Snakes And Leather – An Overland Trip To Marrakesh

According to environmentalists planes are a major factor in the destruction of our planet. The emissions from planes accounts for up to 3% of all carbon emissions into our atmosphere and we all know what that does. It’s for this reason I decided my travel to Morocco from Madrid would be done by land. Oh, and I’m also terrified of flying!

The latter admission was a reason for my unusually relaxed attitude before embarking upon this particular trip. I saddled up to my trusty military issue back pack and made my way to Madrid’s Estacion del Sur bus station feeling calm and morally proud.

The bus was to take me from Madrid to Algeciras on the southern tip of Spain, a cheap overnight journey that would get me to the Algeciras port by early morning just before the first ferries to Tangiers in Northern Morocco. Traveling overnight by bus is never life’s most pleasant experience but my handy hip flask helped me through this one. A crowded bus of Moroccan émigrés looked on as this sleepless young Englishman slowly drunk his way through the darkness of Andalucía and onwards to the Strait of Gibraltar.

The ferry, like the bus, was reassuringly cheap (yet another endorsement for environmentally friendly travel). My lack of sleep on the bus meant I spent the ferry journey laid out on the conveniently placed restaurant sofa but before I dropped off I noticed that the ferry was almost empty.

The approach to Morocco started the minute we left Algeciras as it really is very close but my first sight of Tangiers was still enjoyable as the old towns meandering steep streets were clear to the eye. I wasn’t to stay in Tangiers but it was good to see the old headquarters of liberation and excess from afar. Upon arrival in Tangiers I was immediately set upon by endless willing taxi drivers all up for a bit of haggling. The first haggle of a trip is always the best as your energy is at maximum and it’s still fun! I agreed a fair with the most persistent of them and via an exchange bureau we made the five minute journey to the train station.

Tangiers train station was peerlessly clean and the staff very friendly and efficient. I bought a ticket for Marrakesh in the second class carriage that was to prove more than acceptable. The train only required one change in Sidi Kacem but it was a long journey. The journey didn’t seem long though as I was the trains main exhibit for the stream of locals passing past my carriage. Those with a basic grasp of the English language all stopped to ask me about my life and those without giggled and offered various forms of food and sweets. The scenery is interesting without being outstanding on the way to Marrakesh but the Atlas Mountains grow as Marrakesh draws nearer and these are more than enough to occupy your eyes.

I arrived in Marrakesh at nightfall and made my way to the cheap hotel I’d booked beforehand. I opted out of staying in a Riad on account of being offered a great deal by a friend who works in a travel agency but by all accounts they are a great experience and good place to meet other travelers. They are also a good option for the budget minded traveler. My hotel was situated in the art deco quarter of Guéliz built by the French in the 1930s. Fittingly the hotel was occupied by groups of French weekenders and I must silently admit that this only added to the experience.
My first day in Marrakesh was naturally spent exploring the Souk inside the medina. Of all the adjectives that could be used to describe the souk I think eclectic is the most fitting. Within five minutes I had bought some nougat, a scarf, a bag and some tea. I didn’t want any of them but I was easily drawn into the charm and sheer professionalism of the stall owners selling techniques. I quickly wised up and spent the day walking aimlessly around the myriad of colors, smells and noises that made up the souk.

I particularly enjoyed being invited to look around endless stalls for free! The kindness sincerely touched me! Despite the ramshackle appearance of the souk there is logic to its layout and to the experienced shopper or indeed the locals it must be amusing watching the directionless tourists pass by the same herb stall for the umpteenth time each hour. Each section of the souk is designated to a certain product and this made life easier when looking for a leather jacket. The problem was the overwhelming choice and carefully designed haggling techniques I encountered in this area. Despite that I strutted away gleaming with pride having just beaten them at their own game. The stall owner no doubt celebrated the extreme profit he’d just made with a tea and cat whistle at the nearest sunburned European girl.

