On a wide stretch of empty beach a few miles south of Essaouira in Morocco, a woman does yoga facing the sea, a warm breeze lifting her hair behind her as she slowly lowers herself on one leg. She is at peace, until a column of nine quads race down the shore, pulverizing sand and belching smoke as they pass.
This sudden invasion seems both shocking and a little dismissive, especially from my perspective: I’m driving the fourth quad in line.
But I have little choice. Rule 3 of the seven quad bike safety rules featured in the video we watched before we went was Always Ride Single File; I have to go wherever the quad goes in front of me. Rule 7 was Respect Nature, which remains at this stage a policy in search of an opportunity.
Either way, if that sounds disrespectful, it can’t be uncommon: we’re following in the footsteps of other quad tours. We won’t be the first the woman has seen today.
A few miles later, we stop for a break, taking off our helmets and hairnets—four old men and their adult children—to reflect on the experience so far.
“Have you seen the yoga lady?” I say.
“Yeah,” said another dad. “Have you seen the dead dolphin?
“No,” I say. “How did I miss that?”
On the way back through the dunes, our quad instructor stops the procession to steer a baby turtle out of our way. I think: Rule 7 – tick.
At the turn of the year, this quad vacation expedition marks an early start on a vague, unofficial resolution on my part: Say no to a little less. But I’m not sure I’m picking all the right things, or even none of the right things.
For example, I always refuse to haggle. I consider this to be a moral position, for I have reached an age where mere aversion can take on the mantle of principle. In fact, I’m just mortified by it. Very early on, I decided not to buy anything.
On the third day of vacation, we go as a family to the fish shacks near the harbor for lunch, where representatives of a dozen owners enthusiastically argue over our custom. The attention is overwhelming; the moment I was summoned to a table and chose fish, I was embarrassed.
“How much does it cost?” says my wife when I come back from the slab. I make the mistake of telling him.
“You’re kidding,” she said. “Why didn’t you bargain?” »
“I never haggle,” I say.
“Ugh!” she says. Disgusted, she leaves, leaving me with my three sons. We look at each other for a bit.
“If I’m honest, I would have paid more,” I said.
After lunch, I wander the medina in silent rage, stalked by a man who really, really wants to shine my shoes.
“No, thank you,” I say, though looking down at my feet I can see why he’s so excited.
I know what it’s like to suffer from a stupid, ineffectual husband—because I’ve been told that many times before—but I don’t think storming off is an appropriate response to my accidental debauchery. On the contrary, it made the price per head more expensive.
“And even with that, it was still like 11 pounds each,” I say later, once my wife and I are talking again.
“I know,” she said. “I was actually just scared of all those dead fish,” she says. “I lost my appetite.”
“The sea bream was excellent,” I said.
It has become our holiday habit to meet each evening on the small terrace on the roof of the riad where we are staying to watch the sun go down, but at the appointed time I find myself alone up there. My wife is sleeping; my children have gone somewhere, competing for prizes in a traditional way and with mutual respect.
The sky is deep blue. Gulls twirl among the chimney pots. Just outside the walls of the medina, drums are being beaten. On the neighboring roof sits a black and white dog looking at me.
“Nice evening for him,” I said. The dog stares.
“Yeah, whatever,” I said. The dog and I both turn to face the sea.
I watch the sun grow and slowly sink into the water, flashing below the horizon. A moment later, the call to prayer begins, echoing round and round. The dog stands up, raises its head and howls with the muezzin. If that sounds a little disrespectful, it’s also pretty common. This dog does the same thing five times a day, every day.