The Spanish mosque sits atop a hill, next to Ras el’Ma river which is used by the local women as a carpet laundry. It is about a 30-40 minutes trek from the medina. The mosque itself is abandoned and not used for prayers, but it serves as a very good vantage point to admire the views of the city and its surroundings.
Just before sun set on my way back from the Spanish masjid to the medina I stopped near an unmarked trail head, that veered off betwteen two adjacent ridges, with a steep ascent leading into Talassemtane National Park. Waiting there and thinking whether it would be a suitable hike in my joggers, I noticed a flurry of local men who would follow that trail and disappear for 10/15 minutes high up into a bushy patch only to reemerge a few mins later to head back to the city.
Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to follow the same track. Soon I heard a shout from further up ahead as a man emerged from the thicket, waved at me and screamed something in Arabic. With my exceptionally primitive vocabulary I couldn’t make out what he was saying and decided to continue. A few minutes later another guy who was making his way behind me caught up and asked where I was headed in a mix of English and Arabic.
He wanted to know if I was interested in buying hashish, cocaine or heroine ? I told him I was only here for a hike and wasn’t interested in either. In our combined English/Arabic we exchanged a few more sentences and he asked me where I was from. I told him Pakistan, at which his grin turned into a big smile and said that the heroine the guy up top was selling was from Pakistan! Not feeling particularly proud about it, I told him it must be Afghanistan that he is confusing it with, but he sounded adamant that it came from Pakistan. Not wanting to curb his excitement any further, I let it rest with the thought that it’s probably smuggled from Afghanistan into Pakistan from where it makes its way to North Africa, and decided to steer clear of the busy patch for which one had to veer off the trail.
Continuing ahead the view got better and better as I climbed higher. Another 15 mins into the hike I ran into a group of teenagers with their tshirt tied around their heads sitting inside a mini cave heating up something. They weren’t very pleased at seeing me either and shouted something in Arabic at which I responded with a salam and continued my ascent to find a good spot to sit and admire the view.
After a while when I came down, a guy sitting close to the start of the trail who spoke perfect English, noticing that I wasn’t a local asked me what I was doing up there and that it wasn’t a good place to venture into. According to him everyone knew about the drug dealing but as long as the activity was outside the city the authorities turned a blind eye to it; And that if I had ventured further on I would have come to big hashish plantations..a part of the National Park to explore on my next trip perhaps..