Some photos are now up on my Flikr site – follow the link on the left.
Getting up at 3am is never a good thing. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing. I didn’t expect this early start to be any different – but it was. It was worse. Because I was so excited about going I couldn’t sleep and didn’t get my zzz’s working until about midnight. Not a good morning. Add to that an early morning grumpy cat-beast who could tell something fishy was going on and insisted on attacking my still-sleeping naked feet on the staircase… it was almost a cat-astrophe. It was definitely loud.
Christine picked me up at 4am and twas about a 40min drive to Luton Airport. I love 4am non-existant traffic! Check-in was a breeze, thanks to speedy online services, and we sauntered down to the gate and were the second group to board. I love travelling with hand-luggage only! I remember being cold and bored on the flight over. I remember an incredibly irritatingly loud american voice behind my seat. I remember getting that first sight of the African coast, and being surprised by the red-ness of the earth.
I remember circling a city surrounded by fields and fields of olive trees, and coloured with the red ochre from the ground to a delicate pink. I remember looking at the architecture and thinking “Greece, but pink.” Landing, seeing date palms next to the airstrip, and the half a mile walk to the arrivals hall where we stood in a queue for 10mins only to discover that the Ryanair hosties had it wrong and we had to fill out an arrivals card. Fill out card. Back in queue for another 20mins to be rewarded with a not very impressive passport stamp. Bit of a let-down really ;) Outside, into lovely balmy 20+deg. Finding a taxi, the driver had to check he knew where we were going, agreed a price, and then the taxi hurtled off (and I mean hurtled).
I’ve done some thinking on this, and I believe there to be a ‘road chaos’ gene. Most Asian countries have it, the French and Greek have it, the Italians have it – and the Moroccan’s have it. On the roads were bicycles, little two-stroke powered bikes ridden at high speed and no regard for anyone else by mad Moroccans not wearing helmets, donkey led carts, horse led carts, cars, buses, trucks. There was a very basic lane system which was totally disregarded, including the lines indicating direction of travel. Travelling in a Moroccan taxi is a white-knuckle, hang-on-for-dear-life, shut-your-eyes-and-pray-to-your-chosen-god kind of affair. Oh, and just to expand the fun, Moroccan taxis have no seat belts.
So, we’re zooming along in this taxi, the driver is yammering away in french and we’re smiling and nodding and making appropriate ‘oh!’ noises to his commentary, whilst trying not to panic about his driving. He’s giving us a little tour, that’s the palace, that’s the Berber market… He turns down a side street, very narrow, and starts having trouble with other cars/bikes/donkeys/pedestrians in the way. Takes a few minutes to get down this street, which appears to be a dead end. A young lad stops by the car window and chats to the driver for a minute. Driver turns to us and says, “You go with him!”. We climb out of the car into a sea of humanity, donkey-anity and assorted aromas, getting curious stares from onlookers and passers by. The lad leads us down a pedestrian laneway, perhaps 4 persons wide, closely surrounded by 3 story buildings and dim from lack of sunlight. Around 2 corners. 3 corners. Past a mosque and a few ‘window-in-a-wall’ type shops. Christine turns to me and says, “Don’t worry, he’s only little – we could take him!”. Heading into another dead end he stops and knocks on an ornate door which opens, with big smiles of welcome, into this…
Much relief, and a big tip for the lad (since we’d only just got money and had nothing small!). Fantastic!
Sat in the rooftop terrace and had some tea whilst waiting for our room to be ready. An hour later, we’re still sitting there. The sun was lovely and we were getting good info from one of the other guests, but I went down to see what the story was because I wanted to get out amongst it and we had to dump our bags first. I found the lass who spoke the best English, and she directed me to a room with one lonely double bed in it. Christine and I are friends, but we aren’t that close. I protested, stated that we’d requested a twin room, and after much hoo-haa we were given our own double room each! WhooHoo! So dumped the bags, or more accurately the contents of the bags, and then hit the town.
I’ve never been in such an aromatic place. Not only the normal smells (rubbish, rotting food, air pollution, water, oil, BO etc) but animal smells, spices, perfumes, food.. Crossing the roads was a terrifying experience – thanks to our lack of the ‘road chaos’ gene. We quickly discovered the trick of tagging a local and headed up into the big square, Djemba El Fna. Sort of a triangular shape and with mosques on all sides, the Djemba is a bit of a mixed bag. During the day it held stalls selling fresh oranges and orange juice (being a moslem country, no alcohol available in public), fruit and nuts, plants, sweets etc. There are men on the square with tame monkeys, snake charmers with cobras (which we stayed well the hell away from!) and musicians. There are women selling dodgy hats (including one with a beanie with dreadlocks attached – wrong country for that, dear!) , and henna tatoos. These women were relentless. They’d snatch up your hand, despite your saying no, to “give you a gift”. They’d put their freaky design on your hand then demand money for it. Christine got caught. I was scarier than Christine I think, and she didn’t try to get my hand again once I’d snatched it away and given her the look. We wiped it off Christine’s hand within a minute, but she still had a dodgy orange stain on her hand for a day or so.
We started wandering the souks and pondering the best way to deal with the persistent and terminally irritating souk-men. I’ve got a theory. I think it’s quite a good theory, but Christine didn’t seem to agree. There are so many shops in the souks, so many alleyways and passages that don’t get a lot of foot traffic, that making a sale might be all important. So they’re pushy. They’re rude. They’re persistent and in your face. This, of course, makes you want to move on as fast as possible, so you don’t really look at their products, so you don’t really buy anything. If they’d just shut up and leave you alone to browse I’m sure they’d make more sales. And they want you to know that they recognise your tourist status, so we were continually met with cries of “You English?! Fish and Chips!” or “Just looking!” They didn’t seem to know what just looking meant. Or, if I said I was Aussie, “Ah! Kangaroo! Koala!”.
Christine was being too nice – British politeness is not the way to deal with these people. You have to say no and mean it. Case in point – the jewellery man. We were walking happily and peacefully when accosted by this older guy in a robe who wanted to take us to his brother’s jewellery store. Ok, fine. Got there, and the brother started pushing these lovely malachite beads onto Christine’s neck. Tells her the price. She does her mental conversion and puts her decimal point in entirely the wrong place, making a £140 necklace only £14! She gets excited and says yes, making the guy excited. I checked that she was really going to buy a £140 necklace and she was shocked! She tried to talk her way out of it, but the guy just wouldn’t let her leave. Kept pushing and pushing and asking for less and less money – but the whole thing really left a bad taste in our mouths. The really scary thing was that he, and his brother, followed us up the souk still shouting prices at us. And when we walked past his souk the next day, he came rushing out with the necklace and trying to force us to take it.. That is the scary stuff, mate.
And Christine was a BIG hit! Travelling to Morocco with a busty, blue eyed blonde means you get almost no attention! Everyone wanted to talk to her, and once they clicked on her ring finger and discovered she was husband-less the games were really on! Halfway through the first day I was being offered 50,000 camels for her. By the end of the first day it was up to a million camels. I could have made a fortune! I tried to talk her into it, “Couldn’t you do a harem for 6 months or so? The other girls would help you escape, cause they wouldn’t like you having all the attention! What you you think? Full room and board in a Moroccan mansion for 6 months?” But she wasn’t going for it. Kinda glad. I’d miss her, and my garden’s not big enough to house a million camels ;)