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Painting: Oil on Canvas by Margaret Cooper.

Where does the saying “Morocco Bound” come from?

Morocco Bound is a farcical English Edwardian musical comedy in two acts by Arthur Branscombe, with music by F. Osmond Carr and lyrics by Adrian Ross. It opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London, on April 13, 1893, under the management of Fred J. Harris, and transferred to the Trafalgar Square Theatre on January 8, 1894, running for a total of 295 performances. A young George Grossmith, Jr. was in the cast (where he made the most of the small role of Sir Percy Pimpleton by adding ad-libs), as was Letty Lind. Harry Grattan and Richard Temple later joined the cast. Wikipedia

Morocco bindings first appeared in Europe in the early 16th century. Usually dyed in strong colors, Morocco bindings are made from goatskin and appeal for their durability as well as their appearance. This type of binding was Islamic in origin but the name today holds no geographic meaning, merely referring to the fact that the binding was sourced from goatskin. AbeBooks

Anne was never quite sure afterwards how the thought of Morocco crept into their holiday plans. But she knew it was not her idea. They had spent a lot of time budgeting, researching travel guides, working out an itinerary. The final plan was to fly from Heathrow to Frankfurt and from there using Eurail passes for travel around the continent.

France, Spain, Portugal – yes. But where did Morocco fit in? Anne was apprehensive. But for weeks Christopher had been going around the house lustily signing, “I’m Morocco bound” as if to confirm the decision. “I thought it would be an adventure,” he said

It was!

Photo by Lydia Penn - Morocco Vacation

Mid-June, Clutching their 1991 “Let’s Go Europe” and carrying their light cabin baggage Christopher and Anne, described by a friend as “middle aged backpackers”, boarded the morning ferry in Algeciras for the 2.5hr crossing to Tangier. Seating on the ferry was in rows all facing the same way, so they selected seats in the middle of the row, so they would not have the harassment of people continually pushing by.

Big Mistake! They were soon wedged in by the enormous amount of luggage brought on board by the mainly Arab travellers. Luggage was everywhere, on the seats, blocking up all the aisles, and certainly delayed the disembarking.

The guidebook had briefly mentioned the “formidable industry” of hustling foreigners arriving in Tangier, but seemed to indicate that it was a matter easily dealt with by a firm NO! (Oh Really!). Confidently Christoper and Anne declined the services of porters and taxis and walked towards the gates of the port. The white building on their left, the guidebook informed them, was the train station and in front of it was the bus station.

These two “middle aged backpackers” had planned to take a bus to Asilah, 46 km south of Tangier, which was recommended as, “the perfect place to slip gently into Morocco”. But getting to the bus station was another matter!

Morocco Harbour Photo by Lydia Pen

First, they were accosted by a gentleman in a long fawn robe who looked very nasty when they refused his offer of help. As soon as they got rid of him, a younger guy attached himself to them, asking in English, where were we going, where were we from, and repeatedly said he was a student and didn’t want any money, he only wanted to help. (oh yeah!) As they walked out of the port gates he continued with them talking all the time even though they tried to ignore him.

This guy was persistent! Like an unwelcome fly at a picnic, he hung on. When they reached the bus station and stopped, he stopped too. A study of the bus timetable showed that there was not a bus for several hours and by now the monologue had changed a little. “You’re paranoid” or “be happy, be happy” was repeated over and over. Becoming really unnerved and not knowing what to do, Christopher and Anne crossed to the train station and sat on a seat. The young guy came too. Then suddenly an old man sitting nearby said something to him and he took off.

But relief was short-lived. It was imperative that they cashed traveller’s cheques. They got up to walk towards the town, hoping to find a tourist office. They were now joined by two younger guys, chanting the same mantra, “you’re paranoid” and “be happy, be happy”.

