I just finished reading this glorious travel book,
By Bus to the Sahara
by Gordon West, written in the 1930s.
Gordon West dedicates this book
''TO MY WIFE The Spirit of Joy,
paves the rough tracks
Diamonds in Dustheaps.''
He refers to his wife throughout the book as 'The Spirit' and his dedication to her shines throughout the pages. They both have a beauty in the way they travel and see the fascinating country of Morocco: journeying by bus (to the surprise of many they meet.)
The humour that lives through them translates right from the beginning, with the tale of how The Spirit finds inspiration to travel 'By Bus to the Sahara' one morning while eating a grapefruit: a very powerful fruit as it turns out.
Morocco in the 30s is in some ways a very different place to today, as the North was owned by the Spanish, and the much larger Southern section by the French. There is much talk of how the French forced the warring tribes to stop raiding each other, and so the Berbers have made peace with their conquerors.
Something fascinating I never knew about the Berbers- they have their roots in Celtic lineages, and so these nomadic tribes living in the desert are light-skinned, blonde or orange haired, and blue or green eyed! During my own visits to Morocco, the Berbers I met were all dark-skinned, -haired and -eyed, but these are apparently the result of mixed race breeding.
The couple meet many soldiers from the Legion, a branch of the army that was there to keep the little-disturbed peace. The Legion was clearly looked down upon at the time, and their narratives about why the men signed up and what life was like for them is told with such objective empathy that I found it quite tear-jerking on occasion!
The adventures they had! They fell in love with Rabat, and returned later for a Sultan's extravaganza; reveled at the incredible feats of entertainment in the market squares, including a man casually chewing glass; got roped into a shop by an ancestor of the Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and pressured to spend a lot of money (who hasn't?); stayed in various levels of luxury (or not) hotels.
They watched a man trying to wrestle a huge goat on top of a bus; went to dinner in the houses of many hospitable people, including one time via donkey; (The Spirit) painted many scenes and people, and became the centre of attention in pretty much every place they went to; took many bus journeys, uneventful and otherwise, including a hair-raising trip through the Atlas mountains for 4 hours round 300 hairpin bends, in a bus that broke down numerous times!
Throughout the whole adventure these beautiful characters were generous, open, and cheerful: laughing at every mishap and taking in every moment with awe and wonder. They are an example to every would-be traveller. A great book to read from the comfort of one's own home, or while 'on-the-road'! Of course being me I couldn't help fantasising about following in their footsteps one day, and seeing how different would be now to travel 'By Bus to the Sahara'.
Gordon West, born in 1896, was a liberal journalist who wrote for many British newspapers, was a member of the Placenames Society of Great Britain, and wrote other books including books about smoking pipes, and another travel book Jogging Round Majorca.
The Spirit made many paintings which I would love to see... I have googled 'Mary Gordon West' (the name with which she signed her paintings) and have had no luck finding them... any suggestions how to find them greatly appreciated! Please comment below...