Spreading the Sickness in Marrakech with Grant Hislop

UB Mystical Teachings – A Pauper Video Article by Grant Hislop


So last time I wrote, I told you about what I did in Madrid. There was a GP there, and stuff, so it was at least a little bit Magic related.

This is going to be different.

After I left Madrid, and in the week before Lille, I went to Marrakech. For those of you who don’t know, that’s in Morocco. For those of you who still don’t know, that’s in Africa. North Africa, admittedly, but it’s still Africa. For those of you with very little in the way of deductive powers, Africa and Europe are not the same.

Kat and I were to be the only ones from our Madrid group that were going to Morocco, and we’d meet up with Bruno Panara again in Lille, but for the rest of the week, we were going to be by ourselves. She’d been looking forward to Marrakech for ages, and to be honest, I had as well, and this was going to be our first non-Magic related trip together, which was quite exciting to her.

When we left Madrid, it was pleasantly warm. In Marrakech, it was almost oppressively hot. As soon as we stepped off the plane, it was like walking into a wall of heat. Obviously, not being travel noobs, we’d travelled in our heaviest clothes, so we were quickly working up a sweat. As we were European travellers, we were required to fill out a landing card on our arrival into the country, with details of where we could be contacted etc while we were in Morocco. Obviously, as we were on a Spanish flight, the instructions were all in Spanish, and we didn’t realise that we’d have to fill these out. We queued for half an hour or so, only to be told that we’d need to fill out these, and queue up again. Good start

After we finally make it through the passport control, which consists entirely of a disinterested guy looking at my passport, while having a conversation with another, equally disinterested guy behind him. I would honestly be surprised if the guy actually looked at me throughout this process, we need to get our money changed. For whatever reason, you’re not actually able to buy the Moroccan currency, the Dhiram outside of Morocco, so we weren’t able to come prepared.

I’m Scottish. Consequently, all my bank notes are also Scottish. For those of you who’ve never had the pleasure, Scottish bank notes don’t look the same as English ones, instead of the Queen and Elgar on our £20 note, we have Sir Walter Scott, and the Forth Road Bridge. They’re still clearly labelled as being Pounds Sterling, but for whatever reason, people can be quite pissy about accepting them. Obviously the Moroccan’s at the Bureau de Change were having none of it, and refused to change the notes. That was another half hour or so in a queue, for no discernible reason other than to disgruntle both of us.

We go to a cash machine, and for some reason, are unable to establish if the Bank Account that we have is a credit or a checking account, and take around 10 minutes to actually get any money out, which aids our moods no end.

We’re staying at a hostel, who were supposed to be picking us up at the airport, given that we’ve never been to the country before, and have no idea what to expect, this seemed like a sensible idea. Obviously, there’s no sign of the driver. We amble around the airport for a bit, and Kat calls both the contact numbers that we’ve got for the hostel, to no avail. We’re pondering what to do, whether we should just get a taxi, or keep trying the numbers, before eventually deciding to get a taxi, and making our own way. I’m sure I remember saying ‘It can’t be that difficult to find’. Famous last words…

We get a taxi outside the airport, and tell the guy, in no uncertain terms that we expect to be taken straight to the hostel. He drives us to this square, drops us off, and tells us, ‘It’s just up there’. We head off, looking for any sort of signs of a hostel.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve been to Morocco or not, but I have. Our hostel was in the ‘Old Town’ of Marrakech. What this means, is that it looks like something out of Aladdin. The place is falling apart, there are holes in the buildings, flies buzzing around all of the food that the streetside vendors are peddling, and seemingly half the population are zipping around on ancient looking mopeds, 3-4 to a bike, with no safety equipment. Now, I’m not the most safety conscious of people, and when I think something looks unsafe, it’s probably a good indicator that something’s wrong.

The hostel obviously has no markings, or anything that could possibly indicate that it was there in the first place. We wander around the shops for a while, trying to get our bearings, while fighting off unwashed children who’re trying to offer their services to guide us to their cousin’s aunt’s husband’s best friend’s wife’s hostel, for a fee obviously. We must have been approached by in excess of 20 street children in the hour that we were lost in the Souks (markets to you and I). Eventually, we had to give in, and paid one of them to take us to the hostel. He tried to tell us that it was closed, and that he knew of a better one, but we were not to be dissuaded.

