Wednesday, January 7, 2015

McCarthy's Casbah - Part VI

After another excellent night’s sleep and another fine breakfast, I packed my bag, paid my bill, said my  goodbyes and walked out into the medina. It was only about 9.30 but the hustle and bustle was starting again. I promised several shop owners that I would come visit their shops later, knowing that I wouldn’t be back for the forseeable future,  and made my way onto Grand Soco. I hailed a taxi and asked the driver to take me to the bus station.When I slammed the door close, he looked at me with a pained face and then at the door. I looked at the door too and found that the window was hooked inside the car at a precarious angle. Sorry ‘bout that. I didn’t know your taxi was falling apart.
I shoved the window back in it’s place and we were on our way. It was relatively quiet on the streets (even in a place like Tangier people rather do as little as possible on Monday morning) so we made good progress until the driver stopped to let someone in the back. They spoke a couple of words and the driver then went out of his way to drop our new passenger at his destination. A couple of coins exchanged hand and we were back en route to the bus station. The taxi dropped me off at what he said was the bus stop for the ferry port, I closed the door very carefully this time, and he went on his way. I looked around and could not see any other obvious tourists. A timetable wasn’t on the shelter either and just when I was trying to figure out what to do next, I was approached by another taxi driver. “Tangier Med?” he asked hopefully?
I wasn’t planning to take a taxi all the way there, really. “I take bus” I informed him, which, as expected, led to his reply of “Bus leave 5 minutes. Next: 1 hour”.
Great. So according to him, the bus just left and it could be a good long while before the next one. He was probably making this up to get a good fare to the distant port but, then again, I couldn’t tell for sure since there was no time table. There were no other tourists here either and I didn’t want to risk waiting here for too long and,
literally, miss the boat.
“How much” I asked him?
-200 Dirham!

As luck would have it, that was the exact amount of Moroccan money I had left in my wallet. I had intended to spend it on tax free booze on the ferry but I might as well just spend it on a taxi ride.
My ride was a sand colored Mercedes that, at an estimate, rolled out of the factory around the time Duran Duran were topping the charts. The dashboard looked like the interior of an American dive bar. It was full of random, unrelated objects to the extent that the dashboard itself was hardly visible anymore: small mirrors, a Hawaiian bobbing head doll, a sticker of a French castle, a scarf of Chelsea football club, a strain of Christmas lights and a lot more. It all looked very cosy, but as the driver spoke little French and no English apart from the financial side of things, I didn’t dwell on it.

We flew through the countryside and I spent most of the time reading my book. What I did notice, was that people regularly tried to flag down the taxi. This was mostly near building sites where people were trying to get.. elsewhere, I guess. As this was a serious intercity taxi, he ignored them all and the distance to the port evaporated quickly. What a strange place, where people had to get back from work by hoping that a taxi would appear, then stop and then accept what they were willing to pay. We arrived at the ferry port, I gave the driver my last Moroccan money and went inside. While in search of a window where I could acquire a ticket for the boat, I found that I had no European money left either. This sucked because that meant I couldn’t get a  beer on the boat. I went to the window for my ferry company and was again accosted by a Moroccan who wanted to help. As I was still not quite au fait with this whole idea of people constantly trying to do things for you that you could easily do yourself, I decided to re-apply my technique of speaking Dutch to him, as this had had the desired effect on most people in the city. I gave him the Dutch equivalent of “Go fuck yourself” and.. yes, ofcourse, he spoke fluent Dutch.

This wasn't him though.

Fortunately, it was quite noisy in the terminal, so he hadn’t heard me properly and started talking to me in strongly accented Dutch. I would have guessed that he had lived in Antwerp or thereabouts and he was very happy to help me with anything I needed done. After a minute or so, I walked off with some excuse and went in search of an ATM. When I found an ATM in front of a currency exchange office, I checked inside and was informed that, yes, the machine only gave out Moroccan money but I could ofcourse exchange it inside for a small fee. I politely rejected the chance to pay 5 Euros to walk money from  an ATM to a desk 4 yards further and went to the waiting area for the bus. 

