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Phespirit goes to Morocco
tour     September 1998

AROUND MOROCCO

Map of Morocco

1 Rabat

Rabat is very much the clean and cultured capital city, blending colourful remnants of the past with the offices and embassies of government.

Phespirit visited the royal palace, the splendid tomb of beloved King Mohammed V, and the adjacent 12th Century unfinished minaret, the Hassan Tower.

Of greatest interest are the ferrymen and fishermen at the river crossing to Sale, adjacent to the headland Kasbah with its fine views across the Barbary coast.

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2 Khemisset

A stop at the Hotel Diouri for a first taste of the national drink of Morocco: mint tea.

The stuff is actually really nice, being made with mint and China tea leaves placed in a narrow glass, topped up with boiling water and a spoonful of sugar.

After initially trying it just as a novelty, Phespirit would go on to drink many more glasses for the sheer enjoyment.

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3 Meknès

This is the smallest and least renowned of the old Imperial cities but it still has a buzz of activity and reminders of former glory.

Prime sights include the Moulay Ismail tomb, the main market square and the royal stables.

Here in Meknès Phespirit witnesses a man unroll his prayer mat by the roadside and pray towards Mecca .....
A very devout people, thinks Phespirit, until noticing the next chap, a hundred yards further along, pissing against a tree.

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4 Fès

The ancient medina of Fès is said to be still as it was in the ninth century AD, with its complex labyrinth of narrow winding streets from which the naïve visitor might never emerge without a local guide to point the way.

Rain serves only to accentuate the squalor of the place, with the unsheltered areas becoming mired and mucky; no swirling dust storms in this desert city.

The streets are claustrophobia-inducing, the smells are pungent, the working conditions for people and animals alike are atrocious. Grimly compelling for those just passing through.

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5 Ifrane

The town of Ifrane - as constructed by the French in 1929 - is an unlikely collection of Alpinesque wooden buildings nestling amid lush cedar woods at the foothills of the Middle Atlas.

Phespirit takes mint teas, gawps around, then moves on.

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6 Azrou

Azrou is a modest town taking its name from the large outcrop of rock (azrou in the Berber language) to which it lies adjacent.

So great is the love that the townspeople have for their rock that they have a placed a large steel crown on top of it.

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7 El Bordj

A small village on the river Oum er Rbia, where Phespirit paused for oranges, some dry bread and a glass of red wine at a hotel restaurant by the main highway.

In the mineral shop next door much time is spent haggling over a magnificent amethyst and citrine geode. A price is agreed but an earlier misinterpretation of communications leaves the merchant mortified when he discovers that Phespirit only has Visa.

Happily the resourceful man is able to find a volunteer willing to lend Phespirit the money until they reach Marrakesh.

The deal is concluded and El Bordj is bid farewell.

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8 Beni Mellal

Another refreshment stop en route to Marrakesh, this time hoving into the grounds of a largish motel with shrivelled orange trees out front and a swimming pool and rose gardens out back.

The heart of Beni Mellal - reportedly a big, bustling town in its own right - was never penetrated.

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9 El Kelaâ Des Srarhna

The last stop for petrol before Marrakesh, during which Phespirit stretches his considerable legs by taking a brief wander around the coach. He is immediately surrounded by children.

From whence did they all emerge?

The initial suspicion is that they are hoping to receive money or sweets, but it later dawns on Phespirit that they actually wanted the pen that was tucked behind his right ear.

Top tip for travellers to Morocco: take pens for the children.

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10 Marrakesh

At the heart of Marrakesh is Jemaa El Fna. During the hours of daylight this world famous square - a vast blacktop expanse - is disappointingly sterile in atmosphere. Busy enough with people, traffic and scattered novelty acts such as snake charmers and water sellers but otherwise rather colourless.

At night the transformation is remarkable. The square fills with musicians, boxers, fortune tellers, story tellers, gamesmen, all drawing crowds of people and their precious money. Behind them lies row upon row of hot food stalls, issuing exotic smells and thick clouds of steam to augment the sensory assault of wailing pipes and African drums. The only light comes from the yellow electric bulbs strung above the food stalls, and the interiors of restaurants and balcony bars at the perimeter. Quite awesome.

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11 Ourika Valley

South out of Marrakesh and back into the mountains for tea at the Residence Nouzha, with its pleasant view down a fertile meander of green valley between dusty orange Atlas peaks.

Along the way Phespirit invades an allegedly traditional Berber house for mint teas and Moroccan bread.

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12 Settat

A fair sized commercial centre, quite modern in aspect, but fated to serve merely as a stopping point for refreshments on the road from Marrakesh to Casablanca.

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13 Casablanca

Huge, concrete, commercial and dull; even its seafront is tacky, being the only place in the country where Phespirit could buy a tropical fruit mivvi.

Casablanca is redeemed only by the truly spectacular Hassan II mosque. This marble and titanium monster is surely the greatest twentieth century wonder of the world .....

..... and Phespirit is not a man given to superlatives.

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  1. Rabat
  2. Khemisset
  3. Meknès
  4. Fès
  5. Ifrane
  6. Azrou
  7. El Bordj
  8. Beni Mellal
  9. El Kelaâ Des Srarhna
  10. Marrakesh
  11. Ourika Valley
  12. Settat
  13. Casablanca
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Rabat Khemisset Meknès Fès Ifrane Azrou El Bordj Beni Mellal El Kelaâ Des Srarhna Marrakesh Ourika Valley Settat Casablanca