Friday 2nd May, 1997
With much excitement and anticipation, our eagerly-awaited trip got under way at last. I was especially pleased when I found out that the plane flew first to Agadir, before going on to Marrakech, and as the take-off is my favourite part of flying, with taking off twice, I made a video recording of the first, and took photographs of the second, being lucky enough to get a window seat! The flight between Agadir and Marrakech was only about ten minutes, but we saw tree plantations all in neat rows, presumably these were olive or orange trees, and we flew over the Atlas mountains and they really did have snow on the top, as we had been told.
We landed at Marrakech and the heat, about 25C I would guess, hit us as soon as we stepped off of the plane! We were welcomed into a special room at the airport by a lady and gentleman who were to be our hosts for the visit and while our passports were checked, we were served our first taste of Moroccan mint tea, served in a small glass, with a sprig of garden mint. This is the national beverage of Morocco.
Then, we were transferred to the hotel Es-Saadi by the coach which was to be our transport for the next six days, and it even had air-conditioning, so it was reasonably comfortable. On my first glimpses of Marrakech, I was surprised to find it such a flat region, but apparently the Atlas mountains can usually be seen in the distance. While we were there it was hazy, so we could not see them. The earth around Marrakech is a deep red terracotta colour, and this is used for all the buildings in the city and the surrounding villages.
We ate our first lunch at the hotel, by the swimming pool. I had a salad, but some of the others ordered brochettes, like a kebab, and I wished afterwards I had tried those as they looked delicious. However, the hotel room was not so much a room, but a suite! There were chairs and a table in the main bedroom, but also an adjoining lounge! And there was a wonderful balcony, or would it be a terrace, it was that big, overlooking the swimming pool.
Marrakech MosqueAfter lunch we changed our money into Moroccan dirhams for the first time, and got back on the coach to go into Marrakech (I do not know what happened to the calèche (horse-drawn carriage) that we had been promised, but we did see some of those while we were out). We were joined by an official guide, and he was wearing a djellabah, and a silver badge around his neck. The architecture in the centre of Marrakech was very beautiful, and I took lots of photographs. We saw the Koutoubia minaret from a distance, but it was being restored, as there was scaffolding all over it, and we took a closer look at another mosque. Next, we went to the Saadian tombs. Apparently these were sealed off from the outside world for a long time, but now, in order that visitors can look at the wonderful carved cedarwood ceilings, mosaic tiled walls, and intricately moulded plasterwork, there is a narrow passageway through the surrounding walls, which is only wide enough for people to walk in single file. Then we went to look at the palace El Bahia, which was built by the Grand Vizier in 1894, who occupied it for only a short time before he died and then the palace was emptied by the Sultan’s guards, leaving only the series of rooms with elaborate mosaic ceilings, gardens, and a beautiful courtyard. The approach to the palace is a tree-lined avenue, and we saw banana trees, orange trees, bellflower (datura), and a stunning purple-flowering tree called jacaranda. There were quite a few cats and kittens about.
We were running out of time so we did not visit the souks, but we quickly drove up to the Jemaa el Fna and had a look from the coach, at the intensely busy, bustling square. This is where all the street entertainers and snake charmers congregate, and of course all the crowds come to watch – not just tourists, but I gather it is a fascinating spectacle that the people from the surrounding countryside like to come and see as well. Many people in Morocco wear a djellabah, a long gown with a hood, and they come in all sorts of colours, some bright purples, pinks and greens, others neutral beiges, greys and creams. We then went to the much more peaceful gardens of the hotel Mamounia and spent a pleasant hour walking around. This was where Winston Churchill loved to come and stay when he visited Morocco. There was another jacaranda tree, and a whole wall covered from end to end in bright pink coloured bougainvillea.