Rum Sodomy and the Lash

sailing around the world on our yacht, Ruby Rose

Category: Morocco

Two sides of Morocco

When we first arrived in the fishing port of Essaouira, we fell in love. It was mad, vibrant, full of life and colour.

However, after 5 days of constantly battling against the army of tiny flies that were invading the boat, we were ready to leave. Furthermore, after a long weekend of painting and repairing their boats and nets, the fishermen returned to the water on Monday, and by Tuesday the port was a little TOO full of life. Seagulls, cats, not to mention all the fish. It also got to the point where our Moroccan neighbour was constantly asking for beer, money, cigarettes, and, although he had been hugely helpful and we were thankful, our patience was wearing thin. No. It was time to leave.

Essaouira port.

Essaouira port.

However, we made the most of our time there. On Monday, I went for a 3 hour horse ride (while Nick got a cab to the Carrefour and stocked up- bless), which took me down a deserted beach on horseback. It was beautiful and very serene. Of course, I couldn’t walk properly for the rest of the day, but hey. It was worth it.

We also ate out for almost every meal- ostensibly because we were trying to conserve water (there was water available at the port, but only the hardiest of digestive systems could have swallowed it and escaped unharmed), but mainly because there were so many awesome restaurants in Essaouira, and I was keen to find a truly delicious tagine. Happily, I did succeed, but I think we’re both a bit tagined-out now.

So, 5am Tuesday morning found us emerging into our cockpit, coffee in hand, bleary-eyed, ready to leave. The fog was thick, and the lights from the port and breakwater barely penetrated it. We dropped our lines, along with a Maltese boat we were rafted up against, and followed him out of the harbour and into the blackness of the open sea. We followed his light, a small white orb bobbing around an indeterminable distance from us, and hoped that any small fishing boat (there were quite a few leaving the harbour) would be able to avoid us- because there was no way we could see them, since many of them carry no lights and the fog had reduced visibility to about 10 metres.

The moon was just visible, but blurry and indistinct through the fog. The water gleamed faintly, but above it was nothing but dull blackness. It was disconcerting to say the least, and we kept our speed down and studied the radar obsessively.

It was fairly miserable for the first 4 hours. The entire cockpit and deck were soon dripping with water. We had a fine layer of tiny water droplets on our jumpers and hair; it was damp, cold and miserable. However, finally the sun rose and burnt through the fog, revealing a warm, sunny day with not a cloud in the sky. Heartened, we put the fishing line out, and were rewarded some hours later by the biggest fish we’ve caught to date! We ate it that night, pan fried with a little lemon and butter, and boy, it was amazing. We gave quite a bit to our Maltese friend, Peter, and we still have about 3 kg left! Fish tagine tonight, then.

We're eating tonight!

We’re eating tonight!

Of course, when it rains it pours, and at the same instant we caught this amazing bonito, a large pod of dolphins chose to visit us. I spared a few moments to snap some pictures of Nick with his catch, then I raced up to the foredeck to watch the dolphins, leaving Nick to deal with killing and gutting the fish on his own (not that I’m usually an active participant in this activity… my role is more a supervisory one). That done, Nick grabbed the GoPro and joined me on the foredeck. We got some pretty nice underwater footage of some of the dolphins playing under our bow, and I promise to put it up on the website as soon as I can. Last time I tried to embed a video into a blog, it crashed the website for some reason. I’ll need to find another way. In the meantime, it’s up on Facebook. If you’re not my mother, or a friend, and you’re just a random reading this, first of all- hi!! Second, there’s a link to our Facebook and Instagram profiles on the sidebar, if you want to check it out. Like our page, follow us, etc. You know the drill.

Dolphin playtime

Dolphin playtime

Anyway, these dolphins. Wow. We’ve had dolphins many times, but these dolphins must have been in a particularly good mood because the show they put on for us was awesome. They were leaping completely out of the water, as if to say, “Look at me! Look what I can do!” Or, perhaps, “I’m SOOOOO happy!” It was absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately, our GoPro stick broke after we put it under water- it’s obviously not strong enough to deal with 6 knots of resistance! Luckily we didn’t lose the camera- the two pieces remained connected by a flimsy piece of the plastic film covering the pole. Phew.

