Morocco, a North African country benefiting from all year-round sunshine which should have provided a guarantee of warm weather even in November. With hindsight, the rain we experienced alighting the plane should have acted as a portent of things to come. It was just our luck that the polar vortex which brought unseasonably cold temperatures in America caused the North Atlantic sea temperatures to dip by 2° and forced the Jetstream to travel in a more southerly direction. With the Atlantic sea temperatures off the east coast of Africa for some reason 2° higher than normal an area of low pressure was formed which headed to Morocco and ultimately caused severe flooding. Nope, I’m not a meteorologist either so don’t expect me to explain any of that, suffice to say that water played a large role in our holiday.
Agadir Airport was less organised than Derby County’s defence in the 2007-2008 Premier League season. We queued at passport control for over 30 minutes, our hopes were raised when a new desk opened so we did the thing that all English people do and switch allegiances from our current queue to the new desk. Feeling rather smug of this wonderful decision our previously raised hopes were significantly dashed when the passport control officer got up to find a more comfortable chair, then as he was about to call the next person over he changed his mind and disappeared for a snack as he saw an EasyJet plane pull up right outside the main doors closely followed by an army of Liverpudlians scrambling to get out of the rain. Needless to say the people in our original queue were already through passport control collecting their luggage.
The taxi to the hotel was an experience to behold. What should have been our first view of a country we have never seen before turned into a terror journey more akin to a theme park. With the rain lashing down outside the driver had one hand holding his cell phone to his ear and one constantly reaching across and wiping the passenger window, how the hell he was controlling the steering wheel at the same time I can only imagine. The roads were more like rivers and we might have been better off in a boat. The taxi fare itself seemed relatively cheap in comparison to English prices but looking back after becoming more familiar with Moroccan ways I realise we were totally ripped off. Moroccan taxi drivers must love airport runs.
This seems an appropriate time in the story to give you advance warning of the best pun joke you are ever likely to read. If I told it to you right now then the rest of this story would pale into insignificance but rest assured you will not be disappointed. Read on.
It seems to me that Agadir contains some very nice hotels, some very nice restaurants, a two-mile beach with a lovely walkway and yet everywhere seems to be connected by underdeveloped paths of rubble. It is like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Moroccans appear to be gentle, pleasant people who speak the universal language of ‘smile’. Taxi drivers also smile but in a more aggressive manner as they barter their way towards world domination. Prior to arriving in Agadir we had read that the red taxis were very cheap, the maximum anyone should be charging was 20 dirhams (dhs) to get anywhere in Agadir, this equates to about £1.50. This was backed up by staff at the hotel and travel advisers but the taxi drivers know the game and come up with all sorts of reasons to increase the fare. One guy claimed it was with “double tariff” because it was Sunday night, another tried to charge us over the odds by placing his hands in the air and telling us it was night-time and dark and therefore more difficult to drive. In the end I would argue the toss, get the price down a little bit and in a somewhat ironic twist I would end up providing a tip which equated to the amount he was asking for in the first place.
The television in the hotel only had two English speaking channels, the first was the BBC World News and the second was MTV which seemed to play the same two songs on loop: ‘All About That Bass’ by Meghan Trainor and some song about Big Booties featuring Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Pop (yes, I know it wasn’t really Iggy Pop). I will never be able to hear those songs again in my life without thinking about Morocco or booty.
One morning we had a very long walk to the Marina, 90 minutes there, 90 minutes back. The first time we did this I wore some pumps, they were completely the wrong footwear for such a trek, this resulted in me seriously moaning about my sore feet. To be fair to Angela she did offer some sympathy and for a while did reduce her pace from ‘breakneck’ to ‘speedy’. I grumbled for a while afterwards and when we got to the room I gently peeled off the offending and offensive footwear to examine the serious damage that had been inflicted – it turned out there was nothing wrong with them and I was suffering from the podiatric equivalent of man-flu.
It is now time for some short Moroccan bite-sized snippets:
- Moroccan Rosé wine – delicious!
- We went to an Indian restaurant called Bollywood, it was very nice but they did sell camel and pigeon curries.
