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Published: February 3rd 2020
How to grow old? I am reading a book of the same name, lounging on a Arabic sunbed in a resort on the outskirts of Marrakech. It is a long way from from my usual holiday haunts. The delights of wandering round an Eastern European city in pursuit of lower league football will not be savoured this week. The end results are often a pleasant surprise, as much to myself as anybody else. The Other Half waxes lyrical about her trip to Lviv in Ukraine, even though she had to endure 2 appalling football games of tedium. I am the first to admit they were not the best, but she fortunately saw the compensations in a world of cafes, cakes shops and temperatures in the Indian summer category. My last solo jaunt with the Man in the Middle to Turin produced enough rainfall in 3 days to start a reservoir, but rekindled an interest in 1960s Michael Caine films. The Other Half is often pestering to go on a normal holiday "like everyone else". So, here we are. There is no football planned for the trip. In fact other than getting here, nothing was planned. I even agreed to a blind
eye to the local Botola 2 game possibly being played in the city on the second afternoon. It was the Marrakech Marathon and traffic chaos was predicted. The decision was made easy by Kawkab Marrakech..... otherwise know as Planet ... not having a workable website with up to date game or ticket information. They had played at the old Harti Stadium in the heart of the city last week, but normally reside in the new and oversized Stade de Marrakech in front of empty blue seats and pitiful crowds. The new stadium might as well be half way to Casablanca and the prospect of spending time bargaining with a cartel of taxi drivers didn't thrill me*. I went back to my book. Mr Bishop's casual observations on life were proving highly amusing. I am not trying to grow old with my reading choice, but I was looking forward to Chapter 6 - How To Go On Holiday - to see if this transformation in our normal arrangements was a good or bad thing. I will keep you posted.
The press was full of Corona virus stories and possible world apocalypse. Wuhan and other Chinese cities were in lockdown for
fear of the outbreak spreading. Morocco didn't seem to be a high risk destination, all things considered. However, here we are on a British Airways flight and 30% of the passengers are wearing face masks. You see the odd one in cosmopolitan, multi- cultural Britain - usually in my case from the seat at the dentist or walking past the boom industry of nail bars in town. I survey from my seat and I am fascinated by the array of masks. There is clearly a market for those with more cash than sense to invest heavily in the face mask product, presumably in the hope that the price and chances of infection are in direct correlation. Time will tell. I watched one girl relax her guard as we descended to the ground in Morocco. She removed her mask and ensure her make up was pristine for arrival. I think she was missing the point, if wearing it in the first place was deemed so essential. We landed at Marrakech, where greater dangers would likely show their hand.
The terminal building at Marrakech's Menara Airport stands out from the surrounding area. It is like a huge white Bedouin tent transplanted
into the suburbs. I have read some horror stories about the delays getting into the country, but the immigration staff showed little interest in our documentation. They chatted casually amongst themselves in Arabic, before scanning and stamping our passports. In the rest of the world you normally proceed, but here in Marrakech another official then checks you have the correct stamp before you can get through the entry door. We are so used to being budget flyers, taking checked luggage is something of a rarity for us. It had actually been quite difficult to pack. Choices. Choices, given the amount of possibilities with a 23 kg allowance. We succumbed to the unusual step of waiting by a carousel for the bags to surface. They both did. Bonus. However, you are not done yet. The baggage then has to be scanned, before you can exit. We joined the next queue. We had pre-paid a booked airport taxi transfer to save an endless round of negotiating outside which was duly waiting. We shared with another couple, which wasn't the plan on the stated website but as we were going to the same resort it worked well and possibly saved one of us
Snook ..... an all inclusive cat
from waiting for driver 2 to be mustered. We headed out on to the chaotic streets.
