The second chapter of my time in Morocco. All feedback welcome, especially the negative.
At 5.30am later in the morning, my sleep was disturbed. I don't know what it was, but the clock on the television that was threatening to fall off the wall in the hotel room said it was earlier than what I'm used to. Sara had been disturbed too and we were both now awake, despite only slightly more than 4 hours sleep.
The monotonous thump thump from the disco somewhere in the hotel was a problem. It eventually died down or we fell asleep from exhaustion; I'm not sure. The nauseating smell that came from the slimy shower in the bathroom was dealt with by closing the door, but its fingers crept under the door to tease our noses. The stale smell of cigarettes in the bedding competed for our nostrils' attention.
Neither of us were pleased by our lodgings when we entered, but it being late and knowing nowhere else to go forced us to stay. Sara had stayed here before on her two previous visits to the fledgling resort. Apparently it was the best hotel in town – I now found that hard to believe. I was, however, glad that she had prepared us for this hotel by insisting that we bring tracksuits to sleep in.
I lay there thinking about a sun-bleached certificate that I had seen in the hotel lobby earlier. It seemed to indicate that this so-called “hotel” was certified as being of a two-star standard. 'When was that inspection done? When the Dead Sea was still alive?' I thought to myself.
We tried to go back to sleep, but we couldn't. Sara was excited by the prospect of taking delivery of her holiday property. I was excited by the idea of seeing what Morocco looked like by day. Tiring of laying there blinking at each other, we decided to get up to watch the sun rise on the beach.
Arrows of light were piercing threadbare curtains as we made our way through the deserted lobby, the front desk abandoned. Outside it was a pleasant temperature; warmer than in the horrible hotel. The Riff Hotel was now officially the “Ruff” Hotel in my mind. (I had no idea how right I was.)
Exiting the hotel, across the single-lane road in front of it, I could see the coffee shop where we were to meet Malcolm later. Turning right we headed toward the main street and the sound of the Mediterranean Sea caressing a beach. There were no signs, sounds or even smells of life anywhere; it was 6am. Almost all the buildings were two stories high, with only a few being more than that. Most had not seen a paintbrush in decades.
We crossed the empty main road, passing a fat black cat strolling the other way that didn't even look at us. Walking on to an empty parking lot, we were spied on by a mangy stray dog who ran away when I made eye contact. These were the only signs of activity besides the plentiful new Moroccan flags swaying in the sea-breeze.
We crossed over a road on to a neglected promenade, the much-historied Mediterranean before us. To our right - the east – the sun was coming up over a series of hills that seemed to form a natural boundary. 'That's Algeria' Sara enlightened me.
'We can actually walk up to the border, if you want,' she said, so we did.
The border between Morocco and Algeria at the Mediterranean Sea is designated by a rusted metal fence that protrudes out in to the sea for about 20 metres and goes inland for 50 or so metres. At low tide you could walk around it, I would guess, or at any time on the landward side. On the Moroccan side of the fence was a whitewashed sentry post, with a solitary soldier standing outside it, clutching an antiquated bolt-action rifle. He was awake, alert – he eyed us – and he was there, unlike his Algerian counterpart who was absent. Signs in French and Arabic made it clear to stay away and to not go any further.
'The border's closed and has been for several years. Nobody can cross between the two,' Sara informed me.
'Why?' I enquired.
'Don't know really. Politics I guess,' she replied.
We walked on the sandy beach that seemed to stretch westward forever. The Med was like a plate of glass that was delicately melting against the shore. It was nice to feel the sun on our backs again. Strangely we had this whole ghost town and its beach to ourselves.
We walked westwards along the shore, which was quite clean, to kill the time and clear our sleep-deprived heads. Sara pointed out that a dozen beach huts that sold refreshments had been demolished since her last visit, which was slightly more than a year ago.
The road running parallel with the promenade had on the landward side a mixture of buildings. There was a hotel, a series of coffee shops and eateries, some houses, a large white-walled compound and then some more houses that ended where the road seemed to meet a line of trees growing toward the beach. It was hard to say whether any of these structures were occupied, but there were no signs of life, including the hotel.
