Marrakech airport, 16th Dec 2007 … new arrivals are greeted by hundreds of placards. I scan the display showing names of people, Hotels, and Riads, until I spot Dar Pangal, my Riad. In the rush my top heavy case topples and grazes a man’s toes. He shouts an avalanche of abuse, in French. I say, ‘Sorry,’ which raises his blood pressure even more. My understanding of French being embarrassingly basic, I do grasp the questions he hurls at me like projectiles. ‘Where do you come from? Why do you come here?’ His insolence finally riles me. ‘Why do you want to know?’ I ask. He snaps back in English, ‘Shut up.’ Young Saladin, who will bring me to my Riad in the Medina, casts his eyes to heaven and shrugs his shoulders, so do I.
Anything on wheels ages well here. Old bangers zip through the buzzing crowd. Some cars, and bikes, have well-fed goat tied up in the backseat. ‘Feasts are ahead,’ Saladin says, in perfect English. ‘Sacrificing goats for celebrations and sharing their mutton with family, friends and neighbours is an honoured tradition in these parts of the world.’
Turning into a narrow backstreet, we arrive at Dar Pangal. The inner courtyard is an island of peace. Julio offers a warm welcome. He’s South American, but spent years in Paris, working as a designer. He likes Werner Herzog films, and once met Klaus Kinsky. Eccentric people fascinate him. I reveal how I worked for some of these eccentric people in the past. On that wavelength we share reminiscences over mint tea. Using a mobile and texting is a new experience for me. Somewhat nervous, I practice sending messages to Ulla, Ruth and Zohra. Connections work well. A hot shower also works well, and helps me to sleep after a long day.
17th Dec. 2007 … A knock on the door. 7 am and pitch dark. Latifa opens the shutters and invites me to have breakfast. Later I explore Julio’s roof terrace, with sweeping views over the medina roofs, which carry a field of satellites. Seems Marrakech is well wired up through gold vision orbs.
I find an exchange office to buy dirham cash, and then stroll through the Souk, taking my time, feasting on spicy smells and deep colours. An exotic trance battles with my intention to look purposeful, to avoid harassment. Charmed by a timeworn caravanserai, I calculate the exchange rate in my head and bargain over a holdall made from a Berber saddle back. In the process I lose a knitted hat I’d bought for my son. His taste in clothing has become refined, so maybe I should find a different present. I notice that most people don’t like to be photographed without permission, which I respect. The plenty starved cats have no objection.
18th Dec. 2007 … Saladin learns there are no places on trains to Agadir on the Atlantic coast, where I am supposed to meet my friend, Ulla, with her VW bus and her two dogs. We manage to find a seat for me in a grand taxi, an old Mercedes already cramped with Moroccan men heading to Agadir for family gatherings. To ease their fare the men wedge me into the backseat. Pressure of time cancels choice, so I trust the arrangement. Magnificent white clouds over the Atlas Mountains compensate. A short cigarette stop provides a memorable photo. After an hour being cramped together, the men invite me to mint tea and pancakes. We communicate in made-up language, hand gestures and smiles.
I meet up with Ulla, her van and her dog family, a Dalmatian, Leila, and an adorable adopted Moroccan street dog, Ali, in the parking area of Marjane Shopping Mall. I had visited Ulla’s home a year earlier, refreshing a connection from eventful past decades that combined in our memory. Besides, there was our joint mother tongue. Mine had become rusty. Being challenged to speak German brought not only forgotten words to the surface, but also forgotten experiences. Where I can be hesitant and avoid conflict, she has a no-nonsense manner, often with an edge I admire. Shouting the name ‘Ali’ down the road for your dog to behave, is potentially asking for trouble, that is, in Morocco. The predictable raised eyebrows before the penny drops remind me of childhood pranks my mother used to censor. We make an interesting pair of travellers.
Two friends Ulla met on the road, Peter and his partner, have their camper parked nearby. Peter knows everything there is to know about Morocco, including where to find my rolling tobacco, and how to achieve reduced deals for lodgings. Useful, since Ulla’s dog friends own any spare space in her van.
19th Dec 2007 … We are en route through the Anti-Atlas Mountains and along steeply winding roads, with an almost invisible turnoff towards the hidden Berber oasis of Tafraoute. I sign in at Hotel Salama. We have a fabulous meal at a tiny Berber restaurant. The owner, I learn later, married an English Writer, and back in the UK, I discovered by chance a proof copy of her novel in a charity shop. I wrote a spontaneous review.
The landscape surrounding Tafraout is littered with spectacular rocks. In 1984, a Belgian artist, Jean Verame, painted a cluster of rocks blue. I prefer land-art created with earth materials, not tons of paint. Still, it was done, and these rocks look as if the sky dropped a spot of its blue on them.
Our next destination was Tiznit, and from there on all the way to Tan Tan, near Mauritania, and up again along the Atlantic coast to Essaouira. Given the present surreal lock downs, I may share more episodes of this adventure.
Photography fans may like my album on Morocco at https://500px.com/p/ashen?view=galleries