So, I’m on the back of this motorbike, enjoying my Audrey Hepburn/Gregory Peck experience but in entirely the wrong city. But it couldn’t have happened anywhere other than Marrakech, when you think about it.
Because there’s something about it..something beautiful and chaotic and mysterious, and somehow, it made me feel quite different to me. And I liked it. I liked that feeling a lot.
We’d gone – the four of us, friends from our first term at University, and still friends despite distance and time – for one of our annual weekends away. This year was significant – we were all turning 28 (no, don’t do the maths, please, I said 28, and as far as I’m concerned 28 it is).
I’ve travelled and lived in Europe, but I hadn’t seen half as many places as I wanted to, so a trip to Africa for the first time felt rather exciting. I also somehow wanted be taken right out of my comfort zone, over the hill and far, far away, (although it never occurred to me that Marrakech would fulfil some of this, as I’d just gone for a spot of shopping) because turning 28 certainly makes you take a big, long look at your life, and to make long, long lists of what you haven’t done, and what you want to do, and what you really, really, really want to do.
And I’d begun the year about to be this number, with the prospect of my eldest child leaving for university in the autumn, the younger one to follow in the not too distant future. My contract had ended at work and I had decided to go freelance (because if I didn’t now I never would), and frankly, I was veering between “this is a brave, new, exciting world”, to “oh, shit…”
So we land in Marrakech.
It didn’t start well. Hundreds of people from many planes trying to squeeze through passport control without the aid of queueing. I kept a stiff upper lift and a cheery demeanour. But I get fraught in crowds, in fact a little panicky. I stayed that way for an hour and a half. When I finally got through to actual Morrocco I was too enfeebled to enjoy the moment.
Still, we’d organised transport. A very nice man took us to our Riad. Or was it? No it wasn’t…but by the time we found out he had gone.
It turns out that the hotel we were accidentally standing in has the same name as the Riad we were meant to be standing in.
Still the staff were really very nice after the embarrassing bit between us trying to check in and them not letting us. Our actual destination was a beautiful, peaceful Riad in the medina. Somewhere..this was a perfectly pleasant aparthotel Somewhere Else. But it had a restaurant. And I was hungry. Very. Ruled by my stomach I was ready to give up the promise of the etheral, spiritual experience to come with the instant gratification of a club sandwich.
However, one of our party had already phoned our driver and told him in no uncertain terms to come back, so instant gratification was not to be. The hour and a half at Passport control for no apparent reason had drained me and I was unable to state my case. Instead I stood sulkily on the pavement. No one took any notice.
Waiting for the next stage of our endless journey to start I reflected on the fact that I REALLY DIDN’T NEED THIS. I had student loan forms to fill in at home. And not EVEN for me. I also had to sort the bathroom out and clear the garage as well as put my paperwork into piles, sorry files. (the last three tasks were fairly constant as I never really got around to doing them)
This weekend was supposed to be a break from trying…but this was very, very trying.
So, back in the car. But not really confident in our drivers navigational ability..still…the streets got narrower and busier, and suddenly humanity seemed to be bursting out of the walls. Rows upon rows of tiny shops, with streets thronged with people, cars, bikes, donkeys, cats, dogs. This looked more like the Marrakech I had seen on my computer.
At last, we arrived at our destination…or had we? Our driver got us and our bags out of the car and led the way. Well he would have done had he known where we were going. He didn’t. Again. As he frantically asked passers by the way to our accommodation, a couple of irate taxi drivers pursued him noisily..he’d parked in front of their cars and blocked them in… During the ensuing argument he somehow located a young boy..a child…and said “he will take you”.
Then he jumped into his car and was gone. Again. The alternative was to cry, so we decided to do as we were told. The boy turned and took us in the opposite direction to the one in which we had been going, and we had no choice but to follow him. He was about 9. I was not confident.
After a weekend in the city I realised that basically people of all ages just led you places, whether you wanted them to or not, actually, but at this point I did not know this.
So, we were dragging our cases up this street as quickly as we could. Nine year old boys walk fast.
Suddenly, he turned into an alley. A very dark, very narrow alley. There was still someone riding a bike in it though..
Then he turned again into another alley….I was beginning to panic slightly. It was like being dropped into a maze from a plane with your eyes shut.
Whereas we were actually walking very swiftly through some very narrow lanes in a strange city quite late and with no idea where we would end up. Hurrah!
Then again he turned. Into a dead end. To a huge wooden door in a windowless wall. The door opened slowly, and without looking up we virtually fell inside.
We fell inside the most beautiful, serene, glorious room I had ever been in. I feel calm just thinking about it.
Next time: in which I am sent to scavenge for supper and learn the significance of left, left, right..