- There is one ‘English Pub’ in Agadir. We thought it would be quite good but the only thing English about it was the wall-to-wall TV’s showing European sport and sticky wooden table tops. There were no English people in there either visiting or serving and it was completely devoid of atmosphere. We did a runner without even buying anything.
- Angela asked me where the toilets were on the first night in the hotel bar. I said ‘Go upstairs and do a David Cameron next to the hotel singer murdering Unchained Melody’. She asked what that meant and I replied ‘just go a little to the right’. Well I thought it was funny.
- Little Norway, a very nice little restaurant, I added these phrases into my trip advisor review, ‘T-bone steak the size of the back-end of a bull’ and ‘chipped potatoes presented like a Jenga stack’.
Whilst walking on the beachfront we were approached by a shifty-looking little Moroccan who sidled up to me and said in a quiet voice “Want to buy some stuff?” Now I was tempted to have a little fun here, I have stuff in my kitchen, stuff on my desk, stuff on the table, stuff in the garage and stuff in my loft. Why would I want more stuff? I am not so naive that I didn’t know what he was talking about but I realised the conversation would have somewhere been lost in translation and decided to cut my losses with a very polite “no thank you”.
Whilst sipping a Coca-Cola in an empty beachfront bar I decided to call home to see if everything was okay. The first thing that Bethany said to me was ‘Craig is an idiot.’ A short time later in the same conversation she said, ‘I take that back, Craig is a “f***ing idiot.’ I cannot recall what prompted this but I’m willing to bet it was something and nothing. Later on I spoke to Craig who was cooking bacon sandwiches at the time. I must have mentioned ‘bacon’ out loud on a number of occasions during that chat to Craig and wondered why Angela was cringing a little on the other side of the table …… in a Muslim restaurant. Oops. Naturally I meant no disrespect.
I had brought the wrong earphones with me when I packed so we went to an electrical shop to buy some more. The sales assistant didn’t speak great English so trying to describe what we wanted became an exercise in mime. He eventually realised what I was after but he couldn’t understand why I didn’t also want one with a microphone, he must have asked about 10 times. Later I realised that the whole misunderstanding was my fault because I apparently do not live in the real world full of smart phones. My poxy little Nokia phone supplied by my employer is as outdated as my Sony Walkman.
I have not forgotten about the amazing pun joke, it really is a beauty but I will keep you in suspense just a little while longer.
Most evenings we ended up back in the hotel bar, sometimes earlier, sometimes later in the evening. Each night there was some musical entertainment; I have used artistic licence with this term. Singing to an audience of around three or four couples the equivalent of a pub singer did his very best. If he had been at a Working Men’s Club I frequented in my youth in Bradford (the one just behind the chemical plant) he would have been pelted with scotch eggs, quarter pork pies and dripping sandwiches before you could say “I’ll have a pint of Tetley’s”. He tried to get one guy to sing along to Pretty Woman by thrusting the microphone into his face but if he had come near me it would have been shoved down his throat. He sang some Bob Marley which was borderline acceptable but I now wish I had bought some ‘stuff’ the previous day to get through the experience. Not long afterwards we realised we were the only ones left and made a swift departure back to our room with a bottle of Moroccan Rose wine.
There is a large hill behind the Casbah near the marina at one end of the beach in Agadir. An Arabic inscription written into the hill is illuminated at night; we discovered from a taxi driver that the words translate as “God”, “Country” and “King”. We reckoned that if there was a similar inscription in a Cornish hill the words would read “Pirates”, “Cream Teas” and “Pasties”.
Whilst walking on the beach we stumbled across a very large rope, around 6 inches in diameter which surfaced above the sand, headed to the sea and submerged back under the sand about 30 feet later. Angela said ‘What’s on the end of that rope?’ I replied with the only answer possible, ‘A very big bar of soap’.
More Moroccan bite-sized snippets:
- Have you ever seen mushroom or pizza flavoured crisps? I have now.
- A sure sign of desperation is a tramp ‘hand-me-down’, this is when you see a tramp sifting through rubbish bags which looked as though they had already been discarded as inferior by other tramps.
