Gadabout Grahame African Adventure
Before I had ever set foot in Thailand, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan and the rest of the world, my African Adventure was in full swing. And as a young boy growing up in South Africa my father would often tell the family that he was going to send us all to Timbuktu whenever he wanted us out of his space.
This was possibly because living in a small three bedroom house with my mother and seven children was way too much for him at times. I always believed that it was not so much my dad but my mother who wanted so many kids. She had six boys before finally giving birth to a girl. Then everything came to an abrupt halt. Having kids that is.
Anyway, I thought Timbuktu was some kind of weird word my dad had made up just like some of the other phrases he would direct at us such as "I'm going to give you a bag of wallops and a broomstick" (whatever that was supposed to mean) or he would direct his frustration at our mother by telling her to "go suck eggs".
But my dad seemed to revel in telling us that he's was going to send us to Timbuktu if ever we were misbehaving. It was only years later that I found out that Timbuktu was actually an ancient city in Mali, situated some 20 kilometres north of the Niger River in North Africa. The city is also one of the eight administrative regions there.
Now that I knew that Timbuktu really did exist, Mali was also on my list of African adventures I'd love to explore someday but I also knew that I'd have to wait until the country was more at peace with itself. I do hope that I'll get the chance to see the magnificent architectural wonders of Mali and the far away place my father wanted to send us.
While I dreamed (among other things) of travel, travel in Africa wasn't particularly high on my list of places I had inspired to someday visit. But later I did dream of travelling to ancient Egypt to see the great Pyramids and the Sphinx of Giza outside Cairo, the temple at Luxor, the Valley of the Kings and the temple of the Pharaoh Ramesses II at Abu Simbel near the Sudanese border. That dream was to become a reality and I got to see all those places and more.
But my African adventure began long before I stepped off the aeroplane. As a teenager, I had watched a movie about a young boy who had hitched-hiked from Cape Town to Cairo and I was hooked. However, I chose not to do the hitch-hiking thing. For that, it would take too long and my feet would get way too sore. Instead, I boarded an EgyptAir flight to Cairo in December 1991. Though this African adventure actually began in Alexandria, I did stop over to spend New Year's Eve in Cairo and what an absolute blast that was.
Later on, I would get to travel on a luxury boat to Aswan and from there I took a half hour flight to the desert airport at Abu Simbel. I was fascinated by all things to do with travel and I simply had to go to Egypt to see the tomb of Ramesses II.
It was the same way I always wanted to travel to the city of Marrakesh in Morocco after having heard the song "Marrakesh Express" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young way back in 1969.
My first attempt at crossing the Strait of Gibraltar from the southern port of Algeciras in Spain was a dismal failure. Not because there was anything wrong with the ferry. No nothing like that. It was more complicated than that. Before I finally received my British Passport two years ago, I had been travelling on a South African passport.
The country where I was born was controlled by a system of racial segregation enforced through legislation by the then National Party government. They were the ruling party from 1948 to 1994. It was known as "Apartheid" and during that time South Africans were not allowed entry into Morocco as well as a few other places too.
And it mattered not whether you were a black, white or any other person of colour. Had I got my timing all wrong? No, it wasn't that. I believed South Africa got their policies all wrong. The year was 1989. However, I took my chance aboard a ferry from Spain anyway and tried to look as inconspicuous as possible among the rest of the passengers on board. But then the dreaded custom officials on the ferry called out to see everybody's passports.
I stood in line just like the rest of the passengers but when it came to my turn I was told I could not enter Morocco. I simply had to stay on board and go back to Spain. What a disappointment that was. I could not go to Morocco because of where I was born!!! As the other passengers were disembarking at the Moroccan port of Tangier a customs official came over to me and asked to see my passport once more.
Was it something I'd misjudged. Did he need to seek a colleague's advice or to get a second or third opinion? Or was he going to be sympathetic and allow me across? As it turns out it was nothing of the sort. He was merely searching through my passport to see if I had left any money for him among the pages. Bad luck for him. No money. Bad luck for me. Go back to Spain.
My next attempt at entering Morocco from Spain was plain sailing (pun intended) as by this time Nelson Mandela was now a free man and all South African passport holders could as if by some miracle, travel the world over. So with two of my other South African friends, I got the chance to see the sights I'd missed a few years earlier. This was the year 2000.
Our journey began from the port of Tangier where we were immediately bombarded by Moroccan touts trying to offer us transport and accommodation both of which we refused. Lucky we were all seasoned travellers and avoided touts wherever we went. Morocco included. We wanted to travel by car so we found a reputable rental company and then set off for the town of Fes.
As we travelled further south most of the roads leading to the outlying towns along the way were mainly devoid of traffic and the surrounding country seemed like an endless glimmering colour of amber. In Fes, we spent a short time wandering around the town taking in the sights, sounds and smells before heading towards the Atlas mountains in the distance.
Before sunset, we had reached the highest point and found a small community of locals going about their daily duties. They seemed surprised to see us as we were the only westerners up there at the time but nevertheless, offered us their hospitality. I can remember the hearty vegetarian meal they prepared for us over an open fire in one of those clay tagine pots as they were called. Thought we could have stayed overnight in the small village on the mountain, we decided instead to travel down to Marrakesh.
Marrakesh was a fantastic place as it was during the day or night. We wandered around the Madina, had photographs taken with the snake charmers, stopped to listen to the storytellers, drank loads of fresh orange juice and walked the narrow alleyways of the souks as well as going on a trip to the tanning areas (not a pleasant sight) and then on to visit Yves Saint Laurent's private Marrakesh home nearby.
We also drove along the coast to Rabat, the capital and then on to Casablanca which I have to say was a real disappointment as I had so wanted to go to Rick's cafe as was portrayed in the movie of the same name. But all in all, Morocco is still a fascinating country to visit and it comes highly recommended. You should go there someday.
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