|The Ballards - Marrakech|
We managed to get a January (2015) flight to Marrakech from Stansted for less than the cost of the petrol to get to, and the car parking at, Stansted Airport. Amazing....
You know you're outside the uber-sanitised world of
the EU when you disembark from your EasyRyanbe jet at Marrakech airport
and watch a Royal Air Maroc ATR72 twin turboprop reversing itself off
the stand and turning itself round using beta mode.
Everyone thinks "Marrakech" and immediately hums "Marrakesh Express" by Crosby, stills and Nash ("All on board, that train....") but actually a more appropriate tune is "The Fez" by Steely Dan because yes, people really do wear them (even in 2015, after all those Tommy Cooper "just like that" jokes....).
It's a medieval city: that's obvious from the narrow
medina roads you enter the moment you approach the centre. These roads
are far too narrow for cars.... so they drive down them anyway. A dizzying
array of local and tourist pedestrians, bicycles, mopeds, cars, taxis
and minibuses drive on random sides of the roads, missing each other by
Riad Hikaya appears as just one more door in a blank wall. Because of the heat and the press on the streets the houses and Riads look inwards, based around a central light well, and present a blank face to the street.
Opening the front door reveals a Hobbit-like warren of small, dark but beautifully decorated rooms. The staff look after us like old friends and cannot do too much for us. I cannot over-praise the Riad, it's quite the most luxurious small hotel I have ever stayed in.
Venturing out from your Riad womb the contrast is immediate:
the hustle and bustle of the street starts steps from your door with over-enthusiastic
salesmen offering guides, restaurants, crafts, everything.
One thing we did try at the Café Clock (all round excellence) was a camel burger: these guys are definitely worth at least one visit and they are trying to popularise camel meat as a healthier alternative to beef.
The driving..... ah, the driving.
Longer-distance travel is handled by a huge homogeneous fleet of yellow Mercedes 240D taxis. At some point in 1974 Mercedes must have done a deal, and now it has become self-perpetuating because all the local mechanics know how to fix 1974 Mercedes 240Ds and nothing else! One morning a pavement-side mechanic had the front axle off, the Merc up in blocks on the pavement. By the evening it was fixed and re-assembled.
Every 10th shop is a Honda 50 mechanic with the ability
to perform major crash and engine rebuild-type repairs. And they're busy,
often down on their haunches working on 5 or 6 mopeds at once. All their
tools are universally beautifully arranged in racks in the back of the
In many other shops are artisans making real things, not just for tourists, but for actual use: handmade metal sinks, gates, doors, hinges, tools, leather. The craftsmanship in metal and wood and leather is often superb. Maybe this is the place to get my favourite dream project - wheeled leather pilot bags - manufactured?
There are distressing beggars: we even saw one man in a wheelchair with a bleeding stump leg.To this day I dont know if it really was blood, or tomato Ketchup.
Islam is a religion struggling with the effects of The
Pill: the liberating effect of the control they may effect upon their
own fertility is causing subterranean tremors in a society where women
are cloistered. How long will increasingly educated women accept a subservient
role in society? All over the Middle East they are finding the trouble
is that educating women is a one way road to them demanding equal rights
incompatible with the traditional Islam male primacy doctrine. There will
be trouble ahead.
We came across the Moroccan fascination with decorating absolutely every flat surface (and many curved ones) in Moroccan fashion. Where else would you see decorated electric plugs?
We saw the Yves St Laurent Foundation garden which was a pleasant surprise. Rather a lot of pastel blue, rather too much Art Deco, why is he so revered?
We also visited the Mamounia hotel, frequented by Winston Churchill, nicely redone. Tea. Many wealthy Frenchmen, much Botox in evidence...
Morocco is a land of cheap labour: it is possible to
get more or less anything made and the craftsmanship is often superb,
but it is usually cheaper to get someone to do something than it is to
use a machine, unlike the West where the opposite is true.
Every night the main Jemaa el-Fnaa square comes alive
as they assemble restaurants across the whole square, then cook the most
delicious street food.
Morocco is rapidly headed in the EU direction.