Sara explained that this was very much a Summer holiday destination, similar to many places on the south coast of France. Apparently people flock here in droves in the Summer months, but nobody comes in Winter, as a result many places shut up shop over the Winter. The resort that I would be seeing more of in a few hours was the government's attempt to make this a year-round destination, providing more than seasonal employment for the locals.
The whole town seemed to have a forgotten feeling about it; a backwater. Everything I looked at seemed old, neglected or dilapidated. Street signs were a rarity, pavements were crumbling, litter was to be seen everywhere, paint must be expensive. This was shabby-chic, but without the “chic”. Any measure to lift the local economy could only be a good thing, right?
We made our way back to the coffee shop, hoping they served breakfast. I wasn't counting on a bacon sandwich. They had just opened and we were the first customers. We chose to sit outside on the pavement where there were tables and chairs, facing the “Ruff” Hotel. A sleepy waiter in a French-style waistcoat and tie gave us menus. He chose to address me, ignoring Sara. His fine French words were wasted on me and Sara intervened to handle proceedings.
'It's quite a macho society,' she shared, 'women are very much junior partners.'
'And the problem is?' I teased.
So, 1960s women's liberation had not made it to this corner of the world. Looking around it seemed as if we were really still firmly in the 1950s, given the number of Citroen 2CV's to be seen. We were sitting at the intersection of two streets and looking down them it appeared that no vehicle was made after 1980. The streets themselves were in dire need of resurfacing.
Our breakfast of sliced French pastries and strong coffee arrived. The coffee shop had its own bakery and the smells emanating from it could compete with any counterpart in France or Belgium. Slowly the town was coming to life and people started appearing on the streets. Sara enjoys people-watching, something I've not indulged in, but today I did.
Most people moving about seemed to be male and under the age of 40. All were dressed smart-casually, no jeans to be seen, office-type trousers and shirt with a jacket the norm. Their shoes seemed a little worse for wear and no-one was in any kind of rush. Older men seemed to like wearing a jersey under their jackets; it was Winter after all. Occasionally two men would meet, start shaking hands and press alternate cheeks, once, twice and sometimes more, then commence an animated conversation in Arabic, sometimes involving laughter, for a few minutes which ended with another handshake before sauntering off in separate ways. I couldn't imagine this happening in the financial district of London, where I used to work in I.T.
Malcolm joined us punctually as we were finishing our breakfast – it was exactly 9am.
'Right, what's the plan for today then?' he asked in his matter-of-fact way.
'I need to get to the Fadesa office to sign for the apartment. How long that will take is anybody's guess. I then need to get electricity and water turned on. After that I'd like to get to furniture shops to order a bed and furniture. Hopefully they can deliver the bed first and soon so that we don't have to spend too many nights in the Riff Hotel,' Sara outlined.
'You're hoping to do all that today?' Malcolm quizzed.
'Yes, if possible.'
'Hahahaha. Forget about it. Not a hope in hell,' Malcolm chuckled.
'Why not?' Sara asked, slightly alarmed.
'This is Morocco. The simplest things take a lot of time. Take a look around you. Nobody is in any kind of hurry' Malcolm clarified.
Despite being taken back by his insight, Sara characteristically said, 'Well, let's give it all a try and see how far we get, shall we?'
'OK, let's go do battle with those lazy buggers at Fadesa,' Malcolm huffed. The waiter was nowhere to be seen and Malcolm suggested how much money to leave on the table.
'Why the hostility and negativity about Fadesa?' I asked of Malcolm as we got in his car, not knowing who we were talking about.
'You'll see,' is all he said.
Sara explained that Fadesa was the giant Spanish construction company developing the resort known as Mediterrania-Saidia. The apartment that she had bought was one of the first to have been completed. The King of Morocco had initiated this resort as a grand project to uplift the regional economy which had been hit hard by the closure of the border in 1994. The King's predecessor, his father, had a loathing for the region because of a failed assassination attempt during his reign in the 1970s. The old king forbade any investment in the region he described as “rebels”. His son bore no such malice and gave a piece of Crown land next to Saidia over to Fadesa. They were to deliver a modern resort that would create jobs in its construction and existence once completed. The properties were to be sold to primarily foreign buyers, thus bringing in much needed foreign exchange for the country.
