After months of travelling in Morocco, and a hundred amazing rides, there are just too many stories to tell them all. Instead, I will tell you about our longest journey, hitchhiking from Assilah Eco Village in Sidi El Yamani, all the way to Tagounite, going through the famous Tizi n’Tichka pass and taking a detour through Ksir El d Kabir and Kenitra.
After a month of natural building (and accidental body building), we left the beautiful Assilah Eco Village, to head South, with no particular trajectory or stops in mind. We were walking on the rocky path leading to the main road and, before we knew it, we had our first ride from a motor taxi. Even though we didn’t ask for a ride, and actually tried to refuse, explaining we wanted to walk, he insisted on giving us a ride and refused the few dirhams we had to offer. In case you were wondering, yes this is an accurate representation of what hitchhiking is like in Morocco.
A few rides and a little rainfall later, we found ourselves at a pitchfork at the exit of the city of Larache: the highway taking us to Casablanca on the right, random road taking us through a 100 tiny villages on the left. Of course, we ended up on the latter. For some reason (comfort and blind optimism), we chose to stay in the car and head on the small road. A few villages later, we thought we might regret our choice as all the cars were stopping in Ksar el Kabir. After 10 minutes with no cars passing our way, we very vehemently signaled the first car to stop, and they did! We had a very pleasant ride, with detailed explanations of the villages and landscapes unfolding around us, along with comparative analysis of family and children’s independence towards their parents in Morocco vs Québec/Canada, until Souk el Arbaa.
If we ever had any doubts about our decision to take this road, what happened next erased them completely. At this point, it was about 15h, and as usual, we hadn’t eaten all day (we never eat while in a car, and never wait long enough to eat). So, as we made our way out of the village, we decided to stop in a small boui-boui, small local counters where you can get a bowl of soup or lentils for less than 1€. After exchanging our ‘’vegetarian’’ soup containing chicken (‘’mais c’est du poule!’’, insisted the confused man behind the counter, as everyone in the room started shouting their opinion on the situation, the woman next to us ordering him to give us Bessara), a man with limited mobility came to us asking for spare change. As he was leaning in to thank us, he started falling out of balance but was quickly helped up.
What do you think happened next? He was kindly escorted out of the restaurant, reflecting his exclusion from society and complete lack of consideration towards him as a person. You believed that? Come on, this is Morocco, not most western countries (yes, including Canada). He was gently brought to a table, where they brought him the same meal everyone was having; bread, soup, water. We stared at each other in disbelief, not of what was happening, but of what is not happening in our own streets and restaurants.
Now, although I am not proud of it, I will take you inside my head, and my automatic prejudice or assumptions. A few minutes before, two young guys (I would guess around 17) had walked in, western clothes, backward caps on, I had labelled as ‘’cool boyz’’, expecting typical teenager attitude from them.
One of them was walking by, heading outside, when the man spoke to him. The young man came closer, and proceeded to help the man eat. He had been sitting in front of his food, unable to eat or drink due to the limited mobility of his hands. I was so busy thinking about how nice it was from them to treat him as a human, I did not even realize how inconsiderate we were all being (little reminder of how much being fully able is a privilege). The boy spent the next 10 minute sitting with him, patiently feeding him, bringing him water and helping him wash his hands. The scene brought tears to my eyes. It was a beautiful portrait of everything that’s wrong in the world, and everything that’s right. I can’t share all the feelings and thoughts I had in that moment, so I will let you imagine it. Would you see that happening in your street, at your corner café, the restaurant down the block? Would you stop and help?
After a short emotional recovery, we had to think about where we were going to sleep that night. We were a few hours from Kenitra, so we had a look on Couchsurfing, and ended up with a place to sleep within a few minutes, a couchsurfing host connecting us with a friend. Alright! Back on the road. We started hitchhiking as vehicules overflowing with anything and everything (from wood, clothes to live animals) were leaving the closing market, and a truck quickly stopped, disregarding the fact he was blocking most of the circulation. Finally, our first ride in a truck! We had a beautiful view of the country side at sunset, our friend’s speech debit going faster than the speedometer. He dropped us on the highway (welcome to Morocco!), where we hitchhiked another car into town to finally meet our hosts: Ben and his wife.