So, after the dolphins came another type of drama, of the less enjoyable type. Our watermaker has been turning itself off, which is highly, highly inconvenient considering we’re planning to cross the Atlantic next month, and I’ve heard that water’s kind of important to one’s, you know, survival. We’re going to carry as much fresh water as we can, but we’re a 40 foot boat with 4 people on board, so there’s only so much we can take. I’m certainly not about to sacrifice my chocolate supply to find room for more water, and Nick would rather die of thirst than give up his peanut crisps. So, in short, we need that watermaker.

Nick called the manufacturer who wasn’t sure what the problem was- apparently in 8 years, he’s only had 2 faulty watermakers, and there’s a 5 year warranty anyway; ours is 2 years old- but he’s coming out to Gran Canaria for the ARC, and will give us a new unit, free of charge. We were pretty pleased with that, but of course, it doesn’t give us much time to test out the new unit once it’s fitted. There might be an element of crossing our fingers and hoping for the best. Isn’t there always?!

Agadir marina- a world away from Essaouira!

Agadir marina- a world away from Essaouira!

After a long, varied day, we arrived into Agadir literally as the sun was setting. After the smelly, fish-strewn, cat-filled port of Essaouira, Agadir was almost like arriving in a totally different country. In fact, the marina wouldn’t be out of place in southern Spain. It’s new, clean, upmarket, quiet, and attractive. As a final bonus, it’s the cheapest marina we’ve stayed at in all of Morocco. Sadly, the wifi connection is poor to non-existent and the water is still undrinkable. Our tanks are full though, so we’re cool.

We plan to stay here for a few days- or more, if there’s surf, but it looks pretty flat to me at the moment!- and then back to Spain. How quickly the last few week’s have gone!

Sailing Morocco: Essaouira

Mohammedia did not improve with time, and after 3 nights we left as the sun was rising. Although our love for Morocco was undiminished, we felt a little wary of finding another port as disappointing as Mohammedia. With that in mind we decided to skip El Jadida since there didn’t seem to be much to see there, and head straight for Essaouira, which meant an overnight passage. The pilot book suggests not attempting to enter Essaouira port at night, so we were racing against the clock, trying to cover the 200 or so miles in less than 36 hours.

The winds were light to start with and from the south, but they soon shifted around and before long we had our code zero out again, making 6 knots with 8 knots of apparent wind, which made us pretty happy.

You know what made us even happier? Fish. We caught three large bonitos over the day, far more than we could eat the two of us. In fact, our plan was to freeze them, but they were so large, they didn’t even freeze. But we certainly had lovely fresh fish for dinner.

Our overnight passage was incredibly uneventful. In fact, the whole passage was uneventful, primarily because it was Eid and as such, the entire country including the fishermen were at home with their families eating sheep and celebrating. So it was all very quiet on the water, which was lovely.

Essaouira port at sunset

Essaouira port at sunset

We arrived in Essaouira about an hour before sunset, so we just made it! It was windy, blowing around 20 knots from behind, and as we rounded the harbour wall and the entrance came into view our jaws dropped. The small harbour was absolutely crammed with fishing boats, leaving a narrow corridor of water that we tentatively motored down. A mast came into view, and I was like, “Follow that mast!” There was no obvious place to tie up, and we were starting to have a quiet freakout, wondering what we were going to do. Our guidebook said to raft up to the orange lifeboat, but it looked a little tricky and we weren’t keen. However, behind the lifeboat there was a 30ft sailing yacht with a Moroccan man on-board, who spotted us and told us to raft up against him. We noticed that behind him was a 20ft sailing yacht also. We’d found the ‘marina’!

The view from our cockpit!

The view from our cockpit!

After a bit of stressful manoeuvring in the high winds and with huge wooden fishing boats looming nearby, we finally got ourselves rafted up and sorted. We couldn’t believe our surroundings. This place was mad!

