How not to see Marrakech

Trip Start Oct 18, 2007
Trip End Nov 20, 2007

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Saturday, November 3, 2007

Day 17 - 3 November 2007, Casablanca - Marrakech
Brekkie gets delivered right on time at 6. We're down in the Queen's Lounge at 7.15, get our ship stickers and a snack pack that is supposed to be for the trip back from Marrakech, and are told to wait until the ship is cleared. Once that's done, we're out and on to bus number 2.  I can see a guy outside with my name on a sheet of paper.  That's the tour guide for the shorex that I've organised and that eight fellow passengers are now going on while we're off to Marrakech. 
Our guide is called Lazrak and he's dressed in the long robe thing they wear and a fez. His family history can be traced back to Granada in Spain before they and the rest of the Moors were expelled by that humanitarian institution the Roman Catholic Church.  There are two buses and there's only 25 of us on the coach and I think pretty much the same on the other.  The bus is really nice, just like we've had in Europe.   
Casablanca is an assault of the senses.  Even from way offshore we had seen the layer of smog/smoke that shrouds the city.  It has what we could only describe as an exotic, not industrial, smell.  Once we head away from the dock area the apparent chaos is overwhelming; and this is Saturday, pretty much the quietest day of the week.  Cars going in every direction, on the wrong side of the road half of the time, mopeds and pushbikes and trucks and buses.  Al had been expecting something completely different, at the very least much smaller, and was shocked to find that the populations of both Casablanca and Marrakech are in the millions, not the hundreds of thousands.
The urban sprawl of gigantic mansions in the middle of huge walled estates gives way to the desert of north Africa - the Sahara is on the other side of the Atlas Mountains.  We've been told the bus trip will take four hours each way leaving four and a half hours in Marrakech.  A fair portion of the group gets stuck into their snack packs - mustn't have had breakfast.
We're both surprised by how much agriculture there is in what looks like a desert. I ask Lazrak and they source there water from dams in the Atlas they use run off from the melting snows.  Also ask about power - nearly all hydro but also buy power from Algeria and Spain but we have no idea how they get the Spanish power unless it is from Spanish Morroco up on the Med coastline.  Apparently the melt was not too good this last season and crops have been poor.  Lots of little wagons being pulled by donkeys, small walled houses just sitting in the middle of stony plains. After two hours we pull up at a Shell servo for a 'comfort' stop and Lazrak tells us he's buying us whatever we want to drink.  We use the outside stand-up-over-a-hole-loo without realising there are 'euro' toilets inside.
The drinks thing is chaos.  Some of us want coffee, others mint tea, or water, or soft drink.  He's trying to pay but people keep changing their mind.  We get our coffee and sit with a lady who has a mint tea.  It looks and smells like mint tea but she keeps saying she thinks it's balsam.  Then I see another of our group get quite rude with the man making the coffee.  She must have forgotten she's in Morocco because she's expecting white coffee in a big cup.  Just wanted to go over and give her a slap.  She has a very poor attitude all day.  Coming from a minority group herself I thought she might have been a little more respectful.  Mmmm.....
The stop takes way too long, maybe forty minutes when ten should have been sufficient. I've seen the distance signs and we can't be far from Marrakech.  I just can't understand why the bus is travelling so slowly.  The speed limit is 120 and there's no way we've gone much more than 80 the whole way.  Ridiculous.
I can work out the tops of the Atlas Mountains through the smog so Marrakech must be close, and it is.  Go past a huge football stadium that's being built and lost of residential development as we head in to Marrakech.  It's a like a low-rise version of Casablanca except even more chaotic.  
I think we're already running a little late so Lazrak hustles us off the bus, along a crowded street and in to the Kasbah, or palace.  While we're walking there's this crazy looking guy who looks like he's pretending to take our picture with and old SLR camera. Turns out later has wasn't pretending asthis picture testifies.  

