Well today’s post is a no-brainer. What new and exciting thing am I going to write about today? What have I done today that I can conceivably describe as something I have never done before??
HOW ‘BOUT VISITING FREAKIN’ MARRAKECH, EH?
Yep. Today, Liz and I headed to Morocco, for my very first taste of the African continent (as a side note, I now only need to visit Antartica and I will have visited all the continents on earth. Liz has already beaten me, which I am only slightly sour about).
From the moment the North Atlantic Ocean disappeared, I could tell this was going to be a very different experience to anything I have had recently. Hell, anything I had ever had ever. I don’t go to hot places usually. I don’t *do* desert. A long time ago I decided mountains and snow were the most beautiful thing in the entire world and I spent the next 12 years of my adult life seeking out the most mountainous and the most snowy of all places to take myself. Norway. Alaska. Austria. Chile. New Zealand. My father dragged me, against my will, into the Australian outback. Drove me through New Mexico to Nevada to Los Angeles and the only time I perked up was when we went through Colorado and the altitude changed. The best thing about the trip, as far as I was concerned, was listening ad nauseum to the Forrest Gump soundtrack (I know, I know, I said I hated the movie. But I still kind of loved the music from it).
But, the thing about having great friends that you like and trust is that sometimes they convince you into doing things that you wouldn’t normally do. In January, miserable from the cold and the snow and the seemingly endless bad weather, Liz and I booked impulsive flights to Morocco whilst in the middle of a writing day at the Barbican Centre. We tend to egg each other on. So, one moment we are convincing each other it is perfectly acceptable to eat Tim-Tams and killer pythons for lunch and the next we are convincing each other it is perfectly acceptable to book flights to Morocco in June, despite the fact that neither of us no anything about the place, Liz has travel booked most months of the year and I will possibly only be returning from the USA a week before we go.
I’ve been incredibly lazy about the entire thing. Liz has pretty much arranged it all – got us the hotel, arranged a local person to show us around, checked us into our flights… If anything, I have been a hinderance to the process. I printed the boarding passes and then failed to check which airport we were coming back to, so we bought return tickets to Stansted, even though we fly back into Gatwick. Due to my blase attitude, I almost got us both boarded onto a flight to Amsterdam (I maintain the staff would have realised before we got on the plane and turned us around!) I also instigated a race up the escalators that got us noticed by security. Not in a bad way. Not in a Bridget Jones, let’s cart you off to prison kind of way. Just, when they were checking our passports, one of the guys asked, ‘So who won the race up the escalator?’ with a cheeky grin. Just so we knew they were watching (Ok, to be fair, Liz started that and then I upped the ante on the next escalator). I’m still not entirely sure whether or not the security guard was on the escalator with us, or whether or not they were watching us on security cameras and just wanted us to know they had seen how ridiculous we were being. Either way, we were slightly embarrassed. I swear there were more irritating things I did, but I can’t quite remember them right now. I freaked out on the take-off and landing, but I always do that, its just usually I’m not travelling with someone who is then distressed by my freak-outs.
So, first impressions of Marrakech? I don’t know that I’m going to do it justice. Its overwhelming. So many new sights and sounds. Too much to take in to be able to sit here and record it all. I want to stare at everything, but at the same time I don’t want to show too much interest, because then the stall holders think I want to buy something. You have to perfect the art of looking whilst not looking like you’re looking. Or, just keep walking slowly and steadily onwards, so they can’t keep talking to you. The men here are very full on. I’ve been called nice and beautiful and told ‘I like you’ more times tonight than I have in the last 6 months. They jump in front of you and try to get you to come to their cafe by getting right up in your face. The orange juice sellers call out to you with big smiles and wave you over. Everyone is very friendly, but everyone wants something from you too. It all takes some getting used to.
We walked around the main square this evening, which was so busy and so lit up. Traffic everywhere (there appears to be no delineated road and footpath really, but cars aren’t allowed on the main square – only motorbikes). Stray cats all over the place. Kids on rollerblades, happily slicing through traffic. A donkey pulling a cart with a large tray of apricots balanced on top. Men in sequinned burqas doing belly-dancing in the square. Billowing smoke from the street cafes and barbeques. Colourful leather slippers covering the stalls from the ground, up the walls and all over the ceiling. Brightly coloured ceramics, kaftans, silverware, scarves, jewellery doing the same. We heard the call to prayer echo out into the night and it was hauntingly beautiful. The mosque was lit up and we sat in front of it and watched the people go by. Kids played on roped-off ruins and no-one seemed to mind.
Some of it was scary. We saw an accident – someone stepped out in front of an oncoming motorbike; the bike swerved, sending the rider flying. He sat up, shook his head, seemed distressed that he had come off his bike, but not too hurt or angry. What was amazing was how quickly everyone rushed to his side to assist. Children stopped traffic to collect his missing shoe, which had gone flying into the middle of the road. Women leaned in to check his arms, his face, to talk to him and cheer him up.
We met a friend of our guide, who came up on a motorbike, a big smile on his face and a can of spray paint in his hand (he was planning on helping a friend to paint something that night – it was 11:15pm already!) He told us that in Morocco, there is saying, if you compliment someone, you tell them they are nice and beautiful and lovely, you are ‘painting them,’ which we both liked, especially considering what he was holding. He also told us we would be coming back to Marrakech again, because we would fall in love here and we would have to come back. One of the names for Marrakech is the ‘City of Love’, for the pink and red colours of their buildings, which comes from the earth around Marrakech. I know its early days yet… but he might just be right.