If you have ever seen cattle hounded, bewildered through through the steel gates of a market, you may be able to better envisage my second arrival in Marrakesh. Easter holidays in Spain and France had begun and the hotels had filled themselves with droves of holidaying tourists (I, of course rather snottily, view myself as not a part of this ogling rabble, but instead label myself a “traveler”). My advances toward establishments were met with uniform and numerable “complets.” It was one of those occasions when even the most pioneering attempt at appearing not to be worried or confused fails. With failure came a good dozen (why do I say good? none were good.) rather unappealing offers of, among other things, rooms. Two of these included “girls” in the equation, given later events this would have been a favorable prospect.
In desperation I followed one of these offers (not one of the openly pimping ones). I was led down an indescribably grubby little street. I expected to be disgusted, I did not expect to be as disgusted as I was. The “Hotel Mauritania” sign which presumably once took a place above the door, lay where it had fallen, shattered in front of it. Stepping over this, and three brawling cats, down a dingy corridor, to a covered, dark courtyard around which six rooms were crammed. Each had different kinds of door, every one limping awkwardly off strained hinges. The squalor was admirable, the place smelt of stale smoke, damp plaster, urine and alcohol. Though there were only six rooms, they began at 100, so mine was to be room 101. Fitting, though I do not suppose that any Orwellian reference was intended. The woman who had guided me here (I had chosen a woman in the mistaken hope that it would be a safer bet) thumped on the door, which shook, shedding large quantities of dandruff paint. It opened after a long twenty seconds and revealed a rather grizzled looking, overweight European, half smoked cigarette drooping from the left of his mouth. His hands were engaged buttoning his fly. The reason for this became apparent as i stepped forward and a slight Moroccan boy of about fourteen came into view with big eyes and a vacant expression stood, dressing himself. Seemingly, my presence alone indicated that I too possessed the moral trappings of the casual pederast, so the man smiled at me and said with a breathlessness that betrayed yet further what he had just done; “bonsoir.” It was not the evening, but i don’t suppose that he had left his room to find out. “Duex cent dihram” the woman, much less phased than I, said. I pushed past here, down the dingy corridor and onto the indescribably grubby little street. For that price, I thought, room service was probably included.
I ended up sleeping two nights on a roof terrace after explaining my story to a kindly receptionist at a more respectable institution. He muttered something about the bloody police not caring. Marrakesh was, as it always seems to be, a town of laughable cliche, full of tourists and empty of soul. Needless to say, I loved it.
I had become increasingly aware of my dwindling time, four weeks, at that point. So I pressed on south, taking the night bus (the only bus) to Taroudannt. It is not far from Marrakesh, but the precarious, winding nature of the road, which straddles breathtaking mountains and plunging valleys, all lovingly lit by the bright moon, meant it took eight hours. Taroudannt is beautiful; A city never used by the French and thus nearly devoid of a modern appendage. I spent three happy days there, walking round the vast wall that encases the place, sipping tea from its many cafes and feeling sorry for the donkeys. They were left for hours in the sun with their legs tied together so that they could not walk away, they could not balance either, and spent their time in a tortured dance, fighting against every omnidirectional teetering. Aside from this, all was pleasant, I spent hours playing cards with the elderly owner of the hotel, who told me innumerable stories, mostly about how awful the french were and about how he had met Jimi Hendrix in Essaouira. I Left that medieval town happier than I had arrived, even though I left it in the back of a van, cramped between seven other people. “At least it was cheap” I told myself.