THERE are three things likely to provoke squeals of delight and excitement among an overland travel group – wi-fi, showers and access to alcohol.
If there are power sockets available, the chance to do laundry and it is not raining, it really is the perfect spot.
So imagine our delight as we emerged from the downpours of the Atlas Mountains to find the sun finding a few gaps in the cloud and shining down on all of that checklist.
There is an awful lot more to see and do in Marrakesh, but first things first – fill as many sockets as possible with charging kit, find the spot by the main gate with the best wi-fi, rush to get clothes clean and drying before the rain returns (or pay somebody else to do it, which is basically what the guys did the next morning) and wait eagerly for reports of whether the showers were hot or not.
They were. Sporadically.
Finding beer in Morocco is not the easiest task – and will get progressively harder and then impossible in dry Mauritania – so finding a campsite selling cans out of their fridge should have had us reaching for our dirhams and filling the eskies (the coolers which keep our drinks and, less often, meat cool while doubling as footrests and card tables on the back of the truck).
Instead, those in need of a drink (pretty much the entire group) clambered back onto Nala as Steve took us in search of a bottle shop which Karla had heard of while chatting to one of the trolley guys at our supermarket stop (trust a Kiwi girl to find directions to beer).
What we got was an impromptu city tour as Gilly’s off licence proved beyond our navigational skills and a second visit to Ercham in the supermarket car park, from where two of our number were despatched in a taxi with orders for vital supplies.
Their efforts, together with the campsite stock, made for a very convivial (and, courtesy of the showers, clean) evening.
Which put us in good spirits to tackle our biggest challenge of the trip to date the next day, exploring the labyrinthine delights and excesses of the Marrakesh medina.
Medinas – basically, market places in the heart of old towns selling pretty much whatever you might need and an awful lot of stuff you don’t, but which they will work hard to sell you anyway – have been a constant throughout Morocco.
Rabat’s was compact and got our feet wet in the world of medinas, Chefchaouen had plenty of charm (and got rather more than our feet wet), while the warren which is Fes left us thankful for Callum’s expert guidance and clutching plenty of bags.
Marrakesh takes it all to another level.
Personally, Chef and Fes were more up my street (as was arty Essaouira, but we’ll get to that), but there’s no denying the sheer energy and assault on pretty much all of the senses as we spent the bulk of the day exploring the narrow lanes, fighting off (with mixed results) the insistent sellers, shopping (in my case, another addition to the collection of bracelets around my right wrist which could take on epic proportions in the next nine months) and arguing with a snake charmer who insisted my arty shot of the main square and minaret was actually of him and his cobra.
His request for money fell on deaf ears, but only after he’d seen the contentious picture and finally accepted my argument that he was only in it because he was storming towards the camera.
There were more arguments as the search for beer took hold again around lunchtime, a helpful local steering a group of us down several shady-looking side streets and into an expensive-looking restaurant we declined to enter.
Much to the annoyance of a guy on the door, who took exception to our impromptu guide leading us off elsewhere and started punching him. As a nearby policeman joined in the brawl, we beat a hasty retreat and took refuge round the corner with a few pizzas.
The search for beers was more successful later as, teamed up with Karla and Joanne (that’s me, a Kiwi and an Irish girl, how could we fail to find booze?), we settled into a rooftop bar for happy hour which, thankfully, overlooked our agreed meeting place in another, dry vantage point and we were able to draw the rest of the group our way by waving a few beers in their direction.
By the time we emerged into the evening, the main square had been transformed by the arrival of a string of open-air eateries, each complete with one or more people determined for you to eat at their particular stall.
For some reason, they seemed to think my ability to eat might be worth attracting to their tables, quoting Thomas Hardy and Shakespeare at me before one finally lured me in, not by his insistence that Rick Stein and Antonio Carlucci had eaten there, but so had Jamie Oliver who he dismissed as “a right plonker”.
A good decision as tent mate Michael and myself wolfed down an excellent, cheap meal and headed back out in the melee, dodging food sellers only long enough for another of the traders to extract money from me for a traditional jacket.
By this point, the constant attentions of the sellers had got too much and there was only one place to take refuge – back in the bar.
We were not the only ones to come to that conclusion, so by the time the belly dancers appeared just before our taxi time, several more happy hour beers (and at those prices, it needed to be happy hour) had been sunk and one or two other bellies were swung around in some form of dancing.
Guilty as charged.
NB: The rain which has hit Morocco in the last week or so has been classed as the heaviest for 50 years, had locals flooding out to watch the rivers rush by at previously unseen levels and, so various reports have told us, claimed the lives of more than 30 people.
They would return to make our lives a tad more difficult, but that’s another story…