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This is a guest post by Cherina from Quiet Wanderings.
We’ve all heard the horror stories of travellers being thieved, conned and swindled whilst on the road. It makes it difficult to know when to trust and when to be wary.
I’m pondering this as I watch a handsome man hastily weave away from me through the crowd with my trusty backpack held high above his head.
“Here, let me help you” he had said with a friendly smile, and in less than a second he was twenty metres away and I was about thirty kilos lighter.
After three fabulous weeks of backpacking through Morocco, I found myself at the train station of the town Sidi Kacem.
Never heard of it? Neither had I until I discovered our ‘through-train’ from Marrakesh to Tangier actually only travelled as far as Sidi Kacem.
It was the weekend of the Islamic Eid festival and the entire population of Morocco, it seemed, had decided to take the one and only train from Sidi Kacem to Tangier to spend the holiday with their families.
As we waited the crowd multiplied, until the platform strained under the weight and I began to wonder how all these people were going to fit on the train.
Hours later, the crowd suddenly swelled forward with a ferocity that had people teetering at the edges of the platform: the train was finally screeching its way into the station. And it seemed awfully small.
My weighty pack was safely at my feet and as I stood amidst the literal crush of my fellow passengers when it occurred to me that there was no way I had enough space to hoist it onto my back. Not to mention haul myself and it up the steps into the train.
I was heading home to Australia after a year abroad and so, being on the home stretch, I had bought a ridiculous number of (heavy) ceramic souvenirs. I was now thinking that wasn’t such a great idea.
The passengers began to push themselves into the train and in the chaos we were slowly nudged further away from the doorway. People had realised that all these passengers would probably not all fit on this train, so it was each to their own and a battle of elbows and shoulders ensued!
My friend and I began a panicked conversation weighing up our options and with no plan whatsoever, it all boiled down to this: we had to get on that train!
I had noticed a very good looking man standing to my left. (Yes, tired and cranky beyond belief and slowly being crushed to death but still I notice the good looking man.) He edged closer, offered to help us and well, you know what happened next…
Clearly my bag was gone forever and not being able to move, I settled for muttering and cursing myself for not being more vigilant until the man’s face appeared in the doorway ahead of us.
“Come”, he yelled beckoning insistently and ordering people to move so we could get through. We didn’t need to be told twice. We reluctantly hoisted the other pack up into his arms. He threw it behind him, then grabbed my hand and dragged me into the train.
He led us to some seats and explained, in perfect English, that there was no room for the bags here but not to worry, he would find somewhere for them in the next cabin.
“I am Hasan. Is there anything else you need?” he asked.
“Er, no I don’t think so.”
“Okay, have a pleasant journey”, and he turned to go.
“Thank you,” I called out, still a little bewildered, “Thank you very much for your help.”
“Very welcome”, he said and with a quick nod and a smile he was gone.
I was still convinced we may never see those bags again.
The journey was slow and tedious, sweaty and noisy and impossibly cramped. (All those people really did fit. Kind of.) After giving up our seats to a woman and her children, I spent most of the trip standing in the corridor trying to get some fresh air from a tiny gap in an open window and feeling decidedly nauseous.
We finally clattered into Tangier station sometime after midnight and the previous chaos at Sidi Kacem seemed remarkably understated in comparison. Our bags were, surprisingly, present and intact. All we needed was to find a taxi to take us to the port and hopefully a hotel before our trip back to Spain tomorrow. Simple, right?
We tried and we tried but each taxi already had at least three families spilling out of them. And then a familiar face appeared as the front window of a taxi was rolled down.
“You can share my taxi” Hasan said and gestured to the empty back seats in his cab.
With all the hundreds of people milling about, this seemed like way too much of a coincidence, and my friend and I exchanged wary glances. Hasan could see our very obvious hesitation. Horns started honking and he glanced behind the car at the traffic jam of taxis.
“You will be waiting for hours”, he said, shrugging.
I looked around at the dark, dusty parking lot and imagined spending the night here.
“We are so going to regret this”, I grumbled as we heaved our packs into the tiny trunk of the beat-up wreck of a taxi. But what choice did we have?
We chattered a little on the way to the port. Hasan said he was a university student and was going home to visit his family. I was still considering the strong possibility that he was a pimp or a people trafficker so just politely commented in the appropriate places.
After we’d paid for the taxi and began to part ways I was still sceptical and fully prepared for the inevitable: an itemised bill for services rendered perhaps; to be kidnapped and held for ransom; or led to a hotel that turned out to be a brothel.
Surprisingly, none of this happened.
We shook hands, thanked Hasan profusely for all his help and checked into our seedy port hotel.
So although travellers are occasionally easy targets for unsavoury characters and need to be a little wary, it is nice to be reminded that there are always those people who are willing to offer unconditional kindness, even in most unlikely situations. It’s telling the difference that is a bit tricky.
But you know, if it wasn’t for a good looking man called Hasan, I swear I would still be standing on that platform at Sidi Kasem.
How have you experienced the kindness of strangers on the travelling road before?
Bio: Cherina is a photographer, a writer but first and foremost, she is a traveller. She has been travelling on and off for over 12 years and you can follow her adventures on her blog Quiet Wanderings or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.