- I decided that the second sign of madness is talking to a road sign. Angela and I were returning from the supermarket when I moved behind her to avoid walking into the road sign. She didn’t notice and turned to me to say something only to find herself talking to the post. I laughed and said she was going mad, she replied that she got more sense out of it.
- The closest you will get to serious Moroccan gang culture is when you get a bunch of taxi drivers sat around smoking, waiting for business.
- It is very difficult to get an alcoholic drink unless you’re having a meal or are in a hotel.
- We reckoned that 50% of all Moroccan men are called Said, pronounced ‘Sa-eed’. Even a donkey we saw was called Said. There are dozens of stray cats everywhere; the happiest ones seemed to live near the bird sanctuary. We thought all the cats are called Said too.
On a walk back to the hotel after an evening meal we stopped in at a bar connected to a hotel called Zanzibar. We sat down at a table and saw that everything was dark and the décor was all black. There was wall-to-wall European football on TV everywhere you looked with louder commentary than actually being in a stadium, then Angela said she didn’t like it so we made excuses and left. On the way out she said ‘I can’t even understand how you could like it in there’…. Hmm, now let me have a think about that…
On Thursday we took an organised day trip to Marrakesh. Three and a half hours in a minibus each way from Agadir didn’t take away from the experience, it was something I’m glad I did and will take away some memories but one I’m unlikely to repeat. We saw snake charmers and monkeys in nappies, fortune-tellers and women who tried to grab your hand and draw henna tattoos on the back. We watched two snakes, one dancing and being put around a man’s neck and the other in a more human form bullying him out of cash for the privilege.
If we thought the street hawkers in Agadir were persistent they were nothing in comparison to the professionals of the Marrakesh street markets, ‘souks’. You only had to vaguely glance in the direction of something for a stall owner to be over you like a rash. There are also many professional beggars, some women even borrow babies for the day, make them up to look poorly and plead with tourists for cash. One young girl looked at us with big puppy-dog sad eyes trying to sell a small pack of hand tissues, ‘pleeeeez, sir, pleeeeeeez’ – it was hard to say no sometimes but we were advised that’s the best thing to do.
We visited a pharmacy where a very funny guy explained about all the different Moroccan spices and oils. One of main things I wanted to return to the UK with was a collection of different spice bags and we weren’t disappointed when buying curry leaves, Moroccan mixes, harissa and Saffron which is just way too expensive to buy in the UK. Whilst sat down waiting to pay for our purchases one of the assistants offered to give me a neck and shoulder massage with a blend of argan and eucalyptus oil. Now I’m one of those Yorkshire guys who doesn’t feel too comfortable about being touched in any way by another man unless he’s a doctor (and even then I don’t think that classifies as being “comfortable”) but before I could say no it had already started. Two minutes later it was over so I politely thanked him but then he added insult to injury saying I should pay him directly for the massage rather than pay at the counter. ‘How much?’ I asked, ‘Whatever you think is right’ he replied. It was tempting to consider actually charging him as I didn’t appear to have much choice in the matter but in the end smiled and offered 20 dirhams just to get away.
We visited the palace in Marrakesh (Palais Bahia) and were given 20 minutes to look around and take photos but were back at the meeting place about 3 minutes later as we realised every room was identical… impressive as empty rooms go…. but identical.
A really nice lunch had been arranged for us in a posh hotel as part of our tour. As usual there was a buffet with lots of different things to select. Everything was nice but the best for me was a beautiful circular portion of fish. I’m not a great lover of fish unless it is completely encased in batter and deep-fried or it comes out of a tuna steak tin but this fish was so good I felt compelled to ask what type of fish it was. After some translation discussion I found out it was Conger eel. Gulp!
