Diary of my first ever trip to Morocco

Trip Start Nov 07, 2004
1
Trip End Nov 14, 2004


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Where I stayed

Flag of Morocco  , Agadir,
Sunday, November 7, 2004

Sunday 7th November

To begin with, I am a single traveller so things get a bit dull at times; I try to make up for the lack of excitement by exploring as much as possible and blending in with the locals wherever possible.

Up at about 2:30am, what a pain. Taxi arrived at 3:05 am. Only got about 3 hours sleep. Tried using the cash machine at the airport but entered the wrong PIN! I hope this hasn't ruined my chances of getting cash in Morocco! Had cup of coffee, luckily I brought my own sandwiches, wandered about the duty free but  bought nothing.
Boarded the 'plane at 5:30am and got a window seat by the wing (with very little leg room) . Breakfast was pre-packed egg, bacon and sausage, coffee, orange juice and muffin, swapped the e, b + s  for a muffin with the person next to me. The flight over Morocco was exciting as we passed over the Atlas mountains. The approach to Agadir was smooth. Touchdown was at 9:25am; immigration was painfully slow with some passengers causing more delay than others, I got through in about 20 seconds.
A taxi arranged by my trip organiser Sunway Holidays, arrived to transfer myself and two other passengers (John and Kristell) to our hotel. I tried to exchange my travellers cheques at the airport but they were not accepted. John offered me 100.00 to change into Dirhams which was extremely kind of him. The baggage handler wanted a tip but only in "Inglish munny".
We arrived at the 4 star Hotel Argana after a 30 minute drive, I was surprised to hear the desk clerk pronounce my surname perfectly, this being Eastern European. My room was on the first floor with double bed, tv and balcony with a view of the pool. It was hot, the temperature was about 26. I can't hear well in my left ear, deaf from the flight. I asked the cleaning lady, (who came in to ask if the bedding needed changing already), why the cistern was running permanently, I surmised she was saying (in French) that it would sort itself out in good time. I had a sandwich and nap but it was noisy from the pool area.
There doesn't seem to be a view of the sea as claimed in the brochure, I went around the hotel but the only sighting was from the fourth floor about one mile away. The view from the balcony is mostly of the hotel grounds; the pool, a bird sanctuary, date palm trees and hotels in the distance. I went out for a walk to find bottled water as the tap water is not safe to drink. Had another nap.
Got up at 5:55pm and went to the Argana restaurant, called Paradiso, just a short walk outside the hotel entrance; set up account for meals, to be added to hotel bill. Had chicken with fried apple, orange, lettuce, cucumber, tomato and mild curry sauce, absolutely superb. Followed this by seafood dinner (the calamari was horrible). Prices were meaningless on the menu as it was out of season so considerably cheaper, the bill was 175Dh or about €16 with an uncharacteristically generous tip of 50D. Incidentally the exchange rate was about 16 Dirhams to the pound or 11 Dirhams to 1 Euro . A discount of 20% also applies to guests of the hotel. Back to hotel to call home at 8pm. Went to bed at around 9pm.

Monday 8th     

Up at 8am, very windy. Had obligatory wash and shave then went down to breakfast which comprised:      
2 jugs coffee (about 6 cups), 4 croissant, 2 pan de choc and 2 slices of very buttery cake.
Another hot day, upper 20's I reckon. Went to barbers (Modina) for haircut as my hair looked horrid in the mirror. Walked around for a while to get a feel for the area, the air smells of bad drains and there were a lot of dead locusts lying on the roads and pavements. It's good to see there is no litter on the streets.
Went back to the hotel and booked day trips: Agadir City tour this afternoon, Marrakesh on Wednesday and Essaouira (Mogador) on Friday. Ordered lunch but it arrived late so only managed part of it on account of the city tour; as it turned out, the coach arrived 15 minutes late.
There were about 15 people on the coach for this afternoons trip, the first stop was the fishing port where the main catch is sardines for export. It was very whiffy so we should all be thankful sardines come in tins. We got a view of wooden boats being built, I took some photographs on my old but mostly reliable 35mm camera. Next was a steep climb up the hill to the old kasbah of Agadir. It was quite high and the hill is illuminated for nightime viewing, the wording reads "God, The Country and The King" which indicates the order of importance. Got badgered by hawkers and camel owners, but only in a small way. An old Arab man wanted me to photograph him which I did, it was only fair to give him some small reward. The place itself is a complete ruin with absolutely no sign of it ever being inhabited, however, there was part of an old surrounding wall. Apparently people are still buried here from the earthquake in 1960. As we were departing, a large group of tourists (American judging by their appearance) arrived and were descended upon by more traders than I saw. Next stop was the mosque which was quite impressive but no age to it, no admittance to infidels. We then stopped at the souk known as Souk al Had almost on the outskirts of the city. It was very big and took an hour to cover just a small part of it. I bought 1Kg of mandarins for 3D (about 20p). We then drove around what is affectionately known as known as the Swiss quarter, so called because of the Swiss doctors occupying that area when the earthquake occurred. The city was also re-designed by Swiss architects after the earthquake but they gave it no authenticity hence one could be forgiven for thinking they were on any Med resort. Arrived back at the hotel at 4:45pm.
Did nothing until 6:30pm when I went to the restaurant and had chicken salad, as yesterday, a bit early I know but it's my usual time to eat. Followed this with spaghetti with basil and tomato sauce. Unfortunately the traditional way of making sauce has been superseded by American Tabasco sauce. Dessert was fruit salad with ice cream.
Returned to hotel but could not find John to repay the loan. Saw the resident hotel cat with 3 kittens. The hotel nearby is disappearing rapidly as the sea fog is moving in. 'Phoned home at 8pm. Went to bed at 9:15pm.
At 9:30pm the hotel was filled with music, I got up and dressed to see what the commotion was. Two men were playing a drum and flute with a three boys doing "traditional" (even though it looked like Apache Indian) dancing. The guests loved it but I went back to bed. I hope they got a decent amount of money from the guests.

