Sunday, February 17, 2008

Overmatched in Morocco


Tonight just before 8pm, the WGT was riding his motorbike here in Fez, Morocco. We first spotted him—or rather he spotted us—as we arrived on the outskirts of the city center after riding the smooth, empty highway from Casablanca to Rabat to Fez.

This isn’t the story of arriving in Rabat yesterday to discover consular services were handled in Casablanca, or the story of driving to Casablanca and learning this morning that the Mauritania consulate has been shuttered for a year and the American consulate was no help either. If it were one of those stories it would have a happy ending of sorts, since we drove back to Rabat today, did some business and drove on to Fez, where we arrived at 8pm and encountered our story.

The WGT pulled up along our truck and smiled and waved and shouted through our raised windows. We first ignored, then waved off the WGT. When he tapped on our window at a stoplight we rolled the window down and said “no” in two or three languages. We did this, obviously, because we didn’t yet understand we had stumbled onto the WGT among the other mortal beings of another Moroccan night.

He told us to follow him left and we went right and that was little obstacle. He performed several inventive navigational maneuvers and was soon on our hip again as we cruised, some would say aimlessly, through Fez in search of the old city.

Fez is a difficult city for the first-time, non-Arabic speaking visitor to decode and the WGT had ample opportunity to tap on our windows. Finally, Mark rolled his down.

“Hello. I am the president of the tourist office,” the WGT said, quite improbably.

From that point forward the man on the motorbike was known to us as El Presidente and we discussed him on the CB radios between the trucks as we ran tangled circles around the city with no idea where we were, where to go, or how to get there.

The streets were balmy and exhaust-choked in Fez this night and as we headed in one direction or another he came up on me again to regale us with the ancient African story of a good hotel he knows with a cheap price. Just ahead was a very narrow archway and Craig encouraged me to continue the conversation at least until we passed through, but the WGT would not be squashed.

We pulled to a stop, not quite defeated, at a small square near what we thought was the old city and the WGT stopped at our side with the smile of a true friend who only wants to show you this hotel “for pleasure” because he is the president of the tourist office.

“Actually, my brother is the president, he speaks very good English. Do you want to talk to him?”

Mark, with roughly equal sincerity, said he would like to talk to him and spoke for a patronizing moment on the WGT’s cell phone before a bus pulled up to the square and we needed to move on.

“What should we do, guys?” Steve asked on the radio.

“He says he can get us a hotel for 150,” Mark answered back.

So we followed the World’s Greatest Tout along the walls of the medina, sinking down the slope of a winding road to finally reach the edge of the old city. He brought us to his hotel and the rooms seemed nice enough.

When it seemed the WGT would follow us to hell and back, he stopped. As we walked up into the medina to find another place to compare his hotel to he just stayed in the tiled courtyard out front. The WGT knew we wouldn’t find anything up that hill and there was no danger to his sale. He sent some young boys up to follow us just for his pleasure but in the end, of course, we were little or no match for the skilled, relentless, expert work of the World’s Greatest Tout.

2 comments:

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Parag said...

Each of the many neighborhoods in Fes-al-Bali is separated from the next by some form of gate. In some cases, these gates are elemental, consisting of only a heavy balk of timber across the street. This delineates the boundaries of a neighborhood.
Fes medina morocco