Sea, Sand and Jewels: Morocco
Part 1: Marrakech
My latest hop sees me pack a weeks worth of clothes into a bag (hoping, optimistically, that they'll last me for nine days) and head for the North African riches of Morocco.
Not content with the recent fantastic experience in Chile, this one's a little different. I no longer have my brother and trusted shooting partner by my side, I now have my girlfriend Gemma. We're not quite calling this a holiday, it's certainly not just a photographic trip, but we are here with the unique task of finding inspiration for her new start-up jewellery company. This is going to be interesting on many levels, so where to start?
The dilemma of the professional photographer - what do you take with you? I was embarking on a trip into the relative unknown, having booked flights in and out - Marrakech would be our arrival destination and Fes would see us leave. Everything in between would be made up as we went along. This was Morocco: people, desert, drama, and a world apart from the norm for any western traveller.
So back to the dilemma. I wouldn't call myself a die-hard photographer, granted I go all out for the shot where I can, but I'd like to consider myself the more dedicated photographer. I’m also far too conscientious for my own good sometimes. I had two weddings and two promo shoots to return to on my first week back, and didn't really fancy putting my top kit in harm’s way. I opted to rely on my new Lytro Illum light field camera, and the more pocketable megapixels within my iPhone 6. I'd added a small selection of lenses from Instalens to give me a bit more flexibility, but you know that feeling that you're travelling and have left something behind? Yep, I've got that - but it's not socks, travel plugs or bug spray, it's my reassuringly heavy photo kit.
Arriving in Marrakech leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination. You're dunked straight into the environment - walking through terracotta alleys, dodging motorcycles, dipping under low walkways and ending up an innocuous door: Riad 107 - our home for the first few days.
The Riad was beautiful, and for the per night cost, I couldn't recommend it highly enough - the rooftop terrace a particular gem.
The first port of call for anyone reaching Marrakech has to be its main square, Djemma El-Fnar. You'll either love it or hate it - but you couldn't feel further away from the streets of London if you tried. The people, the energy, the noise - almost become normal when you spot the monkey handlers and snake charmers with their cobras standing to melodic attention.
There's little way to avoid looking like a tourist, and become prized attention straight away, everyone you pass wants your attention, to visit something, to buy something or to eat something. A thick skin and steely demeanour are a must to survive here, or you'll end up the size of a mountain holding a snake around your neck and a monkey on each shoulder.
Instant things to note are the relative cheapness - everything is far more affordable than in London, and given the expectation to haggle for a bargain, you can quickly feel like you belong. Second, the panoramic restaurants are a must, and you have lots to choose from day or night that give you a privileged position for people-watching over the square. Lastly, embrace the tagines and the mint tea - live off them, they're amazing!
The people are friendly, you just have to be a little vigilant over children who want to "borrow" your new sunglasses, and those who are desperate to help you somehow, in exchange for a few dirhams. Some will take you where you want to go, with others it's a bit of pot luck. Best bet is to keep a map handy and try to know where you are most of the time.
North of the main square are the famous souks, a labyrinthine rabbit warren of stalls selling everything from herbs and spices to clothing, leather, carpets, fabrics, everything. Once you enter, you're fair game for the sellers :)
Whether you like it or not, you are going to be sold to, grabbed, bartered with, even with that steely appearance is in full effect. Funnily enough, I couldn't even pull out my iPhone walking through, just being there attracted attention enough. But the further you walk and the more you get used to 'taking part', the more enjoyable it becomes, it's like being part of a huge game, albeit one that the locals live and thrive off. The souks are like a demonstration of the old world, yet it's still very much alive today.
So at this point I've made the right call. Although I'm regretting every shot in missing, I can't take them anyway! This would have been made much worse if I'd had my Nikon on my back rather than just the iPhone burning a hole in my pocket!
The Lytro has been a sleeping giant to this point, restricted to more controlled shots from up high. As you may or may not know, it's not a 'snappy' camera – you can’t just fire off a salvo of shots, you need a bit more time to compose.
In a crazy way, not being able to shoot around like I would usually do while away is actually quite soothing - and there's something to be said for simply absorbing the experience rather than going all out to grab that shot. In honesty, everything in Marrakech is a photo. Every road, backstreet, person or place - there's a wealth of photographic vibrancy in each step - whether you're pointing a camera in its direction or not.
Next stop, Essaouira in PART 2
Tip: Think carefully before travelling about what shots you're going to want, and how you might get them. Let this help you decide what to pack to avoid taking too much or the wrong things.