On my first night at the Equity Point Hostel in the Marrakech medina, I sat on the second floor lounge and wrote in my journal. The energy of the place was surprisingly relaxing. The woman at the front desk told me I arrived during their “calm hour” and should expect things to get a little crazy. When it started to get loud downstairs, I was prepared.
I set my book down and peered over the rail to see the reception area abuzz with loud tourists and their roller bags. Most folks were my age or older and wore expensive travel clothes. They reminded me of a busy dog park. Lots of posturing and butt-sniffing.
One man stood out among the crowd. A white guy, about 50 or so. He wandered from group to group, socializing and making folks laugh. He pointed to vending machine and the stairs leading to the bar. People seemed to appreciate his charm and hospitality.
I returned to my book and before long I heard people heaving their luggage up the stairs while making comments about the absence of an elevator. A few peeked into the lounge and smiled at me. Some said hello in English and I responded in Spanish. That promptly ended our exchange.
When the social guy saw me sitting, he wasted no time striking up a conversation. He was American, his posture squatty and he had a belly paunch. The features of his face looked squashed together. He told me he was an ex-CEO of some real estate firm and that he’s been traveling non-stop for 4 years. Something about the tone of his voice told me he was filthy rich. Though I was intrigued by him and his story, he gave me a strange feeling. I couldn’t place it specifically, but something wasn’t right. Maybe even creepy. But I discarded my from-the-hip assessment and blamed my quick judgment on feeling antisocial. I agreed to join him on a walk the next morning to the Marrakech International Film Festival at the Salle des Ministres. His name was Mack.
At breakfast I overheard Mack telling a table of young Australian women about his thrilling adventures. The stories seemed forced—sketchy African border crossings, crazy parties in Brazil, near-death experiences on the Mongolian steppe. Mack could tell a damn good yarn, but I couldn’t shake the vibe I was getting from him. But the way I saw it, he knew the way to the festival and that saved me on cab fare. We linked up as planned and off we went.
Didn’t take long for Mack to prove me right. He repeatedly stopped girls on the street, asking to take their photo and telling them how cute they were. He told random women that they looked like models, that they should be in magazines. He asked if they were single. Once while snapping photos, he whispered, “I’m saving these for later.”
When we arrived at the theater, we realized we had a couple hours to kill before the film started. So we sat on the patio of a café across the street and talked. Or, I should say, he talked. Though he didn’t say so explicitly, Mack was basically a sex tourist. He knew all about how to solicit prostitution in Arabic countries and bragged about his exploits in SE Asia and the Philippines. He told me his favorite place for fun was Eastern Europe and that now he was looking for a wife because he was “tired of playing around.”
When we saw a crowd start to gather outside the theater, Mack balked about paying his share of the check. He said all he had were large bills that he hadn’t changed. I told him he’d need to figure something out because I’m only paying for what I had. He reluctantly got up to change money at the counter, then insisted we don’t leave a tip. He made a racist comment about our server — saying he once met another smart person of color in his travels. At this point I had long since stopped being civil to him. I told him if he kept it up he was going to get himself punched.
We joined the mass of anxious movie-goers, mostly Europeans in fancy suits and big sunglasses. We inched along a red carpet and got our tickets scanned. I was surprised by the ornate theater and the comfortable, reclining seats. As Mack leaned back, he made some comments about the female ushers and when I looked at him he was licking his lips. I claimed an aisle seat and as soon as the lights went off, I excused myself to the bathroom and ditched the guy. I really wasn’t feeling like a Bollywood film, anyhow.
Mack’s fruit shake sundae and fancy hot chocolate.