I woke up excited and nervous about the trip from Chefchaoen to Tangier. I came downstairs at 8:15am, expecting to meet the hostel owner, Joe, to share a Grand Taxi to Tangier, as we discussed yesterday.
His mom spotted me waiting on the couch. “I hope you’re not waiting for Joe.”
“He left at half past six.”
“Oh, he didn’t tell me he was leaving early!”
“Well, we didn’t see you last night, did we?” Really? You know where I live. In the room upstairs, that you rent to me. I’m not hard to find.
She showed me a map and explained how to get a shared ‘Grand Taxi’ to Tatouan, where I can catch a second taxi to Tangier. She was describing something like the combis in Peru, vans that fill up with people to go from town to town, so it didn’t sound too intimidating. There were some strange instructions, though.
“Pay extra to sit up front. And buy both seats, so you won’t have to share.”
I tried to picture a vehicle with two passenger seats in front. Van? Minibus? Whatever, I’ll understand when I get there, I’m sure. I paid my bill, hoisted my pack onto my back, and set off.
I found the area she talked about, but I didn’t see any vans, just regular little cabs. I heard a man behind me call out “T’wan?” and I turned around.
He nodded and I nodded back.
He led me to a tiny cab and put my pack in the trunk. Then he opened the back door of the tiny car, which was already so stuffed with people that a body almost flew out. The people squished over, creating a few inches of space on the rear seat, and I squished in. There were seven of us, in a car about the size of a Ford Escort. Two women shared the front passenger seat. I shared the back seat with three men. I wished they were skinny men, but they were not. There was a little fuss over closing the door next to me because the latch was broken. Great.
The driver got in and off we went. The man on my left had a distinctive sniffling pattern that reminded me of Breath of Fire in yoga. Cocaine habit? Maybe.
He was pressing against my body from shoulder to knee on the left, which pushed my right thigh, hip and shoulder firmly against the door with the broken latch as we careened around corners at 100 kph. I held onto the chicken bar and pressed my head against the car’s interior to take pressure off the door. Seat belt? Are you kidding.
Just when I got used to my neighbor’s sniffling sounds, his phone rang. He was soon engaged in the loudest conversation I’ve ever heard. I’m surprised my ear didn’t bleed. I could feel his shoulder twitching against me — he was dying to gesture with his hand, but his arm was pinned against the side of my body. I stared out the window at the gorgeous countryside for a while and thought about how this was nowhere near as bad as, say, a slave ship.
After an hour or two, we finally pulled into a parking lot in Tetouan. As I heaved my pack out of the trunk, I asked the driver “Tangier?” He said something in Arabic and waved his arm forward.
I’ve become a great interpreter of arm waves because I know how to ask directions in many languages but never understand the responses. If just the hand indicates a direction, it’s a block or two away. If the forearm moves, you have to go 2-4 blocks in that direction. If the whole arm makes an arc from the shoulder, you’re going at least 5 blocks, and if it waves more than once, you’re walking a half-mile or more. This was about a 2-block gesture, so I headed that way, along with the sniffly man.
When I found the taxi headed to Tangier, it wasn’t full yet.
“Los dos.” Both, I told the man firmly in Spanish, as I gestured at the front seat and handed him enough money for two passengers. “Eitneen” I added in Arabic, holding up two fingers to be sure he understood (most people in this part of Morocco speak Spanish, but not all).
He nodded and I dropped into what felt like a giant, luxurious space. Aaaah. Sniffy McSnuffleface climbed in behind me, along with three other people. The driver lifted the hood and poured a whole bottle of water into the radiator before he got in, and off we went.
My body was singing with the sensation of empty space around it. Delicious! A whole car seat all to myself. Such luxury. Never mind that this little car was held together with bandaids and chewing gum.
The ride to Tangier was uneventful, except that I wish the driver hadn’t needed to pass everyone, take his half the road out of the middle, and drive into the space underneath trucks quite so much. When we stopped in Tangier, I recognized exactly where we were, at the Gare Routiere, the main bus station. (I can’t say Gare Routiere with the proper French gargly sound, but I did recognize the sign).
It felt so good to know my way home. It was about a 30 minute walk — and everything I owned was on my back, in addition to the smaller pack I carried on one shoulder—but it was mostly level ground, and a beautiful day, so I walked. Like a boss. Like the Queen of Tangiers. If it’s possible to strut with 500 metric shit tons of pack loaded on your back, I strutted. I love coming back to places. It feels so good to know where you are!
I stopped for lunch at a beach restaurant and ran into Sean and Jia, my hiking buddies from last week. When I came through the Medina and passed my favorite restaurant, Ismael jumped up from his chair, arms extended, and welcomed me with warmth and enthusiasm. I guess I know where I’ll be eating tonight!