The Spice of Life

The Marrakech boys gathered round the economy flight smelling fresh meat that had just landed in the centre of the spice filled Jemaa el fna. We had just completed our first, unsuccessful bartering experience with our taxi driver and would later find out that paying 100 derum for a 6 kilometer taxi ride was as much a crime as politely refusing green tea from the owners of a belt and bag shop near the leather market.

“You go Marrakech Rouge?...Rainbow hostel! We show you way!” the exuberantly colourful little boys shouted. Our senses already consumed with the smell of spices mixed with petrol, the sound of Arabic voices mixed with moped engines, we nodded dazedly to the boys to aid us in our quest to find our supposed tranquillity within this chaotic city.

We stumbled through the winding streets with our rationed belongings, down narrow alleyways, our animated tour guides pulling and tugging us more quickly than our eyes could adjust to the seeping and fleeing light between each cracked parapet. Eventually we reach our hostel, furtive and shadowy in its presence.

“You have something for us?” the boys of Marrakech asked excitedly. The delight on their faces verified that once again we were over generous in our payments, but the happiness the boys received on the back of our naiivity compensated for our loss of a few extra pence.

Entering the hostel, we immediately understood their tagline “Leading the campaign against grey”. What was lacking in the building’s finesse was compensated by its colourful atmosphere and range of scatter cushions. The cost per night per standard ‘room’ was £4. For walls and a ceiling we would be charged extra.

From the animal heads for sale in the white magic shop, to the freeing of a falcon from the top floor of our hostel, to the standoff between donkey and shire horses in between the bursting souks, Marrakech delighted and bemused our Westernised spirits in a way we had never imagined. The initial overpowering of the senses when we first landed in Jemaa el fna was now replaced with a desire to saturate ourselves in the intense culture of this fruitful and open-hearted city. We knew our brief four days would be filled with intensive Moroccan experiences- Hammams, tagine making and unquestionably much more efficacious bartering than before.

By the time we departed, we recognised our own way through the narrow alleyways. We were now our own animated tour guides. Now, our slightly less Westernised souls tried to pull and tug us back to our ceiling and wall lacking solitude. We stumbled back through the winding streets, with our original belongings crammed between scarves, terracotta tagines and limitless memories. Martin Buber once said that ‘All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” Our final destination was Marrakech airport. And for a well bartered 55 derum.

Rachelle Pennock

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