TRAVEL MOROCCO ARABIAN CHASE
Marrakesh | MOROCCO 2018
TRAVELING TO MARRAKESH, MOROCCO
WHAT ACTUALLY WENT DOWN
During a prolonged stay with family in Portugal, I got extremely frustrated and the itch to travel grew and eventually gave me sleepless nights. When traveling from South Africa everything is expensive, especially flights. So when I arrived in Europe, I had the opportunity not only to better understand my Portuguese roots but to explore more of the world, other than the multiple Nguni cultures of South Africa. I wanted more.
I have a very sacred relationship with Africa and oneday wish to travel from Cape to Cairo. What better way to ease this travel itch of mine than to go to a place close by and affordable. My first idea was to head to Tangier, Morocco. Being so close to the Euro coasts, I thought it would naturally be ‘more affordable’ - TURNS OUT that it was almost double the cost of a trip to Marrakesh, Morocco. So I booked my first flight as a self-proclaimed digital nomad to Marrakesh.
For the month prior to the trip, I was obsessed with this travel blogger, artist and photographer Sorelle Amore. She had inspired me to NOT have the commercial job I was told to obtain from my school, university and peers. I was told that traveling the world would be much easier than I thought and she was right. I can. So I did. And I love it.
Making it to Marrakesh
I had never really been exposed to Arabic speech nor to Moroccan culture. Now I was in a place all alone as an ill-traveled individual looking for a cultural experience which would only fuel the fire of my need to explore this wonderful Earth we inhabit. The only thing that was leading me in this direction was a film directed by Jim Jarmusch, Only Lovers Left Alive, starring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton. The earieness of the film, its locations, lighting, atmosphere, the story and most prominently the soundtrack to this masterpiece was what pushed me over into being absolutely in love with the idea of Morocco. As for the Arabian experience and love for the vibrations in the dialect and language was led on by Yasmine Hamdan, the mysterious woman that performs at the end of Only Lovers - an absolutely breathtaking performance. How mesmerising, I felt like I was charmed like a snake in a basket. I was definitely more naive than I am now and didn’t have the slightest idea of what to expect. I had been living in a small village with a population of approximately 5104 people in Portugal for three months. Alfândega da Fé, or as me and my brother called it Alfândega da Far-from-anywhere. Seriously, this place is closer to the capital of Spain than it is to Lisbon or even Porto. Anyway it’s far...
The travel agency, Travazul from Lisbon, Portugal, had helped me plan my trip to the tee. Flights were booked, excursions were lined up and I had found the nicest and most affordable accommodation. It was all arranged and planed, so off I went into the unknown. The only way to understand it, was to experience it.
THE UNKNOWN - غير معروف
It was the blood moon eclipse on the 27th of July 2018 (which was already building up with great intensity) but as a photographer and a South African, I was determined to capture this magical event from the Sahara desert as my first mission in this foreign land. I had Yasmine on repeat as well as some other Arabic artists, all collected in a playlist. I arrived late at night in this still bustling city, in the dark I had to find my way through the labyrinth that is the Medina (Old city of Marrakesh) to my hostel/backpackers. The taxi that picked me up from the airport couldn't drop me at the door of the hostel as the streets are too narrow for cars. I was on the streets of this unknown city, alone, with all my luggage and had to find my way to the safe zone through the maze in the dark. Needless to say, I got lost but managed my way out and to Waka Waka hostel. My Sahara trip was booked for five hours after my arrival in the Red City - Marrakesh - unfortunately no one had woken me as I requested so I missed my Sahara experience. After chasing my tour bus I contacted the wonderful people at Travazul, they quickly gave me alternative options so that my trip wouldn’t be ruined. But my options were limited as I was traveling alone and most activities such as quad biking or mountain hiking were planed for two. I had already paid for my Sahara trip but luckily I could swop it for a day trip to the Ouzoud Waterfalls - the highest waterfall in northern Africa. I had already experienced the tallest falls in Africa in my home country, Tugela falls, KwaZulu Natal - a whopping 948m. Now I had the opportunity to see the highest falls in Northern Africa too.
The morning of the trip, I woke up four hours before the bus was to pick me up. There were a few other people from my hostel also joining the mission for the day. I stepped out to draw cash from the ATM around the corner, not even a block away. I had been warned by multiple people on the interwebs about pickpockets in Marrakesh and I was on high-alert as I am very protective and careful with my belongings. I was wearing a headscarf in the Arabian style Hijab, It covered my upper body quite nicely as I was wearing a tight vest underneath (it really does get mega hot there, even so early in the morning). I had a small travel bag with me - a pencil bag that could carry basic my necessities: my cell-phone, money, cards, papers etc. I called this bag Shits-and-Giggles as it quoted, ‘it’s all Shits and Giggles, until someone Giggles and Shits’.
