Welcome to the Thunderdome
We had jumped on a CMT coach from Casablanca at ten o’clock that night, which meant we wouldn’t arrive in Essaouira until 2 am.
After four hours of driving, at 2am, we pulled into a small market with the sound of crunching gravel, greeted by the smell of charcoaled meat.
The driver must have meant 4am, not four hours of driving, when he held up four huge fingers before we left the smog of Casablanca. As we got back onto the coach a hunkered beggar, wearing a dark green, hooded djellaba, approached us wearily. I gave him a 10 dirham coin. His elation at becoming £1.60 richer was humbling. Alex, an Australian we had picked up in Marrakesh because of shared interests in bad jokes and alcohol, gave the drooling, toothless character a semi-circle of bread. He waved a callused stump as we backed up and pulled away.
Sleeping was impossible with all of the potholes on the dusty road and, when the road smoothed out, the vomiting woman behind and the Arabic pop-loving boys in front contributed to a painful last two hours. The even surface beneath the bus, though, did signal the proximity of civilisation and the promise of some sleep.
Casablanca to Essaouira had taken six hours and cost 90 dirhams, which is the equivalent of £7. After 270 miles of driving we fell out of the coach to find the same world Mad Max tore around at the start of the 1980s.
“Welcome to the bloody Thunderdome,” Alex said. Both me and Aran were to weary to reply.
Aran, although not struggling from the vodka hangover as much as me, was visibly paler than humans are meant to be. I had seen him for the first time in two years at Marrakesh-Menera Airport a week before we arrived in Essaouira. He was, and still is, my best friend.
The three of us walked in spins through a world of sand-coloured walls, heaps of rubbish and dead silence. Sleeping dogs littered the streets and faceless men picked through the discarded waste. After an hour of walking in circles, following the sound of crashing waves that echoed off the high medina walls, we found Hotel Majestic. A tall Arab ushered us inside with a weary smile. Despite the hour, our host gave us a tour of the three-floored building, flicking lights on and off with his mutilated, three-fingered right hand.
For 180 Dirham, £13, we got a room with a separate shower and a large window that opened onto a busy street. Dogs, donkeys and men were already fighting outside as the sun came up and we finally got our heads down.
We used the WiFi in the cramped lobby of the Majestic and found the Surf & Chill hostel on Hostelbookers.com. I also got a message from a girl at home saying “you only feel like you’re successful if you are far away from your friends and family.”
For the past four years I had been studying in the United States and, after being home for two months, I bought a one-way ticket to Morocco. Maybe she was right. I hadn’t thought about it.
Simo and the Beach
Surf &Chill is hidden away on Taouhine, off of Sidi ali ben daoud 8, which is a fairly busy road covered with colourful stalls. Simo let us in the little blue door and showed us around. For 70 Dirhams each, he said, we could stay for the night and he would make us breakfast in the morning. We handed over the £5, drank some mint tea and listened to the first Moroccan surfer we had met tell us about his city.
“It’s so windy here man,” he paused. “Reaaaal windy, ye. You have to go down to Imsouane if you want to surf. Ye, Imsouane is where you go to surf man. Too windy here. Everybody Kitesurfs because it’s soooo windy.”
Simo talked as he tottered around the Riad’s kitchen, looking through the gap in the wall, constantly adjusting his flat-billed cap. A woman wearing a black headscarf cleaned the floor, bending at the hips and scrubbing with straight arms and legs. A girl from Belgium was the only other person in the Riad. She looked on from her downstairs room but remained mute.
“You guys like to drink?” Simo asked. “Ye, man,” Aran said. “I could do with a few beers tonight.”
Alex had been upstairs in the room we were all sharing. Coming down the narrow, turning concrete stairs he laughed. “This lad just wants a root. Can’t get his mind off the women, Silo.”