Malcolm drove us along the broken road toward the resort. In the clear December sunlight I could see the perimeter of the resort up ahead. Once on the paved road and teeth fillings back in place, the ride was smooth enough to take in the surroundings. Areas for future buildings were demarcated with new fences and hoardings with modern advertisements in French, enticing whoever looked at them to buy a property. New pavements and drainage had been laid around the numerous sandy parcels of land.
'To our right will be hotels one day. These hotels will all have direct access to the beach,' Malcolm extolled as we drove down what seemed like a main road.
'Ah, to our left is the fly in the ointment,' said Malcolm, gesturing toward a dozen or so higgledy-piggledy, ugly Moroccan houses across the road from us that were jutting out from behind a high wall that surrounded them.
'Those Moroccan homes have been there for decades, but it has been decreed that they will all be demolished to make way for new buildings that will be part of the resort. The owners are haggling for compensation with the government. Their properties are now worthless because no-one will buy them,' Malcolm explained. The high, dirty wall made them look unwelcoming and I'm sure the owners felt hostile toward the resort too.
After gingerly negotiating a series of traffic roundabouts - Malcolm was a careful driver - we approached the first serious signs of construction progress on the resort. I recognised them as the buildings I had seen the previous night. Across from these apartment buildings, separated by a road, was a sandy parcel of ground. Across from this plot, separated by another road, was a large blue warehouse with the word “Fadesa” emblazoned on the its walls.
'Those buildings are AP6, Sara. That's where your apartment is,' Malcolm pointed out as we entered the parking lot in front of the Fadesa warehouse.
Sara's eyes widened. I knew she was getting excited about being so close to her investment property and holiday home. Not one for gambling on stock markets or paying in to poorly performing pension funds, Sara decided to invest the bulk of her life savings in property. After much investigation, several property exhibitions in London and an in-depth knowledge from visiting most sunny places in Europe, she chose Morocco and this resort.
We approached the main entrance to the warehouse, which was guarded by a tall moustachioed Moroccan guard who was smartly dressed in trousers and a blazer. He greeted us in French; he seemed to recognize Malcolm.
Entering the cavernous space, I could see that the warehouse was a multiple-purpose structure. To our right was a receptionists desk, a communal area with patio-like tables and chairs, behind them were two cubicles. In the centre of the expanse was a show apartment, built indoors to the same specification as most apartments on the growing resort. To our left were four cubicles and to their left was two offices. Further back next to the indoor apartment was another set of offices.
There were a couple of middle-aged Europeans, Spaniards I presumed, standing waiting at the tables and chairs; their faces etched in anger. Everyone else, which was a dozen or so, appeared to be Moroccans. They were equally divided between men and women, all had olive brown complexions and all were in their twenties or thirties. The women were divided in to two groups: half were conservatively dressed in dark, loose fitting clothing and wearing head-scarves, but without veils, while the others were very European in appearance, with colourful skin-tight clothing and loose hair – almost the opposite in each other's style. The men wore typical Western office attire, but from before when the Internet bubble changed office fashion, so they wore ties and jackets.
'Shall I leave you two with these lunatics and return in an hour's time?' Malcolm asked. We agreed and he left to go do something in someone's apartment nearby that he said was nearing completion of furnishing. The idea crept in to my head that perhaps we could stay at that apartment rather than in the Ruff Hotel. I had never seen the apartment, but I had seen the best hotel in Saidia.
Sara asked the girlish receptionist to see her contact, someone she had been dealing with via email in French for months. The receptionist responded that the person in question, a Moroccan woman, was very busy and that we would have to wait. Looking around, I couldn't see anybody that looked “very busy”. All I could see was bored office workers looking down at pieces of paper on their desks, nobody moving a finger, no telephones ringing. Most desks had computers on them, but all were switched off. The only energy being expended was by the two Spanish blokes who were becoming animated and irritated in their own conversation. Except for them, there was a hushed silence befitting of a strict public library.
Never one for sitting around wasting time, Sara asked the receptionist if we could go inside the show apartment. The receptionist hesitantly agreed, apparently uncomfortable with having such a responsibility as allowing two foreigners to look at what was built for public consumption.
