IR INTERRAIL 2003 > Day 18 > Marrakech - Marrakech>>Tangiers


I had slept well on the train, and it was quite an odd feeling to be waking amidst the desert plains in the middle of nowhere, all the time charging further south than I had ever been before. I took several peeks through the curtains from my bunk bed and could see barren pinkish landscapes backed by ranges of hills and distant mountains, before a light mist descended on approach to Marrakech. After all the heatwaves throughout Europe, I had expected the climate to be unbearable if I came this far, but the hazy white skies above were keeping the sun at bay and providing some welcome relief. I was keen to avoid the heat of previous days as there would be no showers available to wash in before my return to Spain, unless I was daring enough to venture into some traditional baths in the city.

I bid good morning to Eric and Susanne as the train finished its journey from one extreme of the Moroccan railway system to another, nine hours after setting off. It certainly hadn't been short of pace and we had clearly covered an enormous distance overnight. It would have been nice to have seen a little more of Morocco during the ride, not just in the rural areas but also the cities of Rabat and Casablanca through which we travelled in the dark. However, with such a short timescale I had only limited options and reaching here, the most southerly point accessible with an Interrail ticket, seemed to represent a sort of necessary pilgrimage for all such rail travellers. Perhaps I would make a point of reaching the equivalent extremities in the north, west and east during future adventures.

A herd of refreshed passengers disembarked at Marrakech station, followed behind by some more weary types who had clearly not experienced the luxury of our first class beds. I knew only too well how they felt. Whilst saying more goodbyes to my German friends in the expectancy of not meeting up again, I was told that they would consider taking the night train back to Tangiers at the end of the day, unless they discovered somewhere else to go. There was a hostel located in this city, but I began to consider my own options, and the biting truth began to sink its teeth in.

I had only just passed the halfway point of my trip, but I had so many encounters and experiences to remember. Being somebody who typically saw a half-empty glass and not a half-full one, I disregarded the actual fact that eighteen days had passed and thirteen more remained, and instead reached the more alarming and not wholly accurate interpretation of 'bugger, only a week and a half left before I go home.' Given the often exhaustive efforts I had made to get this far, aboard the unreliable French and Spanish rail networks, the notion of returning all that way to England, including diversions around the French Riviera and the Benelux countries in just a week and a half, seemed both unlikely and ludicrous. I had already decided that rushing about was less fun, but it would be necessary from now on, and so I decided to book my own return to Tangiers for later in the evening. The clerk advised me to come back later in the day, since tickets could not be sold too many hours in advance, so I prepared to explore the city.

My first plan for the day was to find a plan for the day, in the form of a street map. From the station I began wandering and was fortunate to happen across what I needed, conveniently passing a cashpoint on the way. I was looking forward to my bank statements the following month. They would prove that for once, Peter Gumbrell was doing something interesting with his life. In an age of computerization and automation, I still harboured an absurd fantasy that a lonely attractive girl was tasked with processing my monthly statements by hand, and had come to accept my usual brief set of withdrawals from tedious locations in suburban England with a casual disinterest. This would show her! A healthy string of financial transactions from far-flung exotic destinations would have her drooling over me. I could expect a phone call upon my return from a complete stranger called Sandra who 'just wanted to check my credit status.' I had proven to all these non-existent detractors that my life was an eternal surprise, and they'd be fools not to get on board!

Despite the nature of modern society and its myriad of faceless corporations and organizations, my self-conceited paranoia always led me to believe that nameless persons were watching over my every move from every angle, like a Truman Show subject. Thankfully, over time these feelings which tended to inhabit - or inhibit - most young people at some point in their lives, had worn off as I matured and realized how dull much of life actually was, and that surely this whole world couldn't have been contrived just for me to experience it. Nonetheless, I couldn't help still having the odd thought along these lines lurking in the back of my mind, and today it was the classic 'make-believe girl at bank indulging in my private financial affairs' phenomenon which was retrieved for a brush-up.

The streets around the station were not representative of the authentic urban Moroccan experience tourists might have expected. Everything seemed quite ordinary and not dramatically different to any subtropical city environment in any continent. Some of the streets were a little run down and dusty, but one only had to look around the backyards of Brussels or Manchester to see similar conditions.

