Or how to win friends and influence natives abroad!
I spent the last few months of 2007 selling most of my possessions. Suffering from a self-diagnosed case of ennui, I had chosen to self medicate through travel.
I unloaded most of what I owned, save boards, clothes and keepsakes, in order to partially finance my expedition. The plan was to take a trip around the world, spending a year exploring places I’d never seen, and, due to lack of surf, most likely never would.
For the first time in my life, I would leave my surfboards behind, probably not surf at all, and hopefully shake loose the middle class melancholy which had enveloped me in the preceding months.
I hedged my bets.
Though most of the places I planned to visit had only a passing acquaintance with the ocean, I couldn’t help but add one destination that might find me in some good surf. As my flight plan would take me over the northern tip of Africa, I decided to make a stop off in Morocco.
We would arrive towards the end of the season, meaning surf was not likely. Though as a well-known surf destination, I was fairly confident that should we encounter swell I would be able to find a board somewhere.
I would not be embarking on the globetrotting sojourn solo. Joining me was my then girlfriend, now wife. Life partner extraordinaire and the only woman I fully trust not to lose her shit when the going gets rough.
Morocco was an unknown entity. I’d done little research before buying our tickets, and beyond a vague notion of hash and cumin scented desert breezes, had no idea what we should expect.
We arrived in Casablanca on the red eye. After negotiating the standard third world airport, hands white-knuckled on bags to ward off thieves, we paid a taxi to deliver us to our initial destination. We’d booked a hotel on the edge of the Old Medina, ready to experience a foreign culture in all its squalid glory.
The next morning found me unprepared. Though my wife was enraptured by the old world charm, I could not escape my own twisted view of reality. The Old Medina, though picturesque, was a labyrinthine warren, replete with hustlers, cut purses and hash dealers beckoning from darkened alleys.
We spent our days in a constant state of confusion, lost amongst switchback alleyways. My wife blithely shopped, I peered around corners, gripping a six inch folding knife in a sweating palm, ready to stab at the slightest provocation. After a week I reached my breaking point, and following an incident in which I punched a ten-year-old pick pocket in the side of the head and brandished my blade at a merchant, we decided a change of scenery was in order.
How we found our way to Taghazout is beyond me.
Somehow, using a mishmash of child level French and Spanish we were able to procure bus tickets to Agadir, and after an all day bus ride, and an hour spent wandering around the Agadir bus terminal, we ran into Sam. An amiable Kiwi on holiday. He was also on his way to Taghazout, and was equally clueless as to how we would go about getting there.
After some discussion we hailed a cab, engaged in the customary fifteen-minute haggle over fare, and were on our way.
We pulled into Taghazout after the sun had set. Our cab driver, who would eventually introduce us to Ahmed, the hash dealer and fixer we would employ during our stay, took us to a small, two-bedroom house on the beach front. He knew the owner, who soon arrived to talk rental prices. After another drawn out haggle session we acquired lodging.
The next two days were spent walking through town, which was nearly devoid of fellow travelers, and drinking mint tea until our hands shook from the caffeine buzz.
On the third day the swell arrived.
Anchor Point was overhead and perfect.
I spent the morning frantically scouring the town to find a board I could rent, borrow or buy. Most of the boards on offer were pop out Bics, an option I preferred to forego unless no other option presented itself. New boards were priced in the US $800- $900 range, which was completely outside my grasp. I persevered, and eventually came across a 7’6” minilog shaped by some obscure French guy. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a real board, so I made the best of the situation and paid in advance, offering a white lie to the owner of the small shop about passport theft. Convinced him to take a California drivers license as a deposit on the board.
The board had previously been broken, about a foot from the nose, and as my wife and I walked back to our rental I made a comment which would come back to haunt me.
“You know, it probably won’t go over well if I break this thing.”
So, of course, I broke it two days later.
I’d snagged a set off the point and connected through to the inside section. The tide was low, and as I came off the bottom I could see it was going to bowl and pitch. I swung the board around, stalled, and pulled in at an awkward angle. I watched helplessly as the lip threw out over my head and came down on the nose of the board, exactly where it had broken been broken before.
I came up to find the nose of the board floating next to me. It was a clean break, totally repairable, so I grabbed it and paddled in.
On the walk back to our house my wife and I discussed the best course of action. We decided that I should pay for the repair, so I grabbed some cash and went back to the shop I had rented it from.
