The heat penetrated every crevice, draining each drop of energy. Straining to my feet under the shade of a tree I rolled up my mat, secured my panniers and readied myself for the road once again.
I had never known heat like this. The gauge on my thermometer was creeping towards 50 degrees and I was feeling the strain of every one. Although now passing signs for Marrakech, each one felt painstakingly far apart. To give up now would be to admit defeat. The thought of carrying on was equally unappealing.
But I had to. I was in the middle of nowhere in Morocco. Giving up wasn’t an option.
The shimmering waters of a mirage enticed me cruelly onwards. I followed the tarmac rolling away beneath my wheels as my head lagged closer and closer to my handlebars. Before long I had stopped again, this time slouching by the roadside. Soon waves of debilitating nausea rippled over me.
Calling upon all my survival skills, I staggered towards a man tending to his plot of land nearby and motioned an unashamed plea. In shattered French I explained my predicament and waited for the brilliant solution that this poor man would surely provide. I couldn’t understand a word, but the reassuring hand he laid on my back as he led me into better shade kept alive a glimmer of hope.
Intrigued by the 6’4, lycra-clad white man who had come to visit, the man’s family - all four generations it seemed - appeared from a nearby shack. I soon found myself covered in a wet blanket, being force-fed bread and mint tea by Great Granny. Taking a wet cloth to my legs she then proceeded to scrape off the thick layer of dirt and grime. The whole family looked on in stunned curiosity. All the while I lay motionless, yet very aware of the surrealism of it all.
An ambulance came. I spent the journey to the hospital being jolted back and forth each time the driver braked or accelerated. They hadn’t secured the bed, and every time I slammed against the back door my heart skipped a beat as I pictured myself shooting out the back cartoon-style. The hilarity of it was lost on me. I felt awful. At least when we get to the hospital I’ll be more comfortable, I thought.
I was wrong.
The single air conditioning unit in my ward made no difference. My new concern was my very urgent need to dispose of the contents of my bowel which were ready to explode. To my despair, having safely done my business, I realised there was no toilet paper. Being the only person in the ward, there was also no one around to hear my cries of “Bonjour! Aidez!”. When help eventually came I still had work to do. I now challenge you to perch naked on the loo and mime “I need toilet paper” whilst maintaining an ounce of dignity.
Feeling left out, my gag reflex suddenly jumped into gear. I frantically scanned the cubical for something to use as a bucket. Luckily there was a small basin overturned in the corner. I grabbed it, but in doing so a hoard of flies and insects swarmed the tiny cubical from a hole in the floor which the basin had been concealing. A colourful assortment of expletives followed!
Back in bed I was put on a drip and left alone again to contemplate the last few hours. I wondered just how many people had travelled this way. Not many I thought – it wasn’t exactly on the tourist trail. I thought about how bad it could have been if certain things had happened differently, and how I could very easily still be lying alone by the roadside. Perhaps I should have listened to the advice given to me by several people, all along the lines of “Don’t go, you idiot!”.
Although as I lay there I began to entertain the thought that perhaps it hadn’t been all that bad. Perhaps this was travel in its purest form. Perhaps my horizons had been broadened like never before. Perhaps I had experienced something of the true, authentic Morocco. Or perhaps I had just had the worst journey of my life.