|Victor Lazlo: Are you ready Ilsa?
Ilsa: Yes, I'm ready.
I sleep on the terrace as the room is so hot, a square cube of concrete with a solid steel door that needs only a hatch for meals to complete the police cell look. The hours roll by as I look up into the sky, watching satelittes trace silent steady paths through the stars, making out the Plough but little else over the light being thrown up by the medina, with the shouts of the street and the roar of motorbikes rising from the alley below like a never-ending heat haze. A cat settles at the foot of the mattress, resting against my leg, it's body warmth heating my calf like it was a hot motorbike exhaust. 2am then 3am go by, and sleep still nowhere, and then I must have drifted off as a call to prayer from the mosque directly opposite jerks me awake sometime around 4.30, with the cat sprawled over the bottom left corner like a selfish lover, my legs forced together, feet pointing like a ballerina and then mercifully I drift off again for an hour or two before waking up with the dawn at 6am. I'm soon out of there, enjoying the walk through the cool morning air and the empty streets, and as I come out of the souk and walk across the empty space to the gate, the air is filled with hundreds, perhaps thousands of birds, swallows or swifts I think, diving and banking and climbing, emitting their shrill chirps, an uplifting sight against the dirt yellow walls of the medina.
It's a short walk to the bus station and after a few directions from the genuinely helpful people there, am directed to the ramshackle bus, my backpack stowed underneath by a luggage guy who looks too frail to pick up a cold let alone my bag. The Japanese guy in front of me is soon joined by a young local lad and I overhear what sounds like the usual shark talk of come to my house, I've arranged for a taxi for you etc etc etc. Or not, as he gets off about two hours into the journey. That's the thing, it's so hard to tell the genuine from the fake, it's like a pendulum in your mind; you have a good experience and you become too trusting, then get ripped and become too suspicious, with time and experience the pendulum swings a little less each time. A small kid with a bad sounding cough sits next to me for the first hour and a half, until he moves elsewhere and another man gets on to take that seat. Over the aisle from me is an old lady, a white cloth wrapped round her head, but it's her hands that are interesting - her nails, or rather the very skin under them, appear to be red and the palms are painted black, with the heart line, that which stretches from between the thumb and index finger and the base of the palm, left bare. The man next to me strikes up a conversation and we spend the next hour conversing: he's lived in Sweden for the last 20-odd years and speaks good English, and the talk ranges from politics, to my impressions of Morocco to his life on Sweden. He's on his way to Tangier, to which this bus is bound, to pick up a car, and it's good to talk in English to a guy with no motive other than wanting to talk. The conductor talks to the guy, who tells me that the bus won't be going to Chafchaouen as he'll lose fares, but will pay for a cab to take us there at a point a little distance away, which was what the young lad before was refering to. The scenery turns from farmland to forested hills, with locals sitting sidesaddle on donkeys, many of them wearing traditional hats of straw, with what looks like fluffy black wool in four strands from the top to the rim. Me and two others, the Japanese guy and a Japanese girl who frankly looks completely clueless, are decanted into a grande taxi, the Mercedes saloon cars which ply the routes and fill many of the gaps in the transport network. One more joins us from another coach, and with two locals we're now six plus the driver, which is the full compliment.
We get set down near the main gateway to the medina, and am approached by a guy, who unprompted says he works for the guesthouse I'm looking for, the Pension Souika, and I'm glad he was there as it would have been hell to find in this warren of blue streets. Drop my bag off and then Omar (for that is his name) is taking me some place I know not where and of course it's a carpet shop. Soon his mate (Abdullah) is working through his well-worn patter, going through all manner of carpets from camel hair to cactus fibre. Just when I think he's finished, he climbs onto a chair and starts throwing more down to the floor from a huge stack; each thud is like a nail in my heart. I don't buy anything, not being in need of a rug and not indeed owning a house in which to put one in if I did. Then Omar is taking me somewhere for food, and we end up in a place with clear plastic tablecloths and prints of bad paintings in bad gold frames. The food is good, and I pay for both of us, refusing an offer to come to his place for tea by pleading tiredness. In the hostel, I meet Kat from Melbourne and Jack from England and am approached by two girls looking for a couple more people to fill out the compliment for a grande taxi to some waterfalls, so I go for it and Jack agrees to come along too. The terrace here has a great view of the town and the mountains, and it is exactly what I'm looking for to read my books and relax. Me and Jack go to a place recommended by two guys I met in Essaouira but it is shut, but we get talking to some beautiful local girls, learning a little Arabic. The one I talk to the most is a stunningly striking girl called Noora, her features accentuated by her hijab but alas she is only 16, though that doesn't stop her giving me her Facebook details. We give up waiting for the place to open and instead go to the place opposite and have good tajine for €5 all in.