16.03.2011 - 19.03.2011 20 °C
OK, when I say ‘cheeky’ well before I get any grief, so I tagged on this stopover to Morocco so that I could complete my mission of setting foot on all seven continents in one single trip <swiftly ducks for cover>. The 30 Euro Easyjet flight Madrid to Marrakesh was way too tempting, would have been rude not to right? Anyway, I have always wanted to visit Morocco and thought it would give me a couple of days to recover from any cross-Atlantic jetlag and arrive back home nice and fresh so there you go! I arrived into Madrid feeling exhausted, my thirst for adventure, my adrenaline levels, seemed to have been sapped on leaving South America and after a year away was craving home comforts. Home oh yes home. A night in my own bed would have been absolute lush at this point. I am so glad that I decided to carry on though to North Africa.
From the clean, safe, English speaking (weird!) Easyjet plane, my first glimpse of the African continent, then the snowy peaks of the Atlas mountains surrounding beautiful Marrakesh was enough to bring me back on form, I MADE IT CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? I HAVE GONE ALL AROUND THE WORLD ON MY OWN AND AM ARRIVING INTO CONTINENT SEVEN. The excitement, the glow, the grin on my face, that special feeling of having achieved my dreams, this stayed with me for the next couple of days I was in Marrakesh and way beyond, I hope for the rest of my life. The owner of the riad I had booked into, Said, was waiting to pick me up at the airport. He must have thought I was a bit strange, I was so full of beans, so excited to be here BRING IT ON!!! It was dusk as we drove through the medina (old town) of Marrakesh to the riad and so incredibly different from anywhere I had been on this journey. The streets were full to bursting with night market activity, motorbikes and people, Asia style I guess, but the atmosphere, all the beautiful mosques, the little candles , the style, reminded me a lot of Istanbul, which I had absolutely adored. Couldn’t wait to explore theses streets the next day.
Firstly though, a much needed rest at the riad. A riad is a tradition Moroccan house with rooms designed around a decorative interior ‘garden’. The cozy riad where I stayed was off a tiny street next to the city walls with a traditional tiled plunge pool in the main courtyard. Said showed me up to the rooftop terrace with its little tiled tables and candles, just as the evening prayer calls started across the city from the many surrounding mosques. It was so beautiful and I was so happy that I wanted to cry. Said invited me to some party that evening that I intended to go to but as soon as I got into my lovely colorful room I just crashed and ended up sleeping for about 10 hours, man I so needed that.
Happy happy happy, did I tell you I just travelled all round the world? Me, just me, with this little bag, full of essentials, very few material possessions. I survived Asia, Australasia, US, South America, Antarctica and now what about this place? Breakfast had been laid out for me in my own very elaborate dining room downstairs and I was pondering, considering if it really would be wrong to ask for a glass of champagne with my breakfast when an old geezer intruded into ‘my room’ and burst my illusion! I had survived the world but I was about to experience this excruciatingly cringe, awkward, ‘encounter’ with this very dangerous variety of ‘old french lusty doctor away on business who fancies his chances’. Seriously, I had had some strange come-ons during my travels being a female lone traveller but this really was something else. A very quick introduction to make sure I knew he was a doctor working with lung disease. I made the mistake of sounding interested, telling him that I was a scientist and that I had worked with lung disease too. That was all the encouragement he needed. Next thing his disgusting slobbery face was pushed against mine, kissing my cheeks, my hands, MY NECK eugghhhhhh seriously ‘why don’t you just feck off, don’t care if you are a doctor you disgusting old prick’ He tried to follow me upstairs to my room, then when he realized I wouldn’t let him, tried to block me going up the stairs to my room. Lenka, a girl I had met the night before saved me as showed up just when I was starting to panic. I physically pushed him away and bombed it up the stairs, lucky escape! Eugghhhhh
Crisis averted, I set off to explore Marrakesh. I really was back in my element with the exotic sights, sounds and smells that were so different to South America where I had just spent nearly four months. I found a café opposite the Koutoubia mosque and took it all in. It was a beautiful spring-like sunny day, maybe a bit chilly but perfect for exploring the city on foot. The immediate thing that struck me was how touristy Marrakesh was compared to anywhere I had been for a while The café was maybe half full of foreign visitors and the locals were generally ready to pounce with some scam or another. One small girl approached me while I was taking photos outside the Koutoubia mosque and when I refused to pay her for taking photos she pushed me! Charming! I can understand a little bit of resentment here towards the hordes of tourists though. Many were parading round in skimpy summer clothes, which I believe is generally pretty offensive to the locals and made me feel uneasy. As I walked closer to the tourist epicenter of Marrakesh, Djamaa El Fna square , the scammers were out in even more force. I lost count of the number of ladies who grabbed my arm to start henna tattooing me against my wishes and the number of ‘traditionally dressed’ locals demanding Dirham for photos. I also couldn’t believe the numbers of tourists that were actually falling for these scams, finding themselves unexpectedly out of pocket after having to pay a ‘good Samaritan’ offering to show them the way around the souks.