We walked for 5 minutes, and within about 200 metres of where the taxi had dropped us, was our hostel. Obviously, we were morons, as it was clearly marked, with a number 42, and nothing else, in a street with no name. Wait, no, doesn’t that sound ridiculous?

I told the kid that I didn’t have any Dhirams on me, and he said fine, just give me 5 Euros instead. I didn’t have any Euros either, so I gave him all I had, which was a Scottish £5 note, telling him it was worth about the same as 5 Euros. His little, unwashed eyes lit up, and off he went.

The Hostel Manager was called Ali, and he was an absolute gem. To continue the Aladdin references, he was definitely the “Diamond in the Rough”. Spoke perfect English, pleasant and funny. He offered us some mint tea, which is apparently something that they love over there. Kat had read a book on Morocco, and had told me that it was considered rude to decline tea, so obviously we answered in the affirmative. The tea’s not unpleasant, but I wouldn’t drink it by choice. We sat in what I’m loath to call a reception, seeming more like a communal gathering area, for a bit, drank the tea, and Ali grabbed us a map. He sat, and talked us through exactly where we were in relation to most of the easily recognisable landmarks of the Old Town. I’ve got a pretty good internal compass, and certainly once I’ve been somewhere once, I’m generally able to find my way back, but this was definitely helpful, as the Old Town is a warren.

While we were sitting, there was a knock at the door. Apparently, our guide had had the same problem that we’d had re: Scottish money, and was back to ask for Euros again. Ali took the note from him, and closed the door on him. I feel sorry for the kid, and if, by some small miracle, he’s reading, let me know, and I’ll send you your 5 Euros.

After a couple of cups of tea, we went up to our somewhat Spartan room. The walls were painted green, the ceiling red. The furniture consisted of a bright blue wardrobe and chest of drawers, and two single beds pushed together, with a bright orange sheet across both of them. It essentially looked like a rainbow had walked in, vomited all over the room, and left. There was a singular light source, a naked lightbulb on the wall, with the wiring visibly coming in from the window, and off the one electrical outlet in the wall.

We stashed our stuff, and locked the room behind us. When I say ‘locked’, I don’t mean that there was a lock on the door in the traditional sense. Ali had given us a padlock for the door, and we used that in a hole cut into the deadbolt.

We sat out on the patio for a bit, before deciding that we’d head into the main square of Marrakech to get something to eat. The square was about a 5 minute walk from our hostel. During this 5 minute walk, we were grabbed at, shouted at, and various other ‘sales techniques’ were enacted on us. Single-mindedly focused on food, we would not be dissuaded from the tasks at hand, and got into the square.

I’m not the most well-travelled person in the world, but I’ve seen some things. I’ve never seen anything like the square in Marrakech before.

  • There’s monkeys in little dresses and nappies doing backflips.
  • There’s women in Burkas grabbing at people’s hands and drawing terrible Henna patterns onto them against their will.
  • There’s various snake charmers, with Cobras and other assorted snakes just lying around.
  • There’s people trying to sell cigarettes, and pretty much anything else you could imagine.
  • There’s mangy looking horses pulling gaudily painted carts containing all sorts of people and produce.
  • And most importantly, without any seeming rationality, there’s all these idiots zipping around on their dodgy looking mopeds nipping about the place, openly inviting calamity. To be fair, I don’t recall seeing anyone crash one of these, but I’m sure I just wasn’t looking hard enough.

We find a restaurant to eat in, that looks like it might actually conform to basic hygiene regulations, and enjoy some pretty basic food.

Morocco’s an Islamic country. It’s pretty liberal as Islamic countries go, but the influence is obviously there, in that it’s almost impossible to get an alcoholic beverage. For whatever reason, you can get non-alcoholic beer, but to me, non-alcoholic beer is like performing oral sex on your cousin: It tastes the same, but it’s just not right. So coke it was.

We finished eating, and as it was about 10 in the evening, decided to amble back to the hostel, to turn in early. While we’d been out, we’d been narrowly missed by around 30-40 different mopeds, grabbed at 20-25 times and nearly been Henna’d twice. When we got back, we realised that we’d forgotten to get any supplies for the evening, Coke etc. Kat and I drink an excessive amount of Diet Coke between us, and we really should cut it out. Sadly, the only other thing that I enjoy drinking is coffee, so it’s kind of an ‘out of the frying pan, into the fire’ kind of situation. Kat is ‘volunteered’ to go to one of the stalls to pick up supplies, and dutifully complies. Within, 5 minutes, she’s back, empty handed, and nearly in tears. ‘They were all hissing at me, because I was on my own’. ‘Lol’ I replied, and we went to bed thirsty. What a welcoming country!

