First taste of Africa… Marrakech

After returning home from Dubai, a quick stop off to see my best mukka before his 30th and then I was back to London (Gatwick this time) ready for my first trip to the African continent.

Hard to believe how short a flight it is to Morocco really, and it was a very welcome short flight after the Dubai flight the other day.  I arrived in Marrakech and the hotel were there to pick me up and take me to my blissful retreat.  I had heard of the madness of Marrakech so chose a 5* hotel outside which had a free shuttle into Medina.

When I arrived at the hotel, I was given the well known Moroccan mint tea, I was not expecting to like it given I gave up tea in general 5/6 years ago and I never liked mint or fruit teas anyway.  However, surprisingly, this stuff was amazing (probably because it has so much sugar in it), I knew the welcome mint tea wouldn’t be my last when here.

I got my stuff all into my suite which was amazing with a private terrace and headed down to the lovely relaxing pool area.  Tom, who I’d met in Brazil was in Marrakech for a few days but was staying in Medina so the plan was to use the days he’s here to embrace the madness and then the rest of the time I would chill out at the hotel.

After heading in on the free shuttle and meeting up with Tom, we ended up heading out towards the new town looking for Buddha Bar.  It was closed so ended up in a bar terrace, lounge bar next door and getting wasted on Belvedere.  It wasn’t quite Vegas level given there weren’t many people about but it still did the trick.  After polishing off the Vodka we headed to a casino, but Tom had his ghandi flip flops on so couldn’t get in.  We got taxi back, quick change then got in and played Blackjack for a few hours.  Tom bailed after about half hour after he won some wedge, but I dragged my 40 quid out a few hours.  I never got on the Roulette because I was a bit drunk and not that keen to blow a fortune on the casino after the Belvedere wasn’t cheap and a whole 10 days in front of me.  You have to negotiate prices in Morocco with taxi drivers before getting in and Tom had done that (the fare was pulling their pants down in all fairness) but when he got me to my hotel, he wasn’t happy (probably didn’t realise how far out my hotel was), but my security guard had to swat him away after I was refusing to pay more.

The next day I was hanging out of my arse to be fair, so didn’t do much chilling by the pool, but in the afternoon Tom and I headed into the madness of Medina.  In the square by the major Souk there are snake charmers, guys with monkeys, everybody pestering you to buy something.. it is proper full on.  Even though it is full on, it is in no way threatening, just exhausting.  Anyway, we went into the Souk which is meant to be enormous and impossible to negotiate through, most travel sites just say to embrace it and get lost in them.  At first, we were wondering how anybody could get lost, but after 5 minutes, the thing just never ends and you are completely lost just turning into more and more stalls, shops selling all sorts of things imaginable.  I absolutely loved it in the Souk to be fair and even though you have to tell most people no, they won’t let you just look… they do listen to your ‘no thank you’.

Anybody who knows me will know I have developed this weird thing where I need to bring something sizeable and strange home from my travels.  My previous Thai mask (petunia), my flute (qena) from Peru, my 5 story pagoda from Japan or my trumpet/flute players from Egypt  are just some of the previous items I had acquired and I was on the hunt for my Moroccan gem.  Way in the depths of the Souk there was a dark, dingy corner which had mostly rusty old metal stuff, but this huge Saharan statue caught my eye immediately but it was big.  I am not a big fan of the whole Moroccan negotiating thing, I like to barter but with a starting price which is reasonable and not a wildly inflated one.   Anyway, with concerns of how I would get this thing home in my mind, I speculatively asked him how much.  After much conversation and doubts (and a temporary walk away), I managed to get it for a third of what he originally asked and this huge thing was mine!  Now I just had to carry the thing out of the Souk somehow.  Lugging it around for the rest of the day was an absolute chore and we stopped at a cafe overlooking the Souk as much needed rest.

After a decent dinner again at a terraced restaurant watching the sunset it was time for me to get this thing back to the hotel.  I was pretty chuffed with myself because 3 people who I asked separately since about the price (without telling them) all said about 4,000 dirhams more than what I actually paid for it (330 quid more) so they have all said I got myself an excellent bargain there.  I am not surprised given the stall I bought it from didn’t look like much was going on, and how often are they going to meet somebody looking for this type of random stuff?!