Past the line and into the Kasbah. [PHOTO_ID_L=8-marrakech.jpg
It is magnificent.  The tiling is beyond description.  We get pushed through here fairly quickly. Was quite surreal how quiet it was in there compared to what was outside the walls. Lazrak thinks he's lost someone so he goes wandering up and down the street with his little Holland America flag.  We're all onboard and eventually he gets back on and is told we're all waiting for him. Next to a minaret that we stand in front of and take some snaps but don't get close to. Then it's already lunchtime.
We pull up in front of a very imposing building and the 'crazy' guy who had been taking photos is now laying photos on the ground he'd taken not much more than an hour later.  We buy a photo and then walk into an oasis of peace, and marble. The restaurant is huge and looks over a pool area like out of a movie.  The food is fantastic, a buffet of tagines and cold foods and amazing deserts.  Al takes a mouthful of food and I can see there is something wrong straight away.  He got up and went straight outside. This has happened before so I'm not overly concerned, he'll be back in a minute or two. 
Well, he's still not back five minutes later and I'm getting a little concerned.  Cindy, who we've been sitting next to on the bus, asks me if Al's ok and I explain that he has a swallowing problem but that it normally clears pretty quickly.  After I've gone in to all this I find out Cindy is the head of the medical department on board the Rotterdam and she is not surprisingly quite concerned.  Maybe after ten minutes Al comes back, says he's ok, has a drink and races out again.  I finish my lunch and go to find him.  He's not real good.  The first mouthful of food he ate is stuck is in his throat and he can't budge it.  He's in and out of the toilet for I have no idea how long.
I think we're at the hotel for nearly two hours all up - way, way too long.  Al says he's ok when we get on the bus and although he's not, eventually he is.  Maybe Cindy's threat that if he can't swallow a mouthful of water he'll be taken to hospital in Marrakech scares the food out of him!
Next stop arts and crafts and it just turns out to be a rug shop. 45 minutes later we are the proud owners of a kilim (sp?) throw for the non-bargained price of USD450 of which we still owe our guide $223.  We're the ones with sucker tattooed on our foreheads.  Next it's downstairs into another shop but we say no and get out of there and just stand outside so we can be hassled by ladies selling silver bracelets. We then walk around the corner and go in to the Saadian Tombs where we stand in a line for twenty minutes to get a one minute glimpse of a tomb that looks just like what we saw at the Kasbah.  
Finally it's time to get back on the bus and head for the Jamaa El Fna Square, the one they show on all the travel shows with the snake charmers and acrobats and spice sellers.  I look at my watch and it's not far off 4pm and we need to back on the ship at 8.
We pull up at Jamaa El Fna and are told we have exactly half an hour to take any pictures we need (and make sure we pay for them) and get back on the bus.  Half an hour out of 12 and a half for the highlight of a day that's cost us nearly a thousand dollars.  We're really pissed off.  
So Al, Cindy and me head down into the maelstrom that is Jamaa El Fna. First photo is with a waterman. There are lots of young ones but I choose the oldest and most wizened. Can't see the acrobats, too many people crowded around them.  So it's snake charmers.  Take a couple of pics from a distance of a group of guys with a couple of cobras and some puff adders or something similar. Before I know it I'm sat on a box with what I think is a rubber snake around my neck and five very poisonous snakes less than two metres away from my sandalled feet.  Did I say I really hate snakes?  So the charming thing starts and this guy has a cobra in his hand less than a metre form my face and I'm about to piss my pants and then I'm kissing the cobra head and he presses it against my forehead and then I'm handing over money and twenty dollars later I can finally breath.  NEVER AGAIN!!!  
Cindy wants a hat so we head in to the market labyrinth off the square, she makes an offer, is called a filthy tourist, we go to leave but we get lost and we can see if we don't get out we'll miss the bus. The hat guy chases us and Cindy gets the two hats for $10, bit better than the $40 they originally were.  It only takes a couple of minutes to get out but it felt like half an hour.  The three of us run across the square, we must have looked like we'd just stolen something.  Needn't have panicked, we weren't the last on the bus.  Then we again joined that chaos that is Marrakech traffic.  Can't see how we are going to get back to the ship before 'all aboard' at 8pm, and even worse how we are going to get the $223 we need to pay Lazrak so we can keep our rug.  
Not sure what time it was but we pull in for another comfort stop.  Again Lazrak is buying everyone a drink.  We don't have time for this! Al goes and talks to him and says if we're not back by 8 we can't go onto the ship and get him the money because they won't let us back off.  Nearly 40 minutes later we pull back out on to the highway.  Lazrak comes back and asks about the money and I tell him we have nothing else with us so he suggests I ask the people on the bus for the money and we can pay them back!  I have never had a conversation with one of these people before today.  Even though it is one of the most awful things I have had to do I ask and get the $125 we need to add to our last $100 and the rug is ours. We pull up alongside at 8.15.  The lower promenade is lined with people as they have apparently made numerous announcements telling everyone they are just waiting for one more bus.  As we board they tell us to head up to the lido but when we get there it is closed.  An end to a perfect day.
We're glad that the next three days are sea days.  Time to relax after what has been a very hectic couple of weeks.

