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Vagamonde: Chasing Euphoria and Getting Hit by Reality
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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Final pedal push in Morocco

In the last post, we were back on our own and it was time to leave Smara. Not hearing great things about the road to Laâyoune, the decision is made to take the bus. Good thing we did, because soon after our arrival, Michèle was sick again. Throwing up several times during the night. This would have been a nightmare if we were camping in the desert.

Michèle comments: I don't know why I got sick again, so violently and so suddenly. We were trying to control what went into our stomachs: carefully selecting food and preparing it ourselves, but I guess there is only so much one can do. I didn't want to fall victim to germ phobia, suspecting every handshake I made and glass that I touched. I guess it will remain a mystery.

You know, it's so fun to complain. So, one last culture shock then I'll shut up ... for now. When we get to Smara, the hotel reception tries to hit us with a double economy. Quoting us ridiculous prices. We knew the real price, because the army guys at the relay station told us how much the hotel costs. My patience for this sort of behaviour ran out in Marrakech. We eventually get the right price. A stressful exercise after cycling 102 kilometres. As we start to bring up our stuff, the guy asks us for our passports. I give him a long hard stare and say:
- Not now.
When we get to our room, we are informed that there is no shower anywhere in the building. That's alright, Moroccans go to hammams. There's one around the corner the guy tells us. That's great. Then I ask him if there is one for women so that my wife can get cleaned up after cycling three days in the desert. He gives me a confused look, smiles and shakes his head. No he says. Out of respect for Michèle, I don't go to the hammam. We end up having a cold sponge bath in our room using our wash basin. The 20 minute hot shower will have to wait.

Michèle comments: During those last one hundred kilometres to Smara, I started to look forward to staying in a hotel and having a real shower. Then I remember stopping myself and thinking, Don't count on anything, keep your expectations low and you won't be disappointed. But it didn't work, I was still disappointed.

The next week is sort of strange and uneventful. But before that sets in, we still have to go through three passport checks before getting to Laâyoune. Because of us, the bus has to wait 15 to 20 minutes every time. On our way into Laâyoune, one can see traces of recent civil unrest. Car carcasses burnt to a crisp, stores gutted by fire, windows smashed. Lots of UN vehicles. Most of them shiny new SUVs, parked in front of Laâyoune's nicest hotel. Some of Fela's best lyrics run through my head.

Michèle comments: I especially remember seeing the front of an office building, the kind that is all silvery-blue mirrored window panes, with every one of the windows broken. We had been watching the news about the civil unrest way back when we were recovering from illness in Tafraout. I think it all happened on a Monday, but was reported so much on the news that it seemed like it was happening every day.

Well, it's carved in stone. We are going to the Canary Islands. After getting our ferry tickets, we head out of town towards our final passport check. About 30 km later, we get to Foum El Oued where we will spend a week relaxing and waiting for the ferry. There's only one per week. On the way, I finally get to see fields of dunes. Probably not the best the Sahara has to offer but fields of dunes nonetheless.

Foum El Oued looks like a ghost town. There isn't a single tourist here. Like there was a loud bang and all of them left in one go. The town looks run down and abandoned. There's one café shop that has WiFi however. This is where we went every morning to surf the net. The rest of the time was spent moping and checking out other abandoned stuff.

Michèle comments: Foum El Oued was an eerily quiet place, yet I kind of liked it. There was a long beach with huge crashing waves. No-one at the beach except a few fishermen. We spent so much time at the WiFi café that the brothers running it knew us by name. The younger brother was trying to help us to learn some Spanish before hitting the Canary Islands. Our pronunciation was all off, though. Benoit tried to ask for huevos (eggs) and was handed a lighter. When I tried, the guy pointed questioningly at some plastic cups.

Slowly running out of Dirhams and not wanting to take out more Moroccan money, we decide to camp for our last night. Foum El Oued has a campground. It is deserted. We are the only ones there.

At the campground, we befriend a cat. In Morocco, cats and dogs are semiwild but are treated well. Only tourists get rocks thrown at them. The cat is loving the petting session and becomes very friendly with us. So friendly that he won't go away. When it's time to get into the tent, not finding a way in, the cat jumps on top of it. Tearing a hole in it. I end up chasing it around the campground, throwing my boot at it.

Michèle comments: That cute little purring kitty turned into a demon with claws. Our delicately-meshed tent didn't have a chance. We still have a piece of tape over a hole in the mesh, not knowing how best to repair it.

Well, it's time to leave. The ferry ride to Las Palmas would take about 10 hours. After jumping through the hoops and getting our exit stamp, we board the ferry. But just before, a Moroccan official takes one last look at our passport. "Welcome" he says, even though we are leaving. We are the first ones on the ferry. The boat is quite small. Small enough to make it very bumpy if the seas are rough. We get settled in. Around ten o'clock, when the boat is supposed to leave, I fall asleep to wake up two hours later to see that the boat hasn't moved. People are still piling in. Around the ship, there are the usual notices of thing you are not allowed to do. One of them shows a drawing of some one sleeping on the floor. There is a big diagonal red line through the drawing. This doesn't seem to bother anyone. By the time the ferry leaves, the place turns into a large bivouac. People are camping anywhere they please. You literally have to step over people to move around the boat.

We head up to the restaurant for some dinner. The ferry company is Spanish. So, it's only logical that the restaurant takes Euros, not Dirhams. Unfortunately for us, we have no Euros. But we do have a credit card that doesn't work. They never seem to when you need them the most. Great, no dinner. But the guy in charge of the restaurant, the one who told me my credit card doesn't work, comes over to our table to tell us not to worry about it. He gives us a huge plate of food with two beers. Thank you Armas restaurant guy, we would have starved without your help.

We get a few hours of sleep. The air conditioning is cranked so high that we freeze our asses off all night. In the morning, it's a wakeup call to prayer programmed on someone's cell phone. Confused by the orientation of the boat, most of the faithfuls are pointing the wrong way when bowing towards Mecca. But outside, where it's warm, I sit on a bench to get my first glimpse at Las Palmas ... and first world comfort.

Michèle comments: My stomach has just barely recovered from the pukefest and shitting through the eye of a needle of the past few days. I am looking like I am ready for some first world comfort.

For all our Morocco pictures, click here.


  1. hey Guys! Congratulations for making it back to the first world! You'll be the happiest people this week since everybody here is having the post holidays/january blues....
    Michele, there has been epidemics of stomach flu here and in Canada too apparently. Maybe you also had it in Morrocco?
    The dunes looked really nice and the wild camping sounded like a real treat. Thanks for sharing that!
    xxx Caroline (going to Montreal for a month to get some proper winter sunshine...we're turning into amphibians here with so much rain)

  2. My favourite part from this post was the Spanish eggs/lighter/cups. So funny! Also Benoit's respect for an equally foul smelling partnership. I have now official joined the Skype world- looking forward to frequent live chats!
    Love, Wan (Michele's baby sis)

  3. dites donc vous aviez l'air bien contents de quitter le Maroc :-)


  4. Hi Caroline: Funny that you mention the stomach flu. I had been thinking that December is the season for those gastro bugs. I remember having a nasty one in Montreal around the time of marking first term exams. Have fun in the proper winter sunshine.

    Hi Wan: We found out later that the h in Spanish is not pronounced. One of the mistakes we made in trying to say huevos (eggs)! Who knows what other silly mistakes we are making in trying to speak Spanish. See you soon on Skype.

    Salut Seb: Moi en particulier j'étais vraiment contente de ne plus avoir de la chia...!