I can’t turn around. I can’t move forward or sideways either, for that matter. The train’s seats are all occupied, and the pathway is too narrow; adults, children, suitcases, backpacks, and cardboard boxes full of tradeware are all jammed in there with no space to move; for a while, there’re even people hanging out the door. And that’s before the refreshments trolley has to come through! We make the most of it though, exchanging looks saying ‘lovely, isn’t it?’ with the wise old Moroccan who makes sure no one gets trampled, and having some small talk with the Indian-American tourist whose shoulder is wedged into my armpit. It seems a suitably chaotic
My first impression of the main square, Jmaa el Fna, and its surroundings pretty much confirm my fears; in the thirty minutes it takes me to walk to the hostel, I see more tourists than in the three weeks of Morocco before it. The square is full of snake charmers (who often maim their animals for their own safety’s sake) and barbary macaque handlers (who contribute significantly to the near-extinction of the species by killing mother monkeys and taking their babies so that they can be tamed), and many others fishing for tourist Dirham. Considerably further South and inland than Rabat, it’s also much warmer (some 26 degrees C); this has many tourists walking around with as much skin as possible exposed to the sun, adding to the “theme park” feel of the place (Moroccans seek out the shade as much as possible, sometimes even going so far as carrying around a piece of cardboard to shield their face from the sun). At least the Equity Point hostel is great; fairly cheap, with good facilities (including a pool!) and very friendly staff, all while doing a pretty good job of recreating the feel of a traditional riad.
During the day, I spend my time visiting some old palaces and tombs, all exquisitely decorated (although after a while I do suffer from woodcarving / intricate plaster / marble overload). The medina isn’t nearly as difficult
Some of the more memorable entertainers, who have large circles of Moroccans gathered around them, are wildly gesticulating storytellers (wish I spoke Arabic or Berber!), Berber musicians with a chicken and a dove as part of their performance (sounds great, but so do half a dozen other musical groups; the animals are an effective way of drawing in crowds), and two men badly dressed as a Celtic warrior and a gnome, mock-fighting with sticks while directing a threesome of cross-dressing belly dancers… It’s a total madhouse out there, and I’m absolutely loving it; the noise, the smoke, the crowds, the seventeen orange juice sellers simultaneously shouting at me to visit their stall… The wonderful thing about it is that it very rarely gets unpleasant; if you ignore salesmen, or tell them to leave you alone, they just take their loss, give you a smile and move on to the next tourist, instead of pursuing you relentlessly. The office of the Brigade Touristique, a tough (but fair? One hopes…)
My personal low point of the Jmaa el Fna, although I don’t hang around to see how serious it is, is two boys of maybe eight years old wearing boxing gloves while some adults go around the crowd, raising money for their fight to begin. Another sad but comical sight is an elderly musician sitting on the ground with literally no audience; as I come closer, and hear him play the same two notes over and over again on his violin, I can see why no one bothers to stop and listen. Away from the Jmaa, memorable moments include a taxi driver who’s so agressive that I seriously wonder how many pedestrians, mules or motorcyclists he’s injured or killed during his career,