Monday, July 31, 2006

Ask and you shall receive. This one is going out to the kid who e-mailed me asking what the hell I did in Europe for nearly 9 weeks. Enjoy.

I couldn't quite tell if her face was curling into a knowing smile or whether it was merely a courtesy . We've all been told that there are certain moments that come to define our lives, that define who we are and what we stand for. I was fairly certain that thus far in the trip, I hadn't had a single one of those.

No, we were in Krakow, surrounded by a group of Hungarian girls who had met and bonded in their American studies class. I don't know if to them we were jokes or experts or oddities but the ones who understood my dumbed-down version of english were giving me flity looks and asking for stories from nearly 7 weeks of travels.

My boat from Algeciras in Spain to Tangier in Morocco had been cancelled de to weather, I explained, and arriving at 11:30 instead of 7 p.m. made the rough-and-tumble port city full of unfamiliar faces all the more intimidating. I jumped out of bed at 4 a.m. when the Muslim prayers rung out of the speakers bolted to the mosque towers and out across the city's rooftops. It only took half a day to lose my pocket-sized travel guide to Morocco somewhere on the streets and to realize I needed to get out of Tangier. Marrakesh. Yes. I would go south on the night train to Marrakesh.

The train station was busy and only accepted cash, and as I found my way to an ATM, I noticed someone watching me. I took a step back, The station was relatively safe but I was traveling alone and I've heard night train horror stories that ran the gamut from missing luggage to being gassed while you sleep.

The shifty figure approached me and was the only the second person in two days to address me in my native tongue. "excuse me, are you from the States?"

Yes, I replied to the as I surveyed the man's wrinkles and guessed that they were 40 odd years worth of accumulation.

"Have you ever been to Seattle?"


Oh wonderful! I lived there for many years. I met an american in France, there was a lot of passion and the next thing you know, there I was, married to her and living in her house near the city. My name is Charif."

I'd heard that once you leave the large Cities of morocco, people are hospitable and friendly but to be careful on the cities. No one wants to be your friend for free. Though there was something in Charif's eyes I didn't wholly trust, I was still thankful to find someone who could fill the enormous gaps in the next six days of my trip that were completely empty after loosing the travel book.

Charif told me his town, Asilah, was a beautiful place on the coast between Tangier and Marrakesh and that I could stop with him for a few hours to explore if I wished.

Why not give a few hours to see something new? I thought. So off we went, bound for Asilah first, Marrakesh second. I had no idea what lay ahead but so long as it was different than the desuetude poverty and leering eyes of Tarifa, I knew I would be moving in the right direction. The water off Asilah was clear blue as we exited the train station where Charif bought a single Marlboro off a vendor manning a street cart. That's when I realized that I was completely at his mercy. I hoped that the rumors of Moroccan hospitality were true and that I would find my way back to the train station before the next morning arrived.

Two of the Hungarian girls leaned in closer. Maybe the story was getting better. Maybe the bartender had turned up the music. Their eyes brightened. The girl who hadn't payed enough attention in English class jabbed her straw into her drink with an absent look. A fourth flirted with my friend. It was week seven and already memories from week 1 had started to fade.

Tomorrow: Asilah and wherever I ended up next.


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