Trip Reports

The Marrakesh Express (25-Oct-2002-20-15):
8:15 PM local time, Friday, October 25 (2015 Oct. 25 UTC) 31 30 N 009 46 W. Temp. 72, Humidity 73%, Cloud Cover 0%. Rafted up to the pontoon with a French boat in Essaouira, Morocco.

Greetings from the crew of Maverick.

We arrived at El-Jadida on the northwest coast of Morocco on the morning of the 18th. We had come in about a day or so ahead of the bad weather that was predicted to hit the coast of Africa, connected, by the typical comma shape of a cold front, to a ferocious low of 28.53 inches of mercury (966 millibars) off to the northwest. On the passage down we experienced the waves created by the storm center, but as it was a few hundred miles away, by the time the swell had reached us it was down to about 6-8 feet at 10 seconds. It was a long time since we'd seen a real ocean swell and we were just as glad it was a benign one. The passage consisted of wind from all directions, relatively light, although the first night was squally and blowing in the twenties with gusts to thirty on Mr. Shrode's watch. But it was an easy two-day trip from Gibraltar.

El-Jadida takes us back to the third world, and we re-enter the world of Islam. The small fishing port of El-Jedida is next to a city with teeming multitudes and a bazaar of tiny shops selling odd assortments of things, and it is more reminiscent of Asia than of Egypt or Oman. We hear the call to prayer from the Mosque near the harbor, but this one sounds a little like one of those cow toys that moo when you turn them upside down. The harbor is ancient and crammed with fishing boats. There's a fortress on the shore directly by the anchorage and inside it is the ancient town, a remnant of Portuguese rule. Besides Maverick, there is only the Canadian boat Delphis at anchor, and that's all there's room for. About four more cruisers are rafted up to fishing boats at the dock. One of them is a Scottish boat called Maverick of Clyde. Not only did they cop our name, they're from the same town as the Captain's first wife. There were threats of violence, but in the end we decided on a caber toss to settle the matter, to be held at a mutually agreed-upon date.

We sat around a day in the rainy weather associated with the front but as it was slow moving we decided to take a trip inland until it cleared and we could move further down the coast. As the title of this dispatch suggests, our outing was a story of sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

There was no direct train from El-Jadida to Marrakesh (or Marrakech), so we took a bus, and I'm afraid it wasn't much of an express. The ride took us through increasingly sparse vegetation until the last things standing were eucalyptus tress and two types of cactus, prickly pear and cholla. These are both indigenous to North or South America so if my identification is correct, they are non-native here. It's kind of funny thinking about the New World species crowding out whatever was here earlier in this ancient land as many European species have done in ours, although I'm thinking it's unlikely that there was something to crowd out here. The local farmers grow both types of cactus as fences. Amazingly, eucalyptus is also cultivated. Though this tree grows commonly in the wild throughout the Mediterranean, we observed that here, at times, it was planted in neat rows. Eucalyptus does have some uses, despite its reputation in California as a weed. It is grown in some parts of the world as fuel and timber, and its oil is the active ingredient in some inhalants. You can also use the nuts, in a necklace, to keep fleas off your cat, if you're a really organic dude. Although it's originally from Australia, it is the tree we have seen more than any other since Eritrea. There were two interesting features of the countryside. One was the fact that, though the terrain becomes increasingly arid as you leave the maritime climate of El-Jadida, all land that is not precipitously steep is cultivated. Miles and miles of rocky, dry soil had just been neatly plowed just before our visit. There is no mechanical irrigation so I have no idea what they can grow, as you'd sooner plow the Mohave. The other notable thing was the presence of desert villages, about large enough for a couple of hundred people, that were reminiscent of the adobe dwellings of the Pueblo Indians of the southwestern US. Add some 4x4's, a few tourists with turquoise jewelry, and some hippies returning from the hot pots in the Rio Grande, and you've got Taos. You'd have to add electricity, too, as there's none here, but each town must have a well. It is interesting to speculate whether these two almost identical types of construction evolved completely independently in these widely separated areas, or whether the early inhabitants of America that came by way of Alaska brought with them ancient techniques of construction originally from north Africa. In any case, they look like they've been there since Old Testament days.

In the afternoon we arrived in Marrakesh, at the base of the Atlas Mountains, which run southwest to northeast, parallel to the coast. If you were to keep going east through the mountains, you'd meet the Sahara on the other side. Marrakesh was a bit tidier and held considerably more tourists that El-Jadida, which itself is a sort of beach resort for Moroccans. We checked into a cheap hotel ($10) and went out to have a look at the famous market in Place Jema al-Fna. It's kind of like a Moroccan pier 39. Lots of food stalls and street musicians, and about fifty stands selling fresh orange juice. It really wasn't that exotic, but it amused me to imagine that it was. Ship's Specialist in Gourmet Dining Terry Shrode consumed a few snails at one stall. No, they were being served there.

