Well if you read my posts regularly this one is a little different from the norm. If you are new to my blogs take a look at some of the others at http://www.woodbgood.com
Well, here I am in Morocco. Yes against my better judgment I decided to get on that plane last Saturday ready for an exciting trip away. The first to Morocco and the first alone.
In the days running up to my departure I was very thoughtful about whether or not to continue with the trip. I had kept up to date with the news, government and airline advice surrounding Corona. Things were escalating, no doubt, but Britain was taking a different approach to the crisis. Rightly or wrongly this worked well for me as boarders would be open longer. I repeatedly looked at the Morocco sites and all seemed OK. There was a few cases but nothing on the scale of the UK. There were clearly risks to consider but weighing it all up the risk seemed acceptable. So with the a final check of the websites on Saturday morning, I woke up the misses to take me to the train station.
They dropped me at the station and I stared at the big screen for a while trying to work out which platform I needed to wait on. A while turned into a bit longer. ‘Oh!’ I thought, ‘maybe I am a little unprepared for this trip’! I had done my homework and packed and brought tickets etc. So I was prepared in that respect. In having my head in the right place though, not so much. I had been working all week and had to focus on that. On top of that I had been changing my mind all week to whether or not I was going. So I just decided to get everything ready in case. When I actually decided to go I think I may have surprised myself. Well it hit me pretty quick while staring at that big sign.
I love that however old you get, you can still find situations that make you say, “FUCK!” I was like a rabbit in the headlights. Only lasted about 10 seconds but I was struck with panic. ‘Shut up and get on with it’, shouted some people of inspiration in my head. I quickly used the more scientific part of my brain and soon worked out which platform to wait at. That was it, the fear quickly turned into excitement. I grabbed a hugely overpriced coffee to which I added every free sprinkle and sugar that I could find. I don’t even take sugar but it felt like justice was being done. Soon enough the train pulled up and I got on. As it pulled out of the station I missed my family and was sad for a while. Its just while you go past all the places you know; my sisters house, the supermarket where I knew my wife and son were going to after dropping me off and my mums house. Hey! I wasn’t crying or anything! Just a little caught up in the moment. Sure enough, it soon went. I had some podcasts that I was looking forward to listening to on the train but I just found myself looking out the window, quite content. The 3 hour trip passed quickly.
I arrived at the airport, the excitement slowly building. This trip meant a lot to me and all of the nerves were gone, I was buzzing. Its amazing how a 3 hour wait in an airport can kill momentum. The flight went well although I did become aware of how many people travel with other people. It really is rare to see people alone (more on this in my last blog). Oh and why we are on the subject of things that wern’t so good about the flight, there were 3 girls in their early 20s sat in the seats in front of me. I have 3 daughters, I know and accept that girls talk more than I think is necessary but these 3 were on another level. Anyway this was a little irritating but wasn’t going to spoil my trip.
When you arrive in Marrekesh, you have to complete a form for immigration. I had read about this and had a list of things to sort before I got outside of the airport, this being the first. I don’t think many people on my flight new about the form because as they all clambered about looking for pens, I smugly reached into my bag, pulled out my pen and started writing. This was going well! I walked through the series of checks, head held high. Then my luck changed! I was in a que for passport and the immigration form checks. I was directed towards check out 2. I was next in line. It was at that moment I realised my first learning of Moroccan people; their view of fairness is different to ours. The guy at check out 2 starts taking people from other ques. All of my fellow passengers (including the annoying girls) all went ahead of me. I was the only one, waiting on some painted footprints that I had been told to stand on. I decided to be more assertive and move to another que. I was quickly ordered back to que 2. I got through in the end and all was fine but I still don’t know what he had against me. Anyway, next on the list was money. I had been told to take cash and change it the airport as the exchange rate is best. After this, go and get a SIM card for your phone so you can access the interest. This didn’t go so well. I went to 2 phone stands neither of which could make it work. I then realised that it was because my phone is locked to one provider. Oops! I came away from this a little flustered and walked with the crowd through arrivals looking for my hotel transfer. I imagined it being a little like arrivals in the UK with lots of family members hugging and a few transfers with their cards held high. Its not like that at all! 1 guy in a tuckzedo with a sign for ‘James’. I think to myself, well this must be for me, hes the only one here. I approach him and say, “Are you for me”? “Are you James?” he replies. “No”, “Then I am not for you. More outside my friend”. I feel pretty stupid but this is what happens in new situations and environments. You have to try. Sometimes you win and sometimes you look stupid.
I continue outside and once again experience a ‘FUCK’ moment. It is hot and there must be 100 blokes standing around, with signs in their hands. I stand at the door and try to see one with either mine or the hotels name on it. These guys are not stood so that everyone can see them, you have to root about and explore, they like to give you a challenge. I rooted for a few minutes and had to come back to the doors again so I could see them all. Felt like a right donut! I was pretty sure that there was no-one with a sign with my name on. I needed to take 5. I sat and gathered my thoughts away from the caos outside of the doors, wondering what I should do. I checked the time I said I would be here and it was 20mins part this so he must be here somewhere. I looked again but nothing. I cant even contact the hotel because I have no internet or phone coverage. I could get another taxi but then may have to pay for both and I don’t know where the hotel is because its on my phone with no internet. I looked again and there he was. Dressed in a smart suit that hadn’t been washed in a long time and a scrap of paper than said ‘Hotel Dar Youssef’. You also never get too old to feel that amazing sense of relief that I felt in that moment. I could have kissed him. I didn’t! Instead, we walked to his car that wasn’t as smart as his suit and started our journey in to the centre of Marrakesh. They drive on the right in Morocco, well, they do when they are not overtaking or there is another bit of the road free. Ive visited places where the driving is pretty crazy and I think only south east asia beats Marrakesh. It was exciting though and before long we pull down some side street and stop in the middle of the road. The driver points to the door and so I get out. There is a young man on the phone who fist pumps me. The driver points to the man and says, “Youssef”. He takes his money, gets in his car and leaves.
Youssef waves me in his direction and starts walking quickly through the back streets. Its about 9:00 at night and the streets are packed. A sensory overload. Smells (some good and some bad) and sights that I have never seen. All with a guy I haven’t really met who is still on his phone. I had another little moment of worry. Before long we arrived at his hotel. He signed me in and I paid my bill on arrival (always a worrying sign). I was shown to my room which was basic but as described. I sat on the edge of the bed and took a moment. All of the bits of this trip that I was slightly concerned about were behind me. I had a quick wash and went to explore the city.
The place is busy at night. I would later realise that it’s busy in the day too! I was almost too much to take in. I’m one of those people who like to find somewhere on the edge of the excitement to watch a while. To learn and observe and then go and get involved. I didn’t find any corners to hide in that night. The main square was only a 5 minute walk from my hotel. Its a really big square that isn’t even a square, maybe the size of a small village. On the square there are people dancing, singing and playing instruments, people walking around selling cigarettes, phones, tissues, juice carts selling some of the best juice I have ever tasted. So many different fruits. There are people charming snakes, giving henna tattoos and selling all sorts of trinkets and souvenirs. Around the edge of the square are restaurants and cafes and other small markets. As I said, its busy and if you stop to look at anything you get hassled into buying it. Buying was a job for another day. I got a juice and just kept walking. It was amazing but I was tired so returned to my hotel for some sleep.
And that was my first day in Morocco. Day 2 to come soon