Marrakech and a change of plan

Marrakech hosts an annual Film Festival. Its airport heaved with more greeters and meeters than arriving passengers. Journalists and filmy folk were being collected by men in cheap suits holding smart boards. I felt rather important as I scanned dozens of placards for the words ‘Mr Dan’ or ‘Madame Meraid’. Being in Morocco, I was not in the least surprised that our arranged Taxi was absent and decided to relax. I was here to slow down, not get down.

My fellow passengers filed out through the doors, lugging wheelie suitcases behind them, their free hands fiddling with their Samsungs and iPhones whilst Dan and I pushed plastic wrapped bikes on trolleys and clutched holdalls.

I heard a sound I used to hate, the sound that could cock up a special moment in a bride’s wedding day, and the same sound that was now banished from theatres. The Nokia Tune. For a split second I imagined I seeing Dom Joly from Trigger Happy shouting, ‘I’m at the airport. I’m in Morocco,’ into an oversized phone. All I could do was smile.

Anyway, the car didn’t come so we simply took another. Twenty euro to get to our hotel the driver told me. It was only 5 miles but it was dark and I didn’t fancy building the bikes at that stage. He drove us to a place a few streets away from our accommodation (like Ryanair’s – we’ll nearly get you there service) and said that we could take a chariot into the medina. ‘Oh, I like the sound of that.’ I said. Then a man, sporting a moustache that matched Dan’s arrived. He pushed an iron cart towards us and my princess notions vanished.

chariot in jemaa el fnaWe checked into the Central Palace Hotel which is unsuitable for princesses. A stone’s throw from Jemaa el Fna, reasonably cheap and has rooms with bathrooms. It also caters for people with incontinence as beds come complete with rubber sheets!

hotel central palace marrakechThere is nowhere like Jemaa el Fna square in Morocco. It might even be safe to say that there is nowhere like it in the world! And it’s at night that it comes alive. Storytellers, musicians, henna artists, cigarette and tissue sellers, fortune tellers and a man wearing a brown and cream striped djelaba, demonstrating how pink sparkly fairy wings should be worn. And there are the things I close my eyes to, like snake charmers and performing monkeys. Not to forget the cinema screen showing a french film with Arabic subtitles taking up a whole corner.

Marrakech film festival screen jemaa el fnaThen there are dining stalls serving stewed snails (eshwaree), complete sheep’s heads with exposed teeth and dangling tongues,  boiled egg sandwich stand, fried fish, meat skewers, bread, chips and salad stalls, harira and date stands, and tagines and tangias aplenty. Every ‘restaurant’ promising to be the best. In the end we chose stall number 117. ‘117, takes you to heaven,’ the hustler promised. Staff and customers clapped and sang ‘That’s the way ah ha ah ha I like it…’ as we sidled up on low wooden benches. It was a cold and windy heaven but the food was hot and the mood party like.

Galangal tea and spiced cake promised aphrodisiac qualities. ‘For your husband,’ the vendor said, gesturing with a bent strong arm. Dan drank two glasses, just to be sure it was good then we raced to the hotel to hide from the biting wind and leapt into bed.

galangal tea in jemaa el fnaNext morning, we had breakfast at a small café beside the hotel. I hadn’t heated up since rising and didn’t bother with a shower. After several glasses of hot coffee, croissants and msemmen and a boot shine I was ready to go shopping.

shoe shine marrakechOpposite the café, a small shop sold camping supplies such as gas and our fuel of choice – Alcool a brûler industriele (methylated spirits).

Location of shop in Marrakech selling this is N31° 37.459’  W 007° 59.351’

camping supplies shop marrakech

20141213_095343Then there was food to buy, dates, almonds, cashews, sticky sweet peanut bars, apricots, dried bananas, figs and raisins. 2kg of the stuff. I was determined not to go hungry this time. It was after we built the bikes that Dan noticed his rear wheel wasn’t secured properly. There was play in it that could have been fixed easily if he had brought the cassette and centre lockring tool, however that tool had been left in the bike tool box in England.

Bikepacking MarrakechThis being Marrakech, there is a medina with a plethora of small workshops. All we needed to do was ride around until we found Bike Fixing Street. It’s a bit of a labyrinth in there and we pedalled and pushed through the alleys ducking to avoid silver teapots and yellow leather babouches. It’s not a place where focused searching is easy, too many distractions such as carpets, bags, donkeys and mopeds. Despite visiting several workshops, none had the tool we needed though everyone assured Dan he would safely make it back to the square or ‘Maybe 20 kilometres,’ as one man suggested.

Using the wifi at the hotel, I searched for bike shops and found Argan Xtreme Sports. It was too late to go there so we arranged to visit the next day. Rain fell that evening and once again we braved the elements to find dinner in the square. ‘Monsieur Moustache. 118 118. Remember the number. Maybe later?’ I hadn’t quite made it to heaven after the previous visit to 117, so decided to try Number 41, described as air conditioned with democratic prices? It was with heavy hearts we talked about the planned route. It had been warmer in England and I’d hoped for at least a little warmth during daylight hours. We agreed to head south to Agadir if the weather didn’t clear and we would take the bus. Dan worked on an alternative route while I paced the bedroom floor in an effort to get warm.

