Thursday the 14th
We departed Granada before 7:00 am that morning. Those who had managed to arrive at breakfast half an hour prior had not yet wiped the sleep from their eyes – or had the time to expunge the alcohol from their systems. By local standards, 4:00 is an early finish to a fiesta but the equally early morning forced us to sacrifice both our sleep and our night out. My personal outlook for the day had not been positive until I realised I was still intoxicated and had a sneaky escape from the expected hangover. The weather until now had been tranquil and clear! Approaching 40 degrees by the afternoon, a siesta was a necessary escape to recuperate from the draining heat. As the sun ascended over the hillside, I was surprised to see a thick cloud hugging the green mountainous horizon in extreme contrast to the vivid blue skies we had experienced over the past few days.
The transfer by ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar was not met lightly by some of our crew whose upset stomachs were put to the test. The lack of substantial food did not help either but the 45 minute crossing was soon over and we were in Africa! The week ahead was bound to be filled with confronting culture in Fez and Marrakesh, as well as a tediously thick block of driving through the desolate surroundings that lay between either citadel. By the strict governmental regulations in Morocco, we were required to travel with a local guide for the duration of our stay. We met Hassan at the docklands, a kind-faced man who was trained in medicine but found greater joy in his passion for showing tourists the beauty at the heart of his proud country. We were also required to prepare for this leg of the tour with a significant trip to the grocery store to stock up on fruit, medicine or hygiene products, toilet paper, and most importantly bottled water. A combination of cultural differences and infrastructural disparities in this third-world country meant that pharmaceutical or feminine hygiene products would not be easy to locate, as we were used to at home, and that fruit and water did not receive the extent of treatment that our stomachs could tolerate either.
Although it is still regarded a developing country, the economy of Morocco is relatively strong in comparison to other islamic regions due to the stability ensured by a monarchy. The country is governed by Muhammad VI who bears the title Commander of the Faithful and is a unique and progressive ruler who was even the first king to introduce his wife to the people. It thrives in the industries of tourism and manufacturing, particularly in the making of cars, and also has plentiful opportunities for fishing where the atlantic and the mediterranean meet. It’s is inhabited by a population of 34 million, largely of Berber and Arab descent. The nation is represented by a green star with five points symbolic of the five rules of Islam posited on a red background. The customs are shaped by a high level of superstition which we were warned to be wary of. This was going to be a culture shock.
The architecture in the outskirts of Morocco was boxy and primitive. Walls were constructed of a single layer of bricks with windows bare of glass and sometimes finished with a layer of clay. Most of the construction sites we viewed from the speeding bus were scattered sporadically on the desert sand and remained unfinished. The quantity of houses was matched by the quantity of individuals wandering the unorganised dunes as both were few and far apart. It was almost as if the houses had risen out of the sand for they seemed to crumble back into the clay from which they had been constructed; no attention had been awarded the real estate by either builders or potential buyers of the few finished structures. Most lay desolate in the dessert.
The quality and quantity of infrastructure increased as we approached the populated citadel of Fez. The namesake of Fez is the onomatopoeic sound made by the tool used to construct the city: the pickaxe. This was the first Arab town in Morocco and had maintained its religious tradition down to the dress code: headscarves and burkas were worn by women and men sported the djellaba. Long pants and shawls buried in the depths of our suitcases made a reluctant appearance in the 47 degree day. We did what we could to minimise the attention raised by our foreignness – exposed hair, dresses flattering the female figure, friendship or affection between man and woman, and of course our heavy cameras proved that we did not belong. That evening, too tired to explore the city and conscious of the customs which shaped our behaviour in this conservative culture, we stayed in the bar of our hotel and passed around the wand of an apple-flavoured shisha. It was going to be a long five days in Morocco and we needed our rest to tackle the challenges posed by Africa.