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Published: December 30th 2017
Okay, breakfast is grand what with eggs and all, but the most impressive aspect is that they have even more variations on bread! We coffee and juice ourselves sufficiently and it’s back to Driss. This will be our last day in the SUV. We will traverse the High Atlas Mountains for most of it, stopping at a couple of touristy things along the way, if only to stretch our legs. It will be a long day.
The first stop(s) will be a movie museum and the Atlas Studios tour. Because virtually all of our friends work in or around the film industry we will explain briefly; nothing to see here. They just don’t make many films here and the films they did make are old and who gives a shit. We do see a couple of cool sets from mummy movies and Kundun, but, really, it’s no thrill, except for seeing how the set walls are supported. It looks like it's put together by children. There is one wall used in Game of Thrones, but it’s part of a studio we can only see in the distance from the studio we’re touring, so, whoopdy doo.
The drive across the
Atlas Mountains has moments that feel like that World’s Most Dangerous Roads show, but there are mercifully few of them. At some point we stop in a small town where women press argon oil. Argon is a nut and they grind it down on a clay dish and cover-with-crank set up. We buy a little something from them and move on.
The next stop is actually kind of cool. It’s a Kasbah built up on to a hill. The ancient path up brings to mind a Berber version of France’s Mont St. Michele, though it’s older, cruder and far smaller. We climb to the top and have a look around, then climb to the bottom, eat another fucking tagine surrounded by Chinese people (they’re dining with us, not a garnish). A side note on that; first Chinese people are coming into their own as a middle class and love to travel. They also haven’t been brainwashed by their deplorable government to be prejudiced against Muslims the way we have by our deplorable government. They’re not necessarily a great hang with our culture in terms of personal space and overt friendliness, but they’re fine. Second, we had asked to eat
where the locals eat but that would have meant being brought into their homes. The locals are too poor to eat out but when they do… tagines.
The Atlas’ Mountains go on and on and up and down, finally leading us to Marrakesh after darkness has settled. Driving into Marrakesh we are besieged by a level of traffic insanity the recipe for which feels like equal parts Milan, Italy and Hanoi, Vietnam, dropped into a cocktail shaker and taunted like a cobra. Beyond the vehicular traffic, the area is teeming with so many people rambling this way and that, that detecting a differentiation between roadway and sidewalk is impossible. Bikes, scooters, humans, horse carts, cars, trucks, vans, dogs, cats; a suffocating mob of churning mobility following disparate paths, wheezing with the shouts of barkers and rattling with the coughs of engines and smokers. When the car finally finds a place to perch long enough to eject us into the roiling mayhem, Driss is set upon by the police and, in the cop’s terms, arrested (fined) for stopping in the wrong place to discharge us. There is no time to say goodbye or thank him for doing such a great
job. Fortunately, our tip was generous enough to cover his fine and still leave him with a nice sum. Steve also left him his sunglasses because they’re polarized lenses and Driss totally needs them for summer afternoons of desert glare. He literally sees mirages on the road. Tomorrow morning he will pick up another party here in Marrakesh and tour them for ten days, and so it goes for Driss.
The ride through the Atlas Mountains was endless (notwithstanding it having ended) and nourishment has been mishandled. Steve famously suffers with two specific and complementary physical and mental problems: hypoglycemia and agoraphobia as pertains specifically to crowds. Our luggage has been transferred to a work-beaten cart pushed by a public porter of no discernable age or dental records. As he pushes the heavy load into the ADD-baiting madness of the Marrakesh’s famous Jemaa el Fina Square, we attempt to surround our vulnerable luggage, protecting it against thieves (in one split second case, Julie so blatantly thwarts an attempt on a backpack that the thief actually chuckles with respect!). We are pushed through a crowd at once eager, ill-willed and insane. Bad vibes wrestle for air against scooter fumes and
meaty food stands. A right turn into a hidden alley dims the lights and muffles the sounds as we drop deeper into this ancient rabbit hole. The alleyways are dark and narrow and your instincts tell you it's not a safe place to retreat into but it's the way to our riad.
We finally arrive at our hotel; Riad Yamina, and are welcomed warmly by Moha (short for Mohammed), whose sweetness, comportment and subservient mustache bring to mind Manuel of Fawlty Towers. Of course there will be tea, which we enjoy with Yamina herself, our (surprisingly) British hostess and Simone, a guest from Australia who is very comfortable in her room, her skin and the city. After some light chatter about where to shop and the lack of anything we might actually wish to eat anywhere within the walls of the medina (we will need to taxi to anything nourishing), we go to our room… and that’s when it happens.
The lack of food and onslaught of the touts and madness of the medina are too much for Steve. He doesn’t just get upset; he has a bonified, old-fashioned panic attack. We're talking full on hyperventilating, sweating, shaking
nutso. He is determined to leave Marrakesh immediately if not sooner. He uses what little coordination he can summon to dive into the computer to change flights to go home NOW!!! He absolutely cannot and will not spend one second more than necessary in Marrakesh. Oh, he’s crazy, but he’s not entirely wrong; this is really no place for someone of his peculiarities to be. Understandably, because this is the first such panic attack either of us have ever witnessed (one from inside, one from out); it takes Julie a moment to comprehend the gravity of the situation. But when she does, she does all the right things:
1. Feeds Steve Clonazepam (he keeps them around for mild anxiety but has never experienced anything like this).
2. Asks if there is any food in the hotel because Steve can’t leave – the saintly Moha goes out, gets eggs and an omlette eventually materializes.
3. Lays on top of Steve and coaches him to slow his panting.
The attack does finally pass, but Steve will not chance another by staying in this zoo of a city, period. One of Steve’s numerous pet peeves is being viewed and
approached as a sucker. His clear understanding of when he’s being set up as a mark and ability to steer clear of the hustle has kept enriched him financially as he is never to be found in strip clubs or casinos. Marrakesh painted a target on his back the moment he stepped from Driss’ car and five days of darting eyes and, “SERIOUSLY, no merci!!!” ain’t going to happen. Julie is a touch more curious and would stay, but totally gets the predatory nature of the place and has no objections to leaving. We eliminate the possibility of re-scheduling air both because it’s impossible and because we have a few more days of vacationing to do. We find the bus schedule and determine that will be on the 10:45 AM to Essaouira tomorrow. Spoiler alert: Steve is NOT the first to have this kind of adverse reaction to Marrakesh and we are making a brilliant move!!!
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