We wandered around the show apartment with Sara excitedly pointing out features that mattered to her, such as the shiny granite kitchen worktop and the nice tiling in the two bathrooms. I weighed up what she had paid for the property against the quality of the specification inside and considered it good value for money. The exterior facets such as the location, aspect, build quality, gardens, swimming pool and actual interior finish might enhance or reduce this assessment.
We sat waiting patiently in the communal area next to the now silent Spaniards. Sara had put down her deposit for the apartment in October 2005 at a property show in Excel, London. Now, finally, it was all becoming very real for her. She was mulling over all the things that she was promised and was hoping for. Luxury fittings and a modern kitchen seemed to have been key selling points to her.
After a while a Spanish-speaking Moroccan woman came to meet the Spaniards, who were palpably relieved to meet her. 'How long had they been waiting? How long will we have to wait?' I wondered to myself.
Malcolm returned, seeming unsurprised to see us waiting. He had seen this picture a few times before, I realised.
'Got to talk to anyone yet?' he enquired with a wry grin on his face. I think he knew the answer.
'No, not yet. All very busy here,' Sara responded sarcastically.
'Like hell. They're all just kids, first job out of uni and too scared to actually do anything,' he muttered. Sara bit her bottom lip.
'Malcolm, is there any chance that we could stay in the apartment you're working on? I don't fancy too many more nights in the Riff Hotel,' I asked, rapidly changing the subject before Sara's impatience lead to anger and before I forgot this point.
'Well, I've just got to finish a few loose ends and its ready to use. I've got to get the owner's agreement first though. You want to stay until you leave, I take it?' he responded in his slow, considered manner.
'Correct. If you could get his agreement then we'll pay the same as we're paying the hotel,' I stated, thinking that anything could be better than the Ruff Hotel and being on-site would be useful.
'It's a her and she's pretty good on the email thingy, so I'll let you know tomorrow,' he promised. Sara smiled in agreement.
Malcolm thought for a moment and continued, 'I've been in this situation before with Fadesa. You could wait the rest of today and be told to come back tomorrow. I really do have a load of other things to do, so can you two get yourselves back to the hotel and I'll see you tomorrow at nine?'
It was now noon as we said our goodbyes. Malcolm left and I sat down to resume waiting. Sara instead marched up to the receptionist and, in her best French, demanded to see her contact. Sara had emailed this woman weeks ago saying that we would be here on this day at this time.
The receptionist responded that the person in question was now on lunch.
Annoyed, Sara wanted to know when she would be returning from lunch.
'Soon,' was the nonchalant reply. The receptionist was only interested in the Facebook page on her computer screen, the only one that was on.
Malcolm's prophetic words at the café were starting to ring in my ears. I wondered if anyone ever died of a heart attack in Morocco? Perhaps only from frustration and exasperation, given what I had seen so far. Without having to discuss it, we both knew that getting to buy any furniture today was not going to happen.
Sara asked the receptionist if we could go up the tower that protruded from the rear of the warehouse. It served as a vantage point over the entire resort and Sara thought it a good way of killing time. After some comical toing-and-froing between the receptionist and security guard on the door, a key was eventually produced. The guard escorted us to the tower's entrance and we climbed its stairs. At the top we got a very good view of the resort, bathed in glorious December sunshine. Perhaps people would find coming here to escape European snow was a good idea.
To the east lay the old town of Saidia, with the Ruff Hotel being one of the most visible structures because it was four stories tall. The beach was long and straight and seemed to go in a continuous line toward the horizon in the West. In the East it stopped at the headland that protruded out in to the sea on the Algerian side of the border. The resort's road network had been laid out and paved, ostensibly in a rectangular design. The boundaries of the rectangle were four-laned main roads with a few minor roads cross-crossing within the rectangle. These lesser two-laned roads serviced plots of land that were to be built on.
Next to the Fadesa warehouse, which was on the long northern main road running parallel with the beach, were a succession of identical two-storey villas. There were about forty of these villas in a straight line fronting on to what would one day be a very busy road. To the North of us, between the road and the coast, were a series of parcels of land that lead up to a marina. The marina only had a handful of small boats and a harbourmaster's tower building in it.
