That was a hell of a day, I tell you!
First, it took forever for the ship to be cleared; then we caught a taxi to the train station, and missed a train to Marrakech by a few minutes because the ticket machine won’t take the money. So we had to kill two hours at a nearby cafe, waiting for the next train. Finally we got on – thank god it wasn’t too hot today.
First there were a couple of people in our compartment, but then everyone left but one lady who started a conversation. For the next few hours we’ve been having the most entertaining conversation, as she spoke zero English, and I – almost zero French. At the same time, we managed to talk somehow, discuss life, marriage, Semester at Sea, how much is rent and salaries in Morocco, US and Russia, what to see in Fes and Marrakech and when is their famous celebration that we miss by a week. I mean, you should’ve seen it: me and Jenna with whom we’re in the same acting class, trying to remember anything at all, phrases, words, articles; gesturing and drawing stuff. It was fun for sure. Her name was Fouzia, she was 25, divorced with a 7-year-old son, working in commerce, selling cosmetics. Her family lived in Fes, but she had to go to work in Marrakech, which is quite a way. She loved learning about different countries, but couldn’t afford to travel herself. She made 300 euros per month, and spent most of it on rent.
During this single day most of the Moroccan prejudices and stereotypes planted by various preports vanished. Women do wear short sleeves, although some wear long; they do wear skinny jeans, and they may or may not wear a hijab. Moroccans do make eye contact, men and women, and are generally very friendly. The touching question is still unresolved – probably, men don’t touch Moroccan women, but they tap tourists on their shoulders and pull their sleeves (at least unless you show them that you very much dislike it) to attract you to their stalls. And most of the gestures that were said to be offensive were generally used – pointing and thumbs up and something else that I forgot.
We arrived to Marrakech way later than expected, the train ride took 4 hours instead of 2 that we thought it would take. Right at the platform we were caught by a taxi guy who turned out to be well familiar with SAS folks. We got to our little hotel (no A/C was probably the worst drawback, but it’s one night only, after all). And went to the famous Jemaa el-Fna square which was totally overwhelming. After quiet, organized Europe Morocco was like a light show in the middle of the night. Everything was moving, glittering, rushing; the combination of smells in the air, of oranges, and basil, and meat smoke, and dust formed a crazy atmosphere of the night market. People were everywhere, and bikers, and cyclists, and horses. Every seller tried to draw you to his stand, being sometimes overly polite, sometimes really aggressive; the competition between the stalls was obvious and very funny, because the prices were generally the same. Someone from our group suggested to ask a competing stall manager why their orange juice was better than the other’s and record it. But the juice was way too tasty to think about it.
The square was so full of everything, it was hypnotizing. The food stalls, and the juice ones, and the greens, and the pastries, and dry fruits and nuts, and spices, and people gathering in circles here and there around the groups of street musicians and dancers; and people selling these little candle lamps made of carved metal and colorful glass that glittered brightly; and the mehndi (henna tattoo) ladies that were catching the girls by the hand and trying to draw a pattern right away, before the price was negotiated.
Generally, everything on the square was overpriced, at least according to Wikitravel. So I just observed and encouraged the others to bargain. Bargaining was fun; but the sellers at the square seemed a bit spoilt by the masses of tourists coming by, and some weren’t into good bargaining. Bad for them! In such cases we just walked away.
I am exhausted, and tomorrow we wake up at what – six? – to get to the train station. The guys are doing the camel track, and I am still wondering whether I’ll join them or skip and go back to Casablanca – or straight to Fes. I don’t know. To be honest, Morocco makes me feel uncomfortable on my own, because all the general means of transportation – especially walking, my favorite – are very limited. And everyone around you wants your money so damn much. Maybe I will go with the camels, just because it won’t be as chaotic; or maybe I won’t and will dive into the randomness. I’m probably just tired, you know, this sort of travel tiredness, after your job is to plan, and see, and buy. And plan and see. “You have to do this… Who knows when you’ll be here again!” “You have to see that… That is a must-see!”
And at the end you’re just like “nah, whatevs…” and the pillow seems the best solution.
I was supposed to be filming here, but all my characters escaped; it will probably get only harder once we reach the countries where your trips take you far away. It’s difficult to plan. I took almost no pictures, because it’s just doesn’t feel right to take out the iPhone or the camera here. But probably it’s for the best. We’ll see.