Marrakech - On The Marrakech Express.....

Trip Start Mar 03, 2005
Trip End Mar 04, 2006

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Flag of Morocco  ,
Monday, January 9, 2006

There is an English bloke, Paul, staying at the Sevilla hostel as well, who is also heading to Morocco. He fits into the category of 'nice chap', as many English do. Paul is two months into a long journey like me.

He mentioned he was going to Algeciras on the Spanish coast, then staying overnight before heading to Tangier in Morocco and then catching the overnight train to Marrakech. I mentioned that I reckon we should have a crack at the whole kit in one go and get it over and done with. I've done long journeys like this before, and while terrible, they are best out of the way. Paul liked my spirit of doggedness and perhaps stupidity, and agreed to also have a crack.

When you have no sense of direction, like moi, walking to a bus station in the early morning hours in a strange town is best done with a nice chap who's profession is in drawing maps. Paul is a cartographer, and thus I could switch off my brain for once. We arrived in perfect timing to get on the bus to Algeciras that left within seconds for the 3.5 hour drive through southern Spain.

Nearing the coast, Paul pointed out the largish rock mountain jutting out from the coastline and into the sea. So, that'd be Gibraltar.

Arriving just after noon, we walked from the bus station to the port, picked up a ticket, and shuffled off through the buildings and gangways to clear customs and get onboard the ferry. Embarrassingly, Paul carries one 50 litre pack, whereas I have 90 on my back and around 30 on the front. "Hair care products take up space" is my usual reply to people who wonder what the hell is all that shyte I am carrying.

Clearing Morrocan customs is actually done onboard the boat prior to leaving port in Spain. Add in a frustrating circular cruise in the harbour at Tangier for an hour, awaiting docking space, and it is getting late in the afternoon.

Paul is excited at a new exotic destination, and he also speaks a few more words of French than me. It is his first test as such, as Western Europe doesn't qualify as exotically challenging. My mindset is more of "this country better not be like frickin' Egypt" as we toddle off to find a taxi. I am stuck with only a bare few French words plus the lyrics to 'Lady Marmalade' as the only local language skills I have, unless you also include 'hello' and 'thank you' in Arabic. The first taxi gets rejected by me as too costly, the hardened veteran walking away in mock disgust. The second is a better deal.

My immediate reaction to Morocco, based on the city of Tangier, is that the taxis have windows, doors, and the inner-trim of the car all in place. Usually an indicator to the rest of the country, I am immedately more buoyant, but wish to see the train station.

It is brand spanking new. Tickets are not too difficult to come by and we both invest in the couchette ticket. Couchette (perhaps French for female couch) means a mattress bunk to sleep on in a cabin. Hmmm, I am liking this place already. Now only a four hour wait for for the train to leave. Even the Chicken Kebabs at the station were good. Maybe they should move the Pyramids here.

We got to talking with some other Australians to pass the time. Soon enough those in charge were rustling up the westerners to get onboard, for some reason, one hour early. The train did leave on time at 9.30, but with nothing much to do I was dozing by then.

Strange but true, I am asleep on the Marrakech Express. Crosby, Stills and Nash would not be proud, as theoretically I should be somewhat toasted on hashish by now, depending on your interpretation of the lyrics.

Arrival at 9am, and off the train into the throng. Paul has been studying the travel guides for knowledge, whereas I just tend to assume that everyone will try to rip you off initially. Our first offer of a taxi is overpriced, so I walk off, Paul in tow with the driver trying to negotiate with him. I lead us to the taxis outside and there is an immediate and much cheaper deal.

The driver asks if we have booked into the hotel we have asked him to take us to. I say "yes" and Paul looks over his shoulder at me. We haven't. We jump out at the destination and Paul mentions that he is learning from my experiences, such as saying you have a booking rather than have the driver take you to a different hotel. I mention that I'll save him the trouble of losing $25 like I did in Vietnam a few years ago by going to the wrong place.

We check out a room as the other Australians also arrive. It smells horrendously musty. I say I will check out others around the corner, while Paul and the rest stay. It was a good decision as there were dozens of place nearby which were much cleaner and cheaper.

I have almost forgotten what it is like to be truly on edge when arriving somewhere new and very strange. After all it is Morocco, and it is Africa.
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