Saturday, September 29, 2007

The romance of travel is still not dead…

This entry is written on, but not posted from, flight EZY5304 en route from Marrakech to Gatwick Airport. I’ve escaped with Ros for a little sunshine and relaxation after Federal Conference, in the company of her daughter Sally.

Curiously, despite my reputation for globetrotting, I’ve never actually been to mainland Africa, so it’s been just a bit of an adventure. Now I admit that, for someone who has been to Vanuatu, Ecuador and Vietnam, to name but three countries in the lifetime of this blog alone (since writing this blog, I’ve visited fifteen countries on all six continents), an Easy Jet flight to Morocco doesn’t appear, on the face of it, to be that thrilling or exotic.

And yet, there is something unique about Marrakech still, something that differentiates it from most of the places that I’ve been. The fact that English, whilst spoken, is still not the primary language of tourism (still French, I’m glad to say) helps. The comparatively slight impact of mass tourism (although, sadly, probably not for long) is another plus. However, the fact that the souks of the Medina, with their shady alleys and riads, remain virtually untouched by the modern era (externally, at least), is what makes the city so wonderful. It’s still Ramadan, and the city’s body clock is controlled by the inability to eat whilst the sun is up. And, as the skies dims, the tension rises and all ears await the call of the muezzin, announcing the sunset and unleashing a feeding frenzy across city and suburbs alike.

Tim, a friend of Ros’s, owns a riad (a bit like a tower, with a small courtyard at the bottom) near the heart of the old city, and kindly invited us to join him for a few days. His terrace looks out over the rooftops of the medina and, once the muezzin start their cries (accompanied by what appear to be air raid sirens salvaged from an earlier war), you are surrounded by a wave of sound which would have been familiar to a time traveller brought forward from the Middle Ages.

In short, Marrakech is different. Things happen broadly on time (for a given value of ’on time’), although there is always room for negotiation. There is no such thing as a fixed price (unless you actually want to be ripped off, of course), and there is always another day, God willing. It does remind me a bit of India, although not the India that tourists mostly see, in that you do have to leave behind the Western virtues of certainty and efficiency, and accept a rather slower, occasionally bewildering sense that you can’t entirely control what is happening. Just accept that, if it is fated to happen, it will, and all will be well.

Unfortunately, it’s now time to return to the reality of work, meetings and politics, and the day to day stuff that makes a romantic getaway so appealing. Ah well, there’s always a moment to plan the next getaway…


tim leunig said...

there are 7 continents


David said...

I spent my first honeymoon (i.e. my honeymoon with my first wife)in Morocco. We went with an outfit called Camp Africa - 2 weeks for £29 and I promise this was within living memory, 1972. Half the time was spent on buses to and fro. The journey began and ended at Newhaven. I was a very serious young man and asked pertinent and interesting questions such as, "What do the Moroccans do about sewage ?" to which the guide replied, "Every Moroccan does his bit."