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Tetouan Touts

On the overnight train back to the north, we found ourselves sharing a carriage with Mustafa, who owned a lingerie shop in Marrakech. As he was unable to speak any English, Colin and I somehow managed to stumble through our longest pigeon French conversation in history, and we enjoyed discussing everything from Moroccan town planning to politics with him. It was yet another example of just how friendly real Moroccans are. Unfortunately, our remaining days in the north of the country would be characterised by being hassled by desperate touts.

It began in Tetouan, where, after our chilled experience in the south, we arrived somewhat unguarded. Travelling by local buses, we got off to change for the service to Chefchaouen, and were immediately met by a guy wearing what appeared to be a bus company uniform. He led us outside towards the souk to 'get tickets' for the connecting bus and alarm bells began to ring. Realising he was probably taking us to someone with a fake book of tickets, we tried to get rid of him politely, telling him we were going to spend some time in the town instead, but he was impossible to shift. Continuing to follow us, and now deciding that he would be our guide, we just couldn't lose him. The touts seem to go through a series of emotions to beat you down. First they're friendly, then when you tell them that you don't need a guide or drugs or whatever, they're offended. "I am not a guide, I am your friend from the hotel", they will tell you. Finally, when all else fails they become angry, and sometimes start insulting you. So this guy turned angry, telling Colin, who'd been polite to him, not to talk like that to him in 'his' country, then began screaming, calling him a Jew.

Somewhat shocked by this turn of insanity, we managed to finally lose him but immediately picked up another 'friend'. This guy was bigger, more menacing, but drooling just as much. Were we from Spain? His brother lived in Malaga. Were we from Britain? His father lived in Gibraltar. He only wanted to be our friend for life. Until, of course, we made it clear that we wanted to be alone, and naturally, he began trying to sell us hash.

We were drug country now; the Rif mountains are the biggest marijuana growing region in Morocco, and wasted people were lying around on the pavement and in parks. Tired from travelling all night, we must have looked like easy targets for the touts, and the manic hassle they were giving us was becoming quite frightening. We decided to get out of Tetouan as fast as possible, marched back into the subterranean bus station, side-stepping the zombies, and tried to find the right ticket counter. We were immediately surrounded by junkies, all desperate to con some money out of us, but trying hard to ignore them, we got the tickets, and sought sanctuary in a nearby cafe until it was time for the bus.

We sat there, watching the hordes of touts mobbing new arrivals, but even the cafe was a little like something out of a horror film. The toilet floors were covered in sawdust, and cockroaches ran around the grimy walls. Nervous, with the feeling that the whole town was after us, we made a dash for the bus, ready to fight off the grabbing touts if we had to, and jumped onto the bus to Chefchaouen where we hoped things would, once more, be chilled and relaxed.


dear dear it was grim, do you think the local tourist board might want to advertise on your site?

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