I’m following a man, wearing a giant coat – at night; In a strange country toward a 1980’s style Merc. It was all banged up and rough looking. Hasan opened the boot for me to load in my bags, slightly nervous still, i couldn’t help thinking “I could fit in there”. I went to the wrong side of this ‘left hand-drive’ death trap. After an awkward chuckle I got in and reached for a seat belt. Hasan laughed at me – no seat belt. I laughed. I Looked at the wedged in planks of wood where dashboard instruments usually are. I laughed again.
Driving down a main highway, flanked by motorcyclists, cyclists and push-carts. One guy on a motorbike looked casual. He had a bit of an “Ice cube” look on his face – dressed in the Muslim gear; no helmet, leaning back. We came to the old town. The old town is guarded by a massive walled entrance – then it was chaos. People on motorbikes everywhere, donkeys, cars forcing their way through “intersections”. Tiny streets shaded by bamboo awnings. Smoked-out café’s heaving with people (all men). More casual motorcycle passengers. I saw an old woman in a headscarf, hands in pockets, leaning back as if there wasn’t a road zooming beneath her. There were drunks too, swaying in the streets in front of the taxi.
When something at home is a bit odd or different I try to take a photo, then I talk about it with the first person I see. Here, it is one odd thing after another. photos are not enough.
The whole scene was swarming and mental, I barely blinked for fear of missing something. Hasan pulled up in a dark street that split off from the chaos. I got out, he asked for payment; Then lead me, winding through arched ally-ways and to my hostel.
I left my Riad, about 9am – I avoided the Hostel breakfast (typical anti-social behaviour that I should really stop). Walking through the unfamiliar streets – pink plastered buildings with narrow walkways. Motorbike riders speeding past me, stray cats plodding along. I tend to get lost in every new city I visit. Now, I do it on purpose.
I’ve been walking around for 15 minutes, without any real change in scenery. A man (in the full ‘dresser-gown with a hood thing’ the Moroccan men wear) appears from the corner
“salut, tu es perdu” He says, with some sort of hand gesture
“you speak english,
are you from U K?”
Feeling relieved by the collapsed language barrier, I tell him “No, actually, New Zealand”
“New Zealand? very far away!”
Great, this guy might be able to help,
“Do you know where the main square is?”
“yes, follow me”
This was a mistake. My new friend led me to store after store. Turban-wearing Jewelers, basements of carpet shops. I was laughing, trying to convey my absolute disinterest in carpet. He showed me different mosques. Every time I would re-ask the first question (do you know where the main square is?) he would lead me to ANOTHER store. I ended up firmly telling him no, paying him (the whole point, obviously) and finding my own way there.
Monkeys on leashes, hawks too. Snake charmers (or prodders, if you watch closely enough) African musicians making a right racket. Everybody is after you as you walk through. Offering taxis, horse and cart rides, leather bags, oranges. It’s very overwhelming. At night the square is blanketed in steam from the Tagine meals prepared in pop-up marquees. Surrounded by mosque’s that amplify the calls to prayer towards the bustling tourists and vendors below. The atmosphere is incredible, and exhausting.
I read a lot of guides and first hand reports of Marrakech. not even one came close to describing the intensity of this place. I knew this after a 10 minute taxi ride. So either all the writers were as crap as I am, or this place can only be experienced – and with every functioning sense you have.
The sound, the smells, the urgency of everyone in front of you. The somewhat ‘back-in-time’ surroundings – Occasionally sprinkled with signals of the modern world (namely: shitty cars and coca-cola signs).
I have squeezed a fair amount of countries into the last year of travel; but they have all been Western ones. Civilised cities that I can easily adapt to. Marrakech shook me up. I am typing this in the airport, a little sorry to be leaving. Over the last few days the city has been getting to me. I thought my departure couldn’t come soon enough.
I think I have accepted Maarakech and all it’s madnes; Now a small part of me wants to ditch my flight and stay. But then again, this is a country where the average Moroccan earns 5k per year.
The King is worth 2.5billion. His portrait was in EVERY building I visited. Even in desert mud huts. If you insult the King of Morocco in ANY way you can be imprisoned for “violating the sacred values” of the kingdom.
I took a photo of a palace in the old town. An armed guard headed straight for me and made me delete it (with a counterfeit smile on his face)
In the UK I can call David Cameron a cunt without fear of imprisonment. That freedom should be celebrated.