While I sat there, waiting for the shuttle, I contemplated my days in Tangier and was in 2 minds. I had found it a very interesting experience and it was good to have been in a place that was so categorically different from anywhere else I had ever been.  I found it fascinating to be there, in a culture that was so different from Ireland or Holland or the USA. I had gone to Tangier mainly to chase the steps of Pete McCarthy, who himself was chasing Terence McCarthy, the alledged Prince of Desmond. I just could not get my head around why someone would move from Ireland to a place like Tangier. Sure, he had left Ireland to get away from the negative publicity that surrounded his claim to the throne of Munster, and Tangier, as I said earlier, is an excellent place to escape from view. You could get off the boat in Tangier and live quite comfortably without ever being seen again. But why Tangier? It was poor, dirty, chaotic and disorganised. Interesting as my days had been, I would have gone insane quite rapidly if I found myself living here. Maybe that is what happened to all those mumbling people on the street, begging for scraps. Maybe they had come to Tangier with the same intention as me and wanted to leave after a week or so, but just got sucked in.
I was woken from my day dreams by the honking horn of the shuttle bus that was ready to take me to the ferry. Whatever Terence’s reasons were, I hope he’s happy.

This is Terrence McCarthy, on the right of the picture, with President Robinson of Ireland and her husband, in 1996.
If you are interested in reading more about the McCarthy Mor, you can follow This link
Please keep in mind that this is just the opinion of one researcher and not necessarily the complete story.

Arriving at the ferry terminal, I noticed a tax free shop that might come in handy in the resolution of my cash problem. Even if they didn’t have an ATM (or one with Euros) I could probably still use my card there to buy something to drink for on the way over. While I walked in, I was called on by an employee of the ferry company. He asked me if I was on the 13.15 ferry and when I confirmed that this was the case, he urged me to hurry as it was time to get on board. I looked at the time and found that it was only 11.45 so even if I was off by an hour again, I still had over 20 minutes and the ferry was no more than 50 yards away. I walked into the shop and found a shelf full of beer. Score!

I picked up 2 cans and found, to my annoyance, that they were warm. When I told the shop assistant this, he pointed out a big fridge at the other end of the shop which contained nice cold beer. I picked up 2 cold cans and went to the till. “5 for 5 Euros, sir!” I was told. I said I only wanted 2 and he could charge me 5 Euros for the 2 cans if he had to. This, I was assured, was not a possibility. The ferry employee now came to intervene, and grabbed a plastic bag, went over to get 3 more cans of beer and handed them to me. I paid by card and then was urged onto the concourse by the same ferry guy. Immigration control this time consisted of a man in a high visibility vest sitting on a stool under a big umbrella. He stamped my passport without looking at it so I made my way towards the ferry. The footbridge onto the upper deck had already been retracted, so I made it onto the ferry by way of the car deck. What the fuck was going on here?

Not a lot, it turned out. I arrived in the bar and had a look at the clock. 11.58. So I had had the time right and there was still more than an hour to go before sailing time.  All the shops were still locked, the bar was empty, apart from me and the bar man, and what ferry staff was there were pertinently doing nothing. I put my book on a table and then set out my 5 cans of Kronenbourg behind it.
Great, the ferry man had grabbed 3 warm cans of beer to complement the 2 cold ones I had already.

I opened my first cold can and focused on my book, the excellent 'Notes from a small island' by Bill Bryson. This book, accidentally, was chosen by the British public in 2003 as the book that best captured the essence of life in Britain. That’s quite an achievement, if you consider it was written by an American. 
It IS incredibly funny though. I’ve read it 4 times now and, even though I know the jokes and even when they’re coming, it’s still a joy to read. The first time I read it, I was on a train from Eindhoven to Enschede in Holland and I laughed so hard that I fell off my seat on 3 separate occasions. One girl, sitting across the aisle, even asked me for the name of the book so that she could order it when she got home. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s hilarious.

My first cold beer was now empty, and the clock had advanced to 12.30. The footbridge had been reconnected (or possibly just connected) and every now and then a couple of passengers would come in. They all sat at the front so maybe they wanted to get a good view of the sea. I opened my second beer, and last cold one, and went back to my book. After waving off some strange looks from fellow passengers over my sudden and apparently unprovoked outbursts of laughter, I finished my second cold beer and was now faced with 3 cans of warm beer. I certainly wasn’t going to carry any extra weight on my way back to Malaga, but drinking luke warm beer wasn’t a very enticing prospect either.

