffeine consumed and work done I went back to the station to meet my couchsurfing host. He bounded in off a train with a friend fresh from visiting his family. We greeted and proceeded to his house nearby, which was the physical embodiment of the word ‘grungy.’ And not in the adorable, flannel-wearing Pacific Northwest kind of way.
This place was a dump. I’ve lived in some pretty questionable places, but this took it to a whole new level. Three closet-sized rooms shared one bathroom and one small shower; the refrigerator was crowded in between the water heater and the sink, with one small burner serving as cooking facilities. The walls were the dingy brown of men who don’t live with their mothers, the bachelor pad an unrefreshingly dreary reminder that sometimes life doesn’t get better when you leave home.
My couchsurfer’s room smelled of unwashed armpits and stale drugs, each mattress gracing the floor like a limp banana peel. Clothes were haphazardly piled about, a drum and guitar resting in the corner. I tried to be nice- living in small spaces can be a challenge, one that I am familiar with.
He energetically shoved the guitar in my hands and picked up the drum- we were going to meet his friends to play music in the park. Ok, sounds like it could be fun. I was transported back to the days of drinking in the park in Jordan with my friends after late night work shifts.
However, I hadn’t peed all day nor had I had dinner… these two needed functions distracted me from fully enjoying the evening. All his friends were really nice and seemed not to mind my intrusion on their weekly jam session. Three hours later the session wrapped up and I, cold and still hungry, was introduced to my host’s roommate.
‘Oh cool!’ I thought. ‘His friend lives in the room next to him, that’s kind of cool.’
Oh, how silly of me. Not only were these two roommates, but we would also be joined by the roommate’s girlfriend. Three’s a crowd and four is just ridiculous.
So there we were, three friends and one stranger trying to manoeuvre around one another in a space the size of a human sardine can. Dinner was produced which improved my tolerance of the situation slightly. I tried to be patient, knowing that a free bed/couch/mattress on the floor was, after all, free.
My tolerance was shot like a racehorse with a broken leg the next morning when my host disappeared for two hours without any notice and the roommate and his girlfriend proceeded to get it on with Me. Sitting. Right. There.
Now, I get it. You’re unsupervised by parents in a highly restricted, sexually repressed society. You’re young and going to take advantage of the time you have with your significant other. But, really? Right here, right now? I have seriously big issues with people who snore, people who fart in their sleep, and people who do the nasty within sight and hearing range. Get your shit together, people, this isn’t the goddamn circus.
I was beginning to realize that there is a reason people travel in their 20s, and it is because very few people later in life think it’s ok to share a room with three strangers on a floor mat. In fact, I was realizing that I wasn’t sure it wasn’t ok now. I was also reminded of the lesson I had learned in a hostel in Nazareth, which was to never, ever smell the sheets/blankets/pillows. It’s really for your own good.
That highly uncomfortable experience survived, I was peeved but happy to be heading north to a place called Chefchaouen by bus later that day. We packed up and headed to the small bus station which was overwhelming and crowded and confusing. This bus managed to buck the trend of smelling like pee, and instead smelt of fish. Hhmmm.
The old woman in the row next to us had a hacking cough and a bag in which she hawked her spit wads. This, naturally, was gross, so I plugged myself into my savior of an ipod and blissfully ignored the rest of the trip through rural Morocco.
We arrived in Chefchaouen at night, and walked uphill through the city on a mission that I didn’t quite understand. What the hell were we looking for? We had nearly ascended the mountain behind the city when the boys (my host had brought along two friends) decided they were hungry. So we walked BACK DOWN THE FUCKING MOUNTAIN to the city, got sandwiches, and set up camp not 200 meters from the main road we had driven in on in the very recent past.
My ratio of patience to bullshit was wearing very thin.
My tent was on an incline and I spent most of the evening with a rock dug in my back, sliding towards the door; restful it was not. The day dawned with driver’s ed being held on the road outside our camp, which was entertaining.
Back into the old city of Chefchaouen, which is beautiful and blue! The streets and houses are painted all different shades of my favorite color, and being surrounded by mountains endears me to this place to no end.
I would be a lot more endeared to my travelling companions if they would remember that I need to be fed, or would listen to me when I talk. Right now I feel like a small, American monkey making little chirping sounds and being stared at. Breakfast took third place behind finding black market vodka, which would probably have made them go blind had the boys been successful in their hour-long search, and climbing a nearby hill to a mosque which overlooked the city.
I’m all for hikes, and I’m all for beautiful views. I’m also all for knowing where I’m going so that I could, you know, bring enough water or get some snacks to keep me from ripping the heads off of my travel companions. Messing with my meals and my sleep makes me really, really cranky.
We finally did get breakfast, and my anger was stilled for about 10 minutes before my host revealed that we’d be hiking three hours up a mountain to get to some waterfalls. Actually, he didn’t say it was three hours until we were already hiking and I was already hot, sweaty, tired, and swearing, laden down with water I could drink and my stupid, heavy rucksack.
