I am scheduled to begin a month-long assignment in Morocco on March 5. Amidst the growing global alarm over Covid-19, my brother strenuously urged against travel. He warns, “By March 15 this will explode, there will be a pandemic, airports will shut, flights will be cancelled, you will be stranded- maybe for months. Don’t travel!”
My 72-year-old mother, who has medical complications, is meant to travel with me and she is violently opposed to the trip. However, Morocco’s grandest ultra-luxe resorts, which I am on assignment to review, assure that Morocco is perfectly safe. The travel industry, including tour operators and the airline we are booked on, urges that if all travel writers stopped travelling and the media announced advisories against travel, tourism would collapse with terrible economic repercussions.
So, I land up in Morocco, coercing my mother into the trip, to crusade for its tourism. Ironically, just after I land I find myself attacked by a tour operator, who says the common cold takes more lives than coronavirus, but the “sensationalist media” is inciting trip cancellations, engendering economic harakiri. “The media is more dangerous than corona!” he barks.
So, I land up in Morocco, coercing my mother into the trip, to crusade for its tourism.
Nevertheless, we spend a splendid 10 days luxuriating in Marrakech’s pleasure palaces. Mother’s anxieties intensify but I am absorbed in Marrakech’s vertiginous pulsation of bazaars, the romance of riads, sultry hammams and groomed gardens, whilst tour operator Cristian Martinus, owner of Sun Trails has me discover architectural jewels, like the fabled Bahia Palace, Pasha’s Palace and Saadian Tombs, with their mesmerising splendour of mosaics, intricately sculpted ceilings and doors, splendid artefacts and inner courtyard gardens lavish with orange trees.
Then, precisely on March 15, things “explode.” Just as my brother predicted. Flights are cancelled suddenly. Morocco goes into lockdown. Hotels shut, expelling guests. Homelessness looms. We transfer to Casablanca. Here, a humanitarian young Moroccan, Ali El Hajouji of, is helping stranded tourists and rescues us with an apartment in Casablanca’s chicest quarters Anfa.
Surprisingly, of all the Moroccan cities I visited, Casablanca I enjoy most, even if I know it only in the context of the lockdown. I manage to go on long evening walks before the evening curfew and explore elegant neighbourhoods. If a city can enchant you even during a lockdown then there is something to be said about it and indeed its people who sustain us for three months, ensuring we want for nothing.
Most remarkable is Ali who says we are like family and hosts us graciously, waiving months worth of rent. Moreover, the Indian Association provides us home-cooked meals, personally delivered by the Association’s secretary, whilst the charitable AINKD Association assists with sundry and other requirements. Confinement in Casablanca is a period of inviting introspection. We have come to regard travel, luxury, liberty, and life itself in such limited ways that being stranded in a lockdown can actually be a refreshingly liberating experience.
When lockdowns keep extending and flights don’t resume, we finally write to the Indian Prime Minister (my mother is an Indian citizen and we currently live in India), who speedily organised a repatriation charter.
We are finally home after three months. Now that we are safely back, and after a good night’s rest in my own bed, I am able to reflect on the design highlights of the trip. For those interested to give this destination a visit when the lockdown ends, here are some spots worth checking out.
This article first appeared in Home & Decor.
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