We’ve gone on holiday by mistake, are you the festival organiser?!

Posted: June 15, 2014 in Blogs
Tags: , , ,

Much like the cult film from which I steal these chaste words, my recent adventure to morocco was only ever going to be regarded as desirable to a select few. The parallels end with the words though, as my friend and I were not in the English countryside asking after the local farmer, being stalked by a local poacher or fending off advances from a fat homosexual. Instead we had embarked on a trip to the desert, to stomp around in the sand dunes in the company of serenading DJs and like-minded individuals. Worth noting at this point that I could have thrown down a multitude of other titles, including ‘Stranded in the Sahara’ and ‘Dumped in the dessert’.

Not a trip for the faint hearted no, but certainly not beyond our many years of combined experience of club nights, events, festivals and travel abroad. As a Withnail and I duo, with a friendship going back some 10 years, we’d done this shit together in the past. Not only that; my esteemed travelling counterpart has his own festival, one that is carefully organised and executed, year in and year out. As for me, before I started to spend my days playing with dogs I used to plan and deliver high-level meetings, dinners and events for a host of Board Members. There it is, justification for my whinging about the experience and trust me, it’s going to get whingey!

If you are open to the idea of omens and signs, my friend would have you believe that the mishap in this misadventure began the night before we even got on the plane, when his late Gatwick Express sowed the seeds of doubt. There was unrest in the camp but nevertheless we were on our way, ridiculously early, to Northern Africa, to a music festival in the SaharaDesert. Omen number two (maybe we should have given up and gone home at this point), the whole thing had to be moved due to marauding desert storms. This wasn’t the UK where one simply put wellies on when it rained at Glastonbury! Before this revelation we had planned, booked and paid for two nights in Marrakech, in what turned out to be an awesome riad. We would then do a modest seven hour transfer by bus to Zagora to stay in a hotel. Our festival tickets included shuttle transfers to and from the festival every 20 minutes due to its remote location in the desert!

It was at this point we had our first dealings with the festival organiser or perhaps one of his minions. We never learnt his name but he called us requesting we leave Marrakech a day early in order to transfer to the new festival location. From that moment on we clung desperately to his phone number like an addict to his drug. We berated him when things went wrong and pleaded perilously for truth and information, the former evading us and the latter delivered in a polyglot, ever-changing fashion. So after only one night in Marrakech we packed up and made our way to the train station to get the coach transfer – where we were actually going we didn’t know, no-one ever told us that! We only found out from Google maps once we arrived.

The coach transfer revealed itself as two minibuses with not quite enough room for festival goers and their luggage. Despite the busses being there and us all piling on to them, they weren’t imminently departing. It was far too hot to wait on them so we all piled off and sat on the side of the road in the shade chatting. Waiting an hour and a quarter, even when you don’t know why, doesn’t seem too much of a travesty when you’re in the early holiday / excitement stages, the honeymoon period if you like. It was to be the lesser of many evils for the trip. When you don’t understand or speak the language that the people around you are communicating it can be very disconcerting. We never had any information about why we were waiting or how long. The organisation I work for has recently invested a lot of time in customer service training; it is one of the biggest things people feel dissatisfied with, lack of information and poor communication.

We eventually set off and the journey for the most part was ok, some slightly dodgy toilet experiences aside. Some of the breaks were ridiculously long, who needs an hour and a half in a small café on the side of the road? At least though we were given the opportunity to stop regularly to be feed and watered and empty our bladders. Even the overnight bit wasn’t too bad. The fun really started around three or four in the morning when we got close to wherever we were going. It seemed that we weren’t the only ones that didn’t know. Peering out the window at what was most definitely dessert with a hint of village or civilisation, we kept turning round, stopping and going back on ourselves. Tired, grumpy and uncomfortable we just wanted to be at the hotel. There was one particular comedy moment that I will never forget. At one point the busses stopped around the back of some buildings, the drivers didn’t say anything but we all clambered off the bus, leaving our belongings strewn behind us. Only one of our party remained on the bus, a Swiss girl who was so zonked she didn’t even stir. Then suddenly the drivers slid shut all the doors, jumped back in and started driving off. It seemed that no one could really make sense of it! Not even the Swiss girl’s boyfriend who stood equally stupefied as her! I couldn’t understand the lack of panic, was I the only person slightly concerned that the bus contained my money, my passport and everything else I’d brought?! Everything was in slow motion and eventually, after some conferring, we did the only thing we could and started walking through the sand after the busses. To this day I don’t really understand why that happened, but we arrived on foot at a hotel and retrieved our things from the bus. Only this hotel wasn’t the one we had been told we were staying in.

After some milling about and a lot of confusion, some random Arabs rocked up in four-by-fours. In order to obtain our end-goal of a shower, bed and some sleep, we would first have to go to the festival and get our wristbands; just what you want at 6am. Now as well as being quite laid back I also have my anxious moments! During the next 25 minutes (which seemed like a lifetime) I imagined being the centre stage of a Youtube ransom video, pleading for my life before suffering a very inhumane end to it all. 25 minutes of driving across the desert. First off all, how the hell do they know the way? Second of all, why that bit of the desert? Why not a bit that was nearer to a shop?! Having recently watched ‘Captain Phillips’ with Tom Hanks, about the pirates in Somalia taking over his ship and taking him hostage, the suspense at my fate and the feeling of impending doom was very similar to what that film generated for me. Never have I been so glad to see bleary-eyed, hippy clad, dreadlock sporting, ravers, ever in my life! I wanted to tumble out the vehicle, kiss the sand and shriek ‘I’m alive, I’m alive’.

Once we had our wristbands we had to wait for the guys on the festival meet and greet desk to finish their shift, so we could catch a lift back across the desert to our hotel. This, our first experience of the loosely labelled, ‘shuttles’. At least the hotel knew who we were and collapsing into bed was pure heaven. Unfortunately, that was short-lived, as I woke up four hours later vomiting and running to the toilet.  The next 24 hours was mainly filled with stumbling between bed and bathroom floor, where I laid alongside the cockroach I’d captured in a glass – I named him Eric but really I should have called him Captain Phillips. Thank God for wifi and air con is all I can say.

I really need to condense down the rest of the experience, it’s already too long! The festival was inaccessible and there were no shuttles. We had to make friends with random French girls and steal their desert guides to get us there (at a cost) and then the music was trance-tastic and offensive. The transfer back was even more farcical; four hours late complete with comedy stuck in a desert hole moment where we all had to get off and push. We were in danger of missing our flight back and regularly called our little festival organiser friend who told us that the bus was 90km away, that we should chill by the pool, that we should probably just go the next day now, all in the same breath! I don’t know how we did it but we made it back and got to the airport with enough time to ceremoniously wipe the desert of us and our bags with babywipes, eat some crisps (my first solid food in four days) and eye-up the duty free tat. It was a miracle.

Homeward bound, we shared our relief at returning to a place of fixed prices, schedules that ran to time, a language we understood, a pace of life we were accustomed to. Good old Blighty, home to the neurotic Brits that get sick abroad! As experiences go, it wasn’t a great one, but an experience nonetheless. One that prompted a strongly worded email to the festival organiser, to which we got no reply. Highlights of the trip: when all the locals thought Hilton was either Moroccan or Jamaican, the turquoise leather bag I bought in the Medina (I bartered from £60 to £15), when the random French girl broke her bottle of vodka and best of all being met at the airport and being taken home.

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