DAY 2 & 3
Ben and his wife introduced us to Moroccan hospitality. In other words, they invited us in like family. We ended up spending two nights in Kenitra, enjoying long conversations with the couple and the contrasts between our lives, while eating marvellous food, of course. (He also happened to teach me about blogging, as he writes here to promote hiking and share his experiences in Morocco.) Which brought us to probably the most important milestone in Morocco: Our first invitation to Friday couscous.
After an incredible meal and receiving way too many gifts, including a French version of the Coran, our remarkable hosts insisted in driving us to a good hitchhiking spot and even wanted to wait for us to get a ride before leaving (they just couldn’t believe it was that easy). We insisted we would text them as soon as we got a ride, which we did, less than 30 seconds later. Our aim for that night was Casablanca to meet a friend we met in Tétouan, and our ride was bringing us to Rabat, until he convinced himself to take us all the way to Casablanca, to enjoy his Friday with his family. That easy? Yes.
DAY 4 & 5
We spent two nights at our beautiful friend’s place (what can I say, we’re slow), getting psyched about travelling further south in Africa, as her friend told us her travel stories through Mauritania, Sénégal and Mali, recommending us cargo trains you can get on for free. Now, we were determined to go as far as possible. We got a few short rides to get out of Casablanca, until we reached the road leading to the airport, where we finally got picked up… All the way to Marrakesh! We enjoyed 3 hours of spring sceneries as our new friend told us about the Amazigh (also know as Berbères, the general term designates natives in North Africa) language, culture and political situation within Morocco. I did not know this before, but Moroccans are serious polyglots. In addition to standard Arabic, Darija (the local dialect) and French, he learned English through work, and his mother tongue was actually Tamazight = 4 languages and 3 different alphabets. And we were proud to speak 20 words of Darija…
After leaving us his number, he went out of his way to drop us on the road towards Ouarzazate. It was late afternoon, but we wanted to keep going! We caught multiple short rides through the villages outside of Marrakesh, and within 30 minutes, a car stopped, going all the way to Ouarzazate! It was more than we had dared to hope for. Our host Lindsey had told us some stories about this Tizi N’Tichka pass. We were expecting ultimate destination 6.
Thankfully, we had a truly breath-taking 4 hours of driving through the mountains, the snow, the villages with their flowing water and naked trees, young kids selling various herbs and spices to the cars driving by.
Beyond the French-speaking co-pilot’s occasional jokes and tales, the ride was mainly a silent one. We were getting closer to our destination when they asked if we had booked a hotel. I smiled and explained that we don’t stay in hotels, briefly introducing the concept of couchsurfing. They seemed perplexed, but accepted my explanation. After a brief consultation, they told us that they were renting a full apartment, as they were coming to work for a few weeks in Ouarzazate, and if they had the apartment, we were welcome to stay with them for the night. As our Couchsurfing host was not answering (happens!), we gladly accepted the offer. We did not realize what we were getting into.
After confirming the apartment, we stopped to eat. Vincent and I thought it would be our chance to give a little back, but of course, they didn’t let us pay. As soon as we stepped in the apartment, they told us to choose which one of the two rooms we wanted. Vincent and I stared at each other, astonished (‘’Sont sérieux?’’). I refused categorically, obviously they should each take a room and we could sleep in the living room. This time, I wasn’t going to give in as easily. They insisted, we persisted… and they won. Leave it to Moroccans to be so determined to give you everything they have. And, it wasn’t the end of it. They set up the washing machine, started the water heater for us to shower and wash our clothes. One of them slipped out to buy us snacks and juice, twice (when I tell you they treat us like their children).
We woke up early the next morning, as they had to get to work, but they invited for a last meal together, casually mentioning that they had a gift for us. On top of everything else?! Meanwhile, we had designed a foolproof plan; hiding money inside a carefully folded thank you note and leaving it in the car for them to find later.
