Travelling by armpit, and terror

It wasn’t so much that it was the complete journey from hell, more that it was a journey not in the least what we expected it would be; it was long, dangerous for anyone with a heart condition, smelly, and uncomfortable, but it makes for a good story.

We were in Essaouria, Morocco and we had planned to travel from there down the coast to a small town just north of Agadir. We had already had two very long journeys from Marrakesh to Fes (by train, and involved a lot of baby vomit and one of the boys making an unfortunate faux pas with a MacDonalds during Ramadan, and his choice of reading materials) and from Fes to Essaouria by minibus, which had been pretty warm but uneventfully long. We felt like we were pros at organizing long distance travel in Morocco by this stage… We weren’t.

With the vague help of the hostel we had been staying at, we decided on a deal and arranged for two taxis to take us down the coast. As we brought our luggage to the taxis it became apparent that they were regular five man vehicles. Ordinarily this would have been fine, but there were eleven of us not including the two drivers, and we each had a large rucksack. After being assured that it would all be ‘fine’ we piled in somehow and blocked all of the viewpoints for the driver apart from his own forward facing vantage point. I found a lovely place to perch wedged between an armpit and the seatbelt dock, and we arranged our limbs as best we could to keep as much bloodflow as possible. Once draped over each other and the luggage we started the journey, and it was at this point that the smug passengers with leg room in the front seat fully appreciated the state of the windshields; cracked and almost shattered in parts.

Feeling not hugely confident, and having not been on the road for long, one of the cars pulled over and the other followed suit - this was a confusing turn of affairs. Eventually it transpired that one of the cars had run out of petrol and we had to birth ourselves out of the cars to wait while the problem was solved. Both drivers hopped into the car that did have petrol and gestured that they were just driving to the next town to get some fuel to get the other cab there to fill up. Two of our party remained in the taxi that drove off for a reason I am still unsure of, and for a moment it seemed as if two pretty girls and half our luggage had been casually kidnapped. We looked around us, slightly thrown, and saw only goats and trees to serve as witnesses. This might not sound like much, but these goats were IN the trees, so were clearly more talented than the average goat. Unsure what to do, we ate some cakes and waited.

Time passed and eventually they returned. The girls looked very relieved to be back with familiar faces, the fuel went into the down and out cab, and we started to clamber back into the spaces we had just about occupied before the excitement. It was much more uncomfortable this time, and one of the party dealt with this by promptly going to sleep. As we left the winding countryside roads and joined the busier main roads it became apparent that the best thing would be to be asleep, that way the terror of the roads would be unable to be witnessed. Our drivers were excellent, and by excellent, I mean insane. With the distorted view through the cracked windshields we would swing out onto the other side of the road to over take an endless parade of lorries, to see an enormous lorry almost on top of us before swinging back in to our lane. Not that it was any safer there, for the cars and lorries coming towards us were doing exactly the same thing; it was like motorway chicken. There seemed to be no speed limit, but although it was a terrifying system it seemed to work, and went on for the rest of the journey. I put as much trust as I could muster in the drivers, but for the sake of my blood pressure I kept my eyes mostly shut until we arrived, with a renewed appreciation for seatbelts.

E Cambridge

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