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The main square in Marrakech, Jemaa el-Fnaa

The main square in Marrakech, Jemaa el-Fnaa. Photo by Nellu.

Morocco may be the only place in the world where tourists approach people who are clearly also tourists to ask for directions. (If you didn’t read my last post, visitors are warned not to ask local kids for directions because they’ll often lead you around in circles and a demand a hefty tip for their time.)

In Marrakech, a much more touristy city than Fes, Nellu and I were approached on two occasions by fellow tourists. One time, it was a group of three teachers from the Netherlands, who had gotten lost on their way to meet their students. When we ran into them on our way back to our riad, they had already been marked by a few teenagers, who continued to circle their prey.

Since we couldn’t figure out where the teachers were going, we brought them home with us. I thought our host, Samata, would be able to give them directions they could count on. It was at least a five minute walk through winding streets and a few dark narrow alleyways, but they chatted happily to us as we led them.

Samata was there when we walked in. He pulled out a prepared map and highlighted various landmarks on a path crossing the main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, on the way to their restaurant meeting place. Nellu and walked with them again, just to make sure they got there.

On our way back for the second time that night, Nellu asked, somewhat in disbelief, “Would you have followed us up down these dark alleys?”

To be honest, I don’t know if I would have followed him, but I would have definitely followed me. I’m approachable. Nellu’s intimidating. We’re an oddly effective combination.

There is one group of people in Marrakech who did find Nellu approachable, however…the drug dealers. He must have been approached four or five times during the few days we were there. (He swears it happened every time we went out.) But what was truly fun about these encounters was the way they told him what they had to offer. Instead of whispering in Nellu’s ear, it looked like they were trying to whisper into his mouth. “Hashish,” they would say directly at his mouth as he walked by. It was awkward to watch because Nellu actually walks quite quickly. These guys had to keep up with him, try to whisper into his mouth, and avoid running into people, bikes, carts, walls, etc.

A wall. Photo by Nellu

I know at this point in the story you’re probably thinking, “And, why would I want to go to Morocco.” It’s not as sketchy as it may sound. These are just the quirky stories I write before the paragraphs where I talk about how great everything is to keep it interesting. Great = boring. Dealers whispering into the mouths of potential customers—interesting.

I highly recommend Morocco for all of our U.S. friends (and European friends) because it’s close enough for a week-long trip, yet exotic enough to make you feel like you’ve really traveled.

Here are a few other things I loved about Morocco:

1) You can write off a visit to a Hamman/spa as a “genuine cultural experience.” A hammam is either a steam room or a bath. The steaming is usually followed by an intense black soap exfoliation, which was much appreciated after our months on the road.

2) They tolerated my bad French and even pretended to understand my small talk regarding the weather.

3) Everything is beautiful. Seriously. In the States our neutral decor is beige, in Morocco it’s elaborate colorful patterns.

The console in the entrance to our riad.

And in Marrakech, Jemaa el-Fnaa Square is a must visit, especially when it comes alive at night. (Nellu wants me to let you know it is a recognized cultural space within the Marrakech Medina, a UNESCO World Heritage site.) It has all the stereotypical thrills you’re looking for including snake charmers, monkeys on a leash, and women waiting to henna tattoo you. Here’s what it sounds like:

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So go, bring an extra bag to fill with all the leather you buy and maybe a side table for me, and ask other tourists for directions to the best souks.

~ Molly

I’ve finally finished compiling the footage I took on our overland trek from Johannesburg to Nairobi. I struggled with this package more than I do with most. I assume one of the reasons is because I am emotionally attached to most of the video, which makes it very difficult to edit pieces out.

I also found that while I wanted to write a script, I couldn’t find the words. I wanted to give the experience the weight it deserved. I wanted to make it poetic. But I found Florence and the Machine’s “All This Heaven Too,” said exactly what I wanted to say while letting the video speak for itself.  I hope you enjoy.

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And since I had so many nice moments left over, I put together some of the pieces which ended up on cutting room floor. Thanks to everyone on our trip who put up with me shooting video while you were sleeping, sweaty, and or just generally ruffled from camping for a month.

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For more stories from our African Adventure, start here.

~ Molly

Day 11

We leave Livingstone and get back on the road. There’s just 11 of us from our original group and we’ve gained 3 more people from a tour that came up the west coast of South Africa starting in Cape Town. The 11 of us on the trek from Johannesburg have really started to settle into a groove so it will be interesting to see how the new three change the group dynamic. We’ve also got a new guide, Maretha (or Mazza), and a new driver, Raymond. Both Maretha and Raymond will be with us for the rest of or days on the road. It’s oddly reassuring to have stable “parents” for the rest of the trip.

We pack up our tents in light rain. This is the first morning it’s been raining since we’ve been on the road, which is nice because technically it’s the wet season. Camping in sunny weather is one thing. Camping in the midst of torrential downpours is totally different.

We make our usual, almost daily stop for supplies. Our tour provides most of our meals, but for water, snacks and beer, we’re on our own. Most of the places we’ve stopped along the way so far have been modern supermarkets – right in the middle of strip malls. Not what I thought we’d see in Africa at all but I guess perceptions are made to be broken.

This is also Africa.

There’s a game park next to our campsite for the night. We here there is a family of giraffes with a baby giraffe in the area. We see the family from a far and after tiptoeing around some muddy paths, we get pretty close to them.

Lots of Mud. Photo by Nellu

It’s surreal being on foot so close to exotic animals. It’s very Jurassic Park.

Photo by Nellu

Day 12

We park for lunch at a rest stop off the main drag today. About a dozen local kids see our truck pull in and come running.

The set up for lunch for 16 people is by nature quite elaborate. We pull out the folding chairs, tables, plates and utensils. We have bins for washing our hands and bins for washing dishes as well as all the food and food prep materials. And Mazza adds nice touches to our meal time rituals with a table cloth and plant. It must be an odd show for the kids – all of us arriving in this big truckbus, jumping out for lunch, and then just as quickly packing up to go.

The kids just stand by the edge of the road and watch but do not cross an invisible line. It’s only when people from our group approach them with cameras that the fun begins. First the kids pose, many of them striking defensive stances with fists toward the camera or something out of martial arts film.

Chloe and Claire share pictures with the kids. Photo by Nellu

Photo by Nellu

Then they come in to look at the digital images and laugh at each other on the screen. And then, the kids want to try to take pictures themselves.

Thanks to Claire Walton for the photo.

Nellu and a few others are brave enough to hand over their cameras for some pretty interesting results:

One of the pictures the kids took with Nellu's camera.

Photographers in the making.

To be continued…

~ Molly

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