Thursday, 30 September 2010

I know it's been a bit quiet lately, but that's mainly because I've been busy with Fresher's (Welcome?) Week up here in Manchester and a load of dissertation crap that means I actually get to have an honours degree when I graduate. 

I have, however, had the time to do interviews with Exit Calm (online on HV now) and Dinosaur Pile-Up (erm, maybe in the next couple of days), and am probably (fingers crossed) going to be interviewing The Pineapple Thief and Dutch Uncles shortly. 

Anyway, there we are, excuses made. I thought I'd post an article I never quite finished (mainly due to Student Direct's Travel section biting the dust). Yes, I know it's hackish, but that was kind of the point. Why bother writing unless you make it fun?

Morocco for £300, or, how I learned to stop worrying and love bread and water.

Call me Ishmael. Some weeks ago--never mind how long precisely--having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me in England, I thought I would travel about a little and see the North African part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get backpacking as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the road. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the journey as me.
    There you are, proof that I’m not the only one who gets restless when he’s at a loose end. To quote Steve Coogan in 24 Hour Party People, “if you get it, great, if you don’t… then you should probably read more.” Anyway, what follows is the tale of what happens when you have no money, two weeks with nothing to do, a 1999 Sony CD Walkman, a handful of prog-rock albums, and a propensity for getting food poisoning. Seeing as taking to a ship isn’t really the done or possible thing, I figured Morocco was as good as anywhere. The budget? A mere £300, including flights, and to ensure my fiscal accuracy, I determined that my accountant should accompany me.
    “Where’s our taxi, man?” my accountant asked, as we left the cool mountain stream of the airport for the dead heat of the Marrakech evening. Turned out, of course, that we’d walked straight past the small man with mis-spelled ‘Riad Douzi’ on it, but man found, we headed off into the city, with me attempting to re-learn my long dormant French. “Why are there no seatbelts?” asked my accountant, looking around worriedly at the disorder of traffic in the early evening rush-hour. I translated. The answer came: “so you can fit seven passengers in”. Right. Good thing the speed limit was only sixty-kph-or-so, I thought. Entering the Medina, the roads quickly became all-but impassible to traffic, with several seemingly impossible moments where two cars had to pass resolved by shutting up roadside shops and stalls and moving everybody out of the way. Before too long, we were dumped outside our hostel. We tipped, but evidently not enough; for the first time we encountered a facial gesture that was to become well known to us- “you fucking cheapskates”. Oh well. We were shown around and given tea by a guy called Abdul (more on him later), and set off to find some food.
    We had barely gone twelve paces down the road before my accountant was set upon by hawkers. “English, yes? You want to buy hashish?” Without blinking came the reply, accompanied by a famous gesture- “These aren’t the tourists you’re looking for.” Fighting the confused faces, he continued, “You don’t want to sell me hashish.” As we walked on, he paused a moment, turned, and added thoughtfully, “haram.” Clearly the previous week spent with his nose in an Arabic phrasebook had paid off, for that last comment elicited a “fuck you!”
    Fun fact: in Moroccan Arabic, ‘tramp’ and ‘student’ are almost perfectly assonant. I’d heard a lot of stories before we came about beggars everywhere and aggressive hawkers, but while the hawkers were still there, I found it difficult to spot beggars or homeless anywhere we went- I can only assume that the Moroccan tourist board has been cleaning up or something, because there’s no way during a global recession that Marrakech, dependent on the tourist economy, has less tramps than Manchester. Our friend Abdul suggested that cheap Ryanair flights (a recent development) have extended the length of the tourist season in the country, but I’m not so sure.
    Having done a quick turn around the markets, or souqs (I say quick, but I mean getting repeatedly lost while walking around for a day and a half), we decided to head out desert-wards, catching a bus to Ouarzazate, centre of Morocco’s booming film industry. On our way to the bus station, we picked up some street food, tried to avoid a hawker by speaking German (he switched instantly to flawless, idiomatic German, to which we shrugged and walked off while he chased us), and saw a teenager in a Ché Guevara t-shirt (further evidence of western cultural hegemony). The bus was delayed for an hour while a blazing row was conducted in Arabic, ostensibly about seating arrangements, but also (we think) about smoking on the coach.

There was going to be more- jokes about B-Ark, a London rude boy with an Edinburgh accent, general tomfoolery, and of course three or four days of being on bread and water. We got fucked over by National Rail as soon as we got home, too, but that's hardly new is it?

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