Photo by Lydia Penn Morocco Vacation More People

As they walked slowly along in the hot sun, Christopher suddenly said, “watch out for your bag”. Anne turned around. The little girl who had crept up close behind them could not have been more than seven or eight. Her eyes were on Anne’s bag, but as Anne looked at her, she quickly ran away.

The situation was getting desperate when they finally spotted a tourist office. But the occupant said he did not cash traveller’s cheques, and proceeded to lock up his office, so that he could take them to the Hotel Rif along the road where they could change money. The two young boys had given up by now, and so firmly declining the new offer, Christopher and Anne walked on.

The Hotel Rif was an imposing looking building on the seafront. In reply to Christopher’s request, the black-suited man at the desk asked pointedly, “Are you staying in the hotel?” The message was obvious – no stay, no money! It looked like the solution to more than one problem. They booked in for the night and cashed US$200 traveller’s cheques for 1,182 dirhams (dh) and were given a room on the 4th floor overlooking the beach for 358dh – spacious but not luxurious.

Photo by Lydia Penn Morocco Vacation

Lunch was next on the priority list, But where? Apprehensively they wondered out along a few side streets, where they saw only Arab men, but were not accosted at all. Suddenly they came across a McDonalds – surely a safe haven! They sat on high stools and enjoyed egg burgers and coffee before returning to the Hotel Rif.

As they sat in their hotel room watching boys playing football on the beach across the road, Christopher came to a decision. “Tomorrow,” he said, “we will take a taxi to Asilah and avoid all that harassment at the bus station”. Maybe he was a little disillusioned with being “Morocco bound?”

But first, there was dinner, a set menu of 218dh for two. In spite of the lavish Arabian Nights appearance of the public rooms, when the meal arrived Christopher and Anne knew they were at the Rif and not the Ritz! First came pizza, followed by unappetising looking fish, accompanied by carrots and boiled potato. There was a choice of desert, and while Christopher ordered the fresh fruit, Anne selected the cheese platter. This consisted of two very lonely looking thick slices of cheese on a plate, such as would be cut from the end of a supermarket plain block – and probably was! The waiters all wore the traditional fez, fawn jackets, black bloomers and black stockings with what looked like bedroom slippers on their feet and performed their duties in silence.

Photo by Lydia Penn - Morocco Vacation - People

So much for Tangier! The next morning Christopher and Anne took the 35-minute taxi journey to Asilah. A local guide directed the taxi driver to the Hotel Asilah, recommended in the guidebook and Christopher went in to inspect the accommodation. He was not impressed! “You’re in Africa now”, said the guide who had accompanied him in. Anne who had stayed outside in the taxi with the luggage, now went in to give her opinion. They finally decided on a room on the roof containing a washbasin, with toilet and shower next door, declining a slightly more expensive one, self-contained with all amenities behind a curtain in the same room – probably the Moroccan ideas of our ensuite!

Hot water was available only between the hours of 8 – 11 am and then went all over the bathroom floor and toilet – but it was beautifully hot and these beds were fairly comfortable. Christopher and Anne stayed for 4 nights at a cost of 65dh a night.

They loved Asilah. The atmosphere was relaxed and so were they. They selected one of the local cafes where they went for meals daily – why change when there is no need. They adapted to Moroccan style meals and Christopher especially enjoyed the large glasses of freshly pressed orange juice which accompanied breakfast. They realised that the woman riding the donkeys with the paniers attached which has so intrigued them, were simply carrying the huge quantities of mint for popular mint tea. They enjoyed shopping and haggling prices in the medina as they purchased bracelets, caftans and whatever else they saw. Fresh fruit was cheap an plentiful. Asilah was all that the guidebooks had promised.

Photo by Lydia Penn - Morroco Vacation Donkey and Cart

“It was an adventure”, Anne said some weeks later, as over coffee with a friend, she

recounted some highlights of their trip. “Asilah was lovely and it was all quite an experience, but as for being Moroccan Bound, I think in future I’ll settle happily for a paperback!”

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