So. Hitchiking to Morocco. With my enormous rucksack packed in a last-bop-of-term haze, and the subsequent discovery as we began our journey of my entire wardrobe, 5 pairs of shoes, a pair of novelty breasts and a pink plastic visor, did I really think we’d be able to do this? Dubious.
Somewhat controversially, Amsterdam was our first stop, and we’d decided beforehand to take a 15-hour coach into the capital. Arriving in the harsh light of a late-March morning, our first priority was hostel-searching; 10 minutes later, we arrived at The White Tulip. Imagine a room shared with fifteen other people, rickety metal lockers and sheets which looked like they hadn’t seen a good wash in years: “What about your Cath Kidston sleeping bag cover, darling!” screeched my mother down the phone when I told her. Cath Kidston couldn’t save us now.
We spent 48 wonderful hours in this amazing city, wandering the streets and getting hopelessly lost. In the evenings we ambled along the red light district and poked our noses into the illustrious Condomerie. But all too soon it was time to pack up, sling on our bags and head to the Autobahn.
Andrew had hitchhiked before and knew what to expect, but Vidhi and I — complete novices — were geared up for a complete existential crisis after half an hour and three rejections. Eventually we piled into a lovely Dutch man’s car and sped off, away from the ‘Dam. There was something incredibly special about that first lift for me. It made me realise that it could be done, and that people were prepared to help us along the way; the conversations we had throughout the entirety of the route I still think about today.
That night we were deposited in Ghent, Belgium. A group of students dropped us in the grounds of the University and, as it was getting dark, we decided to adopt the ‘stealth camping’ approach and pitch our tent amongst the trees by the Maths building. That night, after an impromptu student party, we stumbled back. We were awoken the next morning by two uniformed security guards, and after fifteen minutes of feigned confusion (“We had no idea this was a university! This is the Master’s garden, you say? My how silly of us, pardon messieurs”) we were on our way once more.
Next, onto Triolo, and the less said about what we dubbed the ‘Anuba’ of France, the better. Paul, the lorry driver from Staines, gave us a long lift and, almost overnight, we’d reached Paris. Vidhi had a very classy couple of days touring the Eiffel Tower and generally being culturally-aware. Andrew and I opted for carton white-wine in the Jardins, checking into increasingly expensive hotels and, er, visiting the Louvre. Gotta love Paris.
After Paris we stumbled around French countryside until we hit Bordeaux. We found a Romanian truck driver with Jesus on his dashboard and rosary beads around the mirror, who agreed to drive us all the way to north-central Spain. With him, we drove through the picturesque mountains and storybook villages of Spanish sierra listening to illegally downloaded music on his laptop. Nine hours later, he waved goodbye as he dropped us off at a service station on the road that linked Valladolid to our next destination: Madrid.
The road from Valladolid to Madrid was long and hard. The region had suffered from dire depopulation in the twilight of Franco’s regime and the families who had abandoned the countryside in search of work left it in decay. Crime rates were high and few were willing to trust three desperate hitchhikers. We made little headway that day and around 10 pm that night we decided to find somewhere to sleep.
The Bear Grylls spirit we had had in the early days of the hitchhike had withered. The countryside was dark and uninviting. Camping was out of the question. A solitary sign of civilization, Hostal Zamoran, squatted proudly in front of us.
Hostal Zamoran, to our dismay, turned out to be a brothel. Neon lights and leather corsets, fishnets and glitter, the sleazy businessman by the door: it sounds like a tacky Eurotrip clichÃ© but the reality was somewhat more hard-hitting and tragic. The proprietress leaned over the bar and asked as through false eyelashes and a smile painted on in rubber red lipstick what we were doing here. Did we need money, she wanted to know — but oh, we looked so young – did we need a job? We tried to explain the situation through hand gestures and broken GCSE Spanish. Finally, one of women said she would call her friend Felipe, he would help us — go wait at the service station.
Felipe saved us that night. After taking us to the local bus and train stations, we discovered there would be no public transport until the next morning. Felipe offered his guest bedroom and yet again we were surprised at a stranger’s capacity for kindness.
We didn’t get into Madrid until the next evening. When we finally arrived, the capital was buzzing but we were too exhausted for culture. We didn’t want to see the Guernica or explore the city. The thought of trying “authentic Spanish cuisine” only brought back vomit-flavoured memories of the pigs ears swimming in blood sauce that Andrew had ordered in a moment of blind hunger earlier that day — we settled instead for a greasy Chinese and headed South after spending the following day lying in bed.
We rushed through the enchanting south of the country, promising to come back some day and swim in the sparkling waters at Cadiz but we pushed forward, desperate to reach Morocco. The baking heat of the Spanish sun inspired a moment of insanity and we launched, in the middle of the road into a lunatic moustache war. Andrew pinned me to the ground, Zoe straddled me and a proud permanent-marker moustache was inked onto my face as I writhed and kicked and screamed. (These moustache wars would repeat themselves in moments of psychotic vengeance at random moment for the rest of the trip.) Finally, bone-tired and painted, we reached Tarifa and got on the 7pm ferry to Morocco.
We landed in Tangiers and high-tailed it to the train station to get to Marrakech. The sleeper train was a blessing what with us having spent so much time in tents (or on the porch of gasolinas) over the last few days.
After a cosy night on the train we made it to Marrakech and found the charms of Djemaa el-Fna. Djemaa el-Fna is the main square, replete with snake charmers and monkeys during the day before giving way to cheap restaurants, story-tellers and music at night; and we ploughed headlong into the madness.
The souks were a complete labyrinth of passageways full of colourful clothes, lamps and exotic animals. We were confidently assured by one vendor that it was easy to smuggle turtles back to England on the plane through the use of empty cigarette packages. Whether we’d be able to smuggle back a chameleon under our clothes/clinging to our nether regions was open to debate though.
We did our bit as ambassadors for England by fulfilling our national stereotype and going in search of alcohol. Of course, searching for alcohol in a predominately Islamic society was always going to be a challenge and we were duly sent from place to place by cryptic locals.
The response in the supermarket was ‘yes, we do have, but first I must go make it.’ Fear of consuming anti-freeze or some other poisonous form of ethanol prompted us to keep going. Eventually we found a dark staircase leading down into a dingy cellar reminiscent of prohibition era America.
Once the vendors got over the shock of seeing two girls attempting to purchase alcohol we made our way out into the evening with our newspaper wrapped package tucked under the arm.
Our final fling together as a group was to head to the Ourika Valley to hike up and see the waterfalls. We trekked through a small Berber village before navigating the mountainous terrain up to the source.
At the top, in the sun, most people were content to sit back and savour the views. However, we planned on swimming in Morocco and since we weren’t heading to Rabat or elsewhere on the coastline we had to make this count. Let’s just say… the water was cold, very very cold. Standing under a waterfall made the day for us, especially when it became apparent that only the English contingent of our tour group was brave enough to do it!
With our mission complete and our time in Marrakech drawing to a close, it was time for the girls to head home for further adventuring, marathon running and for me to stay on and investigate the wonders of Fez, only this time there’d be no thumbs in sight.