A hooded man walks towards us, not old, maybe 24 or so. In Spanish, the driver of the van beside me says that he will provide accommodation for the night. My mind clicks backwards about three hours. In a small village, we are invited in for tea by a local, in his rather kitsch bedroom, we waited while tea and omelet was prepared. Tacky plastic ornaments hung from the walls, a small television blared out the worst of an American TV. A bunch of fake plastic flowers stand in a corner while a hanging rack of shoes overflows as if ready for any high street event. A musty smell of dampness fills the air and a rickety wardrobe stands open in a corner. Tea appears as does a brother, son and friend. The friend, who later turns up in the van, speaks Spanish and talks happily about the cost of living in Morocco compared to Spain as well as assuring me that he IS Bin Ladin?!!. He tells us that there is a place to stay 8 km down the road. My broken Spanish only grasps half of what he is saying. We drink up and move on. The smiley man with a baseball cap and a black jacket in the van is the friend from a few hours before, why he is now in this town, driving a shuttle, and how be had arranged for the hooded man to host us within minutes is beyond us completely. Sometimes not worth working out. We follow the man back to his family home where we are warmly welcomed by his family. Tea is quickly produced and a snack before we are taken out to meet his friends. He speaks no English, only French. We manage to get a fair bit of what he is telling us. Along a muddy street, we are shown into a poorly lit room, on one side, cabinet is filled with sugary cakes and biscuits, soda bottles stand on a shelf behind. In the back corner, behind a concrete pillar, a plastic table and chairs make for a comfortable place for these young guys to hang out, where are the girls? A round of fanta is ordered and everyone sits around enjoying the sweet, artificial drink. Another hooded man arrives, with the outfit from Starwars, which is, in fact, a traditional outfit from this country. He speaks English with a high pitch American accent, very good English. He tells of not having the money to continue his studies, he hopes to get the money together to continue soon, he's not sure if it will happen. This town has no library, no Internet, no newspaper and no social activities. Young people only get information via satellite TV which every home has. Our limited experience of that TV makes it a very sad situation. Al Jazeera news blares out stories of war and instruction from Libya, no sign of the disaster in Japan or elsewhere in the world. The sense of hopelessness in this community is tangible. Our new friend speaks of a girlfriend in the US that he met online, if only she was as real as he thinks, hopes and wishes.
Soon it's time for dinner, we return home and are joined by our new friend. We sit and do some calculations on a piece of paper, what would it be possible for him to earn if he were to get a loan to buy 3 computers for a small Internet cafe at the place we had soda earlier. The maths works out, 600 dirhams (about 50 euros) a month will be a significant wage which he lights up about. In a country where most people survive on less than $2 a day, it's not surprising that this seems like a hansom income. I make a promise to look into the load he will need to get things up a running, about 1000 euros, it must be possible.
The mountains continue, up, down, up, down, up, up, up, my legs complain after not being used in this way since '09. The Moroccans keep their distance but never cease to be friendly with a wave and a 'salam' or hello. Road side workers call after us, 'Bon voyage monssieur', I'm not sure if I've been in a safer more respectful country than Morocco.