Tuesday 9th

Up at 9am. watched a little BBC news on tv then went down for breakfast (the usual). Went out for a walk and to search for a bank with an ATM as I am down to my last 75D. Stopped at one bank displaying the maestro logo and was rewarded with real money, there is no shortage of banks with cash machines which is a huge relief. Found John and repaid his loan.
Later went in search of souvenirs and bought a small tagine (just for decoration) for 40D, of course it was robbery. Got a large bottle of water but I don't think the man was pleased when I handed him a 50D note for a 3D purchase; this is the main problem with ATM's here - only large bills dispensed. 
Lunch has been pre-booked so I shall relax on the balcony until 1pm. Went down to the snack bar and had plain salad with lettuce, tomato, salsa, egg and olives. Next came what is called a pastilla, this is a circular parcel of light but very sweet pastry filled with chicken (sometimes pigeon), nuts, couscous and other unidentifiable ingredients. The filling was very heavy and even though it was quite tasty I could only manage about 1/3rd much to the surprise of the staff. Finished off with tea and coke.
Went out for a long walk in search of the beach, it took about 15 minutes from the hotel and is about 10Km end to end of good quality sand. I walked for two hours in total which just about covered the whole beach. Collected some pebbles and small and large sea shells (why?). There are a lot of dead fish which the gulls don't seem to be bothered with. Beach sports on offer are football, horse and camel riding and wind surfing. Went back to hotel to relax on the balcony.
Today has been very cloudy and a lot cooler; had a relaxing session with my pipe on the balcony. Off to restaurant at 7pm, the table has been reserved for me for the duration of my stay and has already been decorated with flowers (I felt somewhat embarrassed). Dinner was chicken salad, bread rolls, pasta with avocado dumplings, caramelized apples with ice cream, cold drink and a fruit cocktail thrown in for free. I guess they just want to impress what few guests they get this time of year.
John and Kristell came in to the restaurant we had a chat and I suggested they mention they were guests at the hotel to get a discount.
Back to hotel at 8:15pm. Booked alarm call for 5am for the Marrakesh trip. Went to bed at 9:05pm. Cannot be bothered doing anything in the evenings as I'm not into heavy drinking, bars or clubs.     
 