One defining characteristic, however, was the pinkish hue apparent in most of the brick and concrete forming the buildings. Here in this land lay the source of the material that caused the Moroccan dust storms frequently witnessed in Europe, in which light pink powder would be whisked up into the clouds, carried across the continent by the air currents and deposited on the windscreens of whinging middle-class residents' vehicles. Looking at my map, I could see that the old city was contained within a large wall which ran around its perimeter, and most of the attractions and places of interest lay inside. This district was the direction I made my way towards, although with various unnamed roads and junctions to negotiate, getting there wasn't easy.

Eventually I passed through a giant gate which heralded the entrance to old Marrakech. I soon found myself in the middle of a large square, quite haphazardly shaped and forming the meeting point of many other streets. I'd had nothing to eat all morning, and I was tempted by the many eating points around the square which offered seating outside. However, they were largely filled with tourists, offering very little in the way of traditional cuisine and at inflated prices. The food was still cheap to visitors but was the equivalent cost of a royal feast to some locals.

I was seeking something more authentic, but it was rather difficult to find anything on offer in this department which was advertised in French or another European language. French was generally the second language of most citizens, although inevitably English had infiltrated many tourist quarters and was widely spoken. Anything that wasn't expressly for the benefit of foreigners, however, was usually marked or advertised in Arabic. As I veered off down a small street smelling of sewage, I decided breakfast could wait until lunch, or preferably I would give it another hour and combine the two into brunch, the traveller's favourite compromise of mealtime arrangements™.

Little did I know at this point, as I strolled innocently into the bustling alleys, that I was about to set forth into territory which many seasoned travellers feared greatly and knew simply as.......the medina. Such words would strike terror into the minds of several hardy worldly-wise explorers who might gasp at my decision to venture into these confines alone. But for now, I was just doing my usual thing of wandering about aimlessly and hoping to stumble across something spectacular. I had no idea what was in store.

Traders, shoppers and residents of this crazed maze of alleys were crammed along the sides of each street, whilst motorbikes and mopeds constantly screamed down the middle, throwing up dust and almost knocking people over. These two-wheeled tearaways were a menace to the throngs of persons going about their daily business in the cramped passageways, but nobody batted an eyelid or took any action against them. Practically everybody and everything got around this neighbourhood on two wheels or four legs, with donkeys providing the other means for transporting goods.

All sorts of traders displayed their wares along the length of the never-ending paths, from greengrocers to haberdashers, jewellers to ironmongers; almost everything was on sale around here if one knew where to go. And I certainly didn't, it was very disorientating as I followed alleys which wound around bends and joined with others coming in all directions. There was no logical structure to the place, and every occasional glance at my map gave no indication of where I might be. I had been warned by many other people who had visited the country, to be aware of the constant attentions of the local people as I walked around, and that I could expect to be hassled continuously to buy goods or give money for one thing or another. My policy was to keep my head down, and the gaze of my eyes under the rim of my hat so as to not invite attention. It also seemed a good idea to just keep walking and not pause to stare at things whenever possible.

Largely however, I found many of the people, especially the children, to be very friendly and good-natured. I was subjected to questions, pleas and remarks several times per minute but I just smiled and made my way quite rapidly through the streets. The one thing which did bother me was the occasional relentless tout who would grab hold of my arm, and follow me around many corners refusing to leave me alone. I found a way of shrugging most of them off, as they would attempt to persuade me to go in a certain direction each time there was a fork in the lane, and I would simply head the opposite way, at which point they would often swear at me and proclaim me a fool. They didn't represent the majority though, who were perfectly harmless.

Several times I was approached by kids who clamped onto me briefly and often uttered something along the lines of 'un stylo'. It never really registered in my mind, but I later realized that they were asking me, in French, for a pen, as such items were highly sought after by many of the poorer children. Unfortunately, I had only my one trusty pen in my bag, but had I known before then it might have been a nice idea to have brought a pack with me and handed one out every once in a while. Certain goods were either low in supply, or so expensive to many poorer residents that even a year's wages would go little way to affording them. A simple pen wouldn't have broken the bank for most, but traders selling hi-fi systems in parts of the medina were unlikely to end each day with large takings. It was such a contrast to some of the areas outside the walled city, where streets were lushly lined with palm trees and housed grand apartments. There amongst the business districts, one could find a semblance of regular life, but there was a harsh divide between the rich vehicle-owning dwellers of those spacious modern avenues, and the populace in the crowded slums of the medina.

The potent wafts of sewage were tempered in equal proportions by the smell of disinfectant, which when discarded was thrown into the alleys as a general cleanser. Everyday life held many particular habits and quirks here, and it was remarkable to think that so many people in such a relatively small area could live healthily. They had their practices though to ensure that all were looked after. I noticed with great regularity how the locals were greeting many passing faces who they recognized, and despite the huge numbers of people living in the vicinity, there was clearly a strong community aspect which caused so many residents to be familiar with one another.