I was determined not to fall for these scams, feeling maybe a little smug at having survived the year of travelling! You can imagine then how I felt when a guy dressed in robes approached me in the square, placed a snake round my neck and demanded money for a photo! ‘Get this thing off me NOW’ ‘I take photo of you?’ ‘NO GET IT OFF ME, I DO NOT WANT PHOTO GET IT?’
‘haha lady you are scared of snake haha’. So off I went, to carry on my shopping, with the snake still around my neck!!! The guy comes running after me ‘what are you doing? Where are you taking my snake? You want photo?’ ‘Emmm’ He wasn’t going to take this stupid darn snake off my neck and I was determined not to fall for the scam, so I started walking off again, quite enjoying the banter at this stage!!! ‘You are crazy woman, you walk off with snake, OK if you give me kiss I will take snake’ Off I walked again but this time he took the snake, insisted on a photo, I refused the kiss but I think I made this dudes day!!!! Well he made mine anyway, it was hilarious!
After a wonderful chicken and apricot tagine for lunch, I braved the souks. I was actually going to buy some stuff to take home this time. I had given away a load of my travel gear to the guys in Bogota, lighten my load a bit, and was gonna dump a load more clothes and stuff here so I had room to take some things back. My bartering skills, sharpened by all the travelling, came in handy, my ability to shrug off an offer of a date or marriage(!) even more handy, although it has to be said, nothing came close to that awful slobbery doctor at breakfast. This place felt like somewhere special. The bright colours, reds, oranges, the Arabic tiled tea shops, markets piled high with tagines, lanterns and scarves, robed locals busy in their daily lives, sunlight streaming through the cracks in the bamboo roof of the souks. Stunning. I sat in one of the cafes in the souk with a teapot full of Moroccan mint tea and felt pure happiness. Whatever happens when I return back home TOMORROW and start to sort my life out, I will have these memories, and I will have this blog to bring back these special experiences.
My final sunset of my round the world trip was experienced on the roof of the riad, the medina, the Atlas mountains, the prayer call, watching nesting storks feed their young on the city walls. I joined Warren and Lenka for the mother of all couscous, washed down with a cold beer. Lovely couple, here on a holiday from England, I was happy to have some nice company to round off my trip. We sat on the rooftop terrace and got a little merry on some whisky while we did a bit of star gazing. Well, you know by now that I love a good clear night and bright stars and here, although not quite lake Tekapo standard (NZ) was pretty amazing. It was full moon, or almost full moon anyway, just a smidgen missing but it was so bright we could make out quite a bit of detail. There we stood, swapping stories, getting merry, then I heard my name being called ‘Karen, Karen is that you up there?’ hehe it was Said, the owner of the riad. He had popped round his neighbours and locked himself out so was on his neighbours roof calling me! He had tried to get through a window and managed to cut his leg quite badly, quite a bit of blood!! A beautiful, maybe a little bizarre, but perfect way to end to my adventure of a lifetime. I am so lucky to have had this experience.
Final Entry Coming up soon – Strange feelings on returning to England after a year away!!