Abdellatif and the Aston
June 4, 2013—About a year ago, my girlfriend and I were in sunny Spain testing the aerodynamic speed limit of a Volkswagen Polo when we decided to take a brief detour to Africa. Hell, it was only an hour-long ferry ride away to the semi-cosmopolitan city of Tangiers, Morocco so we bought the ticket and took the ride. Across a calm Strait of Gibraltar we sped in a large hydrofoil. I have to admit that I was anxious visiting a Muslim country with “place of birth: Israel” typed in my American passport. But Morocco has been a fairly enlightened place throughout its recent history and ultimately, travel is the very definition of leaving your comfort zone.
So off we went to Morocco, thoughts of “Midnight Express” (that was Turkey, yes, I know) dancing in my head. We hired a guide who showed us the market (souk), the main tourist traps, a cave with a hole that looks like the continent of Africa in reverse and we rode camels along the edge of a cliff. It’s tough to describe the sensations of riding a camel. Suffice it to say that if you enjoy the feeling of riding an about-to-stall, seven-foot tall motorcycle with a greased seat and non-functional controls, then you may enjoy riding a camel. To this day, I am surprised that the camel’s owner didn’t get hauled in for questioning, regarding the bodies of the American woman and her Jew-Zionist-Occupier boyfriend found at the bottom of the bluff. Alhamdulillah, indeed!
But what followed the camel ride made me truly made appreciate our guide, Abdellatif. He was taller and balding with a sinister-looking scar that ran from his left eye-brow down to his cheek (Dr. Evil?). But he had a natural, friendly charm; he was a perfect tour guide. Whenever he’d show us a photo-worthy spot he made sure to point this out by instructing us, “you take picture now.” This advice was obviously very handy.
In spite of his friendly manner, there was something distinctly unnerving about riding around in the back of an older Mercedes 190E with your girlfriend, while Abdellatif and his compatriot, the driver, chat in Arabic and the city you’re visiting disappears into the background and houses get further and further apart. Yes, it was probably my prejudice and the houses were getting further apart because they were becoming larger and larger until they were obscured behind ten-foot stone walls capped by bougainvillea. But it was still unnerving. I had a key clutched tightly in my hand in case things went south (take note: if you have nothing else useful, they can be used as stabbing weapons. Er, I mean in self-defense).
Anyhow, we meandered into the hills surrounding Tangiers with houses becoming mansions then castles. The driver finally made a right turn into a driveway ending in a large steel gate, tall as the walls on either side that seemingly extended to the horizon with a small guard shack to the right of the gate, shaded by palm trees. The guard walked up lazily. Abdellatif greeted him non-chalantly in Arabic while the guard looked over Abdellatif’s shoulder at us through mirrored Ray-Bans. “OK” the guard said in accented but discernable English. He walked back to the small, yellow booth. The gate began to open and this is where I really got nervous.
The taxi crawled forward as the steel door parted. I leaned forward in my seat looking straight ahead. Another guard in the same uniform was just inside the wall with an AK-47. Oh shit. “So where are we?” I asked apprehensively. Abdellatif turned to me and smiled broadly. “You just wait,” he replied. Terrific.
“No other guide bring you here, my friend!” he proclaimed.
“I bet,” I thought.
We drove up a short incline and all at once my fears melted. “You write about cars, right?” Abdellatif beamed. “You take picture now!” Sure enough, Abdellatif had brought us to the one spot he could be sure there would be some interesting hardware around. Cars. He leaped out, opened my girlfriend’s door then ran around to hold my door open as I exited the cab. He repeated the Saudi Prince’s name and gave us a walking tour of the extensive grounds, two swimming pools, courtyards, and of course, garage.
While we strolled the nearly abandoned estate, a couple of gardeners glanced at us through their work and guards kept their gazes trained on us, when we were in view. It was surreal. Abdellatif rattled off facts about the Prince, his house, his cars, his parties... I can only speculate how much was true as I suspect that he’d worked out some kind of deal with the guards to add a bit of value to his tours. It looked like the place had been undisturbed for years. Regardless, walking the grounds of some Arabian Prince’s deserted compound in Morocco with a Disneyland-esque tour guide while the few around are busy at their job is something I could never have planned for or imagined.
Ah yes, then came the cars. They were older and while some were rather strange (see van photo), I would have loved to borrow the blood red Aston Martin Vantage for a blast through the rolling hills under the canopy of fig trees. The Rolls-Royces weren’t too shabby either and most appropriate. It seems like the only car an older, gentlemanly Saudi Prince (how I imagine him) should be spotted in. Perhaps I should have asked Abdellatif and the driver if we could dump the Benz 190 in favor of a Roller. No, it wouldn’t suit us.
We eventually made our way back to Tangiers and toured the Kasbah (old fortress) before Abdellatif dropped us back at the ferry for our trip back to European safety and predictability. The cars and compound were such a surprise and our guide’s hospitality was boundless. In hindsight there hadn’t been much risk, but it gave me the chance to see a sliver of a culture limited to me if only because of my passport. Perhaps next time I should visit Morocco and take the ferry for a day trip to Spain. Maybe I could even borrow the Prince’s Aston. [kiWO]