Skip to main content

Atay Maghrebi: Lost and Found in Marrakech

A beautiful labyrinth that should be respected: Marrakech, Morocco.
I arrived in Marrakech in late July 2016 too tired to deal with humanity. I’d slept for about one hour and fifteen minutes overnight and only caught two 45-minute bursts of sleep on the tightly packed Ryanair plane.

Anyone who knows me knows one thing about how I travel: I prepare well, but pack last minute. Last evening I had decided it would be better to go to Women’s Equality Party event in Islington with a friend, visit a bar and then head home at 1am. Not very wise.

Despite being a little worried about being alone a long way from home, I stepped off the transfer taxi on Boulevard Fatima Zahra. It wasn’t able to get up the tight streets of the medina, and with the relatively light backpack that represented my worldly possessions for the next two weeks, I started to walk under the gateway.

A youngish man with sleepy eyes, dressed in a shiny blue djellaba and pink crocs called out to me, “Equity Point?”

“Yes,” I mumbled.

“It is just here,” he said with sincerity, “I’ll show you.”

“It’s okay. I’ll be fine from here.”

“No. I’ll show you,” he insisted.

The perfect trap; he was already locked on and leading the way. A trap very neatly sprung.

At this point I had no dirhams, so hastily came up with a plan to offload a €10 note. After a confusing conversation with the unimpressed guide, which involved looking at a forex app, I ended up paying him around €5 for his services and I left with around 50 dirhams in change. It is fair to say that both of us felt a little ripped-off, but neither party was in the mood for an argument.

❦ 

It was still too early to check-in, so I dropped-off my bags at the Hostel and went in search of a padlock, an ATM and lunch.

At the end of Boulevard Fatima Zahra, a short walk outside of the medina, I came to a slender three-storey café-restaurant called Café Kif-Kif. Here I ordered a kefta tagine – meatballs in a rich, mildly spiced, red sauce with two fried eggs on top. To wash it down I had a pot of the essential Moroccan drink, atay (mint tea), to mock the already intensifying heat.

The food was served in the traditional clay Moroccan cooking pot that gives the dish its name, the tagine. It was both incredibly tasty and obscenely photogenic. I resisted the temptation to Instagram it, opting to annoy a few Whatsapp contacts with the image of my lunch instead.

After whiling away a little time people watching, talking in bad French and amazed at the ferocity of a niqaab-wearing, motorcycle-riding woman shouting at a shop owner, I headed off in the direction of Jemaa el-Fnaa with a view to looping back the hostel via a back route to check in properly.

Passing through the square, which at this time was quiet save for a couple of snake charmers and the juice bars, I managed to miss the turning back through the souks and ended up walking in the vague direction of the tanneries.

The narrow alleyway leading to Equity Point Hostel: Marrakech, Morocco.
A few guide books had suggested that visiting a tannery is an interesting thing to do, so when a Berber guide said he’d show me one, I thought, “why not.”

As it was a Thursday afternoon, the tannery workers were packing up early. My tiredness crept back suddenly, and I ended up feeling like I was essentially walking around some rancid concrete troughs, literally full of crap, holding a sprig of mint to my nose and looking to see how many other tourists were being duped into a grand tour. I just wasn't awake enough to appreciate it.

This wasn’t everything though; having to exit through a leather shop meant I had to dodge a sales pitch for my least favourite form of material.

After some gentle persuasion (basically me saying: ‘I don’t bloody like leather and I’m not carrying a carpet around Morocco for the next two weeks like a substandard Aladdin impersonator’), I thought I’d escaped. No such luck – my guide reappeared and demanded his 200 dirhams fee. I’d fallen into the trap of not negotiating a price up front - again.

I thought back to a conversation on the plane with a Belgian man who’d said, “They call tourists walking cash machines.” He wasn’t wrong, but like any tourist location, simple mistakes like not agreeing a fee up front had been my undoing – along with an unhealthy lack of sleep.

Following another unplanned outlay of dirhams and some poor directions from a youth, I wandered off in the wrong direction and did so epically. Stopping to check Google Maps, I realised that I had somehow arrived outside the city walls near Bab Aylan to the east of the medina. I was lost, irritated, tired and disappointed that my usually faultless inner navigation skills had let me down.

I took another moment to get my bearings and I told myself to calm down. After all, it didn’t matter if I was lost. I had enough money to get wherever I needed and was perfectly safe.

One abortive attempt at flagging down a taxi nearly resulted in another tannery tour, but I thankfully managed to stop another taxi.

Saying a quick bismillah under his breath, the driver circumnavigated the perimeter wall of the medina for twenty-five minutes, taking me back to where I’d started my erroneous wanderings around three hours before.

I shuffled back down a more familiar alleyway to the hostel and finally checked in.

Lessons Learned:
  • Get some sleep before you arrive.
  • Always negotiate a price before you do anything, however unnatural you may find it.
  • Slow down; there's no need to rush into anything and take your time before diving down an unknown alleyway.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

From a Crooked Rib by Nuruddin Farah

Cover image. © Penguin Books. I stumbled across Nuruddin Farah’s novels when searching for something written by a Somali author. Perhaps due to the conflict that has raged for years in Somalia, it is very difficult to find much from Somali writers published in English. From a Crooked Rib was published in 1970 and tells the story of Ebla, a young, orphaned, illiterate nomadic girl, who runs away from her encampment. She takes the decision to leave upon learning of her Grandfather’s intention to marry her off to an older man within their Jes (a group of families living in an encampment together). She firstly escapes to a town, Belet Amin, where she finds her cousin and his pregnant wife. She also finds a guide and confidante in a character known only as the widow. Things seem settled until, yet again, Ebla finds her freedom compromised by a male character – this time her cousin, whose wife and child Ebla has been nursing. In her haste she leaves Belet Amin with the w

The Bakiga Window: Taufiq Islamic Primary School: Part II

In a manner so typically Ugandan, Yasim approaches silently and politely asks whether he can have a word with me – it is one of those ironies that a word has to be had in order to have a word with someone. Irony aside, he has heard back from the Sheikh and arranged an appointment for me. It is Wednesday 20 th April and once more I find myself en route to Taufiq Islamic Primary School. The morning started in the usual way: waking up sleepy students, ensuring that everyone had 'taken' breakfast and had a supply of bottled water, and then walking with the group down the hill, into the town. At the foot of the hill, the group scattered into many fragments, with everyone off in search of their own adventures. I head straight on, past the noise of the metal workers, over to Taufiq. After having had to beat a hasty retreat last week , I was unsure of who would be in my reception committee. Teacher Bright was the first to greet me, before taking me inside to m

Beach Huts, Southwold, Suffolk

Sleeping beach huts on Southwold Beach, Suffolk. Safely back from my annual visit to Rotterdam, my parents invited me to spend a few days with them in a small holiday cottage in Southwold, Suffolk. Give or take driving through Newmarket a few years back when studying at Anglia Ruskin University, I'd never really seen much of the county. Southwold itself is a beautiful seaside resort which happens to be the home of Adnams , a well known brewery, which means that for a small place there are a healthy number of pubs - suddenly Dad's choice of location made sense . On the early afternoon of Wednesday 20th February  I took a walk to the Harbour Inn to meet my parents for lunch. The pub was just under two miles away from Grace Cottage , where we were staying. This gave me the opportunity to take some pictures of the sea. On our way towards the see we also spotted  Georgie Glen  from Waterloo Road humming happily to herself on the High Street. Southwold is lovely,