Tetouan is a stunning, but strange city for a weekend hiking trip. Looking past the mountain vistas, wooded hills and the terraced souq, I noticed a startling amount of untreated mental illness. Tetouan’s resources are probably like any other city in Morocco, but a cursory observation left me quite saddened. The numbers of homeless/beggars in most cities are consistently high, but more than a few of the men and women on the streets of Tetouan had more severe issues and seemed to be very much on their own. One man accosted every passerby on a crowded café street, charging up to Moroccans and foreigners alike, shrieking in their faces. Another followed us barefoot for two days. He had shoes, which he refused to put on, even at the insistence of the owner of a restaurant he’d been squatting at. Before he left, he whispered to us in English that, “shoes inhibit the imagination”. He also kept leaving books – on Bono and U2 of all things – at our table before running away.
Then there was our hostel owner who was baked when we arrived. To complete the picture, he was wearing full djellaba (traditional robe with a hood; think Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars IV: A New Hope) and had facial expressions that could rival Robin Williams’. He had also probably been smoking sebsi every day of his adult life. Sebsi is a traditional Moroccan cannabis pipe, which he called “prime African technology”. He insisted that we eat couscous with him, even though it was our second helping that Friday, while he smoked and became extraordinarily chatty. He is apparently a published author on the Arabic language and its singular quality of having a special, feminine you (inti انتِ). I have yet to track down the book. That night we were also joined by a perplexed tourist from South Korea and a weird, elderly man who said he was from “Scandinavia, the Western part”, while making a face that suggested he could get into trouble. That one will remain a mystery. Unfortunately, the next day we were greeted by a sober, much less enthusiastic version of our host, who rescinded his initial price agreement. It happens, but with our Darija we could bargain with him back down to the original price.
Besides that, we spent a lovely day hiking through forests and one morning audaciously wandering the foothills. By foothills, I mean a muddy expanse that we fondly dubbed “the sh*t pit”. Over the course of the next hour, one of our group temporarily lost his shoes (recurring theme of the trip), we fended off clouds of gnats and ran into a pack of dogs. We spent a good fifteen minutes strategizing over fight or flight. The verdict was that we’d have to stand and fight, but that we’d lose because it would be two of us against seven wild animals. Our third group member insisted that he couldn’t kick a dog in the face, if it came down to it. Quite possibly because his shoes kept falling off. We also found ourselves fenced in on someone’s property every five minutes. One man screamed at us to head right, straight into the river we were following. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable time, but I’ve accepted that OMC’s “How Bizarre” remains at the top of my soundtrack for this year abroad.