Morocco has been officially rocked. Aboard the ferry to Spain, I spent my last Dirhams on insanely cheap Smirnoff and candy bars. It was quite a way to go out. With the buses and trains to Granada having departed for the day, my only option is to leave the port city of Algeciras and head as far as I can, trying to minimize tomorrow’s remaining distance to Granada. Aboard the eastbound train, alone in a cabin for six, it feels strange to be back in a developed nation. I stare out the window as a transport car is hooked to the train beside mine, bringing new luxury vehicles to a distant city and a world apart from where I’ve spent the last few weeks.
The train cabin door bursts open. Four young men rush in and surround me, each brandishing large, black pistols, held out about waist-height. The first two guys, both likely younger than me, hold out police badges and photo identification. Their guns are pointed downward, but the other two look more prone. Dressed in jeans, short-sleeved shirts and light jackets (likely to conceal their firepower), they explain in English that there have been terrorist-like disruptions on this route and precautions are being taken. They examine my passport, thank me and move on to the next cabin. This is the new, developed world.
The train cabin door bursts open. Four young men rush in and surround me, each brandishing large, black pistols, held out about waist-height.
I exit the train at Ronda, where tomorrow I can catch a connecting train to my true destination. Ronda, at about 9 pm, seems like the right place to stop for the night, being a large enough city to have reasonable accommodation options and some sights to see in the morning.
Without a hostel in the city, my first two hotel choices in Ronda are full and I reluctantly wind up in a two-star hotel, paying more for a night (€35) than I spent in three full days in Morocco. Clean sheets, air conditioning and a shower have never felt so good.
Here in Granada, the tapas are plentiful, the hustlers have all of (or even the majority of)
their limbs, and I can actually drink the water without (irrational) fear of an Alien-like creature emerging from my head. Back to the future indeed.
After the uncertainty, the raised eyebrows from fellow travelers and the words of warning preceding our first trip to Morocco, I am back in “safe” Europe. So safe, in fact, that the past ten minutes in this internet café has featured the fallout of a classic, if tragic, heist. I listen in, as the story is told to the police who have just arrived:
An American tourist put his backpack at his feet as he typed at his terminal. His family of four were engrossed in their own computer screens. A stranger walked by and dropped a sweater. The American glanced at the man, thought nothing of him and continued writing his email. But when the stranger picked up his sweater, he snatched the American’s backpack. And the four passports that were inside it. And the cash. And the plane tickets. Welcome back to the future.
But when the stranger picked up his sweater, he snatched the American’s backpack. And the four passports that were inside it. And the cash. And the plane tickets. Welcome back to the future.
New Rule: if your sewage systems are not capable of handling toilet paper, your country is not capable of hosting a massive international sporting event. Super Double Probation is also given to countries that require you to bring your own “Papier Hygenique.” And they need to sell the stuff in colours other than Power Ranger Pink, too. I’m not sure how the Greeks weaseled their way out of this one, but my new rule is in light of the news of Morocco being turned down to host the Euro Cup 2010 football tournament. Finally, some sanity in the process. Are you listening, Greece? This new rule is also in light of having spent the last seven days with my gastrointestinal system reflecting the chaos of a developing nation.
And while I’m not often one to offer unsolicited advice to other travelers, well-seasoned in the Ways of the Road, I humbly suggest to you that, when faced with the doubly dire circumstances of both a Moroccan public toilet and an empty roll of pink one-ply in your backpack, a Moroccan train ticket is not sufficient substitute for toilet paper. Trust me.
And on that note, I depart for the streets and tapas bars of Granada, Spain. Yes, I’ve washed my hands.
As always, I remain,
Jihad E. Coyote