Simo replied in a strangely serious tone. “Listen, man. I can take you to this place the locals call ‘the hole in the wall.’ The drinks are cheap but there are no women but you can get really drunk then go to the clubs,” he paused. “Reeeaally drunk, man.”
“Right that’s it then,” I said. “Let’s go get some food first though.”
“Get a bloody root on,” Aran said in a terrible, high-pitched Australian accent. We all laughed apart from Simo, who awkwardly pushed his ear-length curls back under the Atlanta Falcon’s badge on his cap.
“I think I’ll be in ‘the hole,’ man,” Simo said.
“I bloody hope so,” Alex interrupted, looking over at the girl from Belgium. Simo remained deadpan as the three of us realised, not for the first time, that our sense of humour, while the reason for our friendship, was rarely welcomed by anybody else. And rightly so.
“So you guys should come over when you are done looking around,” Simo said. We agreed and then set off to see the sun set on the beach and find food on the way.
The beach in Essaouira is comparable to a common in England; such is the flatness and subsequent activity that goes on. As we walked past, and the broken yolk of the sun spilled for miles, more than 30 kids played football on the slick surface. They battled in the shadowed, top part of the beach, and only their heads were illuminated by the falling sun as they danced to a chorus of the daily Maghrib prayer that bellowed from the mosque’s minaret tower.
Parallel to the beach is a long road that we would take the next day on our way to the hidden town of Imsouane. For now we aimed for the distant bright lights and passed quietly through the warm air of an unforgettable scene.
Beaches & Friends was an unmemorable restaurant where we drank 40 dirham Special Flag beers and ate hamburgers. Alex talked to his girlfriend while me and Aran shouted at stray cats and talked about how they needed to make a bonfire.
The number of boys on the beach had doubled as we sang back across the flat sand, avoiding the dogs that had come to rest. Again the sound of echoing waves dominated the square, but the streets of Essaouira had shaken off last night’s apocalyptic menace as the evening gathered pace.
A Prostitute and the story of Obe
Opposite the clock tower, if you are coming from the beach, there is a wide street on your right. At the end of the street take a left, Simo had said, “and there you will find the hole in the wall.”A couple of big Arab men stood outside smoking cigarettes in front of the glass door entrance of the bar. Inside a three foot wall sectioned off an area to the right, where we found Simo sitting opposite the Belgium girl. This is where I was introduced to Obe, a thin 30 year-old man who looked younger but spoke older. He wore a peaked military green hat and matching canvas coat.
“This is your man Obe for surfing, man,” Simo said, pointing to Obe. Alex came back from the bar and was nearly knocked over by a sweaty, bearded Arab. “No wonder he’s so pissed. Its 15 Dirham a beer in this place. Hey good on ya Silo,” Alex said, lifting a beer to Simo, who was deep in conversation with the blond girl from Belgium.
“The Flemish flousy,” Aran said.
“The Belge bush.”
“The Stella Slut.”
“The what the fuck else is from Belgium?” Alex said.
“Excuse me, Obe,” said Alex. “What’s there to do at night here mate?”
“ohh there are a few clubs like Taros and Chrysalis. They are more expensive than here.” “Fuck me, if they were cheaper I’d be-”
“You’d be dreamin’.” Alex said, finishing my sentence with aplomb.
“We can go there later, maybe,” Obe said.
I turned out of the cubby and walked through the large, undecorated room to the bar. “Toilette,” I asked. The barman pointed to the only corridor in the room. “Four Beers,” I called, as I walked past the bright red bicycle that sat against the dirty grey wall opposite the stalls.
On my way back every person at the bar shook my hand and were all happy for me to buy them a beer. “No money,” I laughed. The smiles didn’t fade.
“The problem with Moroccans is that we are too nice,” Obe said as I passed him a beer. He had watched the scene at the bar. “Look at this guy behind us. I gave him one cigarette and he keeps on taking them from me. I don’t do anything about it and it feels normal for him. And, of course, he is completely drunk.”