I WAS WRONGED
As I was walking back to the hostel, enjoying the fresh air and morning sun, I took the last corner that lead to my hostels corridor. As I was about to enter the door (which was partially blocked by these large American girls) I was called for from the street. As I turned, there was a man with a motorcycle that had blocked the hallway and another man approaching me and babbling nonsensically. I tried to avoid them as I felt red flags pop up but before I could get past the man had snatched my bag out from my grip. He quickly jumped on the motorcycle with his friend and sped off. In that instance, I knew that if I lost this bag I would be fucked. It had contained EVERYTHING, the freshly drawn money, my phone, my illustration pens and my bank card (which I could only replace in South Africa). I did what I could and probably what anyone would have done and chased after them. I have never ran so fast, in such a sprint before and whilst I can see them taking my shit away from me like that. I ran to an elderly man with a motorcycle and pleaded with him to help me but what could he do? They weren't so far ahead and I had already slipped and fell on sand covering the cobblestone corridor of this ancient Medina. They were gone. I can still see the sorrow, doused with disappointment of the elderly man on his bike. He could see I was wronged and we were both melancholic about humanity and the crooks we live amongst. I was out of breath, bleeding and absolutely screwed in this situation - again, I had missed my bus for the day excursion. The inflated American girls didn't even bother to help or call someone from the hostel to inform anyone of anything even though they saw how everything went down. I was traumatised and felt so violated, someone took my shits and giggles.
Now I wasn't just a foreigner in this country, a mere tourist, but I was left with no funds, no form of contacting anyone to help and no cultural experience other than that of a classic Arabian Chase scenario - it was like the chase scenes in the Black Gold, directed by Nick Francis. I returned to my friend Karim, a holistic herbalist and healer I had met the day before, to ask for something to treat my wounds. He gave me an oil with a pungent smell and I made the best of the situation, I had family send me some cash for the three days I had left in Morocco and I took my experience into my own hands (like I should have done this entire time).
I’m not one for tourists really - I hate being a tourist actually. Being as undercover and hidden as possible and blending into the crowd really gives one a different perspective to the cultural experience - one gets to see a different side to a place, its people, the environment and culture you are exploring. I scraped my itinerary and smoked a hash-joint with my friend Hassan and used the last of my cash to take a 2 hour taxi drive from the town to Ourika Valley to go see the waterfalls and take photos there. This was the best day spent in Morocco. It was also the second day I didn’t spend in a police station. I even received a police escort to the only Western-Union that was open on the public holiday, also my last day in Marrakesh.
I FELL IN LOVE - لقد وقعت في الحب
(laqad waqaeat fi alhabi)
This was where I fell in love all over again with the Arabian experience. It was so quiet and tranquil in this environment, away from the speed-infused cityscape of Marrakesh. I had done all my necessary shopping the day before I was robbed so I didn’t return home empty handed, I bought two Djellabas (naturally a black one - for relaxation and white - for formal attire) a hand-crafted berber bag made from real leather (not so vegan) and weaved carpet, as well as four head scarves for my growing collection. I also ate like a king with the tight budget I had - the best and juiciest vegan tajine and couscous for days with fresh orange juice. On this self-made excursion I also spent most of my money on transport and paid the taxi driver when I arrived to the valley, stupid idea as I had to hike into a Berber village to get to a cleaner, less populated part of the upper stream/river. It was magnificent floating in the river, under African skies, in awe of the great Atlas Mountains. I still get chills!!
I am a European citizen so I don’t necessarily count Portugal as a trip abroad because it is like a second home to me. So having experienced Morocco as the first stamp in my passport was a beautiful way to initiate me into this wacky world of travel. I will definitely be even more cautious for my safety and my belongings in the future but the lesson I cherish most from this blood moon eclipse was to not just stick to the itinerary. Overall the trip was a great success, I can’t complain about a thing. The people are beautiful, the streets are beautiful, the cafes, the donkeys, the language, the music, the food, the culture, the mountains, the desert, the energy and all the photographs I gained are beautiful. It’s just breathtakingly magical and I can definitely see myself returning as soon and often as possible.
LET ME GO - دعني اذهب
I want to go back to get off the beaten trail, to get caught in the cultural experience as myself even if I do get stuck in a situation like this, it’s all part of the experience. I read a lot about theft and scams just as much as I read about the culture and sights to see. It really is a part of the experience. Not that I’m saying you should go out and ask to be mugged! But without the trip in all its facets it would’ve been impossible to have met people from the warming Koutoubia Cafe over coffee or the peripatetic woman from Algeria who I sat next to on the plane from Casablanca to Marrakesh in conversation on religion. Again, I want to people watch from rooftop bars and be harassed by woman who offer/force you into beautiful henna tattoos - we had a nice chat about humanity during such a session. In some way I don’t want to lose that naivety I had before Marrakesh but I feel like this reality check just added to my hunger for more experiences, more people to meet and to exchange ideas and ideologies.
This truly is a beautiful world we live in and this was only the beginning.