How anybody could be familiar with the medina though was another matter, it was simply mind-boggling. Although on paper it didn't appear to be of any sizeable proportions, the density of the development within created a vast, never-ending network of alleys which only a full childhood of navigation could instill into memory. Negotiating these passages was becoming more hazardous as I continued my trek, with not just cycles, mules and motorbikes passing by, but cars too. There was often little room to maneouvre, and occasionally I would approach a bend only to be besieged by a parade of scooters roaring around in front of me. It was like a scene from the movies, an Indiana Jones film where a chase sequence would send viewers hurtling through the narrow passages of a seething ancient city, whilst gunshots ricocheted off buildings and baddies on mopeds dodged the bullets.

I walked and walked for what seemed like miles, not knowing what I was looking for but just wanting to find my way to somewhere recognizable. Every time I turned a corner I hoped to find a large opening, but was only presented with endless more lanes weaving in every direction. As noon approached, I finally struck lucky. My sense of direction was confused but not entirely lost. I knew I had roughly come full circle and I was relieved to find myself back in the large central square where I started.

It was time to write some more postcards, so I sat myself down outside the post office, observing the chaotic scenes of people zig-zagging across the vast polygonal convergence of thoroughfares in front of me. In such a large open space I could avoid being accosted so frequently, and it gave my head and my feet a chance to rest. Which was more luxury than had ever been afforded to some of the poor mules that passed by. As somebody who always abhorred any animal or human cruelty, it was depressing to watch the often viscious treatment these animals were receiving. I knew that unfortunately, this kind of thing happened every day all over the world, but seeing it in front of one's own eyes really impressed upon the mind.

The mules were used and abused here for carting around all sorts of items. Understandably, many people didn't have cars and so had no alternative means to move things around, but many of these animals were run into the ground and were clearly suffering dreadfully. Some were very gaunt, malnourished and desperately exhausted, but were being whipped and urged on with their legs ready to buckle. The most terrible sight, however, was that of many animals with ropes and braces fixed so tightly around them that huge gashes and open wounds were spilling blood all down their sides. No regard was shown for their welfare and their lives seemed sorrowfully miserable.

There was clearly a necessity for mules to be used as a means of transport, it was just the immoderate pressures put upon them which was concerning. However desperate a society or an element of it could be, or however harsh the realities of day-to-day conditions, I never believed in excuses for such brutality to any other being. Certainly, I hadn't grown up here and I had no firsthand experience of life for many of the country's citizens, but I didn't feel such savagery towards other creatures could ever be justified. It was for those reasons that I wouldn't be visiting any bullfights in Spain either, a country which along with Portugal, seemed to suffer tremendously from an overdose of stray and lame dogs inhabiting its streets. Marrakech had more than its fair share of cats roaming around too, although they largely appeared to be in good health.

My decision to scribble some words to my friends from this location was a deliberate ploy to make my travels seem as exotic as possible when the postcards landed on their doormats days later. More obvious destinations such as the Eiffel Tower were not good enough for my cards. I was determined to prove that I had been somewhere they hadn't, for no other purpose than to be smug about it. My first set had been sent from the avant-garde Parc du Futuroscope, and I intended my last to be posted from the slightly obscure Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Having licked the back of a Moroccan statesman's head six times, I set off again in search of some long-awaited food nearby. I wasn't going to begin another marathon search this time, so I plonked myself down in a touristy main street outside what was to all intents and purposes a greasy spoon café. Omelette and chips with a can of orangeade came to 17 dirhams, which was not particularly cheap by Moroccan standards. I would have to save any custom cuisine of the region for later.

The afternoon was now brightened up by the reappearance of the radiant sunshine, and I ventured across the square with the intention of returning to the railway station. I wanted to change my clothes, freshen up, make a quick phonecall home and visit the toilet, and all of these things seemed to be impossible to manage anywhere else. Every place I looked was full of people, and all morning during my walkabout I'd not spotted a secluded spot suitable for getting changed anywhere. The only telephone services inside the old city were located inside dingy buildings, in which a cacophonous din of rambling voices emanated from rows of shabby cubicles. If I could find my way back to the station, I could be back at this same spot within an hour ready to explore again. However, getting there was to prove more difficult than I could ever have imagined.