I took this picture of Koutoubia Mosque on our last visit when there was sunshine.

Khotoubia MosqueNext morning, after the rain stopped, we rode to Argan Xtreme Sports bike shop where we received a warm welcome from helpful staff and most importantly the right tool. The zip on the Topeak fuel tank broke as Dan pulled an alan key from it. Luckily there was a man who made leather goods beside the shop and he fixed it up with a new zip. Dan showed Farouq and one of the guides our route and they told us that the trails were treacherous as there had been rain on top of the snow. That information was final confirmation of a bus ride to Agadir where we would approach the High Atlas from the south and ride at least some of our original planned route. We bought an additional repair kit and went for lunch while the zip was being done. Dan posed for a pic with my stunt double and Farouq.

argan xtreme sports bike shopWe’d barely left the shop when the sky dumped a month’s worth of rain. Drenched through, we huddled together in a doorway until it eased then rode off again. I pulled over at a busy junction, right next to a spice shop. I wanted to be sure where I was trying to get to before attempting that crazy junction.

‘Dutch?’

‘No.’

‘English?’

‘No.’

‘Where you from?’

‘Ireland,’ I said.

Spice man reached for a bunch of reeds. ‘You know this?’

I shook my head.

He bared his teeth and made a brushing action. ‘Toothbrush.’

I smiled, nodding in agreement.

‘This?’

Again, I shook my head. He stuck a rock under my nose. I put both feet on the ground, straddling the bike and sniffed. I had no idea what it was.

‘For moth,’ he said. ‘No holes in the clothe-es.’

I looked at myself, examining for holes in my clothe-es and found none. I know I like rocks, but to carry one into the mountains in overstuffed bike luggage was a no no.

Then he reached for what looked like the lid of a small clay pot. I knew what this one was, lipstick. He spat in the lid and rubbed his spittle with his fat finger, revealing vibrant vermillion pigment. My throat tightened like a squeezed and twisted sausage balloon. Good god, please don’t rub that on my lips, I thought.

‘Lipstick.’ I squeaked.

‘Very good.’ He said, turning to another pile of rocks. ‘And for your husband.’

I could guess what was coming. He was going to sort out Dan’s sex drive. I was beginning to think I had the look of a sex starved hag – a woman who couldn’t be bothered to wear lipstick, wore moth eaten clothes and obviously wouldn’t be getting any action without some serious help.

I was wrong. This rock was for after shaving!

It was hard to ride across the junction without saying goodbye, but there was a bus to catch and I promised myself I would keep my eyes focused dead ahead and keep rolling.

‘Agadir Agadir Agadir,’ called the ticket seller, as we pulled over at the entrance of the bus station to let a bus out. Seconds later, my bike was yanked out of my hands and put onto the moving bus. I chased after it and climb aboard followed closely by Dan holding all important tickets.

I sat down, took off my helmet and wet jacket and said, ‘Gee. That was pretty much the full on Moroccan public transport experience. I didn’t even have time to grab a water bottle and I have never loaded a moving bus with a bike before!’

There was a bit of a commotion onboard as some passengers had heard how much we had been charged, but after a translator was fetched all was quiet when they realised we had bikes as luggage. Moroccans have a culture where the strong look out for the weak and the educated protect the ignorant (Dan and I). There is an unspoken duty to save people from making mistakes.

Somewhere along the way, the bus stopped a little longer than usual. I looked out to see a very old mechanical pinball machine being unloaded. As often happens, a song popped into my head, The Who’s Pinball Wizard. The only problem is that I only know one line and it played over and over and over, leaving me demented.

We arrived at the final destination, gare routière (Inezgane’s bus station) after dark. It might say Agadir on the front of the bus, but this is as far as it goes – 13km from the coastal city. This we knew already from a trip several years ago so booked into the Hagounia Hotel about a minute’s walk away. It was perfect for a quick getaway in the morning.


Got a bit more time?
Here’s Part 2  doing the funky chicken Agadir to Taroudant
Part 3 – To the waters and the wild
Part 4 – Highs and Lows on the road to Aoulouz
Part 5 – Riding in the slipstream

 


Bike shops in Marrakech
Tours, rental and workshop

Argan Xtreme Sports

Rue Fatima Al Fihria  Marrakech, Morocco

Touring         : +212 (0) 6 22 27 86 10

​Shop            : +212 (0) 5 24 40 02 07

Email          : info@argansports.com

Atlas Sport

Res El Bakouri, Gueliz . 40000 Marrakech – MAROC

Tel: +212 (0) 6 68 16 45 60 / +212 6 61 66 15 42 

Email: contact@atlas-sports.com

Meraid Griffin

Freelance writer, adventurer and public speaker. Descibed in the Sunday Times as a 'modest explorer'. Nothing modest about me.

2 Comments:

  1. thank you , those photos of meths / alcool a bruler are just what i need to show the shopkeepers in Taroudant and cross the language barrier without charades .. a picture is worth a thousand gestures ..

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Fancy sharing your thoughts