In 2000 I was a member of a World Health Organization delegation that met with the G8 at Food and Agriculture Organization headquarters in Rome to secure support, and to develop plans and content for the 1st Global Forum of Food Regulators. The meeting was held in Marrakech in January 2002, and although I didn’t attend I retained a strong desire to one day visit Maroc.
From Madrid I flew Royal Air Maroc (RAM) to Casablanca and then onto Marrakech. I cannot speak too highly of RAM – a two hour delay in Casablanca and then lost luggage meant I was short on humour in the 46C heat of the day. Still it was great to be staying in a riad in the Medina ….. right close to the action.
The instructions for finding my riad were as follows:
Go to Sidi Ben Slimane, near Riad Laarouss, by taxi. From the car park, keep going (with the mosque on your right hand side) through the lane, passing a few shops. Take the first left. Then it’s 1st right turn, 1st left turn, 1st right turn under the covered lane, 1st left, 1st right, and 1st left into a coverd lane: you are now in Derb Semmaria. The riad is the first door on the right.
Finding my way back, either day or night, was a challenge.
The riad is this little oasis among the hustle off the lanes and alleyways of the medina. It’s rustic living with none of the distractions of the press of the people, no television, just a place to chill (poor choice of word). As I write, it’s 12:00 noon and the temperature has already risen to 36C heading to a mild 42C.
We are 3 weeks into the holy month of Ramadan so as travellers we need to exercise great caution when in public. Surreptitiously taking a drink of water to avoid detection, or gabbing a discrete meal on a rooftop terrace during daylight hours. But after Iftar, the main square Djemaa El-Fna comes alive with food vendors offering treats such as kebabs, tagines, seafood, and barbecued lambs brains, etc it’s a veritable feast. Plus the square is alive with touts showing off cobras and monkeys, plus fortune tellers, henna artistes, orange juice vendors, and more.
Getting around the medina is easy by foot, but knowing where you are at any particular time is almost impossible. But help is close at hand – every young guy is eager to assist and provide directions and lead – usually to his uncle’s shop where the hard sell occurs. Plus for his 10 minutes of guidance he expects €20 for his trouble. Pull out a map, and immediately a friendly and helpful guide seeking €20 is at your side. I reckon this happens to each traveller perhaps twice, then you tell them all to bugger off and you’ll find your own way. Everyone, that is everyone, is on the take. For comparison, a 200 km trip to Essaouira on the Atlantic coast in a minivan (2.5 hours each way) costs €25.