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I loved Morocco the minute I arrived at Marrakech airport.
The rest of the family had taken a week to drive slowly down from the port at Tangier Med, via Casablanca, and were getting used to the change in culture. It’s quite a change to get used to.
For a start we are back in a Muslim country, and Marrakech is a religious city. I don’t feel the same unease, or have to cover my shoulders and watch multiple wives following dutifully behind their husbands, like the Middle East. This seems a sort of relaxed, friendly Islam.
The call to prayer still sings out 5 times a day from the minarets; the largest one, which isn’t really that tall, towers nonetheless over the Medina in Marrakech because of the palm tree height rule. No other building can be taller than a palm tree.
Another difference is the noticeable police presence (only by the side of the road), stingers waiting to stop errant drivers, and roadblocks galore. And yet it feels very safe.
We were stopped by the police on our first trip in a taxi. But, as the driver explained later, we were stopped only so that he could remove the bottle of water warming on the car radiator and pass it to the roadblock police, to allow them to wash their hands before prayer. It’s not easy getting a hold of warm water any other way during a shift.
It’s also noisy and busy. There are so many people around. You can drive in some countries and not see a soul. In rural France the roads are busy at exactly 11.55am and 1.55pm when people head home/out for lunch, otherwise they are deserted. Here there are rows of people moving along either side of the street, in cars, on donkeys, in carts, or stopped by a stall selling or buying things, or just walking around. Noisy and friendly in equal measure.
The palm tree height rule is possibly what makes Marrakech so special. The low, pink-coloured and densely packed rooftops glow in the sunset.
And the main square in front of the souk is an experience. You can buy second hand teeth or mountains of dried fruit, watch snake charmers or belly dancers, or sit and watch your tagine being prepared at a makeshift restaurant which pops up at 5pm and disappears at 1am.
We drove a couple of days later to Taghazoute on the coast, a few miles north of Agadir. There’s a long stretch of beach and lots of campervans congregate to enjoy the warm weather and view over the Atlantic Ocean.
Although it looks nearly deserted most of the time, there’s a lot happening on this stretch of beach.
4 wheel drive cars race from one end to the other, and round and round; the beach is so wide and quiet that it looks more fun than dangerous.
Then there are the 2 or 3 donkeys and horses and camels that pass every day. And the fishermen. The owner of this fishing rod was actually a French visitor. I asked what he was catching. He said he really had no idea.
There are lots of surfers – the waves are pretty strong. And a person shaving their legs in a tidal rock pool – sorry, that was me, but the place was deserted and I figured the 106,400,000 square kilometres of water might be able to redistribute a few stray hairs.
It’s a busy place on land too. Moroccans are totally enterprising. Between 7 and 11am there’s a stream of visitors to the campervan.
The bread man comes first – flat Berber bread made with semolina flour, you can leave out a plastic bag overnight by the campervan door with 2 dirhams, 15 pence, per loaf in it. Then it’s the egg man with a bucket of eggs in straw, then the macaroon man (delicious), then the water man (there are lots of passing campervans who all need water every few days – a big truck with a hose can fill up the storage tank for 20 dirhams, 2 euros).
The donut man was lovely. He is also an English teacher, but said it was so difficult to find work in rural Morocco that he needed to sell donuts too. He told the kids to stick in with their studies and fill their heads with books – something he said he wishes he’d taken more seriously when he was younger. He’s teaching his 2 children English, a long session on his day off every Sunday, because he thinks it’s important.
There was a knock at the campervan door later in the day by a man on a scooter delivering a woven plastic carpet. Neil wasn’t back from buying it by that point and we weren’t expecting a delivery. It just seemed kind of normal though when Matt came round to the back of the van, “Mum, there’s a man on a scooter at the door to drop off a carpet.”
Neil came back ecstatic. Not only had he given successful directions to the carpet man, he’d found another man – an old soul in his 70s who’d had a bike repair shop for 50 years – to fix the pedal on his bike and sell him a spare. The carpet is great too – there is now more sand on the beach than in our campervan.
I’ve just had a chat with an 86 year old French monsieur who came over to the campervan to play the “recognise the (French) department from the number plate” game. He’s driven hundreds of thousands of miles in his camper – Jordan was his favourite – his first wife died, but he now has a new Moroccan one. “Bloody mad the women here” he tells me. Aren’t they everywhere? This is the new sign in our bathroom.