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Gilly Smith

What I Did On My Holidays

So there we were, trying out the tent for our first ever family camping holiday on the same strip of Welsh sand as I used to sift between my toes as a child, when a job comes in from an inflight magazine. Damn. I had vowed that I would fly no more,leaving carbon footprinting for the much more childish who just won’t take responsibility for their role in climate chaos. But with the prospect of free flights to Marrakech and another week of rain – at least – on the Gower Peninsula, it only took a couple of nights of tossing and turning before I gave in.

I tried to offset before we even left home. My pitch for a “green column” in the inflight magazine went down well initially. “As long as it’s not worthy”, the editor warned. So I wrote about flying less, choosing locally owned accomodation, eating small but real, keeping the cash circulating – you know the stuff – and all in a jaunty, flyaway style. This, I was sternly told, might remind the reader that the very act of sitting on that plane while browsing through the magazine before take off, had already committed him or her to planting a boot sized carbon footprint on a precious, collapsing planet. “No”, said the Ed. “No”.

Hmmm. Ok, I would still write about slow travel, but for another paper. The thing about freelancing is that the minute you open the door, the world is your palette. I didn’t have to limit myself to the inflight mag flying me there. Salving my sweating conscience, I tried to sleep. And couldn’t. I deserved the neck ache.

But Marrakech is a lascivious, naughty town, and it quickly invites you to indulge in its spicy offerings. I can’t believe how quickly I was able to put the flight behind me and head to the hammam to steam off any remaining guilt before heading straight for the pool in a country so desperate for water. Massage Madame?

Even the utterly kosher Kasbah du Toubkhal, with its co-ownership between British entrepreneur and local chief and funding of a school for Berber girls with Western Trekkers’ cash, couldn’t quite give up old habits. One of the joys of the place is that it gives back. Even one of its tour operators, has arranged for water filters to be fitted in the kitchens to limit the number of plastic water bottles we tourists thoughtlessly plough through and which can’t be recycled. But the Moroccan way is to serve, to welcome, and as we made our way up the mountain side in the dust and heat, mule carrying case and kids, we were met with not one but two chilled bottles of water. It really wasn’t the moment to launch into an eco spiel.

Finally though, we found our spiritual home. It took a couple of Americans, Maryam Montague and her husband Chris, to dream up the first green guest house in Marrakech, and we left the kids at the pool to head out into the surrounding countryside to talk insulation and under floor heating. By the time it opens, a whole new building team will have been schooled in environmental housing, handy really as Marrakech is bursting at the seams with construction sites.

And what did we do as we left, congratulating each other on our squeaky clean eco creds? We organised a writers’ retreat there next year. But wait; maybe we could start the course on the train from Waterloo, honing our travel writing on the boat across from Spain to Africa and graduating under the stars by the light of a Moroccan firepit. You see – you open the door and the world is your inspiration…


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