We met Indiana Jones—well, Indiana Mike—at our free hotel breakfast in Chefchaouen. He’d spent the last three days hiking in the desert and climbing the second highest peak in Africa. After listening to all of his crazy stories, we decided that he very well deserved his new nickname.
It was nice to hear our home language again, not to mention the English accent; until now, we’d barely been scraping by with Spanish and body language. Conversation flowed over our free hotel breakfast of mint-leaf tea, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and croissants topped with queso fresco, egg, and curry spices.
We told him about our plans to hike the cascadas grandes (Akchour Waterfalls), and he happened to be going there that day, too. He offered us a ride, which would save over $70 and the burden of hailing a taxi, so we agreed.
In some circumstances, it wouldn’t be okay to get in a car with an absolute stranger while you have no cell service or wifi, or any means of protecting yourself. But any traveler will tell you– listen to your gut. Do you get weird vibes? Weird feelings? And are you being smart?
This man felt quiet, sincere, sweet, and a little lonely. And we were smart; we alerted the hotel receptionist of our whereabouts and ensured that information on “Mike” was available if necessary. With the blessing of our ‘house dad’, we were on our way.
We piled into Mike’s car ready for an adventure. Candace and I navigated the GPS while he drove. When we arrived at what we thought was the trailhead, we thought that Mike would sprint far ahead—all Indiana Jones-like—and leave us in the dust. We thought he’d run off and do his own wild thing, and leave us amateurs behind.
Instead, he followed closely behind us. All relaxed and having a good time. He even asked to stop, so we could all smoke a joint. Indiana Mike and Candace lounged in the tall grass next to a river, backpacks thrown to the side. We talked about families, and school, until everyone (including me but not smoke-wise) was pleasantly high and happy.
Finally, we started walking, and walking, and walking, and all of a sudden—we weren’t sure whether the trail was an established route or a goat path. We decided that a path is a path for a reason—it must lead us to somewhere worthwhile. We zigzagged back and forth over the river until it completely disappeared. We stood in the middle of a tall grass field, clueless.
We had heard that it was “far away”, but we weren’t sure exactly how far away. We knew the small falls came with a small hike, and the big falls came with a big hike. Of course, Indiana Mike was all in. We followed their directions and kept walking.
Two hours later, we arrived at a wide dirt road. Completely lost, we scanned the road for Mike’s car—but after an additional thirty minutes of walking in the barren heat, we had no luck.
Thankfully a taxi driver drove by and Mike hailed him down. We hopped in and drove for about twenty seconds, where we were surprised to find Mike’s car on the side of the road. None of it made any sense.
Mike drove us to a spot where we could buy some ice cream and figure out where it all went wrong. Apparently, we started at the wrong starting point. If we wanted to start from the correct starting point, it’d take another three hours to reach the falls.
Although it was getting late, we decided to go for it. Hell, this was our only chance. We made our way up the correct trail while dodging the tourists heading down the mountain, already on their way back.
We watched people of all types—young, old, borderline elderly—slipping and sliding down the steep trail. Some even tumbled a bit. Old women scooted on their tooshes down the steep parts; young girls lost their balance and rolled in the dirt; it was all quite a scene. Everyone was okay, so it was pretty hilarious.
But despite all the fun, we were anxious; we weren’t sure whether we’d make it to the top before dark. If we didn’t, Mike had camping gear in his backpack and two winter jackets. Thoughts that we just met this man started creeping up. Now we were going to sleep in a tent with him? Candance and I exchanged glances that said noooo way; we’d take our chances stumbling down the trail in the dark if we had to.
Tin-roof huts spotted the trail on the way up; they sold packaged, processed snacks, candy, and mint tea, which kept us fueled for the long journey. Believe it or not, we made it to the top before dark.
After the photoshoot, we changed into swimming clothes and jumped into the blue water at the bottom of the falls. We swam in the pool and it was heavenly but cold.
When we finally got out, the air was chilly and we were freezing. We huddled together in Mike’s thermal vest, cupping steaming mint tea and trying to come up with a game plan. It was getting dark.
Mike was ready to set up camp, but Candace and I were weary—on this Moroccan mountainside, which we knew nothing about, it all just didn’t feel right.
Until Candace yelled, “Hey! Are you guys headed back down?” She spotted the last group of people—a couple of Moroccan boys and a German girl—starting their trek down the mountain. She asked if we could go with them, and they said sure. We gathered our things in lightning speed and followed them.
Within twenty minutes or so it was black. Our phones were dead so we relied on our own, biological night vision; the Moroccan boys held our hands during the difficult descents and led the way.
I pointed at myself and said Emmy, and then pointed at one of the boys, trying to insinuate that I’d like to know what his name was. He smiled a wide, toothless grin, and said, Mohammad. Those were the only words exchanged for the next hour.
Except for the end, when we parted ways; Mohammad pounded his chest pridefully and shouted Morocco! Although I was nervous to visit Morocco, I’m so glad I went. I have countless stories of how this place surprised me with a kindness I never knew expected; if I would’ve given into my fears, I would hold a whole lot less hope for the world.
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