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Four Sinners Search for a Birthday Beer

The headline says it all.

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“In WATERMELON SUGAR the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar. I’ll tell you about it because I am here and you are distant.

“Wherever you are, we must do the best we can. It is so far to travel, and we have nothing here to travel, except watermelon sugar. I hope this works out.”

-Richard Brautigan, In Watermelon Sugar

Richard Brautigan killed himself. I suppose he really knew how to feel. I now know that the humor of his writing was for real. That he really felt it. Those who can feel happiness can feel despair. I want to surround myself with these people. People who have the ability to really feel life.

People like Stubbs, Mira, and Erik. Anyway, thanks for the book, Stubbs.

So I grew weary of Fes. No, I needed to get out of Fes. I was going to stay there and study a little French and Arabic for a couple weeks. In fact, I even arranged it all. But I had to run away at the last minute. I needed to get out of that somewhat miserable city. So I moved on to another somewhat miserable city- Meknes, an hour to the west.

I ran out of the Youth Hostel in Fes with Masa and we made quick way to the train station. A short nap on the train and we were in Meknes. The Belgian girls were on the train as well, and our group of four was on to new adventures. As we walked to the Youth Hostel, our moods were high and the Belgian girls taught Masa and I a song that they sing in Belgium. It went something like:

“We’re almost there, we’re almost there, but- not- quite- yet.”

We all sung this little song on our walk into the outskirts of Meknes, high above the dried up river bed that separates the old city from the new. The sky was a deep bright blue and the medina across the river seemed to sing along with us. We were a happy goup of travelling kids, just roaming and singing away in the beautiful day. The locals seemed to think us a touch cracked.

Beer. We decided that we all would really enjoy a drink that night, and that we would find one by hook or by crook. It was one of the Belgian girl’s 21st birthday. How could we not comply with our cultural celebrations? It was her birthday, we needed to celebrate it like us Westerners celebrate birthdays. It sounded like a little adventure to me, so we set out with this mission and scoured the city. It was a mission in every sense, as alcohol is especially prohibited during Ramadan and all of the bars are closed. So the crazy Belgian girls spoke French and would rush into restaurants and loudly ask for beer. The waiters would look at them as if we were heathen and tell us to search elsewhere. All the bars were closed for Ramadan. Where would we go?

So, for some reason, Masa’s little Japanese guidebook had an obscure convenient store listed that had a few bottles of beer for sale. We searched out this little hole- in- the- wall joint and found that steel bars blocked out entry. It was closed, but we noticed through the window a beverage refrigerator in the back that the had Heineken logo above it. We rapped at the bars and clawed at the windows but there was no denying it- the store was closed. But we did not give up.

There was still one more option: The Hotel Transatlantic. This is a five-star hotel in the outskirts of Meknes right next to the Youth Hostel. Did we want beer bad enough to go into a snooty five-star colonial hotel that sat on a hill with a wonderful view of the night time old city? It was one of the Belgian girl’s birthday, so we needed to celebrate. Little did we know earlier in the day that we would celebrate her birthday in such style.

So we mounted the hill and took off towards the Hotel Transatlantic. We soon arrived at the front gate and the boulevard that boldly lead the way to the carved marble entranceway. The boulevard was lined with tall trees, flowers, and the flags of the most prominent nations of the world (Belgium was not represented, of course, and Masa and I made a good joke of it). We walked down this imperial way and caught the stray glare of the guard at the door. He did not say anything to us, but seemed to feel uncomfortable that such low-class people were entering his hotel. But our skins are white- the sad international passport to all things extravagant- and he could not argue that. So we passed through the large glass doors unimpeded, making loud jokes and a general scene all the while. Could we search for beer in any other way?

We then walked right up to the counter with the French speaking Belgian girls leading the way. “Where can we find beer,” they asked. The primmed and puffed little receptionist just wryly pointed to the back patio. So that is where we went.

There was a big in-ground swimming pool back there, a nice little garden, a wonderful view of the night time old city, and rich people who seemed to be nearly as alive as the swimming pool. We took our seats in big fluffy wicker chairs around a rectangular glass end table and ordered, finally, beer. The waiter nodded, wrote out a receipt, and dollied off to fetch our drinks. Our journey had come to an end. We were soon sitting in the back patio of the most prominent hotel in Meknes, over looking the old city, and drinking little baby sized, 250 ml, beers that we paid 25 Dirham (three dollars) a piece for. We celebrated the Belgian girl’s birthday in style, but if I had known that I would end up in such a condition I would have . . . . . . . done it anyway.

The rich people were still as animate as the lawn ornaments.


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Filed under: Friends, Humor, Morocco, Travel Diary, Travel Inspiration

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3715 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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