To our West, opposite the villas, lay what was the early layout of a golf course. The rest of this Western vista was just scrub-land. Behind us, to the South, were three plots that had scores of apartment blocks built on them. Sara knew from memory, having looked at plans long enough, what each of them were.
'Right behind us is AP6. That's where my apartment is. Most properties there have two bedrooms. Next to that is AP4, which had smaller properties and many are single-bedroomed. Further down the road is AP2, which has the same sized properties as AP6, but many more of them.'
I could see from her explanation that AP2 seemed to have more buildings than the other two plots combined. It looked rather crowded down there as the blocks of buildings seemed more closely packed together. I couldn't see any sign of construction work being done anywhere else on the resort. There were very few people moving about and just one vehicle on the roads. It had dawned on me that it was a Friday, the holiest day of the week for Muslims. Would anybody be coming back from lunch?
We drank in the view, mindful of the historical significance of what we were seeing. Going forward, this view would be changing dramatically as progress came to the area. Satiated, we went back downstairs to recommence our wait. Sara was becoming agitated, just like the Spaniards had been, about waiting while nothing seemed to be happening. She could see AP6 beckoning her through the front door of the warehouse. I was quite content to observe everything and everybody around me, trying to understand and appreciate whatever there was to be seen. A detailed miniature model on a large table that showed the completed resort occupied my attention for a while. It suggested that, once completed, this resort would be massive and, in effect, a new town in its own right. There seemed to be thousands of dwellings planned with a variety of recreational facilities interspersed amongst the homes. It all looked very ambitious to me.
Eventually the three Westernised Moroccan women returned from their lunch. Where they could have gone I have no idea, because there was nothing near us except for the old town. The eldest of the three entered an office, collected a thick file of papers and walked over to us, without speaking to the Facebooking receptionist. She seemed to know who we were.
She introduced herself, in French, as Hafeza. We all shook hands and sat down. I wasn't sure whether shaking hands with a Muslim woman was the correct thing to do. From her thoroughly modern appearance I expected her name to be French and end in a “ique”. Her parents must have been traditional folk. Hafeza started speaking to me in French, which I took as the macho society thing coming to the fore again. Sara explained that I did not speak French, to which Hafeza simply politely smiled. The two of them began wading through the pile of paperwork, with Sara signing papers occasionally.
I sat there, not even pretending to pay attention to their discussion. Instead I looked around to see whether there was anything or anybody else that caught my attention. It was what was not there that made me think. The security guard had deserted his post. The three traditionally dressed Moroccan women had not returned from lunch. Only one of the men was still in the office and he looked very unhappy to be there, given the perpetual scowl on his face. Was everyone else at mosque? Did the office normally close on a Friday afternoon and was everyone present only here for our benefit?
Sara and Hafeza concluded their formalities with a smile and a handshake. Hafeza shook my hand too, out of politeness, I suppose. She walked over to the chap with the scowl, said a few words in Arabic and then retreated to her office to deal with her mound of paperwork.
Man with scowl sat there poring over paperwork and eventually came over to us, empty handed. He was very shabbily dressed; old, dirty brown jacket, dusty dark blue trousers, sweat-stained light blue shirt and well-worn black shoes, their heels almost flat. Charity shops in the UK would not accept a donation of what he was wearing. He must have been in his late twenties, was of average height, but very slender build. To my amazement he spoke English.
'Hello. My name is Mo. I am in charge of the keys for all the properties,' he started out, his face breaking in to something of a smile. He chose to shake my hand first and then Sara's. He fixed his gaze upon me, in what I was learning was the Moroccan custom. My being six foot tall, built like a rugby player and with a face for radio might also have had something to do with it.
We introduced ourselves and sat down. Sara was getting excited about being given the keys to this property that she had dreamt about and poured so much time, energy and money in to for so long.
'So, you wish to have the keys for 237?' he asked and we both nodded. I didn't know the property was 237, but it sounded good to me. The scowl had returned to Mo's face.
'You must go to London to get the keys' he said flatly.
We were stunned in to silence. You could hear a pin drop in the warehouse.
