My bus ticket for the trip back over the Atlas mountains allocated me a seat right at the front, with a panoramic view of both the steep drops off the side of the road and the driver’s unnerving habit of taking off and polishing his glasses just as he was overtaking a slow truck on a bend.
I am equipped with a Kindle and two MP3 players* to amuse me on long journeys, but so far I’ve not felt the need for them on the bus. Besides the scenery and the intermittent opportunities for spectacular death, there was a lot to keep me interested. The women harvesting grass and alfalfa with small sickles, donkeys loaded with huge sacks of the same, sheep watched over by what I can only assume are shepherds with zen-like patience and trucks with cows in pens on the roof of the main cargo cabin. If I were them I’d probably be terrified so I doubt they enjoy the view as much as I did.
I’d not booked anywhere to stay in Marrakesh, in case I decided to change plans or take one of those much touted desert excursions. Not having been terribly thrilled by the location of my pre-booked hotel in Ouarzazate I felt that just turning up and looking in an area I like the look of might well be the best policy. After a bit of dithering, I decided to find a riad just inside the old city. These are traditional houses around a central court and there are loads converted to both hostels and hotels. They are found in the maze of mostly un-signposted alleys so I took a side turning at random off a street full of shops and stalls, came to a few dead ends before seeing a door in the wall with a sign over it saying Riad Massim. I knocked and found myself in exactly what I wanted – a lovely hostel where a dorm room is about £10 a night.
I like staying in hostels when I’m travelling by myself and not just because they’re cheap. What you lose in privacy you gain in sanity through hanging out with people who are disposed to chat, rather than sitting alone in your room. Consequently, I managed to spend the rest of the afternoon chatting and surfing on their wifi (hence three posts yesterday). Which made me feel that things were normal, which I’m still having a bit of difficulty getting my head around – that this is not a short holiday but a long journey and I still need to get comfortable with that new normality. I got some more socialisation when I went to the famous Jemaa el Fnaa square** (site of last week’s bomb) to get something to eat. I chose one of the many sit down food stalls on the basis of the line spun me by the man attempting to reel in the punters. “Jamie Oliver is my brother from another mother” he said, although why that mattered, when it wasn’t him cooking, I don’t know. Next to me on the table were an English couple who told me all about the year they spent travelling around South America – don’t take any bus advertising itself as fast was their key advice. I’ve been thinking about going there in the winter and was encouraged by their experiences.
* Why two MP3 players? The thought of being left music-less at any point filled me with horror – I get homicidal around screaming kids and other annoying people if I can’t block them out.
** For my burner friends, I can report that the square at night is, aside from the relentless commerce, quite reminiscent of Burning Man: noise, drumming, smoke, crowds and lots of fast bikes zipping around in the dark without lights.