Marnie and Will sent us photographs of their Riad in Marrakech.
I felt SO hard done by.
Jim says I will never be able to have a good holiday because I don’t know how to relax and because I want everything to be perfect.
My nephew says I don’t know how to have a good holiday because I am not practiced in it.
I had my first holiday, in England, when I was 35.
My brother and I were not shown how to have a good time, it’s not my parents fault they weren’t shown how to paint the town red either.
Our second day in Marrakech begun thus:
Breakfast, a perfunctory nod to fresh fruit and a sly glance and a croissant that looked like a prop from ‘Ello ‘Ello.
We bumped into Rachid the 1st in the main square, he came running after us to make sure we met out guide, Rachid the 2nd, outside Cafe France.
Bang on 10.00 Rachid turned up. His English, eloquent and precise, his manner, obliging without being ingratiating.
We had learnt, in our very short two weeks, that friendliness was often a precurser to the big rip-off. Given that Morrocco is a poor country many of our purchases, whilst wildly inflated, were deemed noble by both ourselves and our recipients.
We didn’t even ask Rachid his rate. As it turned out it was a BIG LOT of Dirham, but we had forged some sort of relationship with him and haggling at the end of the day felt utterly inappropriate.
Rachid gave us a guided tour as he drove sedately out of Marrakech. We headed for the Atlas mountains. Our first stop was a Berber house.
It was extremely hot, the view over the Ourika Valley was green and cool. Mick Jaggers house was nestled in the hills and new build holiday apartments were half completed wherever we looked, the satellite dishes installed before the plumbing.
Malika was 50. Her green and brown henna-ed feet signified that she was no longer a virgin, indeed she had birthed 6 children, and now precided over a handful of grandkids. When Jim asked to take pictures of her heels she screamed with laughter.
Up red earth steps the house, built in good old wattle and daub tradition, housed Malika, her extended family and two cows.
They provided the milk for their butter – which they boil for hours rending it eatable for months – and that unforgettable smell of stable.
A young woman sat in an alcove, which served as the kitchen, the wooden beams were charred black with smoke. She was making bread in an open wood burning stove. The flat bread was like a big dry pizza.
We were shown the living room, the outside dunny, their very own sauna – hammam, the bedrooom and then we took our seats on crimson covered banquettes under the panoramic window. The window had no glass, but the rectangular space framed the fantastic view.
Malika served us honey, butter and bread, which was still hot, and then set about making us traditional mint tea.
I have since made it at home and it works. The ritual is usually done by the men, but today Malika played dad.
I wanted to buy a ubiquitous silver teapot but by the time it came to leave we had run out of funds. Malika had one silver teapot, two glasses, a block of sugar, a big fat kettle bubbling on an earthenware tagine-stand and a tray.
Firstly she took a handfiul of green tea pellets. put them in a glass, poured over boiling water, swilled it round, emptied it, did it twice more. The colour changed from light to dark. The bitterness had been removed. Then she took a handful of fresh mint, poured water over it, flicked the excess water off then bent the stalks in half and stuffed them into the teapot over the green tea. Now a handful of dried lemon verbena. Into a glass, over with the hot water, three times swilled and then the reconstituted leaves were put in the pot over the mint. Finally a lump of sugar, the size of a king-sized box of matches, was laid over the mint. The boiling water was poured over the sugar; thus protecting the mint from being damaged. We sat and talked for at least four minutes whilst the tea brewed.
We ate the delicious bread, butter and honey, were told that next time we would be able to spend a night sleeping in the Berber house should we want to, and then it was time for Malika to pour the tea, from a very great height she poured it once then returned the hot tea to the pot.
Poured it again, from a great height then returned the yellow liquid to the pot.
The third time the tea was poured, the colour having changed to a deep golden brown, it left a frothy top in the glass, this we were told, is what the Morroccans call ‘Berber Whiskey’.
And so the superstition goes; the first glass is for health and friendship, the second for good luck and the third for love.
The index finger and thumb clasps the top of the glass and the little finger balances the bottom. The glasses are chinked and good wishes are shared. It was the most perfect cup of sweet mint tea. The liquid cooling and calming. I hugged Malika, she hugged me back. I felt like I was her long lost relative indeed in the photograph Jim took of us, she really does look like my Auntie Esther.
We left replete.
More driving, more chat and then we were asked did we want lunch or a walk to the waterfall.
Well we had just eaten Malika out of house and home so the decision was easy. We were introduced to Hassan, our guide, and with Rachid sending us off with ‘Enjoy your walk’ we set off up the mountain.