When I showed up the owner wasn’t there. A younger kid was on duty, and as I walked up he didn’t recognize the board under my arm.
“Too bad friend. But we can fix it. Only fifty dollars American. We make it good as new”
Okay, fifty bucks. That seemed fair. I borrowed it, I broke it, I should pay to have it fixed. I pulled out fifty dollars, ready to pay. Then he noticed the board belonged to them.
“Wait, I must call the owner.”
Twenty minutes later the shop owner arrived. He took one look at the two pieces of board sitting on the ground and told me I owed him nine hundred dollars.
“For a used board? No way. It was broken when I rented it, and it broke in the same place. I’ll pay to have it fixed.”
“It was in one piece when you rented it. Like new. You owe me for a new board.”
“But it had been broken. It wasn’t broken when you rented it. We fixed it.”
“And your repair job sucked. I’ll pay to fix it. That’s all.”
“You pay, or we keep your passport.” (Which is why you NEVER give anyone your passport.)
This went on for some time, steadily growing more and more heated as the shop owner refused to budge on his price, and I refused to pay it.
Eventually our argument drew the attention of the various underemployed fellows who lounge about the town during the day, looking for an opportunity to make a quick buck. They started to gather around us. I was about to learn a quick lesson in group dynamics.
In short order I found myself surrounded by what seemed to be the entire male contingent of the town, a malnourished, underemployed crew bombarding me with a guttural cacophony of what I assumed to be arabic epithets.
As I continued to argue, now with the entire group, I noticed the crowd was quickly becoming a mob. I began to fear harsh retribution, driven not by a sense of righteous justice, but, rather, propagated by their own disenfranchisement and boredom.
“You pay, you pay,” became their slogan.
Deciding rash action was better than martyrdom, I began to scream and swing my arms about wildly. The mob backed off enough to provide a small opening, and I turned and ran. Whether or not they gave chase, I have no idea. I didn’t look back.
I made it back to our house, and collapsed on the sofa to relate to my wife what had just happened. We decided that an early departure was most likely our best course of action. This decision was further supported when Ahmed stopped by that evening.
“Rory, I hear you break a surfboard. People are very angry with you.”
“He wants too much money for it. I offered to pay, but he’s not reasonable.”
“Yes, I know him. He is very greedy. But, maybe you should go. This town is not very happy with you. Come back later, when people forget.”
A good plan, but with a small problem. Catching a bus or cab would mean walking through the center of town with all our gear, right past the shop which now, apparently, considered me some sort of criminal.
“My friend will pick you up early. Before sunrise. Pay me now and he will pick you up.”
Now, I liked Ahmed, as much as you can like anyone who is obviously a hustler. But I didn’t have much confidence we would ever seem him again, much less get a ride from his friend, were I to give him any money.
“I’ll pay him in the morning.”
“No, you pay me now, then he comes. Thirty dollars.”
This was extortion, plain and simple. He knew it, I knew it, but at the moment there didn’t seem like much choice.
“Okay, I’ll pay half now, the rest in the morning.”
“No, you pay it all now.”
Left with no other choice, and no better ideas, I paid him, packed my gear, and waited until morning, jumping all night long at any noise, terrified my door was about to be kicked down by a proverbial mob of torch wielding villagers.
At four am my alarm sounded, and I finished packing away any odds and ends I forgotten, and we waited. Five am came and went, then six. At seven we began to hear the town waking up, and I was certain we were lost.
Finally, at 7:15, Ahmed’s friend arrive, driving a tattered, ancient sedan. We loaded up our gear and prepared to sneak out of town.
“Where are you going?”
“To Agadir. We told Ahmed.
“Yes, to Agadir is twenty dollars.”
“No, we paid Ahmed. He pays you.”
“Ahmed does not pay me. You pay me. Or you stay.”
His smile told me all I needed to know. I was paying, fair or not, whether I liked it or not. I pulled a twenty from our emergency stash and we were on our way.
On the way out of town we passed by the surfshop I’d had trouble with. The proprietor was opening up shop, and, as our car passed by, he and I locked eyes. He started shouting, what, I have no idea.
Our driver just laughed, but, for a split-second, he hit the brakes. It wasn’t for long, but it was enough to send my heart into convulsions.
Then we were out of town, driving past perfect point after perfect reefbreak, until we reached Agadir.
Note: Noa Deane’s experiences in North Africa, meanwhile, blaze and they heave. Read here or watch below!