Day 18 - 20.   4 - 6 November 2007 (At Sea)
Sat at breakfast this morning and was looking out the water when I could see some kind of disturbance on the surface.  No-one else could see it and then someone shouted out there are dolphins next to the ship.  There were hundreds all along the length of the ship.  Jumping right of the water like in Hawaii.  Then Irene and I saw a great big sea turtle down amongst them.
We were both extremely disappointed with the Marrakech shorex.  It was VERY expensive but was very, very poor.  So it's time to vent my spleen.  I get a shorex comment card and tell them exactly what I thought of the tour.  Apparently I wasn't the only one as we get a letter form the shorex department apologising for our disappointment and are told we will get a 20% reduction on the price.  Certainly more than the apology I expected. 

I also decide to complete the guest comment card that is in the compendium.  We are having a truly great time.  I say how wonderful (way too wonderful) the food is, how fantastic the HAL staff are, how spotless the ship is, how good our waiters, stewards, bar staff are.  Everything isn't perfect though.  The towels in our room are of indifferent quality - from as soft as we have at home to bordering on sandpaper.  That the non-HAL staff, especially the photographers and most of the shop staff are aloof.  That the corkage charge is a bit of an insult considering the amount of bar revenue they are getting from us - we are buying a bottle of wine at least every second night.  And the Marrakech shorex debacle. 

Wonder if anything will come of it?
Sometime mid-morning on Sunday we're told there's going to be another medical evac this afternoon due to one of the passengers having suffered a heart attack.  We change course and head back towards the coast of Morocco where a helicopter and sea rescue boat are going to rendezvous with us to effect the evacuation.  We kept getting announcements about where the helicopter was and the outside decks were all closed off.  Eventually the boat and then the helicopter arrived. It was a bloody great big helicopter gunship with two guns poking out of it's nose.  After a failed attempt to land on the helipad on the bow of the ship (helicopter too big), they decided to winch the person off.  Seemed to take forever but eventually he was away. 

Captain advised today (Monday) that he is recovering well and has been moved to a private clinic in Rabat.   

Went to cooking class.  Lots of fun, Sean the Pinnacle Grill Head Chef  is very cute,  and we sat in Pinnacle to eat the meal.  Should have gone to more of them.
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margotcu on

Another medical evac?
Wow, you sound like you have had your fair share of excitement, but I don't remember reading about 'another medical evac'. Care to elaborate? It wasn't Al with his problem throat, was it?

All the best,

Yass on

I went to Marrakech and my way back to London, I passed a night in a very intimate luxury and intimate boutique hotel in Casablanca. Definitely Casablanca has its charm too.

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