If anybody had told me that I would climb for two and half hours without a camera and crew, I would have laughed in their face.
If anybody had told me, before we set off, that we were going to climb for two and half hours in scorching heat, I would have told them to go boil their head along with Malikas’ mint tea.
But for nearly three hours Hassan held my hand and guided me over rocks, boulders, and slippery stones. He held my hand, my arm, my elbow, I tip-toed and jumped as if Sherpa Tensing himself were taking me to the top of K2. Jim followed on behind, with no assistance. Hassan said he was a goat, a monkey, and pointed to the macaques that were jumping from tree to tree.
We passed nut sellers, tiny cafes, stonemasons carving alabaster, juice stalls, tagine bars, the higher we got the more light headed we became. It wasn’t the altitude it was the effort. We agreed to purchase all their wares on the way down if we ever made it. Jim huffed and puffed, I dripped and slipped but when we reached the top, the water cascading down from an unknown source, our feeling of achievement was unbounded.
Young and old, black and white plunged into the pool made by the falling water. The brave stood underneath the waterfall. Women in burkas, men half naked, women fully clothed young Asian Americans in Nike shorts. Jim and I watched through wire netting imprisoned by our British reserve.
Coming down was easier but extremely expensive as we bought hundreds of Dirham’s worth of local trinkets. It looked fabulous in the heady air of our mountain side but when we unloaded it it was but five pieces of tat. Still the collective got our money and I have a three-piece condiment pot in which to put my salt, pepper and cumin. Sprinkling the seasoning over my boiled egg in the morning brings back memories of my throbbing thighs and a man drilling holes in an alabsater candle stick.
When we finally arrived back on terra firma lunch never looked so good. We hugged Hassan and sat down to chicken cous-cous and vegetable tagine. That was over ten days ago, I am still feeling the effects of that lunch!
Rachid drove us to an Argan oil collective The women looked miserable.
Sitting on the ground one woman peeled the outer leaves off the nut, another cracked it open, another separated the kernal, another ground it to get out the oil. Our girl guide told us about the importance of argon oil to their economy so I bought a big pot of face mud and Jim some soap.
Rachid then drove us to a saffron farm he was buying one of his clients, a Danish Princess, 1,000D’s worth of crocus stigmas to take back to Copenhagen. Thank heavens they were closed otherwise we would have left with a crock of crocii.
Back into the city and a drive through palm plantations. They had been planted hundreds of years ago, and a reminder that climate change takes no prisoners – many of the palms are dying Japanese scientists are trying to find a cure. Rachid talked and talked until we reached Jemma el Fna.
My head buzzing, my thighs throbbing and my stomach rumbling.
We went back and climbed the stairs to our room. I felt like I had run 8 miles.
That night we took supper in the square. We met a brother and sister from The isle of Man and ate prawns with them as the cooking clouds, from the grill, billowed over us. We parted company as the clouds of smoke choked us.
On Wednesday we took out books and bodies to the annexe. The sun shone through the open roof, we put music on the stereo and I nipped in and out of the plunge pool.
We stayed all day. I finished Sebastian Foulks and Jim completed Mr. Nivens memoirs.
That night we ate on a roof terrace looking down at the now familiar sights of Jemma el Fna.
I set the alarm, although I needn’t have done as the Mosque woke me at 4.30.
5.00 shower, 5.30 breakfast.
The cart took our bags to the Cafe France. And there, as if he hadn’t had fourteen days without us, was Sharraff.
He drove us to the airport, we booked in, snoozed, climbed aboard, and at noon on July 10th we arrived back in The United Kingdom.
There is always that moment of looking out of the areoplane window and seeing the green and pleasant land of the Britain, this time it felt sweeter than ever.
I had missed the lushness of The Oak, Beech and Ash. It had been a long two weeks.
Would I go back to Morrocco? Never say never, but I write on July 21st and still my gut is rebelling, still my digestion is wondering whether a prawn in the hand was worth two in the closet.
My tan is fading, but a change really is as good as a rest and when all else fails I have a lovely pot of Argon mud which I can use to calm down the rash I picked up on the plane.
Thank you all for taking the trip with me.
All my friends are anxious that it was yet another holiday that I didnt quite get right. I’ve been invited to France, Italy and Uckfield, maybe I’ll reduce my carbon footprint and spend my next break in the back garden, wherever I go I’m sure it’ll be interesting.
Until the next time