March 30, 1998

The Big Yellow Truck

The BYT warrants a description of its own.

20 tons, 1500L of fuel, 500L of water in jerry cans, two winches, tools and sand mats, wood compartment, three axles (two drive), four spare tires. PK, Shirray, and Mick drive up in the cab: we sit in the back. Communication via buzzer and intercom.

Seating's divided into three pairs of bus seats at the front and two long benches at the back, two steps between levels. Two big bins at the back hold safes and sleeping gear. Storage space behind webbing at the top, under the seats, and under front floorboards. Food & dry goods stored below rear floorboards. There's enough space to stand comfortably at the back.

Batteries (seperate from starter) power tape deck and lights for hours. Fridge runs only when engine does. Couple of other nooks and crannies for common storage. Garbage bin doubles as card table.

Dramatis Personae

* PK, New Zealand
* Shirray, Australia
* Mick, Australia
* Heidi, England
* Tony, England
* Sam, England
* Tim, England
* Amanda, Australia
* Andrea, Namibia/Germany
* Angela, Ireland
* Nick, England
* Gavin, England
* Brian, England
* Jo, New Zealand
* Pat, England
* Caz, England/Kenya/Morocco
* Naomi, England
* Mike, New Zealand
* Chong, England
* Wendy, England
* Jorge, Mexico
* Mattias, France
* (later) Alison, Scotland


March 29, 1998

Morocco: Diamant Vert Camping, Fez

In the truck, rain pelting on plastic around me, a long lazy day (except for cooking duty) ahead. Just what's needed after a fairly frenetic few days. Nice green campsite, lights, hot water, tous les conforts de home.

Narrative: Another day of waiting in Rabat: roved the medina, read a paper, drank coffee, returned to the Bukimans, no BYT. Walked/taxiid/walked to hypermarket to get 'em a case of beer as a peace offering, toured the jewelry shops of Sale medina and ate w/ Tony + Heidi, returned & drank & chatted & crashed in Phil's tent.

Next day - 24th - went for a walk up the beach & breakwater with Heidi, returned to find, drum roll, the big yellow truck. Lunch & rejoicing. Changed money in town and returned to the now-familiar Camping de la Plage. Clare of the Bukimans shaved a couple of heads and we said our goodbyes. Filled in some visa forms and played some guitar.

Day trip to Casablanca was next, a needed break from Rabat. Casa is big, ugly, noisy, poor, and frenetic, but otherwise OK. The colossal deserted majesty of the seaside mosque. Free oranges and compliments for Heidi's hair. Beggars at the outdoor tables. Garbage piles and crumbling concrete in the medina, blocks from the huge gleaming mosque. Sheer drop from the mosque perimeter to the sea. Curious looks on the train (which reminds me - women carrying all their goods under their clothes from Tangier-Rabat, waddling like overstuffed ducks). Back for thankfully-final night at the campsite.

Morning, long lie-in, called home, drank coffee, went for lunch w/ some people, then packed the truck up and set out. Immediate mechanical problems, but got out of Rabat and bush-camped by the road. Tent skills returning.

And off in the early morn, and hour's drive to Meknes and a two-hour stopover, largely spent finding Heidi a toilet and Gavin a sleep sheet. The twisting narrow maze of a medina is already so familiar that I hardly notice. Oranges by the hundred, spilling off the carts. Thick piercing smells of the spice stalls. Teeming crowds. Prices that fluctuate by the minute.

And off to lunch and a stroll through Volubilis, an extraordinary Roman ruin, once the furthest outpost of the Empire. Roofless walls and hints of walls, pillars and archways overlooking the crumbling stone, faded mosaics peering up at the sky, feeling not so much abandoned as neglected, as if the Romans might come back in a century or two and get the place back in shape. The view from atop the central hill, a field full of an empire's gravestones, surrounded by rolling hills of farmland and placid streams. The lonely entrance arch. Sewers, undercutting the rooms, choked now with weeds.

Off to camp in an olive grove; seemed like a good idea at the time. The truck got stuck in the claylike mud. Shovels and sand mats out, and after much digging and wallowing in mud we managed to catch the back axle on a stump. Gave up, ate, crashed.

Next morn - last morn - spent another hour digging the truck out onto the road, left the olive grove looking like WW1 no-man's-land, flattened the sand mats again and headed off to Fez. Guided tour of mosque entrances, tanneries, overpriced restaurants, carpet shops and trinket shops, part of the genuine Moroccan experience. "There is no obligation to buy." Amazing medieval city, tunnels and shortcuts and alleys, layer built on layer, donkeys shuffling past with loads of pottery and wood and Coke bottles, street stalls hawking food and leather and trinkets and cloths, kung-fu movies at the crossroads cinema, Luke Skywalker swings into the stalls.

