I’m officially off work until next year, so I had a bit of time this afternoon to visit Middlegrounds Metropark. I’ve been meaning to go for a long time, and it’s only a five-minute drive from the house, but somehow we always ended up somewhere else.
I only stayed for a little while (blame the freezing wind blowing off the river!), but it was nice to watch the seagulls circle and dive while the mallard ducks hunkered down nearby. In the distance, past the graceful arch of the Anthony Wayne Bridge, downtown Toledo was socked in the thick fog. Trails seemed nice, but I didn’t stay long enough to go very far. We’ll definitely be back here with Petey when it warms up a little!
Aït Benhaddou, a ruined ksar (fortified town) just north of Ouarzazate, was one of the highlights of our trip. You can see it from far down the road, a cluster of mud-brick houses ringing the tallest hill for miles.
It was overcast, cold and windy as we descended the Atlas Mountains and pulled off the rutted track into a gravel parking lot. We had to traverse a modern settlement with a few houses and a gauntlet of trinket shops before we got to the dry bed of the Oued Ounila.
Marrakesh’s medina, or old city, is not a place for introverts. In the maze of alleys, the crush of people moving in every direction is constant. Motorbikes zip past, loaded with shopping. There are people shouting, horns honking, music playing, and the smell of smoke from tiny food stalls. Meet a shopkeeper’s gaze and he’ll greet you like an old friend. “Please, come in, take a look!” We made a few trips into the souks in our three days in Marrakesh, but I could only stay so long before I was overwhelmed.
Travel is sometimes uncomfortable. This experience, on our first evening in Marrakesh, was one of those. It had nothing to do with the snakes. I have no beef with snakes.
Jemaa el Fna is a nice place to stroll, get a glass of orange juice, or visit a cafe, but the performers are downright predatory. These guys saw my camera, steered us over and thrust a snake into Michelle’s hands. Like any logical person, I asked, “What’s this going to cost?” He answered, “Donation, whatever you want!” Mm hrm.
I was onboard, at first. I knew I wanted this picture before I even got to Morocco, and I knew it was going to cost some money, but I was unprepared for the audacity of this snake handler and his friend: “Give us each 400 dirhams,” he said. That’s about $42. Each.
I may have actually laughed out loud. “Absolutely not!” I said. Are people really paying eighty dollars to play with a snake? He pressed. I stayed firm. Finally I gave them 200 dirhams (about $20) and walked quickly away.
It was like this everywhere. As soon as I turned my lens towards some musician or mystic or monkey-owner, his partner would sidle up and demand an outrageous amount of money. It didn’t take long for me to get fed up. I know they’re trying to make a living, but I’m not paying anyone $20 for a few quick snaps of a maltreated ape. Fuck that. Uncomfortable.