The flight left Bristol a few minutes late headed south towards Africa, some 3 hours later we were in Marrakech. Whilst waiting for the bags I saw Jack jumping up and down, a scrunched up face of excitement had completely taken over him, I responded with a smile – The summer had begun.
Marrakech – Morocco
Morocco is one of those countries that bans its currency from leaving the country, meaning you have a ball ache in arrivals where you are screwed on the exchange rate. Some keen calc’s assured me I would be better off using an ATM (as I usually do). However, the cunning airport has thought this through ensuring that their ATM’s only dispense 200MAD notes (100’s if you are very lucky) The cartel run taxis have no change for the 40MAD ride into town and the bus is a dream away. So, I changed a tenner and planned to withdraw cash in town.
The airport is some 6km from Marrakech proper and it could easily have been walked. But it had been a long day so we took on the taxi drivers. Eventually, I settled on 60MAD which I am told is as good a price as you will ever get and was some way from the 250MAD we started at (£18). And, obviously despite the fact I clarified, and clarified and clarified it was for the whole car the driver insisted it was per person. He got laughed at, and we walked off.
So basically where you stay in Marrakech (like most places) depends on your wallet. Travellers like myself who want to be amongst the action stay at Djemma el Fna, prices are midrange, but still good by Western standards. Those who like to relax amongst crisp white cotton stay in Ville Nouvelle, from here you can get ripped off to your hearts content, buy fake goods at genuine prices and see everything from an air conditioned coach. But the sun won’t get in your eyes.
Djemma el Fna (Jemma el F-na) is a huge square that by day is the fore-drop to the stunning La Koutabia which is a huge minaret built in true arabian style. The square is home to souks, juice sellers, horse and carriage and craft stalls. Its a pleasant place with only a mediocre hassle which is easily brushed off with a quick “La Shukran”. But at night, things change dramatically, the square becomes the worlds largest BBQ as hundreds of stalls pop up and smoked fish and kebabs sizzling away fill the air. Acrobats, snake charmers, break dancing monkeys and dancers all come together beneath music, lights and an open air theatre group that has been performing for over 1000 years. It is perhaps Arabian nights at its most finest and finished off perfectly by cobras rearing their heads from baskets illuminated only by hand made lanterns from beautifully crafted silver.
Charlie commented that he felt the only thing missing from a set of Aladdin was flying carpets and I found it hard to disagree, it genuinely is like being on the set of a Disney movie.
Our time in Marrakech was limited and so we woke up at 7, dotted where we would like to go on a map and then joined the lines. By 8am we had managed to find some chocolate croissants (despite it being Ramadan) and by 10am we were all scorched to the bone under the 36 degree heat. But we kept walking, through gardens, palaces, museums and souks that rival anywhere else we have seen on earth. By 1pm it was 44 degrees and we stopped for pizza and then had an hour back in the cool of the hotel.
The afternoon continued as we walked north towards the bus station and by around 5pm we had walked over 12 miles. We were at the bus station to find out the time of our bus the next day to Asni or Imlil. Throughout the whole day I had contended with hustlers who were little more than an accepted norm felled easily by a shake of the head. But in the bus station we were instantly hounded by three guys waving tickets in my face. The official language of Morocco is French, but most also speak Arabic and I’ll be honest, the only thing I know about French is that they speak it in France. My Arabic is not much better, but I know more Arabic than French. I was explaining that I wasn’t interested whilst trying to look around for what we needed. One guy in particular was relentless “I am official, you stupid man listen to me” he kept saying. I told him I wasn’t interested and he said “You are a rubbish tourist, get out of my country”. Translated to English that means “I can’t believe you didn’t let me rip you off” – Despite the aggression he certainly isn’t the norm in Marrakech, quite the contrary in fact. Well, that excludes all taxi drivers who by the way are as difficult as in Cairo, Egypt. Seriously, if anyone reading this gets a taxi driver in Medina to put their meter on you should share your knowledge, because believe me I tried and it was simply not possible. One guy even told me it was broken, despite the fact it was turned on and blatantly working!
As night rolled in and Ramadan was officially broken the city sprang to life. The tired eyes of fasting vendors were suddenly filled with desire. Roads were shut as thousands of men and women made their way to the cities huge mosque to pray. It felt almost surreal stood watching so many people dedicating themselves to god under a stunning illuminated minaret. It solidified all we had felt throughout the day, and that is that you don’t come to Marrakech and experience the North African culture; you become immersed in an ancient aestheticism that is so engrained in everyone around you that its impossible to separate yourself. Its like jumping into an ocean and trying to stay dry, or being in a concert at Wembley and trying not to listen. You just can’t do it. And so as we stood watching the masses pray it was hard to detract ourselves from it. Well, that was until we heard some loud cheering from about 30 feet away, I looked and saw a shop crammed with people all cheering. We headed down and noticed they were all crowded around a 50 inch flat screen and Germany had just won the World Cup. We were suddenly whisked back to 2014 and for me, that summed up Marrakech; a perfect balance of an ancient Islamic city tinged with modernity.