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From London Morocco - A Backpacker in Morocco

When we left Tangier for Fes on the train, it made me feel like we were travelling for real and it was no longer the case of us moving from one luxury tourist destination to another. We were venturing hundreds of kilometres off course, carving our way south through African soil and exposing our eyes to something completely different.

The train journey revealed peach brown fields and beautiful orange mountains, it was a sparse, arid landscape and there were shanty towns, flocks of white storks and nomadic looking women travelling on donkeys. There were so many crumbling buildings sites, all of them half finished and gathering dust. I was of the impression that I could come back in ten years time and still nothing would have changed. The train took just over four hours to arrive in Fes and the taxi journey to the medina was absolutely terrifying. The driver took us on a white knuckle ride down a series of winding roads, where he casually interchanged lanes at random, swerved to avoid cyclists and spent more time joking to his friend than looking at the road. Somehow I don't think a driving license is a pre-requisite qualification in Morocco.

We were taken to a wide dirt track and our taxi driver walked us up to the Hotel Dalila, where we were greeted by a charming African man in pure Islamic dress. He had a long narrow face and was tall and lean in posture. He was extremely polite and looked like one of Jesus' disciples, only he was later to prove untrustworthy when we discovered that he had deliberately overcharged us for our room. I suspect the surplus amount wasn't deposited in the hotel till but rather it would find itself inside his slimy back pocket; it was a sign of things to come. At first I thought it was an African "themed" hotel, it was meticulously well presented and there were hand woven quilts, ethnic mirrors and intricate wooden craftwork. I also cynically thought to myself that the man's Islamic dress was just his work uniform and when his was off duty he would switch back into his Levi jeans and t-shirt.

The hotel's white marble staircase, so often synonymous with power and influence was home to a passing African nobility; three beautiful princesses in glimmering white robes and a broad shouldered chief dressed in crimson silk. They were probably staying here on a trading mission, it was an elevated hotel that overlooked a dirt street; there were no cars or trucks, just passing donkeys carrying cargo, screaming school children, teenage boys and pockets of women dressed in traditional purple veils. At night it was so loud that it was like thousands of hungry starlings had come to roost. We were staying inside a desert kingdom, this labyrinth of spices, leather and crafted goods hadn't changed in centuries and it was a crumbling sandstone symbol of medieval times. It is a living ancient world and our unofficial tour guide latched onto us in a second and spoke to us briefly about carpets and the next morning he was awaiting us outside the breakfast canopy. He took us up into the underworld and it was a mysterious throwback to biblical times. There were over ten thousand streets, all interlinking and full of metal workers, almonds, chickens, spices, leather belts, everything was spinning so fast and donkeys and mules were frantically clipping at our heels.

We were taken upstairs into a beautiful leather shop and saw the Tanneries, which is a surreal formation of hand crafted limestone rock pools. There were men crawling all over them like mating seals, slipping and soaking camel, goat and sheep skins inside wide porous holes. Afterwards we were rushed through the medina at a tremendous pace and shunted into a carpet shop, where this chubby Moroccan man with a creepy American accent started interrogating us about carpets. His gurus immediately started rolling out ten foot mosaic carpets and really started pressurising us into buying them, despite the fact we had never even hinted that we wanted to buy anything, let alone, a seven hundred dollar rug.

His faced grimaced when I said I was Scottish and I was in no mood to defy any national stereotypes. When he was made aware of Judith's nationality, he suddenly became very fond of a saying he heard from one of her southern compatriots that 'an Irishman would rather part with his blood than his money'. It was fighting talk and we left pretty swiftly once I refused to buckle to his selling technique and were told to come back once we had a house. I don't know about Judith but I doubt I will be coming back to that carpet shop in the future but like Fes it was a fascinating lesson in human behaviour and one that will never be forgotten

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