A lightbulb lit up above my head when I saw a girl walking behind the bar carrying an ice bucket. After explaining that I wanted ice cubes and not ice cream, I walked back to my table with 5 plastic cups, 2 of them full of ice cubes. I took one empty cup, put 3 or 4 ice cubes in it and then poured some of the luke warm beer over them. This cooled the beer down sufficiently to make it agreeable for consumption, and I would then poor the cooled beer into another empty cup, repeat the process and end up with 1 cup of suitably cold beer. As the cups were small, I had to repeat this process twice to turn 1 warm can into 2 cold cups of slightly watered down beer, but it worked and gave me something to do while waiting for the ferry to depart. The ferry left on time and I spent the sailing time by reading and playing with my DIY beer cooler system (I had to go back twice for fresh ice).  By the time we reached Algeciras, I had had 5 cold Kronenbourgs for the price of just over 1 can of beer on the boat so I actually saved some money too.

My Self Invented Cooler System (Patent pending)

Back on European soil, I walked to the nearest ATM to ensure I had actual cash in my pocket again. When I had booked my ferry trip, I had taken an early one so as to facilitate getting back to Malaga at a reasonable time. On the way down, the bus had taken 2 ½ hours to get to Gibraltar and then from there it was another 40 minutes to Algeciras. The time difference meant that I would arrive at Algeciras bus station at around 4 and then I had to hope that there was a service to Malaga within a reasonable time. With a bit of luck, so I calculated, I could be back in Malaga at around 8PM.

As it was, I had several bits of luck. First, the ferry arrived slightly ahead of schedule, and then I flew through the ferry terminal and customs faster than expected. When I arrived at the bus station, I found that a bus for Malaga was leaving in 20 minutes. This gave me just enough time to buy a ticket, make use of the toilet facilities (I’d had 5 cans of beer on the boat, after all), buy a sandwich and a bottle of water and get on the bus. Best of all, and I did not realise this until I saw a sign saying MALAGA BUS STATION, it turned out to be a direct bus, that did not stop at Marbella, Fuengirola and all those other places along the way, thereby shaving about one third off the travel time. I was back on the streets of Malaga at 6.30 and presented myself at the Oasis hostel comfortably before 7.

I know it sounds stupid from someone only arriving in the city for the third time, but it felt like coming home. I was welcomed back with open arms in the hostel, was given a bed in the same room I had been in the week before and was once again a happy man. 

After a quick shower, I went back to reception and ordered a cold beer. While I was enjoying my beer and having a chat with one of the hostel staff, a shout of “AH WELL NEVER! FORGET IT!! NO WAY!”  pierced the relative tranquility.

Ah, shit. Rottweiler was still around.
Rottweiler was what we would call an FEB, or Fecking English Bastard. Before you accuse me of trying to fit in with the Irish, or making a political statement, this is not the case. The man just happened to be English. And a bastard. He had arrived at the hostel 2 days before I had left for Gibraltar. I had named him Rottweiler because of his striking resemblance to Rik Mayall’s neighbour in Bottom. Rottweiler had a shaved head and piercing, dark, ratty eyes. He was permanently dressed in a white undershirt, brandless tracksuit pants and heavy sandals. His upper body was covered in badly executed tattoos of the type you’d expect to find on a sailor in the 70s: several crudely drawn naked women, a spiralled cobra, a barely recognizable Chelsea FC crest and much more. He looked, in short, like a man who was in charge of the shooting gallery at a travelling carnival.
He had checked into the hostel the week before with the idea of basing himself in Spain. Why he had chosen the hostel as a base of operations was unclear to everyone as he spent his days complaining about the exact things that make a hostel a hostel: He had to share a bathroom. People would come in late at night. Or get up early in the morning. There were always people around, all the time. They took showers when it was his time to take a shower. They had dinner at times when one should retire to bed, or breakfast at times when you should be out and about. He basically hated everything hostels stand for, so why he chose to temporarily live in one was anyone’s guess.  Probably the cheap rates.

I went to the garden and found my new Dutch friends had returned from Seville that same day, so we had a couple of beers. Then I whiled away the rest of the night walking the streets of Malaga, stopping for a drink here, and a bite to eat there. When I got back around midnight, I was asked if I wanted to come to the beach the next morning. I politely declined going to the beach because I had something else in mind: Malaga’s most famous son.
By high exception, this was not a football player. Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga, and I wanted to get in touch with the world famous painter and his life story.

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