With the low cost airlines suddenly opening up exciting new routes beyond Europe and with reasonable, if not absolutely bargain prices, the time was right to travel a little further beyond our normal boundaries and we choose Marrakech in Morocco in North Africa. Neither of us had been to the continent of Africa before so this was going to be a whole new experience.
We travelled with Easyjet on a three and a half hour flight and close to our destination flew through a magnificent sunset which exaggerated the colours of the brown arid land and bathed Marrakech below us with a warm orange glow. The plane landed at the Menara airport, close to the city, at half past six where it was already dark but the temperature was close to 30º centigrade and a warm breeze greeted us as we stepped out of the aircraft and onto the tarmac.
There was a lot of congestion at passport control and an entry form to fill in which was probably the worst designed official form that I have ever encountered. Despite dealing with three incoming flights and all this bureaucratic nonsense the queues actually went down very quickly and when it was our turn to be processed we were given our unique identity number which was theatrically stamped into our passports and waved through to where a supervisor checked them for a second time presumably to make sure it had been done properly by the first official.
Before travelling I had read some advice that said watch out for taxi drivers who will gladly overcharge unsuspecting tourists. That is no different from anywhere else in the world of course but I was mindful of that so took the second piece of advice which said when arriving for the first time it was advisable to take a pre-booked shuttle service because finding places can be difficult at the first attempt and especially in the dark. At €32 it was a bit expensive but our driver was waiting for us as promised in the arrivals hall and he quickly loaded our bags and set off for the city just four or five kilometres away.
The traffic was mad and so was the driver as he carved his way through the rush hour traffic coping brilliantly with the ludicrous French driving rule of priorité à droite where vehicles from the right always have priority at junctions and roundabouts and which was evidently still the norm here even though the French themselves have seen the sense of virtually abandoning it in their own country. There was no lane discipline that I could make out and the ten minute journey was one extended game of ‘chance’ where drivers simply waited to see whose nerve would fold and who would yield first. We flashed past motorbikes and donkeys pulling wooden carts, pushbikes and pedestrians and at one point even encountered a camel train.
The route into the city took us past the famous Hôtel Mamounia where amongst others Winston Churchill and Mick Jagger used to like to stay. Churchill came for the painting and Jagger for the drugs! Then through the bus station which was heaving with early evening activity before stopping abruptly in an unpromising looking place on the Rue Sidi Mamoun where the driver unloaded the bags and invited us to follow him.
He took us through a gate into a busy road with small shops on one side and a high wall on the other that turned out to be Royal Palace of King Mohammed VI which is where he stays when he visits the city. Suddenly he darted into a side road, no more than an alley really with an uneven surface with houses and shops along one side, then through a dog-leg turn and into a narrower lane and by now we were glad that we had taken the shuttle bus option because we would never have found this place by ourselves that’s for sure.