High Times with Bubba the Arab Chapter 23

 

          Morocco at that time was literally like stepping back into Biblical times. Crossing into Spain from the rest of Europe was like going back into time hundreds of years. This was like going back a thousand. Tetuan is in the desert by the Mediterranean. They manage to grow food with irrigation. At that time, it was all agriculture and crafts and Islam. We saw only men. Women, if they were out at all, were covered in burkas. The road was good with little traffic because there were few vehicles. The air was clean. It was still hot as we pulled into Tetuan in the late afternoon; people resting inside waiting for evening. It was a very quiet place, a small town with a beautiful center square, palm trees and, on the buildings, mosaic tiles.

          We heard the call to prayer from the minaret as we circled the zocalo, the main plaza, and looked for a place to park the Triumph so we could walk around. No sooner had I killed the engine and dropped the kickstand than there were a couple of young boys telling us where to spend the night and where to park the motorcycle safely. They had a garage for the motorcycle and a good, cheap rooming house for us. We got into our room and put our feet up, happy to be off the road for a while. No more than five minutes later there was a knock on the door.

          Striding into the room was a big, rugged-looking Arab with a Fez cap on his head. It was scary. He was about Sebastiano’s age and, like Sebastiano, he had a very commanding presence. We didn’t know what was going to happen. Then he said, in perfect hipster talk, “Whoa babies, be cool. I’m the cat in this town. Everything’s gonna to be fine. Take it easy man.” This was so unexpected it totally stopped our minds. His name was Abid but he liked to be called “Bubba.” He had lived in New York for ten years and knew everything about Greenwich Village and the hip scene there.  

          He put us at ease because what he communicated more than anything was how happy he was that we had come into his territory. He knew our purpose and so did everyone else in the town just by looking at us riding in on that motorcycle. He said he could help us. He did so immediately by pulling out a couple of big joints of kief and lighting them up on the spot, giggling all the time. We sucked down that mysterious smoke like a couple of vacuum cleaners. It wasn’t long before reality started to warp in a very pleasant way. All the sounds and colors and the light from the window and the breeze with its African spice came forward and the mind’s chatter drifted into the background.

          The next few days were time out of time. “Bubba” had a car and a driver to take us around to meet his friends and see the sights. For me to be able to sink back in the seats as a passenger and watch the scenery passing by as the sun began to set was a luxury after the stress of the motorcycle journey. We trusted the situation and felt we were with kindred spirits. The kief heightened every sense and pushed the exotic to a further level of wonder. We drove around and out of town to the beach where Bubba brought us to a teahouse. He knew everyone there and we were greeted warmly. They served us sugary mint tea and, as we sat at the simple wooden tables and looked out at the beach through the open sides of the building, men would come up to our table just to say “Welcome, thank you for being here.”

          As the sun set, we smoked more kief and listened to Moroccan music on the radio. We walked out on the huge expanse of unspoiled beach to see the sun sink into the Mediterranean. He took us then to a place to eat couscous and later to another gathering place where, once again, there were only men. And, once again, they greeted us with warmth and friendliness and offered us hashish and other kinds of hashish candy.

The Midnight Express Chapter 22 part 1

          Sebastiano was a good guy to travel with. Around me he didn’t display that crazy, manic side we saw so often back at the Plaza de Santa Ana. He knew I liked him for who he was and he didn’t have to be anything else. Lots of times people in restaurants would think we were father and son even though genetically we were very different. He would say with force, “No, somos companeros!” For a young man out on his own for the first time it was a nice, protected feeling being with him, like having a father who was also a buddy or a strong big brother. With my command of the language and his intimidating fearlessness we managed very well together.

          The boat to Morocco sailed from Algeciras across the straits of Gibraltar to Ceuta, which is a little postage-stamp piece of territory in Africa belonging to Spain. The sun blazed. Objects cast impenetrable black shadows as in De Chirico’s paintings. On the boat we could feel the heat coming out of Africa and the Mediterranean sparkled its special cerulean blue light. A breeze softened the heat. Every variegated shape of fair-weather cumulus cloud moved across the blue sky. A group of foreign legionnaires smoked on deck and talked together, rough, virile men, their shirts open to give their chest hair freedom and all of them looking like they were ready to kill.

          Our plan was to go to Tetuan and buy kief, which is what they call pot there, and then go to Tangiers and take the boat back to Algeciras from there. The reason for not going straight back was that we had heard that the pot sellers turn around and inform on you. That way they get their pot back or some kind of kickback. This kind of information made me aware that we didn’t exactly know what we were doing.

