Tangier; Late for breakfast, as always; Les taxis petits et grands; Tangier's first sand-castle; Impromptu backpackers' convention; Night train to Marrakesh

Not having had much sleep the night before, we descended late for breakfast - too late, as it happened. Only after Emilie sweet-talked the waiter (a talent of hers, we were to discover) did we get tea, juice, olives, and the remaining three stale pastries which were left over. A crumb is better than nothing, though we did pass on the stewed prunes, I must admit.

The agenda of the day was to store the packs in a locker at the train station and explore Tangier in the afternoon and evening, and then to return to the station and catch a sleeper to Marrakesh. What they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men is true, though, and we arrived at Gare Tanger-Ville after having squeezed ourselves and our baggage into one of Tangier’s ubiquitous blue and tan petits taxis (so-called because they’re smaller than the… you guessed it… grands taxis) only to find that the station had no lockers or left-luggage office. Grinding our teeth, we purchased our train tickets (350 dirham for a couchette - about CAD$50) and hailed another cab (a grand taxi, in this case) to take us to one of the bus stations, where there was a left-luggage office. I say we hailed a taxi, but in Tangier hailing a taxi is accomplished by failing to beat the taxi driver off you with a stick.

A word about Tangerine taxi drivers: In a town of sleazy opportunists, they’re possibly the sleaziest opportunists. The petits taxis are on the meter and the grands taxis are not, but in either case, if you neglect to force the driver to agree upon a price before entering the vehicle, you will find that the fare quoted at the destination is outrageous - and in the case of the petits taxis, bears no relation to the number shown on the meter. Any random excuse is used to justify the sudden increase: The meter only applies before 8pm; The fare quoted was per person, so sorry you misunderstood; The fare quoted was in euros, not in dirham; and so on and so on.

Emilie wanted to go to the beach, and so after dropping the packs, so we did. The breeze is strong in Tangier, and today was no exception - it was windy enough to cause a stinging sandstorm on the beach, which was still crowded even so. We piled our things up into a windbreak and huddled behind it. The girls weren’t able to go in swimsuits - they were the only women in short sleeves as it was - and I didn’t feel like it, so we just watched a bit. Sheryl got bored and went for a walk, which was a mistake - as soon as she was outside the mystical three-meter radius of male protection, she was swarmed by men acting very ugly. She said one of them followed her around, shouting in her face in Arabic, making rude gestures, and clapping his hands in her face, if you can believe it - and went and fetched his friends to do the same when whatever result he wanted failed to materialize.

After her bad experience, Sheryl decided to make a sand-castle, and solicited Emilie’s and my help. We created a masterpiece, I have to admit. Not one but three walls, a gatehouse, an escape tunnel, and a flag. And all this with nothing but a mutilated Coke bottle for tools. It was a source of immense entertainment for all the locals on the beach, who watched the whole procedure with great interest. I’m forced to conclude that we built not only the greatest, but also the first sand-castle Tangier had ever seen. We finished it and stood back in satisfaction just in time to watch the tide sweep in and destroy it, which reminded me strongly of certain periods in my professional career.

Tired of the sandstorm, we got the bags from the bus station and repaired once more to Gare Tanger-Ville. We had two hours before our train, but nothing much to do and no place better to be. Sitting on our packs under the stairs at the train station, we became a magnet for any passing backpacker - there ended up being five or six of us all sitting in a circle, including, in an example of that odd backpacker synchronicity, Aziz from Kuwait, who we’d met in Granada. I became convinced that the sleeping car would be completely filled with foreign backpackers, which indeed turned out to be the case.

I’d never taken a sleeper train before. Sheryl and Milie fell into a coma almost instantly, but the thought of taking a night train to Marrakesh seemed (and still seems, even after the fact) such a romantic and extravagant proposition that I felt far too excited to actually sleep. I sat up late, listening to the girls breathing, and looking through the window as the moon rose and the villages and the barren hills slipped slowly past, and listening to the train’s low whistle.

Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
This travelogue comprises 16,426 photographs and 402,515 words in 307 dispatches written from 335 places in 52 countries on 6 continents around the world.
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