Marrakech traffic was best described as undisciplined. An army of mopeds competed for road space with horse and carts, buses, taxis and the family saloons. Rules seemed vague to non existent. The police watched on from many of the major intersections, but they seemed to accept it was a free for all. The inside was reserved for cycles and mopeds. The first sign of stationary traffic ahead saw anything that could hit into this narrow lane deviate into it. Mopeds riders mostly without helmets seemed fair game. It was everyman for themselves. We cut through near the Royal Palace, which saw a heightened police presence, but no sign of any improved driver behaviour. What would Harry and Meghan have thought about it? The commotion outside would have probably had them shipping out to British Columbia much sooner. The narrow arched entrances of the Palace area saw all traffic converge on just one lane for both directions. Our taxi driver used the policy of large is all powerful in the game of nerves. We saw our first casually soon after. A moped was strewn
across the road and a prostrate body laid out on a stretcher next to an ambulance. It was difficult to tell how seriously hurt the guy was, but nobody looked unduly concerned or surprised about events. A horse and cart had been forced off the road soon after. A group of men studied the options of recovering the cart, which had slipped into a ditch. The 2 horses were still attached. They looked decidedly unamused at the delay in the prospect of an evening snack of hay and with a look as to say, "nothing to do with us, it is all these lunatics on the roads these days". The sun was fading fast, as we weaved past pedestrians randomly wandering in the road and sped on to the resort. We received our "all inclusive" bracelets, our room key and set off to explore our temporary home.
As I said earlier, a trip to an all inclusive resort is not something we engage in very often. In fact, the last time was way back in 2001. The Other Half decided I needed to wind down from the pressures of work and we were Barbados bound. I recall we booked
late and only paid half the going rate. It is all relative of course. Value for money and the west coast of Barbados are not usually associated statements. The clientele were aspiring. It is the only time I have met anybody famous on holiday (excluding sports people and a brief wave from Hollywood legend, Jimmy Stewart, outside his Beverley Hills home), other than a chance 6 am encounter with the late Steve Irwin on a beach at Monkey Mia in Western Australia. As they say, what goes on tour stays on tour. However, I can tell you is that "Billy Mitchell" off Eastenders was a handy table tennis player. We digress. The Marrakech residence was mainly populated by the French looking for winter sunshine. There were some Scandi golfers, a US based tech company group who had swapped San Francisco for Morocco to deliver their "team building" exercise and the odd British punter (no doubt mostly tempted by the bargain price from BA Holidays). The bar scene was quite calm. There is obviously a massive temptation to go overboard on the alcohol, but excess drinking isn't really in the French psyche. They tend to nurse a beer for 2 hours,
accompanied by much hand waving and constant conversation. I bizarrely found myself drinking less than normal, even though it was one endless freebie. Languages are not our strong point. The usual English tactics are to point and say the sentence again in English - but louder. I found myself uttering a few words of French. The efforts of Mr Woollin in 1976 had not been totally in vain. The bilingual Man from Montreal would have been in his element.
The food was good and plentiful and catered for all tastes. The kebabs were a bit more upmarket than I am used to. A man called Mo was in charge of them. Mo was a common name and another Mo became the appointed purveyor of drinks on our early evening relaxing session. A small gratuity worked to capture his initial attention and a quick nod was enough thereafter to ensure my glass remained topped up. The Other Half doesn't drink a great deal these days, so she was treated to a succession of creative pieces of fruit clinging to the side of her non-alcoholic mocktail glasses. The contents of my book indicate I perhaps should drink less alcohol, but this
seemed unlikely now that the tip had changed hands. I perhaps have that sort of face that indicates one more is always a good idea. I think back fondly to my man in the Lavender Court Food Market in Singapore....."I know. You have 1 large Tiger. 2 glasses. I know you always have 1 more". There were lots of activities going on throughout the day. I tried my hand at a spot of archery. After a break of 25 years or so since my last attempt, it was fair to say I was a bit rusty. However, I was soon on target to show that a bit of Robin Hood is still lurking within.
