Morocco (2016)

Preparation and Arrival

We are well-prepared for our holiday this year. Not only do we have two full textbooks on Morocco, we also attend a day-long lecture on the country. We also set foot in Marrakech for the first time.

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Holiday fun has started early this year. Despite this report taking off (along with us) in a Transavia Boeing 737 destined for Morocco, our preparation officially started two weeks ago in a Utrecht primary school, where we attended a full-day lecture on Morocco, and in particular on this trip. For we are not on our own this time, but have joined a group of around forty people, mostly around the age that would have qualified for retirement only a few years ago.

The reason is that late last year, we were informed by Vonne's father that one of his friends was organising a Marocco trip. As a retired geography teacher, he had made such trips frequently with students and was now setting one up for family and friends. There were still a few open spots left, however; would we be interested in coming along? Of course we did not have to think on that very long, and our names had soon been added to the company.

Never before have we travelled with such in-depth knowledge of the local hydrography of our destination

Of course, that was before we were bombarded with necessary information on Morocco, embodied within an eighty-page textbook on the languages, cultures, history, demographic developments and geography of the country. Never before have we travelled with such in-depth knowledge of the local hydrography of our destination (van den Berg; 2016, p. 7), its relevant historical process of urbanisation (p. 37–44), or the effects of migration on the expulsion areas (p. 78–80). On top of that, this information was also drilled into us at high speed at an actual lecture, for which Geert (the organiser, travel guide and the man who I am certain is going to hand out an exam at some point during this trip—a failing grade meaning you do not get to come onto the bus) conveniently arranged a complete primary school in Utrecht.

An occasion at which I may have committed a tactical error in demonstrating some IT expertise, by being the only one to successfully start the Moroccan movie Geert intended to show, along with its subtitles. After about ten minutes of increasingly frantic attempts by Geert, supported by well-intended but little-effective advice from the room (“No, you have to click on Options, then on Audio! No, you have to click on the word Subtitles! Is there no other programme to play the DVD?”), about five re-insertions of the disc that did not lead to different results, and about five minutes of Moroccan video that clearly demonstrated the necessity of subtitling, I finally intervened and quickly discovered that pressing ‘Enter’ produced the desired results; Johan Cruyff and Jesus Christ had to do considerably more to be elevated to the position of Saviour. As I was just identified at Schiphol Airport as ‘the computer expert’, however, I realised that I might now very well be the first-line helpdesk for technical issues this week.

In related news, Geert brought a rather large box of papers to the airport. I already made a joke about it containing the exams, but it just turned out to be an entirely new textbook. This one has 85 pages.

Arrival in Marrakech

After a perfectly smooth flight, we arrived at Marrakech Airport. We had already been obliged to fill out a form with our personal data whilst on the flight, and these now had to be checked, entered and stored in order for us to receive the necessary stamp in our passports. At Schiphol Airport, we had already had the fortune of ending up in the check-in lane with the trainee check-in lady, which meant that we were about the last to receive our boarding passes, and now again we managed to find ourselves in the queue for the best customs booth: the man behind the desk suddenly got up and left as it was almost our turn, which meant that again, we were the last to get through customs. A quick run to the baggage belt to retrieve our bags before they disappeared back into the bowels of the system later, and we could finally get to the waiting bus that would take us to Hotel De Foucauld in Marrakech city center.

On the way to the hotel, it was immediately apparent that red and green are the main colours of the city: the red of the buildings, traditionally covered in clay or (a bit more modern, but not very authentic) painted, and the green of the surprisingly many trees and plants. A nice reflection of the colours of the Moroccan flag! Once in the hotel, we could head to our room to freshen up and join the buffet in the restaurant, consisting of hot bowls of vegetables, rice, chicken, couscous and even pasta. As the drinks were not included in the hotel payment, we quickly headed out to the ATM on the corner. It seemed to have crashed however, so we had to look for the next bank. Fortunately there were several closeby, but as several fellow travelers could not get cash from their machines and two other Dutch ladies behind us said that they had unsuccessfully tried five banks, we started to get slightly worried. Fortunately the ATM at the next bank was inclined to hand us some money; the Dutch ladies behind us had forgotten to change their bank cards to 'world coverage' and had to return to their hotel to get that arranged.

Number one-one-seven, takes you to heaven!

After dinner, we briefly walked onto the city square, the Jemaa el Fna, where a large assortment of people were displaying their skills and merchandise—frequently of questionable quality. One side of the square was packed with food stands, of which about a hundred were selling freshly squeezed orange juice and tried luring in tourists with all manner of creative slogans (“number one-one-seven, takes you to heaven!”). Between the gaslights on the square, the smoke of the food stands and the many people, it was quite pleasant, however. We even forayed a short distance into the souk, a maze of small shops with shoes, clothes and lamps, where Martin and I bought two hats. Given the enthusiasm with which the vendor shook our hands, I believe that despite our haggling, we still paid a very generous amount. Oh well, at the very least we can now enjoy Morocco in style!

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