Sunday, 11 April 2010
I'm back from Marrakech, and putting aside catching the flu and a 6 hour flight delay, I had an amazing time and I'm much better company than I thought I was :-) So much struck me as unique and exciting about the city - the colours, the food, the music, the people. I ate pastilla till I never wanted to see pastilla again, I got lost in the medina then found my way again, haggled for tie-backs in the souk and simply wandered about, taking it all in. Like my trips to Istanbul last year, I can honestly say Marrakech is a city that lives up to its hype, and I think that is partly due to the fact it has this arab feel, but unlike other north African cities like Cairo or Tunis, for me it has this sort of African 'underbeat' that literally gets under your skin. Hard to desribe. I was also surprised at how charming everyone was, I'd heard dodgy stories about bottom-pinching and hustlers thrusting their pet monkeys on you then demanding money for a photo, but I have to say my experience with the people was really positive. Yes the men did cat call (but no more than they do in my Madrileño barrio, Lavapiés) but no touching or serious hassle and taxi drivers and market stall holders generally agreed to come down to a reasonable price. That said, I'm guessing that looking pretty much arab/north african and speaking some Arabic may have had something to do with that. The riad I stayed in was also very cool and was one of the best things about my stay, not so much because of the aesthetics of the place but because the 4 guys than ran it (one French and 3 Morrocans) were so sweet and did everything to make sure my stay was as pleasant as possible from escorting me to the Jemaa al Fna on my first day, to greeting me at the door with a fresh OJ every time I walked in the riad to just generally taking an interest and taking the time out to have a chat with me as I was travelling alone. I really haven't experienced such hospitality in the hospitality industry for a long time :-) Even the taxi driver was lovely and we had an interesting little exchange (quite typical of that part of the wolrd) - 'Are you married?', '...no, er..not yet', 'Maybe in Marrakech...?', 'What, find a husband in 2 days?'.... 'No, not find a husband here, but inshallah Marrakech is the muftah, the key, that might make other things happen, that take you to him'. Very sweet :-) Sweet, because in that part of the world it's perfectly normal for everyone to assume you want to get married and for you to admit it openly.
I won't go into the sightseeing bit here, as the holiday wasn't really about that for me, though I will say that some of the highlights were Yves Sant Laurent's former abode - the Majorelle Gardens, the Jemaa el Fna square by night and wandering round the kasbah. Instead, I wanted to talk a bit about the experience of travellling alone for the first time. Perhaps I wouldn't take a long trip alone (or maybe I would?), but for a few days it was excellent. It was nice to wake up when I wanted, to eat where I wanted, to stop off and read or write for half an hour whenever I felt like it. But maybe more importantly I learnt that I could be brave, that I could look after myself, that I could prevent people from taking advantage of me (common perils when travelling as a lone woman in an unknown country) - all stuff that I guess I knew but that I sometimes doubted. And I suppose, I learnt that if you don't want to be, you're never actually that alone - the riad guys invited me to watch the Barca match, I met up with a relative of my cousin's wife, I chatted with people I would never have spoken to if travelling with someone else. Overall, a really positive and affirming experience :-)