The first day had been primarily spent lounging around. The resort did a shuttle bus into the city centre 6 or 7 times a day, so the mad world of Marrakech was but a 20 minute ride away. We opted go whilst it was cool and booked the 9 am slot. Waking up was less of a problem than it could have been. In the near vicinity outside the resort walls, we had a local cockerill who was a bit too e enthusiastic. It usually
got light about 8am, but he was a busy boy from about 4.30 am. He in turn set every local dog off. The usual wake up call in these parts is the call to morning prayers. In the day, the range of the call was probably restricted to whether the local man in the mosque had a decent set of lungs. The range is now probably about the size of the loudspeakers in your tannoy system. Press a button and turn on the recording on your I phone, before sneaking an extra 10 minutes. The chaos of the arrival taxi had subsided a bit this morning. The size of the bus probably persuaded all but the bravest of moped riders from seeking a tussle with us. We ironically passed a driving school. I wondered how many took up the option of lessons or indeed, whether a licence was actually required by law. We arrived by Freedom Square unscathed. We had seen no more traffic casualties so far. The old city walls were but 100 metres away and all seemed calm. It wasn't long before offers of assistance were on hand. There were two types of hussle. The up front bold
Souk Medina, Marrakech
Argan oil production.... grinding
as brass, "I want your money in return for a small service" approach was common. Theses are somewhat more straightforward to avoid it decline. Silence is good. Speaking or dealing in a discernible language gave an opportunity to further engage. The average Moroccan seemed to understand the Teesside dialect more do than someone from the South East. The other approach came from those keen for you to get a good impression of Morocco. There was no money requested. I reserve judgement on how or why it happened or whether it was a good move, but before we realised it we had acquired a sidekick who would enlighten us of the ways of the Souk and help us avoid the bad men trying to flog us poor quality merchandise. The snag with the attempted sales tactic falls down with the lack of desire to buy any type of carpet. I am perfectly happy with our laminate floors. The plus point of the sideshow was that we saw the local version of Greigs the Bakers, inside a couple of old Riads, a nice rooftop terrace, a good few carpets and the Other Half thought some of the clothing seemed actually to be
of purchasable quality. Our man in Marrakech melted away, once he had shown us his allotted target retail emporiums. However true to his word, he demanded no money and stressed only his good heart. We were free to wander on our own for a while. The markets of Marrakech were unlike such as those in Instanbul, which were more of a covered retail space with stalls. This was a maze of alleys, that twisted and turned to reveal tiny shop entrances. The inside usually opened up to house piles of stock. We negotiated our way round the narrow streets, learning swiftly that what looked like a pedestrian only environment did not stop mopeds or donkeys appearing round the blind corner. The trusty Maps.me app running on the tablet ensured that we knew roughly where we were at any given time.
The alleyways finally give way to a large square, which was the domain of the fruit and veg man. Stall after stall laden with produce. Hello, bonjour, guten tag attempts to attract your attention followed our every move. We maintained a diplomatic silence. The other side of the square was the domain of the snake charmers and those that
think there is money to be made keeping a small monkey hostage. We avoided it and headed over towards the mosque. The Koutoubia Mosque is the largest in Marrakech and completed in 1199. The minaret is an impressive 77 metres tall, which also comes in handy as a landmark when all other streets look the same. In theory the Marrakech skyline has no building higher than the tallest palm tree, so you can apparently see the minaret from up to 18 miles away. The tallest "palm tree" is a bit of a conundrum going forward. Marrakech mobile masts are mainly disguised as "palm trees" and seem to be taller than real palm trees. The actual name, Koutoubia, is derived from the word "bookseller" and st one point many stalls occupied the space around the mosque. There were none today. The sun was climbing higher in the sky by now, so we made our way back to our base. The Other Half took advantage of the pool. Mo would be on hand later with beers. I went back to my book. I still haven't got to Chapter 6 on How to Holiday, so all will be revealed in future blogs. What
I can say finally on the How to Grow Old subject is driving in Morocco is a lot safer than it looks. I have just googled the road death stats and it comes in at Number 81 in the world. Whilst the stats don't look that encouraging compared to home, it sure beats taking a spin in Zimbabwe!. Appendix 1
*The game featuring Kawkab Marrakech and Chabab Mohammedia turned out to be played at neither the Stade de Marrakech or the Harti. A visual comparison of footage on the internet suggested it had in fact been played at the Mohammedia home stadium - 266 kilometres away on the coast. My taxi bargaining skills would have been severely tested by that mission. It was still recorded a a "home" game for Kawkab Marrakech. The Marrakech team lost 2-1.
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