Wednesday 10th

Alarm call at 5am. Had wash and shave, things already packed for Marrakesh. Went down for breakfast at 5:30am, it was a bit of a rush so I only had 1 cup of coffee, 2 croissants, o.j., cake and choc roll. Waited in the lobby for the coach, met the hotel cat. Coach arrived at 6:15am but John was unable to get on as it was too high to access with his wheelchair so he didn't go. It was very dark when we set off at 6:25am although it did get light from about 7am. We started following the road along the High Atlas mountains which are 4165 metres at the highest point and known as Jabal Toubkal. Our tour guide was Habib.
The sun began to throw its rays onto the mountains lighting them up to an orange glow, it was spectacular. I did photograph this as best as I could given that the coach was moving. We stopped at a cafe roughly at the half-way point for about 20 minutes. The scenery along the way was of large open spaces with isolated areas occupied by nomads but in one place the nomads had settled permanently to the extent they were given money to build a town. As we got closer to Marrakesh the rain came tipping down for a few minutes. Apparently there hasn't been rain of any significance since 1986.
We arrived in the centre of Marrakesh at 10:30am and parked up to photograph the Koutoubia Mosque. We were given a glimpse of the Hotel Mamounia which is reputed to be the most expensive hotel in Marrakesh and is where the likes of Sting or Victoria Beckham would stay at a cost of 2000 Euros a night. 
Lots of sad looking Moroccan pussy-cats around (ps I'm a cat lover). We went down the side streets and were led in to a carpet shop but there was no pressure to buy, in fact it was an enjoyable experience (unlike Tangier). We were offered some tea and a few people did stay for about 20 minutes longer.
Drove around the city again and stopped at the hotel Farah Golden Tulip for lunch. This was a very impressive 4 star hotel some distance from the Jemma el Fna; we stayed there from 12:45 until 2:30. It was a very relaxing place which I shall certainly consider for any future visit. For lunch I had fish & pasta, pasta & meatballs, tomato, rice and peas, dessert was sweet cakes. Sat outside for a drink, we were given too much time here but so far it has been a good trip with lots of hot sunny weather. Hit the road again and visited a 14th century Islamic school and Bahia palace both open to tourists. We had a different guide for these as he was more knowledgeable being a resident of Marrakesh. Took quite a few photographs of just about anything, wooden ceilings, trees, buildings, ornate doorways, etc. Our next visit with Habib was a backstreet herbalist; I wasn't too pleased but again it was not high pressure selling and I guess I just wanted to see how gullible the other people were. There were two guys from the Philippines, one of which reckoned he needed everything on offer. Habib did say I could leave if I wished but I stayed. After this we went into the Souk el Henna in the Place Jemaa el Fna (which is seen in many brochures and travel programmes) and through the backstreets where camel and sheep's heads hang on hooks for the shoppers.
There were workshops making everything imaginable from lampshades, jewellery and gates with sparks flying everywhere from angle grinders and only a few inches of space to walk as there was so much work being done on the ground. One boy ran up to me when he saw my camera so I took a photo hastily and wanted to give him some money but Habib's helper said I should not give him anything (but I did all the same); he was very pleased and kept looking up and smiling into the camera. It was terrific.
We were then given the opportunity to explore on our own which I was eager to do. I entered one part of the medina where I was suddenly hit by an overpowering stench from the drains and had to make a hasty retreat. I photographed a snake charmer and was confronted by a boy wanting payment for that privilege, he wasn't pleased with my donation.  I stopped at one shop to see the djellaba's on offer, I was offered one for 600D (about 38.00!) but there was no way on this planet I was going to pay that amount and I certainly made it clear to the guy who said it was handmade (obviously not as it had nylon thread). The tendency here is to be asked what my best price is in the hope I will increase my offer but I told him my price was the final price and he should take it or there is no deal. It confused him at first but he soon got the message. I offered him 200D but he said "you must be taking the p**s"; I wonder which college he went to in England. We finally agreed a price (after much muttering and swearing in Arabic) of 250D plus a pack of Marlboro to seal the deal. The same ritual was performed with another trader when attempting to buy slippers. The price tumbled from 600D for one pair to 160D plus a pack of Marlboro for two pairs. Cig's are expensive here at 30D (2.00) a pack.
We met up in the centre of the square at 5:30pm and headed to a Moroccan restaurant where we had harira soup (coriander and meat) and bread for starter. There were four musicians with guitar, violin, tambourine and drum who kept us entertained until a belly dancer appeared doing a routine with a tray of candles on her head. She finished her dance after about 15 minutes. The food arrived, a tray of roast chicken  but with nothing else so we tucked in until the couscous and lamb was delivered. We finished off with tea and mandarins and then another belly dancer came on the floor for what seemed an age but she was very professional, I took a photo but didn't have my flash (old camera!). The bill came for the drinks and we departed at 7:30pm, arriving at the coach at 7:45pm. We went through Jemaa el Fna which was totally transformed in the evening with African musicians, an outdoor restaurant and lots of other activities which I didn't get close enough to see as we were heading for the coach.
We headed out of Marrakesh and stopped at the same cafe as this morning, I got a bottle of water and off we went again. I couldn't make out any of the scenery on the return journey as it was dark and no lighting.
We arrived back at the hotel at midnight, no chance of anything to eat at this time except a few mandarins so straight to bed. I could hear someone singing hymns down in the restaurant area. 