Stocked up for today's food at the Makro before Fez trip, too - cooking duty today. Trucked in rain from Fez to here, ate, washed up - eventually, thanks to Heidi - drank and played some guitar, slept in the truck (guard duty).

Rain comes and goes in waves. Talk of driving the truck off to stock up. More later.


March 23, 1998

Morocco: Camping de la Plage, Sale

Marooned, but the natives are friendly.

Truck Africa remains strictly hypothetical, but we've been adopted by the good people of Bukima Africa, another trans-African group. Hopefully tonight/tomorrow.

Chronological report: moonlit hustle thru Brixton to a Tube train's thankfully-reopened doors. 7AM passport chaos. Met Heidi, gave her her passport, recognized by Tony on embarkation.

Touchdown on Gibraltar, and the Rock rearing up into most of the sky from the doorway of the plane. Hike way across airport runway - red lights that are never run - to tiny downtown. Shopping and money-changing and roving up Main repeatedly. The more we wait, the more the truck doesn't appear. Sleep deprivation and heat lead to a miasmic ferry journey to Tangier. The Pillars of Hercules on either side. Woke and climbed decks - wind of the Atlantic in my hair, broken chains of light along both sides, ship surging through the dark water. A bolt of red wrapping paper, caught and tossed into the sky by the ship's wake.

Arrival in Tangier and shoving contest out of boat and through customs, no courtesy given to woman with infant and daughter, until reverse racism and bemused expressions jump us thru the line. Crowd of taxis outside. Off to Pension Palace with Khalil our guide. Moment of mutual suspicion over change for taxi. Dump things and Heidi heads straight for the shower; Khalil n' Tony n' I n'later Heidi sip and talk in the Petit Socco. And to bed.

Woke to hottish shower, mint tea, and marmaladed toast, plus Khalil's fake anger and demands for money. Tony's soft heart gives in. Rove through Tangier, up stairs and winding streets, past Naked Lunch's birthplace, a lookout past cannons and terraced streets to the waterfront cafes - Heidi, eye magnet and only woman in each establishment - and almost accidentally into the medina. Sheep grazing peacefully on a hillside in the middle of the city. Shoe shiners by the dozen. Decay, crumbling walls, pitted roads, like the city's been slowly collapsing for 40 years. Stairways and streets and tunnels and alleys branching at every angle and incline. The cool mottled majesty of the Pension's foyer and courtyards.

In the medina: "You are in a maze of twisting streets, all alike." Narrow, high-walled, lined by countless alcove-sized shops selling leather, ornaments, carpets, hats, daggers, tortoiseshell harps, every article imaginable. Kids playing soccer and shopkeepers hawking, hustlers attaching themselves like leeches to white faces. The ragged edge of the Kasbah's walls. The uttermost edge of Europe, seen through a salt-laden wind. Conditioned reflex suspicion.

Train to Rabat, Tony lugging his behemoth of a pack to the station. Friendly passenger becomes 5 Dh porter. Nice enough people on the train. Rolling green countryside. A black bull like a statue against the Atlantic. Paced by a flock of doves. Cactus hedges, surrounding and winding around and over the hills, some obviously deliberate, others not.

Change and 1-hour wait at Sidi-Kacem, "smells like Florida," orange trees on the platform, oil rig with its highest spire topped by an eternal flame. Talked with Heidi on leg to Rabat, surrounded by easily-amused green-clad women. Almost missed the train station and scrambled frantically out. Rabat big, clean, affluent. Overcharged taxi to medina, ate, youth hostel full but cheap hotel found, and a good restaurant with friendly no-hassle staff. Wandered through the deadness of 11PM Rabat and crashed.

Woke, ate, discovered 1st journal useless, roved through park - nifty trees, wide canopies of thick branches that put down arterial roots - and city, pretty bland. Walls OK. Down through medina and to vast graveyard, where apparently each generation is ploughed under the next. Perched on rise overlooking sea for a bit, then back to hotel, get stuff, haggled a still-rip-off price to Sale. Despair: no Big Yellow Truck(TM). Sat around, joshed with Bukimans, good bunch, who wound up feeding and sheltering (not to mention plying with alcohol & bongs) we three homeless waifs. Scott the goathunter, Phil the Man From Intrepid, Carmel the art bunch.

Today: woke, showered (brr), roved up beach and through city, bought this journal after almost settling on far inferior version, ate in restaurant, back here to the campground - and still no BYT. Looks like a bland couple of days ahead.