In the souk I wanted to buy a small tagine shaped pot to mix up different spices. The seller wanted 40 dirhams for it (about £3.50) so I haggled and eventually agreed on 25 dirhams. A short while later I found virtually the same item selling for a fixed price 10 dirhams. In another shop we saw an amazing demonstration of woodworking and some high quality hand-manufactured items such as honey stirrers, magic boxes, puzzles, jewellery boxes, skewers etc. We decided to buy a really nice box of dominos and in the end settled on a middle-sized box for around £18. They were quite lovely, the box was passed to his friend for packaging up and we thanked him and left. When we got back to the hotel we found the box of dominos had shrunk considerably in size on the journey home from the one we were sold!
Having experienced a deluge of rain at the start of the holiday and thinking we were over the worst, it came back with a vengeance for the last couple of days. We found out that rain of this intensity had not been experienced in Morocco since 1967. There had been floods nearby and very sadly a number of people in the poorer low-lying areas lost their lives. In those same areas however the locals have water tanks which last week were becoming empty, after the downpours this week those same water tanks were full to the brim and enough to sustain a family for 4 years. There were reports of 7m high waves, and that was just the hotel swimming pool. Parts of the hotel were leaking which is understandable to an extent. The water is not collected in buckets though; someone just puts another rug down.
Whilst effectively trapped in the bar for the last couple of nights (not such a bad thing I hasten to add) we played dominos with the somewhat miniature box we bought from the Marrakesh souk. We discovered there were 28 different patterns and any serious domino player would instantly be able to recognise and memorise them all from the back. If we get to use them a lot then it might be just as well to select them face up. I accidentally knocked a bottle of Flag Special beer over, I tried my best to catch it and lick it off the table but within seconds one of the bar staff arrived with a cloth smiling and kept saying ‘It’s OK, don’t worry, it’s fine’ and then the wonderful line, ‘Our home is your home’. It’s one of the many things that left a great impression of the Timoulay Hotel and the Trip Advisor review was sufficiently complimentary; I was informed that it had been read almost 4000 times in the month after it had been posted.
On the day we left after checking out we sat in reception for around three hours before leaving for the airport, the rain was lashing down outside and to all intents and purposes we were prisoners. The taxi driver to the airport must have made or received over 20 calls in our 30 minute trip. He was shouting all the time and I reckon he was running another business. He could have been a Moroccan financial market trader, “Sell, sell, sell”… “Buy, buy, buy”. There was so much water on the roads on the way to the airport at one point we drove through a puddle almost a foot deep and cars were parked up while people took photographs of rivers where there used to be roads. At the airport we hit the wrong queue yet again in a curious moment of déjà vu from the arrival queues 7 days earlier. Even so we were seated on the plane an hour early with the indication from the airline staff that we would be able to depart earlier than expected; it turned out we had to wait an hour on the plane anyway for about three late passengers to arrive. I can tell you they were not the most popular people on the plane after sauntering their way across the tarmac.
I cannot leave you in suspense much longer so here it comes, the funniest pun joke in the world ever – fact! It was funny because I don’t think it was intended. Angela ordered a cocktail in the hotel bar, it was an ‘Americano’. It was made of Campari, vermouth, a splash of soda water and two segments of fresh orange. Angela said ‘I’m not sure I like this very much, it’s quite bitter – it tastes like pith’ – boom boom, I told you it would be good. I ‘pithed’ myself laughing.
In a somewhat ironic twist of fate at Manchester airport we were virtually the first passengers off the aeroplane, near the front of the passport control queue and our cases were the first on the baggage belt. We were out of the place while others were still trying to get through passport control. What a bonus. Whilst on the M62 Angela phoned ahead to the Sultan Mahal to order a much-needed Indian takeaway on the way home.
As expected, having left the grown-up kids in charge at home, we returned to something resembling a council waste dump. The carpet was the same colour as the dogs and it clearly had not had any attention from the vacuum cleaner. There were bits of rubbish all over the place and we even found a pair of Craig’s underpants behind the TV; we decided not to ask him about that one but enjoyed telling the tale and letting others make up their own stories. On the plus side the house was still intact, the dogs were still alive and the television set still worked – we couldn’t ask for anything more.
To summarise the holiday in a sentence, Angela had read that Morocco has 360 days of sunshine and although it was on the whole very enjoyable it somehow didn’t seem fair that we got the other five.