“It’s the same in England, Obe,” I said “Its normal.”
Alex, Aran, Obe and I had moved closer in a circle as Simo Van Damn and the Belgium girl said goodbye.
Obe Romi, 30, was born in Essaouira but has travelled to Europe, North America and the rest of the world. Two months ago he was living in Australia, surfing on the west coast and looking for a job in academia. Early in the morning one day he received a phone call from Morocco explaining that his father had died. Devastated, he spent all of his savings on the first flight home so he could be with his grieving mother. The university graduate, who is also trained as an Army officer, now teaches people to surf in Essaouira in order to help support his mother both emotionally and financially.
“The problem in Morocco,” Obe said. “Is that you must have money to get a good job. If you are not from an old, rich family then a lot of the time qualifications don’t matter. That is why I left the country.”
“Well here’s to your dad, mate,” Alex said, raising his bottle. “And to getting these boys a root.” We all laughed, clinked and finished our bottles of Flag Special. Obe led the way to Chrysalis.
Under the blue lights the drinks were 45 dirham each and the music was mainly Adele remixes until me and Aran stood up to dance. Arabic pop suddenly filled the smoky club. We both turned to sit down. Blocking the way back to my seat was a pretty, thin Arab girl who I immediately apologised too for my dancing.
“You just have to move, you are a man,” she said, cradling my stare with utter care. The way women who know men can. She danced and danced and when the dance floor had cleared she kept on dancing, screaming “move, move.” The room’s lights swirled and jumped. She danced in the distance, lost in the smoke. She twirled on a smile, and never lost me. We danced together for a while, her moving with no resistance. And then, after we had all left together, and Obehad said goodbye, the girl walked ahead with Aran, and Alex said.
“So what about the prossy, ey?”
I laughed and laughed and laughed. Of course.
We caught up with the pair. “I wish I had some money but all I have is NO DIRHAM,” I said.
For 20 minutes we jumped and shouted through the same streets that appeared so sinister, at the same hour, just the night before. But now they were our playground and we threw water bottles to see who could go the furthest. The girl looked unimpressed but pressed on. Finally we found Simo’s place and snuck in quietly. I showed the girl a separate room, with a double bed and a picture of a sail boat.
“Will you stay with me,” she asked, loosening her tights and pushing them down her thin legs. “ye just give me a sec, alright?” I said. She nodded.
A few doors down Aran and Alex were sitting up in their beds, laughing hysterically. “We’ve called her skelotor, haha.” Aran said. “Bloody SkelaROOT,” Alex shouted, before cupping his mouth like a naughty schoolchild. I picked myself off of the floor and returned to the sail boat room.
“You must keep the light on, for a while,” she said. “Sure, that’s fine.”
For the next 20 minutes she sang to me in Arabic. Her hand pushed through my hair and my head was on her stomach. I thought of Obe and his wonderful sacrifice. She turned off the light and started singing a Ronan Keating song. I laughed and thought of Aran and Alex. Then I thought of the girl from home whose message I had read that morning at the hotel Majestic.
It’s not that I want to be away from my family and friends; and I don’t need that to feel successful. It’s the fact that there are so many amazing places to go and to see, with so many great people living across the world. I am just anxious to ensure I meet, see and enjoy as many of them as possible before I die young. This is a time of great growth and change for the soul, now that the body has finished its own work and begins to diminish. Finally the brain has its moment to grow so it is no wonder that, as the first thoughts break through, there are teething pains that come in the form of perceived mental issues that are, in most cases, just hyper anxiety. When young teeth finally take on the proper form the crying stops and, although there is still some pain, the child understands them as something normal and recognisable. The hope, as a 23 year old, is that the same can be said of the issues that I and nearly all of my friends seem to going through at this stage in our lives.
Why did you laugh?” she asked. “Because I am happy,” I replied, falling asleep.
Thinking of Her.
Click Here for Moroccan South Cost:Part 2