Having parted from our minibus and Said, our driver who kept us safe on the highways around the Moroccan interior, we took a Supratour bus from Essaouira, which was nice enough but only got about 49% of the way there before breaking down.
We ran a betting pool for how long it would be before we were back on the road, I was the second-most pessimistic person in our group, Helen would have won had not the tour guide cheated by entering into the pool after finding out from the driver when a replacement bus was expected.
So, we just hung out by the side of the road, luckily we were passing through a small town at the time so there was a shop people could buy a snack at – bit of a windfall for them having a bus stop outside for several hours with no other shops in sight :).
Back on the road we drove for about 5-10 minutes before the driver stopped again for the originally scheduled half-way stop. Sigh…
Anyway so we rolled into Marrakech pretty late and checked into our hotel, which was nice – definitely the flashest on the tour – and since it was so late we just went and got pizza down the road.
We had the day free to do what we liked, so I headed off to the Menara gardens, where I could finally complete a Moroccan geocache – determined to do one somewhere in each country I go to. Got a GPS fix very quickly, I think they must be providing the cellphone bootstrap there, and found the cache mercifully easily after yesterday's fail-to-find.
The gardens themselves aren't hugely interesting, it's basically a big grove of olive trees irrigated from the big basin in the middle, apparently supplied by one of those qanats I talked about. The name Menara is taken from the pavilion thing at the entrance, and that's also given the name to Marrakech's airport, which is almost next door. Saw an interesting cat there though, tortoiseshell but with very yellow eyes.
Straight down the road you can see the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque, whose design provided the template for the minaret in Giralda, Spain. Bit of a hot walk to get there, but Marrakech seemed quite nice – pretty clean and tidy.
You can't go in the mosque though, so there's not much to actually do there other than tick the “saw that” box.
Not far away is the big market square but I decided to trek on over to the medina (old city) and had a wander around there. I tried on some Fezzes but they weren't really everything I hoped for, the tassle bit was firmly attached to the side with a staple, where's the fun in that?
Anyway after a big wander around in and out of the souks (fucking hot out), I tried to head over to a nicer gardens, Jardin Majorelle, the former residence gardens of an expat French painter called Jacques Majorelle, now owned (slightly randomly) by Yves Saint Laurent.
Tried because it took half an hour to find a taxi who was happy to a) stop and b) go that way, and then it turned out that when I said “Jardin Majorelle”, and showed him on the map, he in fact had no idea what the fuck I was talking about and so he cheerfully took me back to Menara Garden, which would have been fucking confusing had I not been there earlier and so knew he'd got it all wrong. After stopping to talk to someone with a clue, he finally got me there after about an hour of trying.
The garden is very nice, a welcome cool green break from the heat on the streets, populated by bamboo and succulents and hanging vines over pools. Pretty popular though, and sadly the museum of Islamic art there was closed for renovation, which was a little disappointing.
That night after heading back to the hotel for a shower we all met up and went to the main square for the BBQ dinner originally scheduled for the previous night before our bus crapped out.
The square is a bit of a sight at night, a mass of people and fires and smoke rising in the distance. The Koutoubia minaret is lit up at night, there's roving buskers, and random people are wandering around trying to get a rise of of tourists with snakes, mostly fake (thankfully – I hate snakes).
Dinner was tasty, lots of courses of BBQd meats and veggies. One of our tour group guys had his birthday that day so the tour leader had organised a cake and his friends gave him one of the silly hats with the super-long tassels that you do a head-swirly movement with to make it spin around to certain music – the guy with the clackers at the right of the Essouira musicians photo is wearing one.
After dinner we all trekked over to a bar where they have belly-dancing in the evenings. Had a couple of cocktails and chatted to ppl in the group about the tour and our guide, and then later the belly-dancers came and did their thing.
There was one very impressively capable woman dancing with a silver platter of candles on her head, backed up by a small platoon of much younger and much more scantily clad woman. After their main performance they encouraged ppl to get up and join them and a few of the women in our group gave it a go. Melissa did a bit of a demo too – she happens to be a belly-dancing teacher.
Quite liked the music there actually, a lot more rhythm than the stuff I was bitching about from earlier in the tour.
Anyway, after we'd all done our dash there, we headed back to the hotel and the tour just sort of ended there!
So that was Morocco – 2.5 weeks, small towns to big cities, desert to mountains to coast and everything in between, a lot of delicious food, some unsafe food, a fair few roads and a couple of camels, and some great views.
I enjoyed my trip to Morocco, obviously apart from the bits where I had food poisoning or getting hassled by people trying to make a living, but all in all it was a great trip.
I don't think I'll feel the need to go back there in a hurry – it was interesting but there was nowhere that made me really go “I should come back here and hang out for a week”. So I'd recommend going, and these tours seem like a good way of doing it, but you should definitely make sure you find one that will suit your style of travelling.
After Morocco I went back to Spain, swinging by Cuenca on my way to meet friends in Barcelona.