It was November, 2012. I was teaching English in Spain and trying my best to soak up all of the European and North African culture that I possibly could in a year’s time. When an old friend surprised me with a visit to Marrakech, Morocco for four days, I – without hesitation – jumped at the chance.
Marrakech was my first entree to the African continent and the city was really something to behold. When we got to the airport, dozens of taxi drivers were vying for our attention and we were overwhelmed by the masculine sounds of Arabic, French and English being shouted over each other. We handed the address of our hostel to one of the many cab drivers and followed him to the never-ending line of taxicabs outside. We got into the backseat and were surprised as he peeled out of the airport parking lot, tossing us left and right while speaking very quickly in Arabic. It was getting dark. We didn’t know exactly where our hostel was. I was starting to think that maybe this wasn’t the best idea.
“Everything I’d been taught, all of the sensationalized news stories I had seen and read about, were rolling around in my head…”
The driver dropped us off at the end of an alleyway in the medina, where we were met by another man who picked up our bags and beckoned us forward. Clutching to each other, we navigated the dirt paths behind our guide, feeling ready to run at any moment. He led us to a heavy wooden door that seemed to appear in the street out of nowhere; every bone in my body ached to turn around. Everything I’d been taught, all of the sensationalized news stories I had seen and read about, were rolling around in my head, and I was doing my best to keep calm and not spin around as fast as I could and head in the other direction.
The guide pushed the door open and I was completely shocked: we were in the loveliest hostel. We were immediately greeted with tea and cake and invited to make ourselves comfortable on the plush couches. Our guide, as it turned out, was the hostel’s owner, and he wanted to make sure that our journey to the hostel was clear and easy.
The next morning brought sunshine, as well as an authentic beauty that you can only find when you aren’t really looking; the kind you find when you take a chance and leave familiarity and your comfort zone behind.
The hostel’s owner was kind enough to arrange a tour of the city for us later that morning. We met our guide and he took us through the dusty, winding paths of the souks explaining the political history of Marrakech while gently guiding us out of the way when a horse and cart came rushing through the narrow passageways.
The smells and sounds were dizzying and unlike anything I had ever experienced before: strong, spicy, exotic. It was magic. How could I have almost missed out on this?
“…life is short and taking a chance is almost always worth it.”
We had been walking through the streets for about half an hour when I saw a man sitting by himself against a crumbling wall. He was in traditional dress and concentrating very hard on whatever it was that he was doing. He almost blended right into the background and part of me thought that that might have been intentional. Something about his concentration and complete obliviousness for his surroundings seemed so serene and beautiful to me; I had to quickly snap the shot, below, to capture his essence. The picture personified Marrakech for me: beautiful in its authenticity, but with an air of mystery that makes you both nervous but yet intrigued to learn and see more.
I had many more adventures in Marrakech before heading back to Madrid. That very first night and the following day were pivotal, though; they reinforced that the world isn’t as scary as people want us to think. Sure, a little fear is good – perhaps it’s not always wise nor safe to be over-trusting – but if I had allowed my initial fears to take over and shut down my sense of adventure, well, I surely wouldn’t haven’t experienced many of the moments and adventures that I will never forget; adventures that help me remember that life is short and taking a chance is almost always worth it.
Words and photos: Leigh McLaren