The bus trip from Casablanca to Marrakech rambled along the dusty roads. I looked out the window onto the dry landscape, coloured in shades of red and brown clay. Life was scarce and harsh, building bitterness towards those from the outside.
I was building distrust, paranoid someone might steal my backpack which was strapped onto the roof of the bus. Every time the bus stopped for a break I got off to ensure no one was stealing my belongings while the bus stood stationary.
At one of these stops a young boy came up to me and offered to clean my shoes for a small fee. His polish was the world famous Kiwi brand, reminding me how far away from home I had travelled.
In the last nine months, since leaving New Zealand, I had already gone through one pair of shoes and my second pair was attached to my feet by the barest of threads. With a decent shine my shoes would disintegrate into the roadside dust and then where would I be?
Barefoot and without any spare clothes in Morocco that is where. Yes that's right, without any spare clothes because I can guarantee my shoes falling apart would somehow lead to my backpack, storing all my clothes, getting stolen. Then there is the third piece of bad luck which I don't even want to think about.
No; I don't want my shoes shinned, Kiwi brand or no Kiwi brand!
But thanks for the offer and with that I shrugged my shoulders at the young boy to signal he would do better to seek custom elsewhere.
I watched him at work till it was time for the bus to move on. Last one back onto the bus I was comfortable my backpack was still secure.
The bus continued on, to arrive at the bus depot in Marrakech during the late afternoon. I quickly found accommodation, close by, in a comfortable hotel on the outside of the walled city, the medina.
It had turned out well. I was staying in a cheap, comfortable hotel, where the distain towards me was moderate and I had time to walk around the tourist part of the town before it became dark.
I walked through the boundaries of the city under the arches of the orange hue, clay covered walls. Inside these walls sat the Djemaa el-Fna or more exotically named Assembly of the Dead. This was a large, historic market square which had turned into a modern day tourist attraction. I strolled towards the square. The buildings along the way set off nicely against the wide blue desert skies. In this part of the world the sun and the skies were the masters of man's destiny and it would be foolish to impinge upon their freedom.
The market was quiet and appeared to be winding down for the day. But the next morning when I went for another walk to the square there was not much more life there either; people appeared drowsy and worn down. It was as though they were helpless to control the current low of the winter tourist season and were merely waiting for better times. It was as though all their strength had been sapped.
Locals around the market nearly outnumbered tourists and as a result I suffered the pain of a plethora of tourist guides offering me their services.
"No, I don't want to visit your rug store."
"I still have a couple of weeks travelling around Europe to complete. How do you suggest I fit a rug into my back pack?"
"I have left my flat and I am currently homeless. It is therefore impossible for me to send a rug back to London by post."
"Have you ever heard of carpet?"
"Three rugs for the price of one, I don't even own a house to have a need for one rug."
"Ten rugs for the price of four, hey, I'm never going to own a house which will be large enough for tens rugs."
"What? I can put the other eleven rugs in storage and have a different rug in the lounge for each month of the year?"
"No, I don't want to visit your rug store."
"Look, can you do me a real favour and just piss off."
I discovered the safest option was to stick to the square. Any entry into the nearby narrow alleys, housing a variety of market stalls, was an open invitation to be assailed by the tourist guides. These guides hid in the shadows, like a sniper ready to pick off its prey. From the square you could at least see these guides approaching from a distance.
After a while I realised I was trapped and decided the safest plan of escape was to head back to my hotel. Along the way I noticed a bunch of bored males sitting in cafes, outside the medina, passing the languid time of day. Perhaps I should join them for a cappuccino or perhaps even a latte. But then perhaps not! I did not feel like impinging on other people's territory and having their eyes cast over me in the ancient biblical custom of throwing stones at the sinner.
It was better to hide in my hotel.
Tomorrow I would be travelling to Fez. Apparently the city had something to do with famous Arabian tales involving 1001 nights. One more night in Marrakech would be enough for me.