          Marijuana was hardly known in those days except to a small group of beatniks, musicians and actors. I knew enough not to be afraid of it because, back home in Pelham, Felix said it was good medicine. Felix later made a lot of money and a lot of good music with a group called “The Rascals.” He had gotten some pot from the jazz master of the organ, Jimmy Smith. But the rest of us couldn’t get any. And now I was going to find out about it in the most exotic place possible.

A Very Close Call Chapter 21

 

          Just about the time we were out of the mountains and going through the last series of downhill turns we came to a short tunnel about two or three hundred feet long. This was ordinarily not a big deal except that it was black as coal in that tunnel. I can’t remember if I turned on the Triumph’s big chrome light or not. It wouldn’t have done much good anyway because the contrast between the intense Spanish sun and the black of the tunnel was too much for the eye. But the road had been good so there was no concern until, in the middle of that black tunnel, we hit a hole that almost spoiled everything.

          From high off my seat somewhere in space I struggled to keep the front fork from going out of control. Sebastiano went so far up in the air that only one of his hands was able to touch the top of my helmet. It was like a circus act. Somehow the motorcycle kept going and we literally fell out of space and back into position. We pulled over on the other side of the tunnel and took stock of ourselves. I was sure the motorcycle had a wrecked front wheel but it was okay. And after a few minutes of nervous congratulations, we were on the road again, very grateful and a little wiser about the traps the road can set. After that, I think we felt like we could travel around the world like this and be all right. We descended from the mountains and saw Granada in the distance. The aroma of gardenias and all the flowers of the Alhambra rose up to meet us on the hot afternoon air.

          Now we were getting close to the Mediterranean and our destination on the straits of Gibraltar. The next day, late afternoon, we got to Algeciras, found a small hotel, and started walking everywhere, way out on the breakwater where the boats were coming in and around the big horseshoe walk along the ocean that every town of this type seems to have. But Algeciras was different in other ways.

          The Moors were in Spain for seven hundred years and controlled all of Andalusia. Their influence could be seen everywhere. Here in Algeciras, they were still in control and the place had a mysterious and distinctly Muslim feel to it. Mosaic tile work decorated the small hotels and restaurants and, in the cafes, there were dark men with sunglasses reading papers and waiting for messages or to meet somebody. People spoke Arabic as much as Spanish. The kitchen smells were different, cumin and coriander and fennel instead of garlic and olive oil. We knew we were entering a different world.

On the Road South Chapter 20

 

          On a cool early morning in June, we climbed on the Triumph and headed out of town getting a feeling for how this was going to go and how the bike would handle. A motorcycle is much different to drive and to brake with two big people on it. But it worked great. Sebastiano never complained. I pulled over when I was tired and we would get something to eat or drink.           We spent the nights in cheap places and at one point had to spend an extra night because something went wrong with the bike. In Spain, you don’t have to look far to find someone who can fix your motorcycle. It was soon on the road better than ever.

          Spain was poor in those days and the road was peaceful, not much traffic. Some of the road was very good and other parts full of holes. It was tricky sometimes. We cruised down into Andalusia, the southern region that produces lots of olive oil. The olive trees were in bloom and the smell of rich olive oil stored in casks everywhere permeated everything. We cruised through miles and miles of orchards and small towns totally involved with the trees and the fruit. The smell was intoxicating in the clean hot air. Everything was low-tech agriculture in harmony with the land. These towns and their olive groves had been like this for centuries.

          We stopped to eat at little houses, private homes sometimes, and would take whatever they had. One time we had a dozen eggs drenched in olive oil with sliced, salted tomatoes in oil too, on the side. With good homemade bread it made a great meal. Another time a woman came out holding a rabbit by its ears and twenty minutes later we were looking at it on the plate. And that’s how we rolled along at that magical time of year when the countryside seemed from another age and its people tied firmly to their roots deep in the land.

          There’s a range of mountains, La Sierra Morena, in the south of Spain. You have to cross it to get to Granada and Algeciras where the boat to Morocco is docked. The road is steep and winding with one hairpin turn after another going up and then down again. It’s exhausting on a motorcycle where one needs to find the line around the turns with good accuracy. And it’s especially tough coming down the mountains with two people aboard because of inertia and gravity. With a motorcycle it’s about gearing down and using the brakes as little as possible and judging the turns, one after another.