Back to Morocco
Words & Images - Jenny Lockton, Founder & Creative Director of Bohemia
It was with an unfamiliar sense of trepidation that I boarded a Ryanair flight to Marrakech this summer. After several cancelled flights, a mountain of admin and the uncertainty created by the frequently changing travel restrictions, I was almost resigned to staying at home. 16 months earlier I had been camped out at Marrakech Airport amidst scenes of utter pandemonium as hundreds of people scrambled to get a seat on one of the last ‘rescue’ flights to leave the country. I arrived home to Edinburgh a day before the world went into lockdown.
As a previously intrepid traveller, it was curious for me to discover how anxious I felt about this upcoming trip. Living in a tiny bubble between home and work my world had shrunk, and the prospect of journeying out again raised all sorts of questions for me. It wasn’t so much a fear for my own health, but a sense of responsibility for others around me. I was travelling on business to meet up with Bohemia’s artisan partners who I would normally work with in person for several months of the year, and even though I had taken all the available precautions, I was anxious not to be carrying a virus to a country which isn’t blessed with the kind of healthcare system we benefit from in the UK. I have since found I was not alone in these feelings as Jessica Poitevien discusses in her feature ‘What Does Travel Anxiety Look Like in 2021?’, for Conde Nast Traveller.
Musee Des Confluences, Marrakech
Morocco has been hard hit by the global shutdown. It is heavily dependent on tourism for employment, and the suffering amongst many of the population has been immense. I was nervous to return to the city I have known and loved for so much of my life, unsure as to what staying there during a pandemic and under curfew would feel like. I have experienced many highs and lows in Marrakech over the years, times when it has been bereft of tourists and more recently when the city has been full to bursting. But I understood from my almost daily conversations with Moroccan friends that this time was very different.
Djemaa El Fnaa, Marrakech, which is usually buzzing with locals and tourists
As it transpired, I didn’t need to worry about the welcome that would greet me, the legendary warmth and hospitality of the people was more overwhelming than ever. I was most often the only resident at the riads I stayed in and was treated by the staff like a treasured guest. Of course, I wouldn’t normally choose to spend July and August in Marrakech, the heat during these months is intense and it was well above 40 degrees for most of the time I was there. I spent hours exploring the medina and revisiting my local haunts, and was saddened to see how many of the shops, cafes and restaurants were closed, but then I was virtually the only visitor walking the narrow maze of streets and many of the businesses had no one to open for. The few venues that were still operating catered to locals, foreigners resident in the city, and the tiny handful of tourists who dared to come.
Bacha Coffee, Marrakech
Despite the challenges of getting to Morocco and the eerie void left by the missing visitors, it was actually a profoundly moving trip and one which will always stay with me. I was lucky to time my journey at a moment when the hours of curfew had been extended and movement across the country was permitted. It enabled me to travel to Essaouira on the coast and into the Ourika Valley, both offering a welcome respite from the oppressive heat of Marrakech. The great slow down meant that a space had opened up, and without the usual distractions of our crazy-busy lives there was time to connect on a deeper level. Conversation has always been a valued art form in Morocco and it was such a great pleasure to meet with old friends and talk for hours, long into the balmy, starry nights.
View to the Atlas Mountains, Marrakech
As the world starts to slowly reopen I hope to remember the sense of gratitude I felt during those precious weeks in Morocco and the value inherent in even the smallest exchange with a friend or stranger.