Thursday 11th    

Woke at 6:30am but nodded off again. Had the air conditioning off as it is noisy even on low setting. Got up at 9:50am and went down for breakfast, just managed to get something to eat before the 10am closing. Went back to my room for a shower. Left the hotel at 10:40am and stpped at the bird sanctuary (Valee de Oiseaux) first. There were a few exotic birds from the far east which I photographed but there were also chickens, goats and pigeons for some reason, anyway it was only 5D to get in.
I went to look for the government registered shops which have fixed prices so as to avoid haggling but stopped at the Ibtissam cafe in the Talborjt district for lunch. This is mainly Moroccan cuisine but they do serve lunches to foreigners and it looked just like a regular cafe. I had tuna salad for starters with lots of bread followed by spag with spicy chicken, although it was a bit too spicy even for the cat which joined me; it did get a good amount of tuna though. Had a look at the map and with the help of the waiter resumed my search for  the govt. shops. My search was in vain as I could only find a few ramshackle shops and was not sure if they were the ones. Went into a patisserie and bought some sweet biscuits to bring home which cost 25D for 0.5Kg. My French is virtually non-existent but we manage to muddle through. 
Stopped at a giftshop called Uniprix and bought an amber camel for 10D. I wanted to buy some postcards but was directed inside the shop where much to my surprise there was a large shop with just about everything a tourist could hope to buy without walking miles. They had musical instruments, leather crafts, clothing, food, alcohol and nick-nacks. Hats were expensive, but I did buy a calendar, choc, biscuits, Marrakesh notebook, wallets, drum and postcards for 172D (11.00).
It was more breezy today and not as hot. Continued shopping and bought a leather camel and slippers as gifts but I'm not sure about the size. I got both for 125D, which was cheap compared to the above gift shop who wanted 150D for the camel alone.
Back to the hotel to wrap things so nothing gets damaged. I was handed a note at the desk saying Friday's trip to Essaouira was cancelled. I will mention this to John & Kristell when I see them as they will be going by taxi.
Had a short nap then went out to eat; tried the Asiatic Kim Hoa restaurant about 10 minutes walk from the hotel. I didn't enjoy it at all; the owners were Moroccan, the Peking soup had prawns which ruined it, next had beef with noodles and rice but the noodles were over-cooked. Dessert was mushy apples in caramelised pastry which the waiter dipped in ice water to cool down. The music was awful, the closest they had to English was Irish rebel songs with stories of "Paddy being killed by the British in the struggle for freedom". At last some French people arrived and the music changed.
Back to hotel to 'phone home but the battery went flat. Tried to use the hotel telephone but could not get a connection. Went to bed 9:30pm.

Friday 12th

Up at 7:15am, went down for breakfast at 7:20am, saw John and Kristell and arranged to go with them to Essaouira (also known as Mogador), they already had a taxi booked for the trip at 1000D for the 400Km round trip. Had my stuff packed already and we set off at 8:20am but stopped at a bank to get some cash. The taxi driver stopped so I could take some photo's of  the Argan tree-climbing goats and other scenery. From nowhere there appear groups of children holding out their hands for money. We stopped at the main business attraction in Argana which was the oil proccessing factory but they were not pressing today so we had a coffee and tea and carried on.
We reached our destination at 11:30am, an hour later than expected. It was hot and sunny. The driver said we should book a table at a particular restaurant as it would be too busy at lunch time. We went exploring in the walled city and made our way down the alleyways where buildings are just falling down and where the workshops are. The paving was smooth which was good for John. Kristell did a bit of shopping but disappeared whilst buying Argan oil which turned out to be poor quality. Lots of filthy places and stinking sewers. The shops were in some cases just traders pitching their wares on the ground and selling spices, snails, wood boxes, clothes etc. Took photo's of the back streets and doorways and anything else that looked remotely interesting.
We went to the restaurant for lunch and got a sea view table, although we did agree it would have been better to find our own choice in the town. It was expensive at about 300Dh/17.00 per head but then we did have wine and Pernod (or Ricard as it is called here). I had creamy veg soup which was tasteless and sea bream with two tiny potatoes and tomato. We were there for too long so had less time to see the sights. Went back to the taxi at 3:30pm and headed for home. The driver said the sunset was worth photographing and as he was looking for the best view of the sun, we had a narrow escape avoiding a collision as a vehicle came at us; we missed the opportunity after all that.
Got to the hotel at 6:30pm and had a drink in the bar, John gave me his mobile to 'phone home. We chatted until 8:30pm and made arrangements to meet in the morning for breakfast and go to Souk al Had for some last chance shopping. No-one is sure if Ramadan is over yet, if it has ended then the souk will be closed but we will have to wait until the morning.
Didn't go out to eat so just had snack, biscuits and mandarins. 'Phoned home and checked a note which came from the Sunway rep. She gave a refund of 220D instead of 430D. I will have to get in touch.
Not sure what time it was when I went to bed.
P.S. Although I am a vegetarian, I don't mind eating chicken over here as I don't think they tinker with anti-biotics or growth hormones as in the rest of Europe.

