Monday 24th May- I think. Asilah, Morocco.

I'm starting to lose track of the days, which could be a good thing or not! I'm glad I didn't write an update last night, after I arrived in Asilah, or it would have been of a very different tone to today's. Yesterday I was scammed big time. Well, big time relatively speaking. I only ended up about fifty-five dirham (five US dollars) out of pocket, but I was pretty unimpressed about it. It was probably the most successfully I've ever been hustled, with the possible exception of the first time I changed money in Bali. It was all a case of listening to the wrong people, and not listening to the right people.

As soon as I posted yesterday's journal update from Chefchauoen, I walked out of town to the patch of dust that they call the bus station. A bus to Tangiers was actually about to depart. Against the advice of the driver, I said I only wanted to go to Tetouan- a little over half way, I guess- and then find a bus to Asilah. He tried to convince me that I'd be better going all the way to Tangiers, but I wasn't having any part of it. There was no reason that a bus to Asilah would go all the way to Tangiers and then double back. He was just trying to hustle a few extra dirhams bus fare out of me for a longer ride.

Alas, no he wasn't.

Tetouan, to be fair, is the sphincter of Morocco. The Tetouan bus station is home to every lowlife petty theif and hustler in the town. My bus had stopped there briefly on the ride from Tangiers to Chefchaouen, and I didn't get a real nice feel about the place then. Now I was back there. So this is how the scam went:

A guy greets me off the bus, "Asilah?" he asks.
"Oui" I replied suspiciously. He directed me up the stairs and to the yellow window to my 'gauche', my left. He didn't follow me.
"That was nice of him", I thought to myself.
Upstairs at the yellow window- at the yelow window, mind you, not behind the yellow window- a nice man informed me that the bus to Asilah was heavily booked, being the weekend and all, and it wasn't certain that there'd be a spare seat. There was only one bus a day, he said. He told me to go and relax in the cafeteria, and he'd come and let me know if there was space in his bus. That seemed fair, so I sat down to a nice sweet mint tea. The first helpful character came and joined me after a while, and then the bad news from the bus man- the bus to Asilah was full, so sorry. He could help find me a shared taxi to Asilah, unless I wanted to stay in Tetouan overnight, then catch the bus the next day. Long story short, the first guy escorted me to a nearby hotel, where I paid sixty dirham for a pokey little room. At the moment I handed over the sixty dirham, alarm bells went off in my head. I'd been scammed! I gave old mate fifteen dirham to get rid of him, and as soon as he was gone, I returned to the bus station. The man behind the yellow window said the bus to Asilah would be leaving in an hour or so, and seemed surprised when I asked if it was full.
"Oh no, monsieur. Pas de problem."

I hurried back to the hotel and grabbed my backpack, somehow persuading the lady to refund me twenty dirham of what I'd paid her- personally I thought thirty would have been reasonable- and stormed back to the bus station, muttering to myself. No way I was staying in Tetouan that night. As long as I stayed there, I knew I wouldn't be able to get rid of the sour taste in my mouth. What made me even madder was that I had to ask directions to the bus station so many times, and because of the language barrier, had to do an impersonation of Otto, the bus driver from the Simpsons, I couldn't get the tune 'Hail to the bus driver, bus driver, bus driver. Hail to the bus driver, bus driver man!' out of my head! Non Simpsons fans won't know what I'm talking about.

I saw the two hustlers outside the station, and they scurried away like startled rabbits when they spotted me striding towards them. The 'Brigade Touristique' or Tourist Police take a very dim view of these sort of characters- 'faux guides' they call them, and if I'd bothered to point them out to an officer, the two scam artists would likely have spent a couple of days in the clink.

So I boarded the bus to Asilah only to discover that it travels via bloody Tangiers! Crikey! Anyway, I made it to Asilah, which seemed like a nice relaxed place. The only hassle I got, if you could even call it a hassle, was a couple of hotel touts who caled out "Hey monsieur. You going to Hotel Asilah? It's closed down. You can come and look at my place!"
Of course I wasn't going to fall for that old trick. One scam a day was plenty for me to fall for. I found my way to Hotel Asilah with relative ease, only to discover that it has indeed closed down. I took a room at the first place I came across, the hotel Belle Vue. I'd come to Asilah hoping for a quaint little room with shuttered windows and a small balcony overlooking a sandy beach. Instead I found a third floor room in a grim little street a block back from the beach, with shuttered windows and a small balcony looking straight into the concrete wall of the four storey buildings between my hotel and the ocean.

The coastline of Asilah. Finally a chance to air my boots out for a day, and get some use out of my sandals.

You can probably imagine how my journal would've read had I written it last night. I was quite disillusioned with Morocco at that point, that's for sure. But today is a whole different ballgame. I've even had the chance to give my boots a day off to air out, and get some use out of my Teva sandals. After waking early, I explored Asilah's accommodation options a little more thoroughly, and have relocated to a rooftop room at the Hotel Marhaba.

My rooftop room. Love the paintjob, non?

By promising Ali the manager that I'd be staying for several nights, I managed to negotiate the price down by thirty percent. The room doesn't exactly have ocean views, but you can at least see the water from the sundeck that my room opens onto. It's a glorious sunny day in Asilah- warm but with a refreshing sea breeze- and after a tasty cheese omelette for breakfast, I think I might go for another stroll along the beach. It'd be nice to meet some other travellers. I don't know where they all are. The only conversation I've had since I left Tangiers that's involved me saying anything but "No thankyou, I'm fine!" was with two Germen cyclists that I met in Chefchaouen. They were the same two I'd seen in Tangiers a couple of days earlier, having cycled from their home on the German/Swiss border. Not my idea of especially when I recalled the long uphill climb from Tangiers all the way to Chefchaouen, but different strokes for different folks, eh?

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