As the sun disappeared behind the Atlas Mountains I made my way to the main square of the Marrakesh medina, the Jemaa el Fna. It was here I had dinner as maybe a hundred food stalls were assembled with ease in the square as the sun went down. More bartering followed and I was taken in a by boy whose impressions of every English accent under the sun had me laughing in stitches. His food stall offered the standard fair of tagines and couscous and I decided to try both. The dinner was extremely cheap and these food stalls would remain my main source of replenishment for the duration of my stay. My post-dinner entertainment was provided by the endless entertainers that roam the Jemaa el Fna with their snakes, monkeys and elaborate stories of Moroccan legends gone by. I bypassed the snakes but was enraptured by a magic show narrated by an old man clearly under the influence of something other than mint tea. At end the night I joined the French residents of my hotel in a local disco and watched with wide eyes as Moroccan pop music enabled people to move in ways they’d probably never moved before.

The following day, feeling a little worse for wear, I joined a group in exploring the High Atlas where we were able to visit several Berber villages and witness demonstrations of their customs. One such village was …and here it was a delightful experience to see a culture untamed by the rapid modernization that had occurred below on the plains. The return journey went through the Ourika valley, which was a sight to behold. An emerald green stream was engulfed by sheer cliffs dotted with olive trees and random villages seemingly immune to the perils of tourism. One such village was Moulay Brahim, which is actually mostly frequented by Moroccans from afar all seeking comfort from the shrine of none other than Moulay Brahim, which is said to help female fertility problems. The male virility shrine was closed for the winter!

I spent the evening in the Jemaa el Fna again but was this time enticed by a food stall named “Lovely Jubbly”. Brilliant!

My final day was again spent in the Medina exploring the sights it had to offer. I spent the entire day walking around in the February heat and found much needed refreshment in the many tea shops that are scattered around the city. These are unashamedly male compounds of gossip and the perfect platform from which to ogle to your heart’s desire. The Koutoubia Mosque dominates the medina skyline due to the fact no building may be taller. It acts as a convenient vantage point for the inevitable moments of confusion. Worth mentioning from my walk around the medina are the dyers quarter and tanneries. Despite the pungent smells these are great examples of traditions not lost to industry and the world of leather and textiles is all the better for it. Beware of taking photos as this is the basis of the local’s argument when you’re asked to pay for the pleasure of having walked around a public place. The Kasbah and Medersa Ben Youssef were interesting oases of calm where the feeling of Islamic intellectualism and tranquility are overwhelming. After weaving my way through these, then getting lost, I returned to the hotel to conclude my visit with a night’s bemusement observing French dancing.

I returned to Madrid the way I came with a brief stopover in Gibraltar, another reference to the convenience of traveling by land. Without polluting the atmosphere I had thoroughly enjoyed my short stay in Marrakesh and seen more than I could possibly imagine in the short time I had available.

Marrakesh is a city of mayhem and ultimate tranquility. This paradox is the key to its success. The city contains a people of overt kindness laid on in abundance for an extra buck. They will frustrate you but charm you at the same time. Although not obviously beautiful it’s the atmosphere and people that make it well worth a visit. It remains a liberal city kept in check by Islamic requirements that won’t affect most tourists. What’s more it is easily accessible by land for those of us in Europe. An option you should seriously consider when making this trip.

“One Lane, Two Directions!” A Reggae-Filled Pilgrimage to Nine Mile, Jamaica

“We not comparin’, we just sharin’!” Those were the words of our guide, Gary, as he told us stories about his homeland of Jamaica while the rhythmic sounds of legendary Bob Marley vibrated loudly throughout the bus. The Zion Bus couldn’t be missed; this “country bus” was easily spotted with its brightly colorful paint job and familiar reggae sounds that emanated from its open windows that provided the only a/c on board.

Josh and I were only in Jamaica for a short time, but the activity that topped our list during our visit was to travel to Nine Mile and Mount Zion, the home and final resting place of the great Bob Marley. Both of us are huge music lovers, and we particularly enjoy reggae, so making this trip seemed more like a pilgrimage. Traveling in the rural parts of Jamaica can be tricky, so it’s valuable to have a guide. We were lucky enough to book an organized trip through a local operator, Chukka Caribbean Adventures. It was a fantastic choice because we didn’t have to worry about anything, and they did a fabulous job!

