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Phespirit goes to Morocco
tour     September 1998

Phespirit flies into Casablanca airport for his first taste of the continent of Africa and the world of Islam. The plan is to tour through the four imperial cities of Rabat, Meknès, Fès and Marrakesh before returning to this port of entrance. So, after a sleepless first night in Casablanca, Phespirit sets off aboard the early coach bound for Rabat.

A warm, cloudless morning is spent strolling at leisure around the key historical locations of the capital. After partaking of a fish and chips lunch, accompanied by an excellent bottle of Moroccan Cabernet Rosé (although the order was actually for a white - never mind), the coach is re-boarded for dusty, dishevelled Meknès, and still further on to Fès.

The excellence of Hotel Nouzha in Fès - tastefully appointed with Moroccan designs in brass and red velvet - did not deter Phespirit from inadvertantly flooding his bathroom overnight by means of a trickling bidet tap. Twenty dirhams on the side and an apologetic note for the maid gets the matter cleared up. After breakfast Phespirit skulks off into the the medina where heavy overnight storms have rendered the narrow streets almost as sodden and musty as his hotel room.

Whilst roving around Fès, Phespirit made visits to a couple of ceramic works, drank mint tea in the ubiquitous carpet shop, and failed to find a jellaba suitable for a gentleman of 6' 4". A most memorable sight was that of the tannery as seen from the overlooking roof of a leather retailer next door. Here is the worst of the squalor, the worst of the smells, and the worst working conditions for the poor souls who have to tread the chemical vats .....

The drive from Fès to Marrakesh takes a full day by coach, skimming through many and varied town and landscapes along the way. Upon reaching the city outskirts, driving directly into the Marrakesh sunset, Phespirit witnessed a most glorious spectacle as the crimson disk dipped between a low band of cloud and the distant horizon, causing the distinctive pink sand to radiate even rosier. Penetrating further, the palm trees increase in number on either side of the road whilst traffic intensifies in weight and madness. Bicycles, motorcycles, horses, donkeys and golden taxis - the Peugeot 206 'petit taxis' and the larger freelance Mercedes - all ferociously jostle and weave for precious space.

Shopping in the souks of Marrakesh, Phespirit tried on a pair of babouches, the leather slippers favoured by local men. Although it was immediately clear that Phespirit's size eleven feet were far too large for the single size available, the dogged salesman still insisted that the two inch deficiency was a design feature and that the leather would stretch.

For entertainment after dark, Phespirit can commend a meal and floor show at "the second best casino in Marrakesh". The dimly-lit interior vaguely resembles a desert tent housing an unlikely 70's disco stage backed by four sorry looking musicians. As the show begins the whole stage - black and green illuminated squares encircled by segments of black and red - elevates two feet. Enter stage left: endless authentically dull traditional dancers, a troop of acrobats, a hugely amusing camp snake-charmer and, climactically, a highly unauthentic belly dancer. The latter had earlier appeared fully clad and vieled, performing a bizarre dance with a cane, which seemed - worryingly - somehow more erotic.

Come the end of his Moroccan round trip, Phespirit spends the last of dirhams back in Casablanca, ironically to buy himself a leather wallet. No money left, but priceless memories in the bank.

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