Sara started, 'Why? We are here now.' Her voice was starting to tremble a little, but I wasn't sure whether this was out of anger or frustration.
'That is the procedure,' he said matter-of-factly, scowl firmly back in place.
'I told Hafeza weeks ago that we would be here today to sign and collect the keys,' Sara said emphatically.
'We do not have the keys. Your keys are in London,' he insisted.
'But we have come all this way to sign for the property and to start furnishing it,' Sara rejoined plaintively. I knew that she could be very persuasive and this was a ruse on her part to garner sympathy in the hope it would lead to a positive outcome.
Mo was unmoved and sat there in silence.
Not for a moment did I believe that the keys were in London. It made no sense. Was there some cock-up that he was having to hide? Was there something we were not aware of? I was not going to accept having to come all this way to furnish the apartment only to be be denied doing so because they didn't have the keys. In that instant I was quite willing to kick the door in and pay a locksmith to repair the damage, rather than come back another time. I thought it was time for me to play “bad cop” to Sara's “good cop”.
I leaned forward and fixed my steeliest gaze on Mo's eyes, trying to make myself seem as large as possible, all out of a purely theatric attempt to intimidate him. In truth, my patience was now wearing thin.
'Are you telling me that you have no keys for that property over there?' I said sternly, pointing out the door towards AP6.
'You're in charge of the keys and you say you don't have any. I don't believe you. Someone, somewhere on this resort must have a key for our property,' I bellowed, trying to sound as menacing as possible.
Mo sat back in his seat, looked about the office and then said, 'I'll see what I can do,' and left us sitting there, muttering incredulity to ourselves. He scurried off to his desk, grabbed a mobile phone and went outside. I was pleased with myself that I had energised this little bald-faced liar in to action. We sat waiting for what seemed like an anxious eternity.
Mo returned followed by a much cleaner dressed chap who seemed to get his clothes from wherever G.I Joe gets his. I suppose cargo trousers and a gilet was very French too. Mo introduced his colleague as Ali.
'Ali will now help you. Please go with him,' Mo instructed from under his apparently permanent scowl. That facial expression must have been there ever since the day he was born. Instead of the delivering doctor smacking him on his backside, the doctor must have missed and hit him in the face instead.
Out of politeness we thanked Mo for his help, shaking hands with fake smiles. Ali spoke French to us as he ushered us towards the car park where he had his small, new Citroen people carrier idling. I got in the front seat and Sara in the passenger cabin. We had no idea where we were going.
Ali drove us around the resort, giving what seemed like an able commentary in French. From his gestures I discerned that he was describing what each of the barren plots would one day have built on them. Sara had to lean forward to participate in a conversation with him. We were the only thing moving about the resort. What was the point of his driving us about an empty sandy building site on a quiet Friday afternoon? I couldn't figure it out.
Eventually we arrived at what I recognised was AP6. There was a security guard at the entrance who gave us a friendly wave as we drove past him. Ali parked the vehicle and gestured to us to follow him. We walked from the parking lot along a small path, stopping outside a block of apartments that had a small sign on its side denoting “Bloc 13”. Sara's body language became more positive.
Ali reached into one of his many pockets and pulled out three keys on a keyring. He smiled and handed them to Sara. They were the keys to 237 – her apartment.
Sara gave a little jump and squeal of excitement and hurried up a flight of stairs. Ali and I briefly smiled at each other and followed her up to the first floor. She had finished fiddling with the key in the door as we came up the landing and flung the door open. We all went inside.
Standing in the passageway, before me was a large open plan dining and living room. Behind me and to my right was a reasonably-sized kitchen. To my right was a another passageway which forked off to the two bedrooms. Each bedroom had its own en-suite bathroom. The far side of the living room led on to a balcony which was also accessed from the master bedroom. The doors leading on to the large balcony from the lounge and master bedroom were large and opened inwards. I could immediately envisage sundowner drinks next to a simmering barbecue. I was impressed by the size of the apartment.
Sara was walking between the rooms doing a visual inspection. I could hear her opening and closing cupboards in the bedrooms and fiddling with tap fittings in the bathrooms. Superficially I couldn't see much wrong with the place. However, in my experience women are much more observant than men. I could see that a list of things needing fixing was growing in her head. She spoke to Ali in French about a few points and he then bade us farewell and left.