As soon as we stepped aboard the bus we were surrounded with images of Bob and his family throughout the years. Photos were inlaid throughout the bus interior and quotes, from the man himself, were painted on the ceiling and walls. When we took our seats we were handed a tasty rum punch by our driver Alan, who assured us he was NOT partaking in the beverage himself.

As we departed, Gary gave us an enthusiastic welcome and cranked up the Marley music. The entire bus gave a surprised gasp when we suddenly felt the music and realized the sound system on the bus could enable it to double as a mobile nightclub! Josh and I looked at each other with the biggest smiles and agreed; now this is how you experience Jamaica!

Our trusty driver, Allen, took us quickly away from the tourist areas and deep into the heart of rural, mountainous Jamaica. As Gary explained, in this part of the country the roads are “one lane, two directions!” So we were happy to be sitting toward the back of the bus and decided to be blissfully ignorant to the horn honking, sharp curves, and steep cliffs. Instead, we focused on enjoying the stunning views of the countryside and swaying to the reggae sounds around us.

Throughout the journey you could hear our guides and other guests singing along with the famous tunes, and Gary would interject every now and then to provide some background and history about Bob and the music that we were hearing. He would also take time to share information about the culture, lifestyles, history of the island nation, as well as local herbal remedies of the legal and non-legal kind. We couldn’t help but love Gary with his big smiling face and enthusiasm!

We made one rest stop on the way to Nine Mile to enjoy local beer and complimentary “patties” (a traditional, flaky pastry snack filled with meats and spices). When we arrived at Mount Zion we were immediately impressed with the cleanliness, organization, and conditions of the facility. Now I do have to warn you, this is Jamaica… and there are elements to the culture that some people will not be used to or comfortable with. However, it is very important to keep an open mind and remember to respect the culture and different perspectives.

After being escorted to the entrance, we were given a guided tour of the facility and had an opportunity to visit the home and final resting place of both Bob and his mother. From the moment we arrived the energy of this place was incredibly apparent; such positivity, peace, and love. These feelings just overwhelmed us, and it was easy to see why this place was so inspirational and important to the family. It was truly a magical experience that we will never forget.

On our return journey from Nine Mile we stopped again at a local establishment for a break, shopping, and some food. A lovely woman provided us with an amazing home cooked meal that she had been working on since the early morning. Jerked chicken, pork, rice & beans, as well as other local delicacies; it was scrumptious! In keeping with the local spirit of hospitality, she told us she had extra blankets if any of us wanted to stay a while. “My home is your home,” she lovingly expressed to us; and the way she said it made you wonder if she wasn’t half-joking.

Even though this was an arranged tour, we truly believe that it gave us the opportunity to experience the real Jamaica – far away from the tourist resorts. Not only did we see the beautiful countryside, but we met real people who live, and love Jamaica. We experienced the true culture of the island, danced and sang to the music, and gained an education and appreciation along the way. Overall, I feel much more in touch with the Jamaican people and culture then I ever could have imagined. And it was a journey that I’ll cherish in my memories forever.

Small Business Marketing Tall Tale #3 – You’ve Got to Get Your Name Out There

Get your name out there. Plaster it everywhere. Slap it on the side of a bus. Paint it on a park bench. Print some matchbook covers. Cover your car in it. Shout it from the highest mountain top. Do what ever you have to, but get it out in front of as many people as possible.

WRONG…WRONG…WRONG…WRONG…WRONG!

Market yourself this way and you’ll be spending countless hours on your efforts. You’ll be wasting precious time and energy on avenues that never bear fruit and will be speaking to people who aren’t listening and probably even annoying the crap out of them.

Ultimately, you will burn yourself out in an exhaustive effort that yields absolutely zero.