My trail in the morning had taken me around much of the southern section of the medina, and now I was heading, unwittingly, into the northern part. I had my street map to hand, but the bewildering multitude of avenues fronting the large central square from where I set off caused me to take an incorrect turning, and without knowing it, I was on the wrong course from the very start.

Initially there was no cause for alarm, as I found myself walking through countless streets full of tourists and traders selling ethnic goods and gifts. There were the inimitable rugs draped across several stalls, with pots, pans, bowls and vases painted in bright colours, all manner of wooden ornaments, musical instruments, jewels and small treasures, and other vibrant offerings. There were so many stalls and traders it was as though all of the country's craftsmen and women had converged in this citadel to display their wares. Perhaps they had, but they weren't getting any of my money.

I hadn't planned to be unnecessarily stingy, but my bag was jam-packed with my month's essentials and could hold no more. Money wasn't a free-flowing asset for this trip, and there was no guarantee that I would see out the full thirty days of my adventure before it dried up. My feet were beginning to ache again, and I needed to find a lavatory soon before I undesirably contributed to the local scent of sewage, which had become worse in the searing heat. Reasons enough to press on and hold back with the finances, but I did ponder over the likelihood of finding an object on sale which would resolve all of these issues in one puff. The perfect solution hit me - a genie in a magic lamp. I would use the wishes it bestowed upon me to ease the pain of my feet, grant me more money and expand my rucksack, then I could wee in the lamp. Problem solved.

I began to forget any notion of following my map, and just aimed instead to keep heading in a north-westerly direction, believing I would eventually emerge on the other side of the giant walls and be within sight of the station. At every fork I tried to maintain an approximate line, but this became increasingly difficult as the options presented to me sent me off around bends and heading completely the opposite way to what I expected.

I passed through several covered trading areas in which nets and drapes above provided some shade, and the cool air attracted more tourists than I had noticed in most of the other lanes. This was the real heart of the hippie trail for which the city and Morocco in general had gained something of a reputation. All kinds of attractive ethnic goods were on sale, many of which would doubtless find their way onto the shelves of trendy specialist shops in the UK and other western countries. It would have been nice to have just bided my time a little and browsed some of the items, but if I stopped on any occasion I was soon pounced upon by touts and hard-selling traders who tried to lure me into their dens and help me part with my cash. I couldn't have hung around even if I'd wanted to, I was driven on now by one objective. The state of my bladder and its ability to enjoy its daily business was of the utmost importance.

Half an hour passed. I was still here, or rather I was still somewhere, but I didn't know where exactly. I pulled out my map once more, but was baffled by what looked like a plan of the world's largest and most cleverly designed labyrinth. Gradually the lanes full of tourists and traders had dissolved into lanes where no strawberry blonde-haired person had been seen for years. I was greeted with baffled expressions by local folk, some of whom, on the contrary, had probably not been outside of the medina in years and would have little understanding of my desire to exit the place.

Aside from a couple of obvious mosques located near the main squares, these thousands of narrow thoroughfares had no distinguishing features whatsoever, with every line of sight being occupied by unremarkable buildings clad with pink brick, clay and concrete. My map only showed scores of unnamed alleys, and was next to useless because there were no signs or directions visible in the medina at all. I was desperate to reach somewhere that resembled a square or triangle, a rhombus, anything, but not just another pink alley. And with the sun being almost directly overhead, even shadows were of no help in pinpointing my location. I certainly wasn't intending to wait until dusk and navigate by the constellation of Orion, but if I didn't escape soon, either my feet would snap off or the dusty, arid atmosphere in the lanes would bake me alive.

I had reached the deepest recesses of this chamber of puzzles, and there were fewer people around these parts, but I was still having to dodge the incoming motorized missiles. The bikes were driven largely by younger males and females, but some riders only seemed about ten years old and were happily powering their way around the place, haring past older citizens who barely even considered their persistent presence anymore. I believed that the next time I stumbled across a wider path with four-wheeled traffic occupying it, I should just follow it as it would surely lead on to the main road network beyond.

After another half an hour of déjà vu experiences discovering lookalike passages, I held out some hope when I locked on to a bus. I hadn't seen the sign on the front showing its destination, and I had to try and determine whether it was heading in or out of the medina. It came to a brief stop whilst a car in front was parking, and I hurried around to take a look at where it was heading. The front was blank, but amongst the paper signs on the side was one which displayed the least helpful word I could have hoped for. It simply read 'circular'. I suspect the truth was that the driver didn't have a clue where he was, and was in the middle of a thirty-two-hour shift aimlessly driving around in loops. It should have said 'lost'. I wondered if the passengers had got on board in the belief that if they stayed on long enough, they would eventually pass somewhere recognizable. A more accurate route heading for this service might have been the number 27 to Pot Luck.

