I Think Someone is Following Us
A slight dramatization of actual events…
It all started at the Casablanca airport. “What is your reason for visiting Morocco?” A typical question asked when going through customs, I guess. “Please explain the contents of these cartons.” OK, not an outrageous enquiry considering their large, beaten all to hell appearance is concealing items that are clearly NOT the refrigerators who originally resided within the cardboard walls of our not-so-perfectly constructed bike boxes. But that’s when I caught a glimpse of a man… handsomely dressed in a crisp suit, peering at us from the shadow of a nearby column and softly speaking into a walkie talkie, or maybe a cellphone. I brushed it off. Generally, I am not an overly suspicious person, although I guess I did have some bouts of paranoia in high school.
We shuttled our luggage and shredded bike boxes to a hotel in the city. As we checked in at the reception desk, I found it strange that we were required to complete a form that required extensive and detailed information, including our dates of birth, professions, from where it was we had arrived, and where exactly it was we were going next. Was everyone subject to the same interrogation, or was it just us? Was that man behind the counter the same guy from the airport? I ducked into the elevator and took a deep breath.
We had decided to take the late bus to Agadir (a couple hundred kilometers south of Casablanca) to start our Moroccan bicycle journey. In the dimly lit bus station, I was perplexed when the stout luggage attendant announced, in French, that they could not accommodate our bike boxes. They were too large, he gestured, for the bus. I had read that bussing bicycles in Morocco would be no problem, that it was fairly common to travel with one’s own pair of wheels in-tow. I gave the man a disappointed look, as I don’t speak a lick of French beyond hello, thank you, and a couple of other useless words. He stepped around the corner, and I am fairly certain that I saw him peering back at us and talking on a walkie talkie, or maybe a cell phone. He came back to the counter and, with a smile, adhered luggage tags to the boxes…no problem.
As we slowly made our way through the country, we darkened the doorway of a couple cheap hotels where they promptly presented us with the same form we had completed in Casablanca. Were they tracking us? Who were “they” anyway? What about the nights we camped in our own tent, off the road, out of site? Where did they think we were? Were they worried about us?
On one such evening, after a long, hard day of cycling, we made camp only 30 meters or so off the road, hidden (or so we thought) by the berm that lay just beyond a terraced garden plot. As dusk approached, I heard a car slowly drive past. I could have sworn that it put on its brakes, reversed, and even turned around a couple of times. Was someone looking for us? Earlier, while scoping out the ideal campsite, I had seen binocular toting men in the adjacent cliffside village. Maybe, while monitoring their sheep from afar, they had spotted us from their rooftops. Exhausted, we fell asleep to the howl of wind whipping up the valley.
We spent the next few days making our way towards the escarpment of the Anti Atlas where we eventually dropped into the furnace of the Sahara. Our route… a remote piste road where the only person we saw for 85 kilometers was a man on a donkey. I am almost certain that I saw him turn around a watch us from behind a boulder. That afternoon the mercury kept rising (42 degrees centigrade, I believe), and so we stopped in a dusty little village to ask where we could camp for the night. A shopkeep mentioned an oasis off the road in about 7 kilometers, we could sleep there, no problem. We made our way to the oasis and set up camp. A nice place, it was obvious folks camped there now and again. After a meal of pasta, sardines, and veggies, we laid down in the tent.
Around 11:30 PM we saw a car pull down the sandy hill toward the oasis, its passenger glaring a spotlight into the palmeraie. I quickly put on my shorts, grabbed my headlamp, and popped out of the tent. They had me in their sights. A ghostly silhouette uttered a few words in French. I asked if he spoke English. He did, but only a little. He said that he and his spotlight toting companion were the police, and, on closer inspection, one of the men looked oddly familiar. He said it was dangerous there, and we must leave. Using English, broken Spanish, and a ridiculous combination of charades gestures I tried to communicate the difficulty of packing up camp; we were comfortably settled and nearly asleep. We would have to pack everything back on our bikes and didn’t want to ride at night. They insisted and said they would have a van come to load our bikes and take us 30 kilometers east to Tata, the nearest town with a hotel. Several times I tried to dissuade them, but they insisted. Then it happened. They asked Virginia, “Are you Logan?” We both gasped. We hadn’t told them our names. Then they proceeded to tell us where we had been, “… you go biciclet to Agadir to Ait Baja to Tafroute to Ait Monsour…” We were floored. They were following us! Maybe he was the man from the airport. They did look similar, although this man was casually attired in a sweatsuit whereas the gentleman at terminal 2 was in a 3-piece.
Thirty minutes later, we had everything packed up and piled in the truck. I tried to further the communication by asking, “So, what is dangerous here?” He replied, “Large animal, uhh, how you say in Anglais? …” I then enquired how they knew where we were. He answered in extremely broken English, “We look other [place], this [place].” and pointed off the road to an old abandoned mud brick building about 7 kilometers from the oasis. They had actually been searching for us; our mouths gaped. Were they taking us to a hotel? Was the king behind this, the CIA, the Algerian mafia, aliens… my mother-in-law?
We made it to the hotel. We were tired and still so dumbfounded at the turn of events. No one there spoke English well, but one man slightly better than the others. I asked him if he could talk to the “police” and explain to me the situation. He attempted to translate, and these are the facts that were garnered from the discussion: 1. The dangerous animals were (a) scorpions, (b) snakes, (c) pigs (which he did not know the word for, but we came to a conclusion when he said, “You eat in USA…”), 2. Someone may have thought we were Algerians crossing the border illegally, but he wasn’t really sure about that, and 3. “It was no problem to camp at the oasis, it’s permitted, do you want them to take you back?”