It’s always cool to get a nice surprise or find something a little unexpected, but in the city of culture shock, sometimes getting a pleasant surprise is extra special.
A genuine act of kindness
It seems unlikely that many of you are unaware of a Moroccan hamman which is the quintessential spa treatment in this part of the World. Spa treatments however are now exactly high on my personal list of travel priorities. Therefore during my visit despite getting many leaflets thrust in my face by the many touts and passing by a large number it was one particular aspect of Moroccan culture that I was happy not to immerse myself in.
Returning to my Riad one night however, the hostel owner Mohammed greeted me. We struggled to communicate due to language barriers but he was always pleasant and very friendly. On this occasion he guided me upstairs, showing me a small sort of steam room and indicated that I needed to get into swimming costume.
I have to admit that an invitation to join another man, that I barely knew or understood, wearing just my board shorts in a tiny steam room at nearly midnight is not usually high on my list of priorities either!
It was fairly obvious however that he would almost certainly be offended if I refused his kind invitation. He had obviously gone to some trouble to prepare this ‘personal’ hamman it seemed churlish to decline.
Stepping gingerly into this little room dressed only in my ‘hula girl board shorts, I was almost immediately ‘ambushed’ by Mohammed wielding a flannel cloth which was quickly followed by a loofah. For those not familiar with this unlikely weapon of torture it can best be described as a sandpaper sponge, designed to scrape away the upper layer of skin. It does this extremely efficiently, especially when in the hands of a heavy-set man who seemed intent on testing my pain threshold.
This ‘attack’ was pretty thorough with almost no area remaining unscrubbed, although fortunately my groin was left with its dead skin intact! A good dousing in cool water followed, and then a massage which started at my feet and worked its way up to my scalp.
I am not sure how skilled a masseur Mohammed actually is but it certainly left me feeling totally relaxed, strong fingers kneading any tension that may have lurked in my musculature completely away.
Once the toe to head massage was completed he ushered me to sit in the corner, a little like a naughty boy. My epidermis scrubbed red raw and still tingling but totally refreshed all over from the shock and awe treatment it had just received.
After several minutes, he gave me permission to leave; I thanked my benefactor profusely and sheepishly slinked off to bed. This was a totally unexpected treat, but one that was actually quite enjoyable and left me feeling quite special afterwards.
Marrakech with its, main square, souks, hordes of performers, traders, donkey carts, barrow boys and tourists bustling around the streets on foot, bicycles, scooters or in cars is hardly a place you might expect to find a little peace .
Dar TimTam however is such an oasis in the midst of this chaos, just ignore the name it is not in any way associated with a certain Australian chocolate covered biscuit.
It is actually a little restaurant and coffee shop tucked away in an enclave down one of the main streets off the souks. It is only necessary to follow the very obvious sign, and pass through the outer courtyard and there it is, a haven of tranquillity.
It is quite expensive in comparison to most places in the medina, that maybe the price of peace, silence and solitude here. With a decent choice of tangines and pastries it’s worth a visit for lunch or dinner.
It is not only the human visitors to Marrakech that appreciate the peace of this hidden sanctuary. There is a constant stream of sparrows in and out, picking up the crumbs dropped by the paying guests and visiting the central fountain for a bathe and to quench their thirst.
It is certainly a pleasant surprise to discover this lovely little courtyard in the middle of the souks, sit and enjoy a coffee and pastry, chat with a friend or just sit and absorb the solitude. Either way it is well worth seeking out.
Oh look a celebrity
The owners of the Riad, impromptu hamman aside, treated me very well. For most of my stay I enjoyed a room to myself, they provided me with two free breakfasts, topped me up with coffee and mint tea at all hours and even gave me a discount on a desert excursion.
They were always friendly and helpful too, it was not totally one-sided they gratefully received some marketing and guest handling advice from me. I also helped translate on a few guest arrivals and provided a favourable review on my arrival back home; very symbiotic!
On one occasion however the staff seemed a little stressed and were extra busy getting the main atrium spic and span. Aziz who was the ‘front’ man for the Riad seemed especially animated, barking orders to the cleaning girls and generally rushing about like an agitated bee.
This intrigued me, was the king visiting today, maybe a member of government, these seemed the only logical conclusions for all this activity. Having some work to do I settled down at a table, there were a few new faces, which were Norwegian, we chatted a little and they were as mystified as me about the fastidious spring cleaning being done.
The reason became clear a little while later, when Ahmed Mohamadina, the goalkeeper for the Moroccan national football team appeared with his coach and some other guys; minders maybe? Almost as soon as he arrived, I became the official photographer, recording the ‘visit’ for the Riad scrapbook.
I had actually watched the game the previous evening in a pastry shop, and very happy the locals had been with the result. Beating Nigeria in a friendly 3-0 was no mean feat even on home soil here in Marrakech.
He seemed a pretty friendly and down to earth guy, but the reaction of the two cleaning girls amused me; they were always happy and smiling but today they were like two star struck school girls. They almost tripped over each other trying to get an autograph, it was really quite sweet and I thought they were going to actually faint when I gestured to him to stand and get his photograph taken with each of them.
It was definitely an unexpected bonus that morning, not because he was some big star. Rather the frenetic activity, which had bemused me earlier, the chatty Norwegians, fawning cleaners and his humble attitude were all quite refreshing.
It is doubtful that any trip goes by without something different occurring, an incident, unexpected kindness or a chance meeting with another interesting traveller or celebrity. It is these little ‘extras’ that add to the experience, making it more special and turning a trip into an adventure with stories to regale our friends with when we return.
They are an invaluable part of any trip for me, and I look forward to many more ‘surprises’ on my future travels.
What unexpected encounters or events have you experienced on your travels, did you have any unpleasant ones instead, maybe even frightening?