I had at least found a proper road and I followed it in the direction I best assumed to be north-west. Some while later, I reached a point where it curved around to the north-east, and I could see the road stretch out for half a mile into a void of run-down dwellings and wasteland. My instincts told me not to follow it, and instead I returned to my trail through the confined, winding lanes.

More and more passages were leading me nowhere. I would reach forks which, unbeknown to me, only led to a set of two dozen dead ends, each of which I would explore before my disheartening retreat. One such enclosure ended with a right-turn through an archway, a common feature in the vicinity, and when I walked through I found myself in the living room of an old-fashioned family home.

Like many others, it was a poky, dark abode in a crumbling building, and I truly felt that for the first time in my years, I had witnessed life on a completely different level to the society I was familiar with in Britain. I had grown up in a working class family, but in the suburbs of Hove - a town regarded as posh by the rest of the country. I had then spent years living on a council estate in Salford, once officially declared England's second most poverty-stricken city, but it was still a world apart from life here in Marrakech. This was no shanty town, but it was a somewhat shabby, ancient environment tucked away from the eyes of the modern world, and quite like anywhere else I had ever been.

I was beginning to lose hope, and even my combined thirst and need for the loo was put to the back of my mind as I sought freedom from this prison. I was weary, but I continued to stride boldly with the pretence of knowing where I was going, so as to prevent interventions from the preying public. Eventually I was tailed by a boy who, upon the realization that I was heading for a delightful selection of the city's finest cul-de-sacs, demanded I explain where on Earth I thought I was going. He was talking in French, and being too proud and stubborn to accept favours off of anyone, I initially tried to lose him by replying in English that I didn't understand. I felt decidedly stupid as I turned a corner and was faced with a solid brick wall. I gave in, and stopped to discuss my whereabouts with the aid of my map.

I asked him to point out where I was, and he was clearly reluctant to tell me, in the knowledge that such information could be worth some financial reward. He roughly pointed at a spot which instilled me with fright. As I looked closer I could see from my surroundings that he wasn't lying. I was trapped within an area in the far corner of the medina, surrounded by a few thousand dead ends, and it seemed there were only about three major exit points in the whole complex. Even armed with this crucial positioning detail, I didn't have the belief that I could find my way out. The boy had promptly taken the map and stuffed it in his pocket - presumably the 15 dirhams it had cost me meant that it was as prized in his own hands as it was in mine. He spoke a fair amount of English too, and I conceded in allowing him to lead me out of the maze.

In all honesty, with such pain in my feet and having not spoken to anybody for most of the day, I was glad of the company. He was about fourteen, and like so many others he had a pleasant outlook and a friendly personality. He knew the area back to front, and said that he had spent his life here. I couldn't imagine what it must be like to grow up in these surroundings, but although I had understanding for his relative poverty, I didn't feel that his life would be in any way impaired by the society around him. People here had a community spirit and largely held good intentions, which was more than could be said for some of the depressingly vindictive residents of the estate where I lived in Salford.

It was almost an hour before we parted company. It had taken that long to walk our way out of the medina, through a small secret gate which was a stark contrast to the enormous, grand entrance bestowed with fifty-foot pillars further around the perimeter. We darted through a massive car park which was occupied by throngs of taxi drivers and tourist guides. Even here, a long way from my companion's lodgings, he was greeted by various friends, some of whom were bemused by my presence and seemed to be offering him cautious advice.

On the route through busy streets to the rail station, my aid had mentioned the words 'banque' and 'carte de credit' amongst his French mutterings, and I became wary of going near a bank in case he was planning some kind of ambush. I only had enough dirhams left on me to pay for my sleeper train and afford a light meal, but I still had a 5 Euro note sitting in my wallet. It wasn't generally accepted currency in Morocco, especially further south in these parts, but Euros still seemed to be quite commonly exchanged amongst the population.