We stood in the entrance way admiring the property before us. Well I was doing the admiring.
Sara had burst in to tears.
I thought it was a sense of relief coupled with exhaustion that had taken control of her emotions. I was wrong.
'I don't like it,' she sobbed as I cuddled her. I didn't see that coming.
It was the quality of the fittings that had disappointed Sara. She had been promised luxury all round, but this had morphed in to basic finishes. The luxury granite kitchen worktop turned out to be a cheap, nasty granite. Luxurious German stainless steel taps were actually bottom of the range Spanish ones. The only appliance in the kitchen was an electric hob with oven, which was again of a cheap Spanish variant. The floor tiles throughout the property were far from high-end luxury and seemed like cheap, mass-produced, locally-sourced ones with awful floral motifs on them. The list of things that Sara didn't like was quite a lengthy one. Her expectations had been raised by agents and promotional materials. Those expectations were now collidinging dramatically with the reality of what had been delivered.
Fadesa gave the owners of a property a week to produce a “snagging” list – a collection of faults needing rectifying by the developers. They in turn, under the terms of the condition of sale, had a month to make good all the items listed.
Sara wanted to start compiling this snagging list, but I was becoming concerned about how we were going to get back to the hotel. It was now 4pm and nothing was moving on the resort. I held no hope for flagging down a taxi of any kind; I didn't even know what one looked like. I wondered if Malcolm was anywhere near. I convinced Sara that coming back another day to do the snagging was a good idea because it would take several hours and we were in effect stranded on the resort.
We decided to go for a walk around the deserted AP6, partly to inspect it and partly in the hope to find Malcolm. Outside each of the blocks of apartments there were infantile gardens that met up with newly rolled lawns that had not yet taken root. There were footpaths that led between the blocks of apartments. Every block on the resort seemed comprised of a ground floor, middle floor and top floor. Each block had three partitions or sections that were segmented by a flight of stairs. Each flight of stairs served two apartments on each floor.
At the centre of AP6 was a smallish swimming pool in the centre of a massive cement plaza. The pool occupied about a fifth of the total square. Sara looked aghast and started scratching in her handbag. She produced a Fadesa sales brochure and started flipping through it furiously.
'There! Look at that! Is that the same thing?' she thundered and pointed into the brochure.
I was looking at a picture of a much larger swimming pool that had a small perimeter of cement around its edges. The pool in the picture was so large that there was a pedestrian footbridge over the centre of it. This one before us was obviously not the same kind of swimming pool; I could almost jump across it at its narrowest point. Sara was angry and feeling cheated.
'Well, hello there,' we heard from behind us. It was Malcolm and I was relieved to see him.
'I was just finishing up in my apartment and saw you two out here. Got your keys yet?' he asked.
Sara started telling him everything that had happened to us since we had last seen each other. He tisk-tisked, seeming unsurprised by it all.
'I really don't know why they treat people like this,' is all he could say.
I asked Malcolm if he could be as kind as to give us a lift back to our hotel. Mercifully he agreed and we made our way back to his car. We were both starving and had throbbing head-aches, caused by malnutrition and a lack of sleep, with a sprinkling of stress thrown in for good measure.
Back at the hotel we decided to have a cat nap. We both needed it and I thought it might calm Sara after her disappointments of the day. No place serving food was open and rather than wait in hunger, sleep was a welcome distraction. Malcolm agreed to meet us the next day at 11am to take us furniture shopping.
Refreshed by a two hour snooze, we felt better, but even hungrier. The Ruff Hotel had a restaurant on the ground floor that Sara knew opened at 7pm. We made our way downstairs and noticed in the lobby a young, porcelain-faced European chap sitting chatting to a young Moroccan woman. Sara recognised the woman, so we went over to say hello.
As we shook hands, she introduced herself to me in perfect English as Samira. She was short and painfully slender, almost anorexic. Her deportment was that of an European lady, as was her sense of clothing style. She was wearing a long brown skirt, smart brown jacket, black blouse and dark brown leather boots. Her long black hair rolled freely down her back. Her demeanour exuded respect and friendliness. She reminded me very much of my ex-wife.
