If Morocco had been good enough for Jimi Hendrix as a holiday destination then I knew it was going to be good enough for me. Similarly, I’ve never really liked Barry Island all that much and, as far as I am aware, our Jimi never went there on a trip either (and by trip I mean a traveller’s trip, not a psychedelic acid freak’s trip). Jimi and I had so many things in common. For instance, we both have November birthdays and we both survived beyond 17 September 1970, though he only managed to do that by one day. And we’ve both had an experience!
So I went to Morocco with my good friend Claire and had a brilliant time for six days over the hedonistic mince pie hell period (22 to 28 December) and, apart from a massive inflatable Santa which took centre stage on a night of traditional Moroccan music and dance at a purpose built site on an industrial estate on the outskirts of Marrakech, and a branch that had been hacked from a leylandii and tarted up with tinsel in the guise of a Christmas tree, you wouldn’t have known that the baby Jesus’ birthday was being celebrated at all. So it’s safe to say that my pre-trip objectives were all met.
Most of the trip was spent in Marrakech where we stayed in the beautiful old Ineslisa Riad, very very adjacent to the Sidi Ben Silmane Mosque from which the call to prayer echoed from the minaret five times a day. The duration of the adhān called during the day was never more than a couple of minutes but the one that the muezzin really put his heart and soul into was the one that shook the rafters at 5.30 each morning. This one always went on for thirty minutes. Youssef, the assistant bossman at our Riad explained that the morning chorus always lasted a lot longer as it was harder to get folk out to pray at that time of the day because even the most devout of Muslims like to bury themselves under their duvet when disturbed at the crack of dawn. In the absence of a great Islamic snooze button, the man in the minaret had to just stick at it until the job was done. At the beginning of my stay I was tempted to get up and pray just to shut the bloke up but after a couple of days I got used to it, despite it being so loud, and found it sufficiently soothing for it to send me back off to sleep. So I wouldn’t make a very good Muslim then, would I?
For me Marrakech could be divided into four main zones:
1) Jamaa el Fna – the main square awash with snake charmers, ladies trying to clart up unsuspecting passers-by with henna, stalls from which the most sumptuous street food could be bought from food sellers who claimed to know such amazing celebrities as Rick Stein, Jermaine Jackson and Harry Ramsden, purveyors of freshly squeezed orange juice, and men with peculiar hats or monkeys or both with whom you could have your photograph taken on completion of the handover of hard cash.
2) The alleys – which were really streets, according to the map, but were rarely more than a few feet wide and always choked up with hand-made trinkets, spices, tea pots, carpets, vinyl Gilbert O’Sullivan LPs, shoes, fridge magnets, carcasses of beasts and packets of Barcelona FC crisps. They were even more choked up with people going about not only their own business but also mine and they were further choked up, as was I, by the carbon monoxide emissions of a thousand splendid mopeds.
3) The souks – similar to the alleys but exasperatingly labyrinthine and almost impossible to escape from. The deeper I walked into a souk, the more sinister the wares on sale became. Here I saw live baby tortoises, live baby hedgehogs, birds of prey, piles of fresh goats’ heads, live snakes, dead snakes, crocodile skins and fake replica Manchester United shirts.
4) The cool places – palaces, art galleries, museums and an old Quranic College, all housed in beautiful ornate old buildings, all cool and tranquil and far from the madding crowd. Members of the madding crowd were always keen to take us to these places . . . for a small fee. It was as if they knew that we wanted to get away from them and they were prepared to help.
5) The taxis – all driven by happy, smiling, friendly and informative men who would gladly drive us to their brother’s spice shop only ten minutes’ walk from where we had asked to be taken.
I didn't get the opportunity to speak to many Moroccan lady types but those who I did speak to were absolutely lovely. The breakfast lady at our Riad who was to fried eggs what Mrs Doyle was to cups of tea, the bosslady at La Terrasse Ben Youssef Restaurant and the barmaid down the Snake Charmers' Arms were particularly lovely.
Marrakech was beautiful but frantic. Essaoira, an ancient, fortified sea port on the Atlantic coast was beautiful but relaxed. Here there was time to haggle at your leisure with street traders and nothing was far enough away to necessitate local amateur guides leading tourists astray for a handful of Dirham. Here there was also a beach, a cool sea breeze and fabulous fish restaurants. This had been Jimi’s favourite spot way back in the 1960s. He even wrote a song about it.
What further enhanced the trip were the other people who were staying at our Riad, all of whom made their introductions over breakfast on various days. There was Mahmoud and Jamiya from the quaint Pakistani village of Hounslow, who were able to provide us with one or two tricks of the Islamic trade. There was Andrea and Rita, and their daughter Lucia who lived in London but were originally from Sardinia, and who joined us for our day out in Essaoira. And there was the lovely Dutch girl from Utrecht and her miserable twat of a boyfriend . . . probably the most miserable person I have ever met whilst away on holiday.
I’ll never forget that trip because the sun shone, it was Christmas but it wasn’t Christmas if you know what I mean, there was full scale culture shock only three hours away from Gatwick airport and I wasn’t bitten by a venomous snake . . . or anything for that matter.
شكرا لك على الناس مراكش. أنا أحبك وسوف أذكرك دائماً.