The following day, we’d decided that we were going to give the square another go, and that we’d wander around and look at the Mosques, and other assorted touristy activities that one does when abroad. We braved the ranks of grabbers and looky-looky men, and got back into the square. We walked in the direction of one of the visible mosques, when we saw one of the city tour buses. As with last time, I can’t recommend these enough. We spent about 2 and a half hours in total on these, as there were 2, and saw all sorts of things. We saw various palaces, gardens, camels, and actually saw the new town of Marrakech, which seemed much more pleasant that where we were staying.

Once we’d finished, we grabbed lunch, and meandered over to the Mosque to have a look at what was going on. It happened that, just as we got there, call to prayer was being sounded. Obviously we, as tourists, weren’t actually able to go in and see what all the fuss was about, which was slightly disappointing. I’m genuinely interested to see what’s going on, but alas, this time, it was not to be.

We headed into the square in the evening again, and Kat was adamant that we were going to try eating at one of the “not so clean looking” food stalls. As we walked around, they would all grab at us, and try to pull us into their respective tent to eat. We walked around, and noticed that they were pretty much all the same. At this, you have to just either pick one, and my main criteria was the guy with the best banter. I’ve got a lot of tattoos, and one of the grabbers looked at me, said ‘Hey, Michael Schofield, how did you break out?’. Winner.

The food was awful, as I’d expected for a portable kitchen in the street. Kat liked it, but she’s vegetarian, so clearly has no palate.

We narrowly avoided multiple moped-related accidents, and turned in after dinner.

On the Thursday, which was our last full day, we’d booked an excursion to the Cascades de Ouzoud, a waterfall a couple of hours drive outside of Marrakech.

Our chauffeur, whose name I’ve sadly forgotten drove Kat and I, plus a few other people out to the Waterfall, where we were met by our guide, Hamid. Hamid was quite the character. One of the people in our group was an Australian woman travelling alone (bravely), and Hamid made no secret that he found her very attractive. He spent the whole day flirting with her in broken English, and to her credit, she was happy enough to play along.

We spent about 3 hours walking around the waterfall. Words really can’t do it justice. It was absolutely beautiful. Hopefully, there should be a few of our pictures dotted around this article, but again, they can barely do it justice. If you do go to Morocco, I couldn’t say enough nice things about this place. Wonderful.

As we were walking, there happened to be a group of monkeys running about. Hamid fed them Oreo’s to tempt them to sit on our shoulders and heads etc, for plenty of photos for everyone. Eventually, we moved on, and got to the base of the waterfall. Here, there were a bunch of haggard looking boats made from old barrels and other strange, unsturdy looking things. We were rowed out, right under the base of the waterfall, and came back completely drenched. 2 minutes later, the Sun had dried us again, and we grabbed some lunch from a restaurant at the bottom of the waterfall. It was again; awful.

We climbed back up the other side of the waterfall, and our chauffeur took us back to the hostel.

I refused to eat at the stalls again, so we found a restaurant, grabbed something borderline edible for a change, and turned in again. I find that, as I’m unused to it in the grim highlands of Scotland, the Sun really takes it out of me, so I slept far more on this leg of the trip than I would normally. Admittedly, we needed to be up at 6am the following day to catch our plane, and I certainly wasn’t prepared to miss that, so it wasn’t the worst idea.

Fortunately, there were no problems in the morning, we got our taxi easily enough, and arrived in plenty of time to catch our flight to Charles de Gaulle, and back to nice, normal Europe.

I really didn’t enjoy Morocco, and couldn’t in good faith recommend it, but if you really have to go, I can’t say enough nice things about the Hostal Rouge, where I stayed, and the Cascades were excellent… but the food was awful, the atmosphere unpleasant, the locals unfriendly and not too clean, which ruined it for me. Basically, the whole country behaves like it’s in the comments section of a Carrie Oliver article.

Kat quite enjoyed it, but she’s not to be trusted.

Next time, I’ll cover what happened in Lille, and maybe mention Magic at some point. Obviously, there’s not been much in the way of Magic content in here. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading about what I’ve gotten up to, and next time, we’ll resume normal service.

Stay classy mtgUK,



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