We left Chefchaouen by minibus at 10 am on Sunday for the 3 hour journey to Tangier. Amazing landscapes of rugged, rocky mountains punctuated by big dams and reservoirs, eventually gave way to more and more cultivated and manicured land. After a brief supermarket stop, we enjoyed a picnic lunch overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, with the Spanish coastline clearly visible.
We continued by minibus to visit Cap Spartel for a photo opp where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Med. I dipped my toes in the Atlantic off Plage Achakar and we then visited the Caves of Hercules, before making our way to the old town of Tangier for a wander in the medina. Not a lot was open, and we were all pretty tired, so we ended up enjoying a coffee on the terrace of the Hotel Continental, where apparently many famous writers and musicians have stayed and taken in the views over the port.
Dinner was at the house of the minibus driver’s family, where we were fed a veritable feast of meze, harira soup, sardine tagine, couscous with chicken, and Moroccan cookies with mint tea. We whiled away the hours chatting and telling stories in an attempt to stay awake until the 23:25 departure of the overnight train to Marrakesh.
And so it was that I found myself in a 4 bed sleeper compartment, on a top bunk, with sheet and pillow, sweltering, no room to swing a cat, and petrified that I’d keep my fellow travellers awake with my snoring!! A first for me, I am happy to report that I survived the night with probably two 3-hour sleeps and a visit to the loo… which may have looked like a toilet but was definitely just a chute open to the tracks below. Quite the experience!!
Arriving in Marrakesh just before 09:00, we went straight to our hotel for breakfast and to freshen up, before hitting Marrakesh town. Myself and another group member, Diane, had booked for a Hammam and massage. For those of you unfamiliar with the Hammam, it involves being deep-cleaned with black soap and then scrubbed vigorously with a loofah-glove to remove all dead skin. Oh and occasionally having water of differing temperatures thrown over you! We spent 45 minutes clad only in paper thongs, whilst the ladies cleaned every inch of us… (yep, boobs and bum crack included!). It was really invigorating! Then upstairs for a massage with Patchouli oil, which was so relaxing it almost sent me to sleep. I felt this was a really special experience and that the care taken by the Moroccan women who cleaned us was quite intimate.
Diane and I spent the rest of the day together in Marrakesh, lunching and taking in the sights, sounds and experiences of the souks and the central Jamaa el Fna square. We wandered in and out of shops, saw snake charmers, monkeys on chains 😞, and horse-drawn carriages with clearly undernourished animals. Not nice. We went to see the main mosque and fell into the trap of engaging with one of the street hawkers, who proceeded to offer us each a bracelet ‘for free’, which we ended up giving him MAD10 for just to make him go away! We went round in circles a few times, never managing to find the same shops we’d seen before… a lesson learned for me around being more decisive in my souvenir shopping!
Marrakesh wasn’t really how I expected. The pace was certainly more frenetic than in Fes, for example, and the sellers were much more in your face, luring you into shops, trying to sell more than you wanted to buy, and at times pursuing you in the hope of getting a sale. It was at times quite aggressive, and the quality of goods on offer didn’t seem as good as we’d seen previously… This was also the capital of bartering, which is quite uncomfortable for us Brits, and I’m really not sure I’m very good at it! All in all, a very full-on city!
We met up with the rest of the group for our ‘last night’ dinner, which we had on a cafe terrace overlooking the square. A somewhat familiar menu, plus one Marrakesh speciality called Tanjia, which consisted of huge amounts of beef braised with spices. We then headed back to the hotel by tuk-tuk … another first and another ‘experience’ as these three-wheeled mopeds-cum-trailers raced each other through the traffic-laden streets.
A beer on the hotel terrace and off to bed, thinking of the things I wanted to do on my last morning before my afternoon flight to Lisbon.