Eventually someone stuck out a thumb at a passing truck and we hitched a ride up to the national park, where the waterfalls were. Once we got there we were informed that we couldn’t camp in the park, but could leave our stuff in one of the buildings and camp in an unused parking lot for the night. Sounds good enough to me, I thought. As usual, my travel companions had other ideas that weren’t shared with me.
We walked a few minutes into the park, which had a lovely river running through it and mountains all around. It was peaceful and quiet, and some of my stress faded away. We didn’t even attempt to make it to the fabled waterfalls; instead, the boys stopped on the footpath and chattered to each other for an hour. That was useless.
I then proceeded to witness the most inept display of outdoorsmanship I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. The boys had neglected to gather firewood before it got dark, as they had forgotten to set up their tents or do anything else which required more than the light of a cell phone. Fuckin’ amateurs. We had managed to get food for dinner which sat, untouched, as they tried and failed to get a fire started. For some reason one of them had left the package of bread out on the ground, which I had placed higher up a few times only to find it back on the ground again. Whatever. A few stray dogs had been wandering about during the day, and one friendly one had stuck around at the edge of our campsite.
A few minutes later I turned around from my evening’s entertainment of three Moroccan men trying to light a fire to find that the stray dog had eaten all of the bread, except for one piece.
‘Guys, the dog ate the bread.’
My host had this annoying habit of nervously chuckling after I spoke. Every time. I would say something or ask a question, and he would do this weird laugh and then go, ‘huh?’ like he didn’t understand me. I know English as a second language is difficult, but I had a feeling this was less of a language barrier issue and more of a smoked too much of the old reefer issue.
‘Guys, the dog ate the bread.’
‘No, seriously, the dog ate the bread.’
‘Ok. I’m going to go ahead and let you figure out why that’s not funny.’
I retired to the tent.
Five minutes later- ‘What happened to the bread?!’
Me- ‘THE F****NG DOG ATE IT.’
This trip wasn’t going well, nor was it about to get better.
Eventually we got more bread and had dinner, at which point I was well ready to get into bed and sleep. I was in my pajamas and nearly blissfully unaware of my surroundings when my host shook me.
Like hell we are.
I made it clear that at no point was I going to move. There was no reason to move. I was sleeping. It was night time. Whatever fucked-up sense of nomadic tendencies my host was having at 11pm, I wasn’t catering to.
I went to sleep.
And was rudely awakened at 6am to my host shaking me, telling we were moving camp.
You massive motherfucker.
So there I was, in my pajamas, freezing cold in the Moroccan mountains, tramping up the hills of a national park to create an illegal camp, all because some dude who offered me a free place to sleep dragged me there. Life lesson, folks- don’t put up with this sort of bullshit, ever. The fact I made it this far is a testament to how badly I still need to pay attention to this lesson in my own life. We found a spot, set up camp, and I angrily went back to sleep without a word to my host, who was now deeply on my shit list.
A few hours later I was greeted with a sarcastic ‘good morning’ in Arabic from the boys when I staggered out of my tent, still angry. My worries were now focused on an entirely different matter, which was charging my computer. Contrary to the camper boys, I had a job and I needed to do it. Despite numerous requests to my host, he ignored or didn’t care that I actually had things to do. He and the boys were going to hike a further two or three hours into the mountains to see the waterfalls- I packed my shit and went to a hostel.
Did I want to see the waterfalls? Yes, indeed I did. But I wanted to see them when I knew what was going on. When I had power over my own schedule, when my host wasn’t making me feel like I was on a need-to-know basis (and up to this point I didn’t need to know anything, apparently). I wanted to see them when I could also do my job, something I’ve managed to do over many countries thus far.
So I packed my rucksack and walked away. I had the power to walk away. I had the power to not put up with people and situations that didn’t benefit me. My host looked hurt that I was leaving- why go now when we’re having so much fun? But I didn’t care. I don’t care about your feelings. I care more that I have a lot more travel to do, and have to keep myself healthy and sane for it.
Go, go, go, and don’t apologize.
I found a taxi back to Chefchaouen. The taxi driver had a bag of oranges he shared with me, which was the nicest gesture. He deposited me in Chefchaouen and I found my hostel, a place I had booked when the roommates were making me uncomfortable just a couple short days ago. Always have a backup plan.
Thus the remainder of my days in Chaouen were spent as I wanted them to be. Sleeping in, making friends in the hostel, oh, and finding out my bank had cancelled my bank card because of ‘suspicious activity.’
Bitch, please. That so-called suspicious activity was me, buying a plane ticket to visit a friend of mine in Egypt. After a couple phone calls to my bank, who are officially dicks (I’M QUITTING THE BANK, a la Chandler and Ross), I realized that I had no access to my money (some of which I actually worked hard for) and wouldn’t be able to gain access to it because my bank apparently doesn’t believe that Americans travel.
That problem heavy on my mind, I budgeted how much I had to get me to my next destination of Spain. Just barely, maybe enough. I drowned my sorrows that evening with hostel mates who graciously included me in their barbeque, and some lovely soul who brought whiskey. The whiskey warmed my soul as the sounds and smells of Chefchaouen, the beautiful blue city, rose into the starry sky above.