The next day we had a full day trip planned after some top negotiating from Tom.  We were off on a private tour to the Ourika Valley up the Atlas Mountains and a camel ride chucked in too.  Our tour guide was a bit of a fruit loop but he had great music for the car and he weren’t afraid to crank the volume up.  We stopped first for a camel ride and I thought it would be terrifying but actually was pretty easy.  It was only short thankfully but they dressed us up in the gear and off we went.  After the ride, we had a mint tea and then set off again.

Our next stop was to visit a traditional Berber house.  Islam had been brought into Morocco fairly recently (against their will a lot of the Berber people would say), and we visited a traditional Berber house and got given a demo on how they make the mint tea and had some amazing breads to go with the tea.  There was also a random cow in one of the rooms for milk which absolutely buzzed of shit, and looked like it had been lying in it’s own shit too.  I was considering getting one for my folks when I house-sit next week, they’ll return from holiday to see a cow lying in it’s own shit in the living room.

After the Berber House, we headed off up the Atlas Mountain to visit the Ourika Valley.  Our first stop was for lunch by the river, we declined the offer of actually having lunch IN the river and it was a great tagine to be fair (chicken this time).  Once we’d finished our lunch it was time for the trek up into the mountains to see some waterfalls.  The trek was not too difficult, was certainly no where near the Inca Trek level but there was one part where the guy had a ladder and then we had to climb what looked a shockingly slippery rock with no real obvious gaps to place your feet to climb.  Tom and I were a bit cagey about it, and Tom had gone to the top of the ladder and thought better of it but then we saw some girl climb it in sandals so we had no choice.  I got up there and as I was getting to the top I heard Tom swear something about his knee, having reached the top I turned around just chuckling at him swearing.  As I was chuckling away, even though I was standing still I somehow managed to deck it and stab myself with my GoPro stick, snapping the camera off.

We saw 3 waterfalls in total, and I got in amongst them which was freezing.  Loads of people were visiting the waterfalls to cool off and mess about, and the water was lovely but sticking your head under the fall was chilly! We got some great photos up the mountain and after a couple of hours climbing/hiking we headed back to the van.

We declined a visit to the teapot factory on the way back and went back to Medina.  We had dinner on a terrace cafe near the main square (I had a great beef tagine) and watched the madness of the square unfold beneath us.  I headed back to the hotel on the shuttle and Tom departed for Barcelona.  From tomorrow, I was planning on doing absolutely nothing other than chilling by the pool.

The next few days were exactly that, time spent by the pool and getting the tan topped up.  It has not been as hot as Dubai but still high 30’s, early 40’s and around 4-5pm the heat really really cranks up.  I had some amazing meals at the hotel restaurant too which has been good.  Arsenal have kicked off pre-season with 2 games while I have been here too so it’s been that relaxing holiday I have been promising myself.

I did pop back into the madness of Medina on the Friday to get myself a Moroccan teapot for mint tea, I barely went into the Souk this time though, I had dipped my toe in and negotiated with one of the first stalls who chucked in 2 glasses and a plate.

The Saturday I pretty much spent in the room the entire day other than for dinner because my colour was getting pretty extreme on the Friday so I decided on a day out of the sun completely.  Normal service will resume on Sunday though with me having to fly home on Tuesday so want to make sure I do go home with a decent colour for my 2 weeks back in the UK before I set off again.

I have not yet started looking for contracts yet, it still seems too soon for a September start and I keep having to fight temptations to take another month off (still pondering it).  I guess the best thing to do is to see how the early stages of my hunt goes and if anything which interests me becomes available.  I am really keen to do either Birmingham or Norfolk so may take my time a little more this time.  Additionally, I am going to finally kick-off sorting the Apartment in Birmingham, getting out of that first time buyer scheme which will be an amazing relief and will free me up a lot more to go where I want while renting my place out again.

After a serious day in the sun on the Sunday I had to take the Monday off sun again.  All I have been doing is chilling on my terrace and having a dinner at the very good restaurant in the evenings.  I am ready to go home now, I probably could/should have done 7 days here but then it would have been 3 wasted days back in Wales so I couldn’t have crammed anywhere else in really.

It’s been great to do some reading, catch some series’ and just completely relax.  When I leave tomorrow, I have the amazing task of getting this bad boy statue home and then I have a very late and long drive back home to the Rhondda which is not going to be fun at all!  So it’s dogsitting, a fitted wardrobe install, a wedding, a community shield in between me and the final stage of my travels where I’ll be hitting 7 countries (ticking off 5 new ones).