The Last Train to Tangier

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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.

Marrakesh Alleyway
Marrakesh

“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.

Train in Morrocco
All aboard! Photo: Omar Simkha

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.

14 thoughts on “The Last Train to Tangier”

  1. An interesting story. It reminds me of walking through the streets of Kathmandu, it felt like everyone that came to talk to me or show me around simply wanted to lure me into buying something or giving them money.But one particular man turned out to simply want to practice his English and show me some of the sites. There are always genuinely nice people like that around the world. Like you say though, it’s always hard to pick them out.

  2. What a good story you have to tell! Enjoyed reading about your experience.I have to admit I was surprised that it turned out so well. I was expecting the worst. You’re so right that the tricky thing is being able to tell what strangers you can trust. I’ve been pretty lucky, I think. I’ve often relied on the kindness of strangers to get me headed in the right direction when lost in new places.

  3. I’m always waiting for people to tell stories about the good things in life, not just all the bad and weird. It also reminded me on a poem I wrote a little after 9/11 about a Moroccan taxi driver in NYC. Hope I can find the English version and post it on my Jimdo page soon.

  4. I have to admit as a solo female traveler in Latin America, I am very leery of strangers trying to “help” me with my bags or tell me there is a “different, better way” to get somewhere. I read stories like this though, and it reminds me that most people are good and want to help.

    I did have a scary incident in San Pedro Sula, Honduras arriving at midnight on a bus. A taxi driver tried to take advantage of me (who knows where he would have taken me), but a woman from my bus and other taxi drivers told me not to go with him. I had a bad feeling about it, but the people around me confirming it helped me make the right decision.

  5. Stories like this are great reminders of the positive stuff that is out there – a nice contrast to the usual horror stories. It reminds me of a time I was travelling in China and I’d had one of those days where everyone seemed on a personal mission to extract as many funds from me as possible. I was tired and frustrated, but then, in a Beijing subway station, when struggling to work out how to use the ticketing system, a lady appeared, looked at me kindly, paid for my tickets, refused my attempts at refund, and disappeared into the crowd. Moments like that make everything else seem so insignificant 🙂

  6. Thanks so much for all the positive comments. It’s a story I’ve been wanting to write for a while now but I wanted to be sure I painted a true picture of Hasan and his genuine kindness – good looks and all! 🙂 @Laurence and Philoscity – I too get tired of the horror stories and I think it’s nice to be reminded every now and then that not everyone has an ‘agenda’.

  7. Cherina, wonderful story and it’s usually in hindsight that we realize that this person was just acting in total kindness. We had a similar situation in Medellin when we met a local couple on way to a City park. They walked around with us everywhere, bought us some tasty snacks, offered to pay for a boat ride and then invited us back to their place the next day. Unfortunately we were leaving the next day, but in the back of our minds we were wondering if we had of gone what would have happened. I like to think and believe that they were genuine kind people, but sometimes it doesn’t always turn out that way.

    Glad it all worked out for you and you had the chance to meet Hasan to be able to share this story.

  8. I must admit my heart was beating fast as I was reading. I was waiting for the oops! in the story. there was none tho and that was really touching to be friended by a total stranger like that.

    I would love any and all travel tips you can share with me about traveling to Morocco. I plan to go in Dec. of this year for about three weeks to Sidi Kacemi. Would it be wise to include hotel fees in with my airfare, or would it be more cost effective to rent an apt. while I’m there as a friend has suggested. I detest trains, is renting a car there a hair raising experience or is the train a better source of transportation? I like to drive and I want to see what’s off the beaten path so to speak. I have a tour guide who lives there in Sidi Kacem that will help me with translation and getting around to various cities. Also will I need a visa to travel there and are there any shots required for me to take before I go there. If so when should they be taken prior to my trip? I will be traveling from Los Angeles, Ca. to Morocco by myself. What should I look out for along my trip to keep myself safe. even at the airports. What should I avoid and the big no nos in that country. Thank you for any advice you can give me.

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