Leaving Larache - 1978

 

There is a certain perhaps over confidence that you get once you’ve travelled a bit. You feel that you can cope with pretty much anything that the journey throws at you and it is often a very short while after this feeling that the universe taps on your shoulder and reminds you that this form of arrogance is not so clever

 

So we set off and hitch hike through the sad, bullet pocked, battled scarred towns and repeating endless white head stoned cemeteries of Normandy and get to the city of Bordeaux. Not the fabled white wine vineyards but as a hitch hiker, an endless walk along the seemingly endless docks towards a ‘good spot’ for the next lift out of town

 

We eat ice creams as surfers rip the huge Atlantic rollers apart at the seaside of the fabled Biarritz and watch the sun tanned beautiful people drive past in open topped sports cars before hoping for a lift in the same on the edge of this fabled place

 

The mountains of the Pyrenees are steep and terracotta roofed village fabulous and the narrow Roman road winds upwards to the Col Du Portalet pass. We walk past the red and white stripped border poles, smile at the spanish customs officials in their lairy Franco styled, sub machine gun carrying uniforms and then we race downwards again from the mountain top in a night time car to the sounds of Oxygene by Jean Michelle Jarre and it’s almost as if we are flying into a night time outer space station called Espagne

 

The plains of Spain are flat and there is no rain but in the middle of those plains there is a small town called Manzanares where we eat hot bread and cheese and then snooze in a shared bottle of Rose’d haze on the edge of a children’s playing field in the setting afternoon sun

 

Barcelona is madness noisy as the spanish race up and down past another cheap hotel near to the painted hookers on unsilenced Bultaco motocross bikes all night and then we tongue in cheek hitch rides along the ‘Costa Del Crim’ with a cardboard destination sign that we think is humorous that reads Torremolinous

 

The port of Algeciras and the Rock of Gibraltar is standing there like a huge limestone pimple on the edge of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Did Lord Nelson stop here before taking his one arm and one eye out to the historic battle of Trafalgar and Trafalgar Square immortality in the Atlantic seas nearby?

 

North Africa lies just across the water and another visit to the dark continent seems like a really good idea

 

The Tangier touts start plying offers for “Hotel, hashish, kif, tour of the souk, boys’ almost before the ferry throws a rope ashore and the harassment never seems to stop so after a couple of days of sights including the retch worthy meat market a side trip to the beach at the little town Larache seems like another good idea

 

And Larache immediately appears to be a lot less strife than Tangiers. There is a neat little hotel and after the cramped bus ride from Tangiers we sleep in late. Breakfast is taken at a nearby cafe, the French colonial influence brings tasty coffee and croissants. We take a short stroll sightseeing along the beach before we are ready move on to our next destination southwards

 

When we get back to the hotel the middle aged manager demands that we pay another night because we ‘miss check out time’. I protest that there was no sign or notice to that effect

 

There is a short discussion and then the manager suggests that if we want to we can all go off to the police station to ‘sort out the matter’. In a piqued fit of bravado and british self righteousness I agree and off we all trot around the corner to the police station

 

There is a dusty counter and a couple of lowly officers lounging around apparently waiting for the flies circling above the static ceiling fan to commit some form of serious criminal offense. The hotel manager seems to explain the conflicted matter to the junior officers in arabic and after a short while we are summonsed behind the counter into a much larger back office with a large, brown uniformed man behind a large empty desk below yet another portrait of yet another solemn leader. We explain the little problem to him and make our case at some length explaining the injustice of a clearly rorting fee of another night’s room charge for late check out when there was clearly no notice at all of this expectation or deadline behind the counter of the hotel in which we had just spent the previous night

 

The police chief politely and quietly asks to see our passports and as this is so often the procedure we willingly hand them across the expansive desk. The police chief examines them minutely and then massages his black mustache for a moment longer

 

Then quite suddenly he looks at the hotel manager, slowly smiles a wry and knowing half smile, opens the desk draw and drops both passports into it. The desk draw is slowly and precisely closed and our passports are imprisoned between the desk, the desk drawer handle and the very ample girth of the police chief

 

The hotel manager taps me on the shoulder and says in a soft voice close to my ear ‘He’s my brother’. The universe taps me on the other shoulder and I immediately decide that this is a very appropriate time for me to soften my self righteous stance and begin to negotiate a very amicable discounted, win, win financial settlement for all concerned parties

 

A little later that day we purchase bus tickets back to Tangiers at what was probably twice the normal rate for local inhabitants and hurriedly head back to Spain