It’s strange to think that one can hop on a plane in Dublin and less than 4 hours later (providing you can meet Ryanair’s numerous and oftentimes mind-boggling guidelines) touch down in a place that is as different from home as chalk is from cheese, as Christmas is from Easter, as Ozzy is from Britney.
Marrakech, Morocco, on the tippy-top hairline of Africa.
Stepping out of arrivals in Marrakech is like stepping into another world, to coin a rather stale phrase. Gone are the square-box pebbled-dashed buildings, replaced by ochre structures with curious peepholes dotted across their faces that made me itch to enact my own version of Assassin’s Creed.
The vegetation of home, although incomparable with most countries, still finds a worthy rival in Marrakech’s thick and laden orange trees, fountain palms, and tall trunks of nothing that suddenly umbrella out at the top above everything.
There is no inch of space that isn’t decorated by tiles, tracery or ornament. Colour, colour, everywhere. The smells – incense, rotting oranges, spices. And beware the population of stray cats that pull without mercy on your heartstrings. The place truly is an assault on the senses. For a girl who considers herself ‘of the word’ Marrakech certainly wasted no time in shutting me up. My people-watching tendencies went into overdrive however, sometimes to an embarrassing degree for my companion; it is tough enough to get by in a country so foreign without having to travel alongside someone who consists of nothing but gawping eyes and gaping mouth.
Of course one cannot visit Marrakech without braving Jemaa el Fna – the mother, father and extended family of all markets. I’d heard many horror stories about such places and the hassle a single woman would get from the vendors, so I was expecting my day to be a challenge not unlike reaching the bar in a nightclub, ungroped, five minutes before closing time.
I soon, however, developed a failsafe method of survival involving dropping my eyes and plunging onwards. Me, I’m more accustomed to grinning at anyone who passes my way, sometimes to the extent that it sends little old ladies skittering in the opposite direction with their tails between their legs. So this tactic was no mean feat for me.
The more calls and comments that were thrown my way, the harder that giggle inside would boil up; it was inevitable that it would eventually spill over. It was always well received when it did however. In fact, on one occassion my companion was offered 4,000 dirham to relieve himself of me.
Although this would be considered quite a pot of nectar in a poverty stricken area such as the one we were mired in at the time, nonetheless, I was a little stung that there wasn’t at least one camel thrown into the dowry.
I wisely deduced though, that on this occasion in Marrakech, haggling wouldn’t be in my best interest. Best instead, to accept the offer as compliment and keep plunging.