So that is how and when I first met Samira.
Sara knew Samira from having dealt with her at Fadesa on her previous visit. Samira was the English-speaking salesperson for them. She was now dealing with a client from Ireland, who introduced himself in a brogue accent as Humphrey. I was amused to think that less than thirty years ago parents in Ireland thought that Humphrey was a wonderful name for their new baby boy. I wondered if he was on speaking terms with his parents.
We let them continue their business and invited them to join us for dinner afterwards. Entering the empty restaurant, we proceeded to seat ourselves at a table. As we were starting to wonder if the restaurant was open, a portly little Moroccan chap appeared. He and Sara recognised each other (Sara is quite striking and not just in my opinion). His name was Omid and he was the maître d' and seemingly only waiter. I wondered if he was the chef too. He spoke volumes more English than I spoke French. I was impressed by the number of Moroccans I had met that day who spoke English, albeit it to varying degrees.
I seized the opportunity to have a lamb tagine with couscous in Morocco. Clichéd and touristy perhaps, but it had to be done. From my travels around the planet, I have found that exotic foods taste best in their home country. From a small wine list we ordered a bottle of Moroccan red wine. I never knew that Morocco produced wine, especially given that it was a Muslim country.
Humphrey joined us having concluded his meeting with Samira. She had decided not to join us and I didn't blame her. I could only imagine that she was tired of late nights with foreigners who were only interested in picking her brain. The Irishman ordered a Moroccan beer and I joined him out of curiosity. Morocco was starting to feel like a secular Muslim country like Turkey, given its liberal attitude toward alcohol.
We sat exchanging tales of how it came to be that we three came to be in the same hotel at the same time. Humphrey had put down a deposit with Fadesa for a top floor apartment on AP4 that was described as a penthouse in the sales literature. It was the same as Sara's apartment, except that it had a roof terrace, which made it more attractive and valuable. Consequently it cost more than the apartments beneath it. The issue that Humphrey had was that he no longer believed that the resort would succeed. He had thus far paid the equivalent of a quarter of the property's full price. The property was now ready for handover, hence his being in town, but he did not wish to proceed. In terms of the contract with Fadesa, in such an instance, the buyer would be entitled to a refund less 25% of the mnoies they had paid. This is what he had been discussing with Samira; he wanted 75% of his money back.
That might also explain why Samira didn't join us for dinner. She was expecting to complete on a property, which probably resulted in a commission for her. Instead she got a refund request. She couldn't have been happy about this and didn't want to waste any more time. Would you?
Omid arrived with our food and he was perspiring profusely. Perhaps he was the chef after all? The meal that he delivered and perhaps produced could not be faulted. Everything tasted freshly prepared and the portions were adequate, even for our ravenous appetites. My lamb was succulent and Sara was happy with her fish. The wine and beer was of acceptable quality, but not as good as their South African equivalents, which I regard as the best in the world. My having spent the first 24 years of my life in South Africa might have something to do with this point of view.
We made small talk with Humphrey as we ate and drank. He was a communications manager for a household-name Dutch electronics company. Living and working in Holland, he chose to invest in a Moroccan property rather than in what he considered an overheated property market in his native Ireland. He was in his late twenties and seemed a sensible chap. I asked him what his misgivings about the resort were and his answers were somewhat vague. I wondered whether his job situation was becoming insecure or whether he had over-extended himself financially.
Fatigue was returning and the conversation was growing stale, so I asked for the bill. When it arrived I was surprised and disappointed to see that per person it worked out to be almost as much as it would in London. I was expecting Morocco, very much a Third World country, to be cheaper. Hotel restaurant meals the world over tend to be more expensive, so I swore to myself that our future meals in Morocco would be at the small family-owned eateries. Spreading our tourist Dirhams around would be a good thing to do.
We bade Humphrey farewell and returned reluctantly to our dingy hotel room. Having a shower was an uncomfortable affair and I felt grubbier afterwards than before. I can only imagine clean-freak Sara's feelings about it. We were both hoping that Malcolm's property on the resort would be available to us the next day. The Ruff Hotel was bad value for money.