I do not remember why but for some reason my stay in Morocco was limited to three months when I crossed the Spanish – Moroccan border near Algeciras. Later I learned that all of my peers had received a similar stamp on their passport. The reason, according to a fellow traveler, was that prior to the new policy travelers had been given unlimited time in the country and some of them had done too many drugs and not eaten enough and as a result the government had imposed a mandatory time limit on visits to the country. Like most of the stuff I was told, it was basically conjecture. (I do not want to go into details but it did not take three months for some folks to get into serious trouble or worse in Morocco back in the day.)
After stopovers in Agadir, a small Berber fishing village called Taghazout and the desert oasis settlement known as A Bayno I accompanied a handful of European travelers to Goulimine, lured by tales of the famed Goulimine beads and rumors Led Zep stalwarts Robert Plant and Jimmy Page had visited the city and/or might still be there.
It didn’t seem to bother any of us that Goulimine was on the fringes of an ongoing conflict between the Moroccan army and a rebel group known as the Polisario. We sat in an outdoor cafe as troop trucks with armed soldiers riding in the back passed by us. I guess I thought I was like a hero in a television show and, of course, everyone knew the lead in a TV series could not be seriously harmed or killed. (This was back in the days before cable TV series routinely offed popular characters on their shows.)
It was only when I left the cafe and was walking alone down the sidewalk that I grasped the seriousness of it all. Stopped by a uniformed solder wearing a rifle on his shoulder and asked for my passport, I fumbled with the pocket on my jacket. When I did not produce the required document fast enough he ripped off the flap of the pocket and grabbed the passport for himself.
“Trois mois! Trois mois!’ he screamed, pointing to a stamp on my passport and grabbing me by the arm. Okay, I hadn’t taken the three month time limit seriously enough but I still had a few days before I had to leave the country and I hadn’t been to Casablanca yet.
The soldier asked me in French where I was going and I replied that I was heading for Rabat (the capital city).
This answer just seemed to make him angrier. (Rabat was on the other side of the country and there was no way I could make it there within the time frame stamped on my passport, a fact he was not shy in telling me.) I replied, in my broken French – broken almost beyond repair, a fact that Parisians were not shy in telling me but that’s another story – that although I might not be able to make it to Rabat within the time stamped on my passport I was still legally in the country as of that moment and he was not legally entitled to arrest me.
While I kept waiting for a commercial break the soldier glared at me. Then he let go of my arm, said something in French that I wasn’t able to translate and continued up the street. (In retrospect I realize he could have arrested me anyway and from what I had heard about Moroccan jails from fellow travelers who were unlucky enough to spend some time in them it might not have been an experience I would have survived.)
I did buy some beads (only to learn later that they were actually made in Italy), Messrs. Plant and Page were not in the city (although I heard a rumour they had visited the place briefly a few weeks before) and needless to say I started on the long trek to Rabat the following day.
.… To Be Continued