I briskly pulled it out and offered it to the boy, whose face didn't exactly light up, but seemed to be in a state more of astonishment. After a while he broke into laughter, and in my interpretation of his French he appeared to proclaim me 'broken in the head.' I wondered if this was really enough compensation for his time and trouble, considering he would now have to return all the way home. However, upon my insistence that it was worth 50 dirhams and that he should be able to change it easily enough, he was rather taken aback. Suddenly his face beamed, he was eager to shake my hand, bid me goodbye and set off, and I felt relieved that he didn't feel underpaid for his services. Fifty dirhams might not have been a lot to the wealthy types occupying the residences in these boulevards around the station, but having seen the boy's home and bleak surroundings, I knew that it might be enough to buy a few treats.

A Renault 4 parked outside one of the more plush buildings in the rich part of Marrakech

I was glad to be back in the busy main streets for another reason - they were saturated with Renault 4s wherever I looked (left). As in Portugal, they were almost always white, and in this heat it wasn't surprising that any small method of achieving extra cooling was employed, even in the paint. The cars had once been used as taxis in the country but had since been superseded by Peugeots and other vehicles. Many ex-cabs still remained, and I certainly knew where to come in future if supplies of the cars ran out in Europe.

It was late afternoon and I continued to the station where I had expected to be hours earlier. I made my reservation for the overnight train and finally paid a visit to the lavatory. If the relief etched upon my face during this private bodily function could have danced, it would have been doing the conga.


Although it had been a long, tiring day and my feet were nearly falling off, there were still a few hours to kill before I left for Tangiers. There was simply no way that I intended to either walk anywhere for any distance, or return to the medina. The waiting area in the station held little in the way of surprises or entertainment, and over the course of one of the most boring hours of my travels, I played musical chairs as a cleaner with a mop nudged me around every corner of the concourse. I had wanted to phone my family from here, just to be able to answer the inevitable first question of 'Where are you?' with the reply, 'Africa.' The telephones only took cards and the lowest denomination I could purchase was fifty dirhams, which I didn't have. I needed my remaining money for dinner, and I suddenly remembered that I'd be needing to take a taxi again from the station to the port in Tangiers the next morning, which I now knew could be a pricey affair.

I struggled like an old man to hobble down the street in search of food, hoping to find a nice restaurant. I wanted to end my exhausting visit to the country with a slap-up meal, but it just seemed that however hard I searched there was nothing in the surrounding area except upmarket restaurants and a McDonalds. The latter belonged on my list of arson targets rather than food outlets, and being dressed in scruffy trainers and trousers, I didn't fancy walking into one of the many plush hotels or eateries in the district. My trip was fruitless, in fact it was vegetableless, soupless and dessertless too, and I found myself back at the station contemplating a raid on the sorry contents of the kiosk therein. My evening meal consisted of crisps, chocolate biscuits and fizzy drink. I felt like a completely hopeless western git.

As the sun faded over the horizon, the empty train was shunted in to the platform, its only passenger being a cat who casually dismounted like it was on a regular business trip. Cats ruled here, there was no disputing it. The reality had been concealed from me all those years in Britain. Presumably, nobody had wanted to dishearten me by mentioning the fact that elsewhere in the world humans had been displaced by furry creatures, but now I had found out the truth.

Thirty minutes before departure, I spotted Eric and Susanne entering the station, and we recounted our sharply differing experiences of the day. Conversely, they'd had an interesting time, having done exactly what they had earlier intended not to do - paying a guide to show them around the city. He had driven them around the medina, stopping off at the many sights, entertaining them with snake charmers, magicians, storytellers, and inevitably many rug and goods traders who expected them to stump up large sums of cash. They were travelling with a limited budget too, but were nearing the end of their journeys and had wanted to pick up a few gifts and souvenirs from Morocco. They told me how it had been necessary to be quite forceful and aggressive at times, as the guide and the traders he carefully selected to visit were pressuring them to fork out for expensive items. It was no use claiming to have a shortage of space in their bags either, as the sellers would always promise to ship the goods abroad. They had managed to escape with just the things they really wanted, but I spotted many trendy-haircutted pseudo-hippie westerners who hadn't been so lucky. They were clutching carpets, drums, urns and other crafted goods which they had probably bought under a certain degree of coercion, but which I felt they would doubtless boast about to their friends with an air of cultural superiority once they returned home.

I entered my sleeper cabin on the train, and was by coincidence then joined by my German friends who had been issued with tickets for the same compartment. My Moroccan experience was now largely at an end. It had been quite different from the authentic tourist presentations afforded to the less stingy than myself, but in a strange way I felt lucky to leave as I did - rugless, and with just a couple of sore feet.

HOSTEL REPORT: Marrakech-Tangiers overnight sleeper train - see day 17

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