Monday the 18th
Our short time in Marrakech had not been smooth sailing, nonetheless I wish we could have had a longer ride. But our upcoming itinerary had excitement written all over it! We were going to ride camels in Tangier and go to a flamenco performance in Seville! But first, we had to drive. For Tom’s birthday we had planned to sing Happy Birthday on the hour of every hour of this, our longest travel day of the tour so far. I don’t need to be told that we are possibly the most irritating company, especially for those who want to sleep or are too plain for some stupid fun. By the end of the day we will likely have sung HBD more than our theme song! First introduced to us on the third day of travelling, Bring Back the Summer is played as soon as we step on the coach each day. I am sure that when I reflect on my adventures in Spain, Morocco and Portugal, this song will evoke so many memories! With only one more week of exploring abroad to go, I am already dreading returning home to the commitment of university whilst the distraction of travelling will hang over me in an insatiable cloud of wanderlust. At the same time, it has been a week since I left Belgium and the Netherlands but it feels like so much more! I am grateful of the amazing people I have befriended who have made each day feel wonderfully long. I could not imagine a better group of people to share this journey with, for how few incredible people have the ability to make a boring bus feel like a world of adventure in itself? What could be better than a pack of speculoos cookies from the petrol station to munch on while we watch the defining motion picture of my generation, Shrek, in my socks and sandals on the journey to Seville in Spain? Day made.
We drove through Casablanca, a remarkably rich city which gave the impression we were no longer in Morocco. It was clean and had a modern charm that could have assimilated into any western pavilion due to the queue of nightclubs and fast food chains located on the seaside. The water was brightly brimming the surrounding coastline and a refreshing sea breeze engulfed our stiff limbs. The group from dinner yesterday evening came together for a seafood lunch and a short hour later we boarded the bus once more to drive to the third largest Mosque in the Muslim world devoted to Hassan II. The tower appeared as though it had emerged from the depths of the ocean. Its elevated position on a pier allowed me a clear view of the French architectural template normalised within this Muslim country. The tall rectangular tower of the Mosque doubled as the main entrance attached to the the body of the building. Unlike renaissance and gothic cathedrals in Europe which feature ornate spirals and embellishments in its facade, the modest Mosque had little detail in its exterior. The cognac coloured brick offset its green ceiling and the geometric decorations emanated the prestige it deserved as a religious building.
The next “happy happy” stop, in the words of our local guide Hassan, was the Mausoleum. We drove between the walls of the Rabat Palace and its corresponding fortress and arrived at the crumbled skeleton of the incomplete Mosque. Construction of this landmark began in 1194 but the death of the king only three years later, followed by a regime change when a different dynasty came to power, put this to a halt. An incomplete staircase came to a dead-end at the edge of the tower. The supportive columns weren’t built beyond their bases; the short stubs were barely as tall as the walls which were bisected by the empty space reserved for doors. Instead metal gates were used to close off the Mausoleum, which was, by day, occupied by the Royal Guard. Uniformed men dressed in white cloaks bedecked with green overlays, embellished with red and gold embroidering and a fez hat, held spears at their waists as they balanced atop sand-speckled horses. They helped facilitate bi-annual open air services in the Mosque and did well to uphold their composure despite being pestered by tourists in the heavy heat. The burial place of King Mohamed V was what made this religious place of worship a Mausoleum: his marble coffin was surrounded by the national flag and laid underneath a mosaic ceiling made to look like the starry night sky.
A final three hour stretch brought us to the streets of Tangier. The poverty gap was inadmissible where the resorts met the slums, but the coastline was a beautiful view visible rom every residence regardless of its wealth. We paused on a gravelly beach for a short camel ride as the sun set over the horizon. The wind had cooled down the day substantially and blew our hair across our faces. As I was taking pictures of a baby camel, it lumbered over to me and gave me a friendly nuzzle. I must have smelled nice, for it began to lick my arm and then even eat my hair! This is not the first time I have ridden a camel yet I am still amused at the awkward appearance of this animal. In turn, each of our contiki company would teeter dangerously off balance as the camel lifted itself off its knees, holding the saddle in angst as the animal moved the legs on once side of its body and then the other. All the while, they looked as though they were contently smiling, and my friends were laughing too. The ride was short, but after so long seated on the bus it was just enough to break up the drive. We were nearing our hotel. Not yet ten minutes had passed and we were given the warning call to assemble our belongings to disembark the coach. Aside the bus, locals stared from their vantage points inside cafes and children ran in attempt to keep up – it was something we had become accustomed to during our stay in Africa. Like a game, another child joined the chase, and another, and another. Before we had even a moment to comprehend the evolving situation, the contiki coach had commanded a following of fifty individuals, the majority of which looked barely older than ten. What seemed a friendly welcome party or a childish game was in reality a desperate attempt at misperceived liberty and opportunity. The children attempted to throw themselves underneath the bus and wedge between the hot pipes where they could be smuggled into the false promise of Europe. Once parked, we were surrounded by security to keep the youths at a distance, but this did not deter them from scoping out the situation. We were not to leave for the port until tomorrow, so the bus pulled away once we had retrieved our luggage followed by a stream of desperate children. Many of them orphans or refugees, they had no access to state education although could find shelter at refugee camps. But that is no way to live! Europe posed as a promise land, romanticised through success stories which fed the desperation of the hopeful kids who saw little of a life ahead of them in Africa. It was difficult to try assimilate their perspective; whilst were clothed and looked fed I had not experienced the hardships of poverty but observed as they encouraged each other to take the risk. I was shocked. Everyone was shocked. Heartbroken at what we had witnessed, the indigence of these children was difficult to comprehend and accept. The livelihood of the powerless in developing nations was confronting, yet an experience to be valued over ignorance. I am yet to see how the morning will fare in the midst of these hopefuls.