Yesterday I found the best 3 tour guides in town. No, they weren’t the touts that surrounded me shouting in 3 different languages and tugging me in 12 different directions the second I stepped out of the grand taxi from Tiznit. They were a rag-tag group of stray dogs that led me around the Berber beach town of Mirleft for over 2 hours.
We met outside my hotel, Hotel Atlas, the cleanest, cutest and most well equipped of my trip thus far (hot water, flushing toilets AND toilet paper—hot damn!). The leader, a German Sheppard looking female with a mangled hind leg and a black patch of furless scar tissue, greeted me as joyously as an old friend. I politely explained that I didn’t have any food, but she didn’t seem to mind. I’m not as worn out by the street dogs as everyone else in town is; I didn’t shoo them away, just kind of smiled and kept walking down the dirt main road toward the beach.
The dog immediately took the role of loyal and ardent defender, barking and growling at every scooter and donkey that passed, as well as a couple old men and frightened schoolgirls. I smiled and shrugged at them; we exchanged chuckles.
Along our pebbled-path way, we picked up a couple other boney-ribbed dogs who displayed proper supplication to the leader. I didn’t know where I was going other than coastward; Mirleft is too small to warrant a map in my guidebook. So the dogs would trot off ahead of me, sniffing through refuse and gnawing on plastic bottles. When we’d reach a crossroads, they’d pause and wait for me to catch up before continuing waggingily along whatever way they thought was best. Who was I not to follow? They knew the town better than me, and I was grateful for the speechless company.
They led me down a steep flight of cliffside stairs into a cove of jagged rocks and gleaming sand. Shirtless local boys were playing afternoon soccer and a couple tourists sat out on blankets. My guides dashed off to leap in the waves; I rolled up my jeans and waded behind them.
I wanted to tip them—I certainly would be expected to if they were people—but thought they’d be terribly uninterested in my pocket full of coins. I rustled some stale crackers out of my bag, and they chewed them gratefully. I sat in the sand and watched them trot off, skinny and mangled and more-or-less happy.