While in the vicinity the Captain appears to have been offered sex. A prim-looking young Moroccan lady followed your reporter out of an internet café and in French explained that she wanted to "take a walk" with him, if I followed her in my limited command of the language. I affected to not understand. She seemed to insist on it, and then, unless my ears mistook me, she mentioned, in English, the word "sex." There was no talk of money, so she had apparently simply been smitten by the Captain, who, truth be told, does present a particularly manly image as he effortlessly plies the keyboard, his face an inch from the screen to adjust his vision. Again, I said I didn't understand what she was talking about, and she received this with quite a show of disbelief. Of the statistically insignificant number of our readers who actually have any knowledge or interest in the Captain's understanding of sex, surely none would have had the least difficulty taking his claim at face value, so her skepticism was unexpected. What is it, exactly, anyway? As I seemed to be under the necessity of providing the young lady with some reason for my lack of interest in her proposal that she could accept without injury to her self-esteem, the sort of thing to which we must all be sensitive these days, I avowed that I was exhausted from traveling, and must rest. Having said this, I felt the need, for the sake of my own personal integrity, to repair to my modest lodgings and read myself to sleep under a bare light bulb, on pains of making myself a liar, liar, pants on fire. So I scraped her off. This concludes the "sex" portion of our adventure.

Earlier in the day, an enterprising young man or two offered to provide kif or hash for the Captain's enjoyment. Not being a fan of Nancy Reagan but rather the son of a mother who, unlike Mrs. Reagan, had some manners, I did not "Just say no." Certainly none of our readers takes the Captain for such an ill-bred boor. I just said "no THANK YOU," and would advise Mrs. Reagan's charges to follow the Captain's much superior lead. So I scraped these young entrepreneurs off and got an ice cream. This concludes the "drugs" portion of our story.

The next day we took the train, quite a fast one so I suppose it was an express, to Casablanca. On the outskirts of town we saw a crowded neighborhood of dwellings consisting of rusty tin shacks, their roofs held down with rocks. Almost every one of them sported a satellite dish. When we disembarked at our destination, the first thing we did was ask a cab driver to take us to Rick's Café Americain.

"You got an address?" he asked.

"You know, where Bogie hangs with Ingrid. We don't need no stinking address."

So he gives us the big RCA dog look. He seemed to have no association whatsoever with these names. We looked for another cabbie. We went through at least ten. The RCA dog is quite a fashion here. We finally headed for the Hyatt, thinking the concierge could help us out. We couldn't find the concierge, but the hotel had a bar called the "Casablanca Bar" that had lots of photos of Bogie and Ingrid. We asked the bartender where Rick's was, and he said, "This is it!" I mean, he said it straight as a board. We asked him, if it's Rick's, why is it called the "Casablanca Bar?" The real Rick's has a sign out front that says "Rick's Café Americain." Don't tell me it doesn't. Yeah, and instead of Sam, they had Kenny Rogers on the sound system. Like the Captain responding to the word "sex," the bartender failed to comprehend my objections. We reckoned that it was good for a drink anyway, so I popped for a $9 Bombay and Tonic and Mr. Shrode had a $9 shot of Tequila. Almost as twice as much as our hotel room in Marrakesh. It was worth it, though, cuz he gave us a souvenir.

Bogie was a sailor, you know, and his boat, "Santana," has been painstakingly restored and lives in San Francisco. He would have been cool and stood us the drinks, I reckon, even at this fake bar. We thought of him when we left El-Jadida to sail 120 miles down the coast of Morocco to Essaouira. We left at dawn to get out before low tide and planned to reach our destination on a rising tide the next day. The tides are big here at springs, and the entrances to the harbors shallow and exposed to the swell from the north Atlantic, so it's prudent to time your arrivals and departures. It was pretty cold and we had on full fleece and foul weather jackets for most of the trip. I bought a new foulie jacket before we left and it's still new; since about a week out of San Francisco, we have rarely had to do more than put on a t-shirt if we were cold. On the way down we spotted a bird that looked very much like the Brown Booby we'd seen in the Pacific, but it occurred to me we were a bit too far north for this bird. I finally identified it as the Northern Gannet (Sula bassana), a bird we don't have in the Pacific. It's bigger than a booby but just as streamlined, and dives like a tern. In the morning we started out motoring but by evening the wind was in the high twenties, gusting to thirty-five, and the seas got up pretty good during the night. Rock and roll, Maverick-style.


I understand that in bygone days, and perhaps this is still done in some areas of the world, the horses of the picadors in a bullfight were not armed or padded, and so when the bull attacked the horse, it was gored and killed. All accompanied by a live band.

Dennis Reed reminds the Captain that the drags were not in Alhambra but in Irwindale. Then what were the adds on the radio in southern California that featured an announcer saying "Alhaaaaaaaaambra?"

The crews of Maverick and Okiva visited Kuta Beach in Bali during our stay there. Until now, the population of this island did not seem to have any part in the troubles plaguing Indonesia elsewhere, and was ecumenical in spirit.

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