Yep, I said it…Zero, Zip, Nada, Nothing. If you are one of the many who buys into this “get your name out there” philosophy, you are most likely already sitting on a curb somewhere huffing and puffing with exhaustion.

You are feeling like a candle burning wicks on both ends and just want to throw in the towel on this marketing stuff. But you can’t. It’s your business’ livelihood at stake. What other option do you have?

An Excuse for Marketing that Doesn’t Work

“Get your name out there” is an old fable made up by marketing hacks who needed an excuse for advertising that doesn’t work.

You’ve probably heard, or even said yourself, when someone asked:

“How did that ad work?”

“Well, it was OK. We got a few calls. Most importantly, though, we got our name out there.”

Right. Got your name out there to whom? What does that mean anyway? You paid for an ad or for a bus stop bench (god forbid) and you got no calls.

If you get any solace by believing you got some mysterious value out of that, you’re kidding yourself.

Why not just spray paint your name on the sidewalk? It would probably work better and get more attention.

The Poor Get Poorer

Unfortunately marketing junk like this usually afflicts the people who can most scarcely afford it. Small businesses who don’t think they can afford help with their marketing or think all they can afford is the most basic “get your name out there” techniques are the usual victims.

The worst part is some businesses bet their existence on this myth. They’re desperate. Business isn’t what it needs to be, so they take a long shot and bet it all on the bus bench. Ouch.

That’s like realizing your personal finances aren’t in good shape and cashing your pay check for a six pack and 163 lottery tickets.

It Gets Worse

As if it wasn’t bad enough, these same businesses
who buy junk ads and pray they work use the same logic they used to buy the ad to design the ad.

Well, the purpose of this ad is to “get our name out there.” So, let’s start with our name. Then we’ll say we’re bonded and insured, have great service and the lowest prices.

Does that sound familiar? Amazing, you must have some of the same bad advertisers in your town as we do in ours. What a small world!

Sometimes, these companies will hire a graphic designer to make the ad that says nothing of value look pretty so that while nobody is paying attention to it they can feel comfortable knowing they’re “getting their name out there” – in style. Right on.

Sadly, it doesn’t work this way. It’s not even close.

Advertising is not a joke and it’s not a game. It’s about drawing and wrenching emotions out of people and tying your message to existing anchors they have in their subconscious mind. It’s about causing them to take action they can hardly resist.

This is not accomplished by “getting your name out there.” It’s not accomplished by graphic designers. It doesn’t happen on park benches or car magnets.

There Is One Better Option

Now you know that you cannot spend this much time creating and managing weak marketing messages and delivering them to the far reaches of the planet. You have a business to take care of – or have you forgotten?

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the perceived glamour of the marketing and advertising process, but it’s something you have to avoid at all costs.

Your time is the single most precious asset your company has and its misuse is the reason why more businesses go under faster than the R.M.S. Lusitania.

So, if not “get your name out there,” what do you do? Get it out in front of the right people, the right way, many, many times.

The Golden Snitch of this grueling game is caught by doing several things: planning, targeting, testing and measuring – very frequently. It’s a full time job.

Find that segment that is looking for, nay, needs that sensational offering you have. Find them. Learn about them. Live like them. Know them and love them. Then let it loose. Measure. Do it again. Measure. Refine. Do it again. Measure. Never stop.

Ultimately, if done correctly, your potential and existing customers will gravitate toward you, orbiting like our planet orbits the sun.

Creating a game plan…you’ve heard the coaches say it umpteen times. They are on to something. They have a playbook and they stick to it. Even if times get tough they still go to the trusty playbook.

They’re constantly trying new plays and testing new strategies and keeping a book of the best options.

You need a playbook; you need to know which players to put on the field for each play and you need a coach, unless you have an extra 40 hours per week to put into the game.

Doing anything else is just “spraying and praying.” It’s like buying beer and lottery tickets.

Tall Tale Four will show you how you’re wasting tons of dough and losing revenue by trying to under-cut your competition over a sliver of market share.