Loud, hot, crazy, confronting and the hostel's full of bedbugs - Nicky Park loved every minute in Morocco.
When I picked Morocco as the fourth and final country of my month-long travel adventure, I considered the scorching heat, the aromatic tagines and the bustling bazaars selling shoes that curl up at the toes.
Morocco was one of the most challenging and overwhelming countries I've ever visited (including the time I was bashed in Vietnam or that other time I had my passport stolen in Colombia). But it's these high-intensity experiences that make me fall for a place (or person) - as I often say, boring is ... well, boring.
Travelling with three friends, I touched down at Marrakech Menara Airport with every inch of my Kiwi skin covered. The temperature was mid-40s, a dry heat that seared the skin. We knew how much a cab should cost to Bab Ksour, in the heart of the old town - the best entry point to the hostel recommended by a couple of lads on the bus to Glastonbury weeks earlier. The cab driver quoted a little more, but, having just arrived, we were content to let the guy rip us off by a few Kiwi dollars.
The hostel website claimed that this air-conditioned backpackers paradise would be easy to find in the winding streets of the medina.
"After you pass through the arch go straight ahead 45 steps (approx) and turn left. Walk 20 steps more and turn right. Seven more steps and make it left. Fifty more steps and turn right. Thirty more steps and you're there. Door number 80. Welcome!!"
Faced with these clear-as-mud instructions, we took up the offer of being led there by a small boy. With our packs strapped on tight and the sun setting, we wove through a rabbit warren of souks, losing our bearings as we dodged donkeys, speeding motorbikes, and the odd car. Trying our best to ignore the cat calls, whistles, hisses and other confronting comments and gestures being shot our way by men on the street. Finally making it to the big hostel door, our wee guide asked for a tip four times what we'd paid the cab driver from the airport. We gave him less. He got mad and cried. It was a confronting touch down.
Traditional Moroccan slippers for sale. Photo / Nicky Park
We took a breath, sat by the pool and longingly waited until beers could be sold on site (7pm until 11pm). We didn't want to go out there again. It was too much. We'd get lost. Or worse.
This was day one, heck it was just hours in, and we knew we were being sooks in the souks. It took just one sleep (and six beers) before I and my army of well-travelled women sucked it up and embraced the chaos every day. The mad street food stalls aggressively trying to make us pick their place to taste tagine. The old, dusty snake charmer dying to drape his drugged up, scarf-like python over our (covered) shoulders.
There was the eight-year-old boy who grabbed my ta-tas on the street, the cab with no door handles inside, the creepy dude in the nightclub who licked the back of my neck. There was the night out in the Sahara Desert where I got thrown from my camel, which tried to bite me on the way down, and then waking up to a sandstorm in a near 50C tent the next morning.
There was the traditional hamam (which, to be fair, I signed up for) that entailed stripping back my inhibitions, as well as all my clothing, and being publicly scrubbed very hard, all over, with a black sticky soap by a fat old Moroccan lady, then passed on to her topless old friend for a hair wash - all of this in front of two young women I had just met over two-for-one mojitos the night before.
And of course, the battle scars I still carry now, from the 50-odd bed-bug bites that covered my arms, back and face. The hostel where we first sought solace, turned on us, dishing up a massive dose of these critters to myself and at least a couple of other guests at my time of stay. The bed bugs actually became a great icebreaker.
It's these Moroccan tales that make others cringe - but make travelling, for me, so rewarding. I love a place that smells different, tastes different and feels different. Morocco wasn't easy and it wasn't relaxing. I loved it.
Getting there: Emirates has connections from Auckland to Morocco, via its hub in Dubai.