At nineteen years old, hitchhiking to Morocco was a wonderful idea.
They mostly speak French and I definitely learnt something about that at school a few years back.
Armed with cardboard and a desire for adventure, I was on my way. The hitchhiking passed smoothly and after battling through countless drug salesman on the Spanish part of Morocco, I quickly learnt that my French and the French spoken in Morocco were not compatible. I learnt the hard way that I probably should have learnt Arabic instead.
Reaching Morocco, I concluded that my hitchhiking efforts had been achieved and that it was now acceptable to take a bus. Pushed from one person to another, I finally boarded a bus that was due to travel across the country for many hours in order to reach the town of Fes. Getting onto the bus, both my backpack and that of my companion were taken from us and loaded beneath the bus along with the chickens. We soon found out that there wasn’t enough room on the bus due to huge sacks of Argentinian beans and tightly packed textiles.
We rode through baron land and had our passports checked on each of the four occasions that the police stopped us. As the only non-Moroccans on the bus, we inspired great interest. All problems with the police were smoothed out with a subtle exchange of notes.
The first miscommunication came in the form of a marriage offer. In exchange for several camels, two separate gentlemen were wishing to take my friend as their wife. I politely declined and wished the many hours away. At the fifth police stop, we found ourselves less lucky than before. The police were not happy with whatever we had on board. Our bags were pulled off the bus along with most of the passengers, including my hitchhiking partner. A woman was screaming and crying and a man held me back as I tried to exit the bus. Sitting on the bus alone, a man came running down it and slashing open the bags of dried Argentinian beans. He pulled door locks from the bags and began stuffing them into the pockets or small bags of the few remaining passengers on the bus. Terrified at what was going on, I refused to take the mysterious door lock and he hurried past me. Outside a man ran off into the desert at high speed. It was the driver and he had chosen to abandon the bus rather than face the wrath of the heavily armed police that had our bus held stationary.
It was at this point, that the bus started moving. Myself and a few Moroccans were being driven away by a policeman while all my belongings and my only friend in Morocco were outside the bus. I pushed past the man barring my way and as the bus stopped a short way down the road, jumped off. I had no idea what was happening and I genuinely feared for the safety of both myself and my friend.
Much miscommunication later, our bus was taken away and we were left on the side of the road amidst baron land. Fortunately another bus turned up an hour later and we jumped on it hoping it would take us wherever we were going. It did. Wary of my lack of communication skills, but still wanting to see Morocco, I asked for advice about where would be good to visit. The hammam, which I understood to mean Turkish baths seemed like an attractive option. I pictured Aladdin rolling in bubbly waters and being fed grapes. I wanted to be Aladdin.
Myself and another English guy I met were led down a narrow alleyway and into a windowless changing room, somewhat different from what I had envisaged. Even our student loans stretched to the deluxe experience, although we weren’t quite sure what that meant. Being relieved of our clothes, we stood in our pants (underpants for Americans), wondering what came next. The Moroccans laughed at us, but as 19 year old Englishmen, public nudity was not on our agenda. Ushered into another room alone, we were met by a scene that reminded me of the movie Saw. The walls were tiled, the air steamy, the room was furniture-less, and there stood two wooden doors at either end of the room. Sheepishly we looked at each other, wondering what came next.
Peeping through cracks in the doors, it appeared one room was full of naked men sitting on the floor and scrubbing themselves while the other was a toilet. “I think I need the bathroom,” I said before scuttling out of the room. Rejoining the room, “Me too,” my companion agreed. We stood, completely unsure of what to do. Eventually a man came into the room and led us into the naked scrubbing room. For our deluxe fee, one at a time, we were bashed and slapped around as a man cleaned us.
My friend went first. He was scoured with an exfoliation brush all over his body and appeared to be in considerable discomfort at some points. Rubbing the nipples seemed particularly notable at the time. As the man scrubbed his upper body and approached the waist line, naturally we assumed that the pants would be skipped. Instead the pants were opened and down went the scrubbing brush in one swift movement. My friend’s eyes were like saucers and I rolled on the floor laughing. Momentarily, I forgot it was my turn next.
Round two involved the same scrubbing procedure, expcept that instead of a scrubbing brush, a bare soapy hand was used. After a most unrelaxing experience, we were left alone with a great bucket of hot water and a giant wooden spoon. We slowly poured water on ourselves as we attempted to wash both the soap and confusion away. Walking out of the hammam we laughed about whether we were cleaner or dirtier than before. Communication, or rather the lack of, made Morocco quite an adventure. One day I would love to go back. Although I might not choose the deluxe hammam experience next time.
Read some more great miscommunication stories by some other great people:
Gabi @ The Nomadic Family: God, Please Tell Me I Didn’t Just Say That- Everywhere,Globe
Kobi @ Lovely Travel: Penis For Sale: How Embarrassing Can It Be
Tracey @ Life Changing Year: Funniest Language Barrier Moments While Travelling!
Val @ This Way To Paradise: Lost In Translation-How My Spanish Almost Caused Me To Starve To Death
Tracey @ Expat Experiment: Travel and Eating Our Words