Saturday 13th

Up at 8:30am. Went down for the usual breakfast. Met up with J and K and got taxi to the Souk. Bought nice little handmade thuja box for 35D, a hat for 15D which, unlike others, did not have a label in it reading "made in Bangladesh" and a teracotta drum with camel skin for 110D, down from 200D thanks to my haggling. John bought a chess set with large wooden box and Kristell bought some shoes. It was very busy and people were mesmerised at John in his wheelchair. A passerby heard Kristell saying we could do with some tea so he kindly led us to a tea shop with a difference - his brothers herbal shop. After the usual demonstration he attempted to extract 280D (17.50) from Kris for herbal tea, jasmine, cedar wood and some obscure oil but John quite rightly refused to pay after almost handing over the money. However, they did agree on 120D (7.50), which was still a lot but Kris was happy. I told them I had sufficient herbal remedies at home and so did not need anything. I could only find one seller of djellaba's in the souk, it looked as though he was a tailor making them to measure and unfortunately the price tag was 800D (50.00), I just thought it would be nice to have a green one as the colour looked good. 
We made our way out of the souk at 2:10pm and got a taxi back to the hotel. There appears to be some fierce competition between taxi drivers, particularly if one is Arab and the other a Berber.
I haven't had any lunch yet so will have to get a move on. Slipped the maid a tip and went in search of a mini-mart to get some drinks; went into one shop and was asked by the owner if I was an Arab as, apparently, I look like one because of the dark hair.
Started heading to a pizza place and got intercepted by a shop keeper who wanted to show me his shop and just have a chat. We went up to the top floor and then I realised it was a herbalist. After all the talking he offered me something for a friends asthma, he gave me a "present from his shop" which was a teracotta pumice stone and dried flower head used for tooth picks. He asked for 220D but I told him that was too much and proceded to leave the shop so we haggled fiercely and I offered 50D but he then reduced his price to 170 then 120 and again 70 but reluctantly took my 50 and cursed in Arabic. We parted company and did not exchange another word, I came out of the shop and forgot about the pizza!
Got back to the room and sat on the balcony, the sun was so bright it was difficult to write. Had a lie down and tried to watch the most interesting program on tv so far, The Weakest Link, but the signal kept disappearing. Did some advance packing. Another tv programme was rather like the X-Factor but for budding imam's, if you can imagine that.
Went to the restaurant and ordered dinner then went back to hotel to change 200D so I could pay the bill without giving too high a tip. Had chicken salad, 4 pasta with different sauces, one chilli, one with prawns. Had ice cream for dessert but it was so cold my head hurt. Got another free fruit cocktail, paid the bill, gave a tip and said goodbye to the head waiter.
Went back to hotel and set the alarm for 7am and went to bed at 9:25pm.  

Sunday 14th

Up at 7:30am, got dressed and put last of the things for packing in the suitcase. Went down for breakfast but there was no sign of J & K. Finished breakfast and went back to room to collect suitcase and travel bag and left them in the lobby. I was just settling my credit card bill at the desk when a very polite man appeared who shook my hand, I hadn't a clue who he was until the desk clerk identified him as our driver.
I went down to the restaurant and had a chat with J & K, they then went to get there belongings as they also were going back to England. Said goodbye to the restaurant staff and desk clerk and off we went. There were two taxi's waiting outside, one for me and the other for John and Kristell.
It was very sunny and warm when we arrived at the airport and because John was disabled we all got to the front of the queue for depositing the luggage. We had a look at the duty free stuff but in was very sparse, I gave my few remaining Dirhams to Kristell who bought something for her sister. There were apparently two other large duty free shops which we overlooked.
We were first to board the 'plane and got front row seats. Didn't bother with pre-pack breakfast as it was the same mush as on the way in. Bought 800 cig's and bottle of brandy and chatted to the chap next to me who said this was the worst ever holiday experience, only because he went on a blind holiday with someone he did not know nd it all went horribly wrong.
Touchdown in Manchester, England was at 3:05pm where it was cloudy, wet and cold. Arrived home at about 5pm and had first cup of tea in 7 days. Will leave unpacking for tomorrow.
 
THE  END       
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