What was the gift? Well, remember when our backpacks were robbed? In the beginning, it wasn’t an issue, we didn’t have backpacks anymore, but we had nothing to carry either. But, as we are starting to gather necessities again, and received 2 magnificent and giant hats as gifts from our hosts, it left us with a bunch of small bags with things hanging from them, making it a big awkward to get in and out of the cars fast and without forgetting anything.
So, our two angels decided to give me a backpack. Yep. Like a proper backpacker’s bag. I said it was too much, wouldn’t he use it? He said it had been given to him on a work trip, and that he couldn’t use it here: ‘’That’s for tourists, I’m not a tourist’’. So, I ended up with a backpack again!
We had breakfast together, our insanely generous friend taking the opportunity to give breakfast to a pregnant cat near us (which I found very sweet), and refusing to let us pay, again. Came the time for goodbyes, we thanked them a million times. As they invited us to visit them in Mohammedia, Vincent slipped them the note, telling them not to open it now as he would get too emotional. They drove away and we were celebrating our victory, when we saw them turn around. We laughed, thinking they got lost again. Until we saw them, shaking their heads from left to right, holding the note. We jokingly tried to hide from them, laughing like naughty kids. They gave us another note, telling us to open it once we reached Tagounite, our destination.
After a few hours of re-packing our bags, making use of my beautiful new backpack and wandering around Ouarzazate, we headed out and started hitchhiking. We got two short rides, getting us out of Ouarzazate, and finally out in the desert! It was probably the most exciting place we’ve hitchhiked in so far. It was our first glimpse of the desert, complete with a few oasis in sight. I wished for no cars to drive by for a while, I just wanted to enjoy the moment; the heat, the sun, the sand, the silence. Unfortunately, a car stopped within 10 minutes. Alright, I was still happy about it, how ungrateful can one be?
It turned out to be a great ride, filled with camel sightings (roaming in the desert, where they belong) and discussions about identity, happiness and what psychology really is (beyond the ‘’oh, so you can read my mind’’). We ended up in Agdz, where we spotted another hitchhiker, going to the same hippie gathering in Tagounite! He said he had been there for an hour, without much luck. Hitchhiking relying strongly in prejudice (people have 3 seconds to judge it they ‘’trust’’ you), woman are picked up more easily, so we decided to hitchhike together, with me in front. The first car stopped, recognizing our new friend as a travelling journeyman (german tradition explained here) and took him as they only had space for one. ‘’Don’t worry, we’ll find a ride in no time’’, we said… And we were proved right as a van stopped a few minutes later, taking us to Zagora, crossing the longest oasis on the way, along breath-taking canyons, and catching up with our friend on the way! Both cars pulled over, and we realized we would both stop in Zagora, probably seeing each other there!
We made it to Zagora, but no sign of our german friend. We managed to get a ride halfway to our final destination, leaving us less than an hour away! At this point however, it was already 16-17h and the sun was slowly starting to set, as the traffic thinned, getting down to rally cars and organized tour groups only. We were thinking of spending the night in the village when… Our friend’s face appeared, driving by. He had resorted to paying a few euros for a taxi, as very few private cars were going our way, so we decided to follow him and jumped in, soon joined by a crowd of 5 more people, leaving our backpacks to be thrown on the roof of the car. Thankfully, we didn’t lose anything this time and, after crossing a mild sand storm, we made it to Tagounite!
But, we still had to make it to the gathering itself, held in an oasis in the middle of the desert, a few kilometers away. So, we made our way to the Peace café, where gatherers gathered and we met (amongst so many incredible people)… 2 Canadians; Robert and Charlotte! Interestingly, they were amongst (if not the) first Canadians from another province (aka English-speaking) we became friends with. We had amazing conversations, giving me a different perspective on my national identity and Québec’s independence, which I’ll go in more details later. We then cooked a tajine together with the incredible owner of the café, Zaid without whom none of this would have been possible.
In conclusion, we were able to easily cross from Tnine Sidi El Yamani to Tagounite, covering 952 km in 3 days of slow hitchhiking, taking our time, taking detours and starting late. Similarly to our expedition through Spain, we could have made it in half the time if we cared to be decent hitchhikers, but we were too busy enjoying the rides and the beautiful people we met.