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Chris Sayer’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 17 Apr 2016

Location: Morocco

MapAs we bid farewell to Marrakesh, there’s many thoughts running through my mind. Graham Nash’s classic song from1969 “Marrakesh Express” is one. “Catch the train from Casablanca goin’ south, blowing smoke rings from the corner of my ma-ma-ma-ma-mouth.” Billy Thorpe’s final album to the world, “Tangier”, released a few years after his death, was inspired and recorded in Morocco, and the first song is entitled “Marrakesh”. As Billy’s song says, with children at play under the Marrakesh moon with nothing particular to do, we all shared some tasty Moroccan red wine and contemplated on the last two days.

Outside the medina is like any other modern city in the world, in fact it reminded me of St Kilda in Melbourne. But the old city inside the medina walls is special, with either large open spaces (such as Jamma El-fna) or very narrow laneways. They all contain tiny shops selling anything and everything. You walk down the middle of the laneways at your own peril, for small motor bikes shoot past at considerable speed. How they avoid collisions is amazing, but they are oh so very annoying – you must remember to keep right. The smell of two-stroke fuel reminds me of a lawn mower; indeed the engines in these motor bikes are no bigger than a lawnmower.

There are beggars in the streets. Most women wear hard scarves, some have their face fully covered. Men gather with other men, women with women. The sexes only mix as young families with children. Tourists are obvious, especially the young women who wear very little. I think it’s a pity they don’t pay respect to the local culture and cover up just a little bit more. Maybe I’m being a prude, but I want to respect these kind, friendly locals.

The medina is a maze of streets and laneways. Finding our hotel would’ve been interesting if it wasn’t for another “fixer”. Coming into Marrakesh, stopping at our first seriously busy intersection for traffic lights, there was a knock at my passenger side window. A guy wearing shabby clothes and riding a decrepit old motorbike that should’ve been in a museum, spoke to Javier in Arabic. Harvey replied in Spanish, and the guy immediately switched to Spanish, and asked which hotel. He’d seen our motorbikes, and the name on the van, and surmised correctly. On Javier's reply, the fixer said “Follow me” and took off. Javier looked at us, shrugged, and proceeded to follow. We eventually made it to the riad, and the fixer earned his tip because our hotel was surrounded by road surface works and closed streets, and would’ve been a nightmare to find. These are resourceful people, and are clever at recognising a potential business opportunity.

In the medina we saw snake charmers, horse-drawn carriages, street musicians, and hawkers flogging mobile phones or selfie sticks or watches. We heard the call-to-prayer several times a day, and Jamma El-Fna is surrounded several minarets attached to mosques. And cats. Everywhere in Morocco there are cats, and their population swells in big cities. They may be feral and homeless, although we saw several shopkeepers provide a bowl of water, but the cats are never fed. I imagine this is because they help keep the mouse and rat population at bay.

Next stop was Essaouira ("essa-where-ah"), a fishing town on the Atlantic coast in Morocco’s west. I’d heard a lot about Essaouira from the legends of 1960s rock. In fact our riad hotel had pictures of Jimi Hendrix on the wall in their restaurant. Essaouira also has a medina containing the old city, and our hotel is right in the middle amongst narrow laneways and a myriad of shops. It’s a short walk down to the wharf where the fishing boats had just come in and men were cleaning their catch in readiness for that night’s restaurant trade. All we had to do was follow the sea birds – a million of them hovered overhead in anticipation of some fishy entrails. What the birds didn’t get, the cats were cleaning up. We were careful not to step in discarded fish guts as we walked past some weird looking creatures for sale, many in the process of getting sliced and diced by gritty old men with facial stubble but steady hands. The smell was overpowering, and we didn’t hang around for long.

Today, heading further south, strangely (for us Taswegians) getting closer to the equator, and warmer.