Really—though I purposely planned it this way—my first mistake was that I took the ferry to Morocco that was 12€ cheaper.
Because the 24€ ferry left me stranded 40 kilometers outside of the city of Tangier, with the vague understanding that a free bus (which turned out to cost 2.50€) would come around eventually to take me the rest of the way. And it did come, eventually, and dropped me maybe 2 kilometers away from the port and any possible sleeping arrangements—but I walked the Camino. So armed with a digital map of the city, I waved off the taxis and headed toward the water.
I got about two blocks before the Moroccan boy asked me where I was from and I answered—my second mistake.
Because now I had a “guide,” though one who promised he didn’t want anything from me. Said’s English was amazingly good, and as we walked together we talked about how he was hoping to take his Philosophy studies to the UK soon, with dreams of getting multiple PhDs one day.
I was probably disappointing, with embarrassingly little historical knowledge for a history teacher, and no clue about the current political ridiculousness going on in America. (“So I have to ask you, what’s going on with your government? …And how do you feel about Egypt? …Do you know much about Islam? And Morocco?”)
And then we got to the port, and suddenly my new friend was being greeted by an old friend, who was now also following me… but much more aggressively.
No, I did not want to stay at his family’s hotel and I was pretty sure the one I looked up on Hostelworld wasn’t closed for some holiday he was mentioning. And no, he didn’t really need to show me where my hostel was, because according to the directions I had a screenshot of on my phone, it was a quick right-left-right from the port, so I was fine thanks.
This, in addition to Said apologetically saying to me that he “wasn’t the same” as his friend and arguing with said friend in Arabic, made me a bit uneasy.
But then they led me into the Medina, and though I didn’t really have much of a choice, I let them—my third mistake.
And the Medina was a tangle of the narrowest cobblestone streets and Arabic street signs and now we were six or seven turns in, which I knew had to be wrong. And it was 4PM, but most of the shops were closed because of this holiday that they kept talking about, and then I smelled the worst mix of burning flesh and hair and we turned into a slightly bigger opening and there in front of me was a smoky mess of a trash can fire and a dozen kids, several of which were either holding the blackened heads of sheep on sticks, or in the process of sawing the horns off of different sheep heads, and next to the fire was barely enough room for me to squeeze by without burning myself or my 10 kilogram backpack that I had now been carrying for far too long.
There were two more sheep bonfires, one (failed) attempt at bolting from my “guides,” and a much harsher tone adopted (by me) before we finally found my hostel and my second “guide” asked me for a tip, which I forcefully declined much to his unhappy dismay.
The whole situation was exhausting, and I was angry at how much it shook me up. I didn’t leave the hostel for a few hours after that, and only with a few other guys going to dinner. And I stayed an extra night in Tangier, just to avoid potentially going through that process again to find a new hostel in a new city. It almost completely turned me off to an entire country.
And I still desperately want to believe that maybe Said was legit. Maybe he is just a decent guy who wanted to practice his English, and it was only bad luck that we ran into his friend who took me as an easy target. But is that naivety? Or really, I guess I know it’s naivety—but is that a bad thing? Is it okay to still choose to think the best of people, even in a culture that largely survives on the duping of naive foreigners?
Before they left, Said gave me his phone number, which I said I would call despite not having a Moroccan phone number or any way to actually keep my promise. So maybe when it comes to deceit, I’m not any different than his friend after all.