As usual, the police and customs were quick to arrive and Nick went with them to get all the paperwork sorted. We were knackered, and were planning an early dinner (of fish) and then straight to bed. However, the universe had other plans. About an hour after we arrived the owner of the 20 footer walked up, coming back from town, with his two friends. We recognised them from Mohammedia, as three young Norwegian guys who are making their way towards the Canaries. They seemed friendly and so we invited them over for a drink, along with our new Moroccan friend, Bismail, the owner of the boat next door.

Before long, they’d spotted Nick’s guitar and requested a song. One of the guys had bought a drum from the market that day, and was keen to test it out, so he disappeared and came back with a guitar and a bongo drum under his arm. Next thing I know, there’s a little jam session taking place in our cockpit, complete with dance moves from the (now rather inebriated) Bismail. It transpired that two of the three Norwegians were part of a reggae band in Norway, and when they gave us a duet performance, I was blown away. They were excellent!

That chart plotter is always photo bombing us!

That chart plotter is always photo bombing us!

Unfortunately we were too tired to entertain them for long, and they’d not eaten yet and were getting hungry, so they clambered off the boat about 9pm and left us to it. It was such a fun evening, and it was a shame they were leaving the next day. The boat was owned by one of them, who had plans to sail to the Canaries, then down to Western Africa and onto Brazil. He was not very experienced, but his two crew-mates were far less so and we were impressed by the adventurous nature of these three guys. It’s one thing to cross oceans and sail to far-flung places in a boat like ours, which is not only comfortable but also has all the essentials- fridge, water maker, automatic steering, etc. But this guy didn’t even have an in-board engine, just an outboard which was mounted precariously off the back of his boat.

Needless to say, we offered them our two extra fish. The seemed inordinately grateful!

The kasbah

The kasbah

The next day we were keen to explore this new town, which looked so interesting from the fishing port. The town is very historic, dating back to antiquity, but the town itself is mainly 18th century and has a very European feel. Perhaps not surprising: the architect responsible for planning and designing the fortress surrounding the medina, as well as the kasbah itself, was French.

Windy Essaouira! View from the 18th century ramparts

Windy Essaouira! View from the 18th century ramparts

Well, it was love at first sight. The city has a real bohemian feel, and many of the tourists here are also of the more young backpacker with dreds and fishermans pants type, possibly with a surf board tucked under their arm. There are some up-market restaurants, but it’s mostly chilled-out Moroccan eateries, complete with bright cushions and silks, or eclectically designed cafes with reclaimed chairs and tables and live music being performed by guys with afros. We weren’t remotely surprised to be approached several times by shady-looking guys saying, “Hey… wanna get high? No? It’s fun. You sure? Okay, goodbye…”

Some local boys playing football on the beach, with the port in the background.

Some local boys playing football on the beach, with the port in the background.

We’ve loved just wandering around, getting lost in the little alleyways, and looking in all the shops and stalls. Everyone sells pretty much the same things we’ve seen in other Moroccan medinas, but it’s far more sanitised here than in Salé for example. Not a goat to be seen. Just plenty of leather bags, espadrille shoes and wooden jewellery boxes or carved animals. Of course, don’t forget the many, many carpet and silk shops, or those selling various argan oil products. But it’s all very chilled and friendly.

We originally planned to stay only a few days, but we’ve decided that we’re in no rush whatsoever to leave!

Sailing Morocco: Mohammedia

Since the marina in Rabat was so secure and inexpensive (by European standards at least), we decided to take the train up to Fés for the night. Originally we had planned on doing this as a day trip, but the train takes 3 hours so I put my foot down. Nick agreed on the one proviso that our accommodation in Fés had a bath. Deal!

So we waved goodbye to our boat, feeling a little nervous since this is the first time we’d left her overnight since leaving Conyer, and got the train to Fés. As usual, we were at the station in plenty of time, but this was unnecessary; the train was 10 minutes late. After the down-to-the-second punctuality of the Spanish train system, this came as a bit of a shock. However, the comfortable first class carriages more than made up for this tardiness. The upgrade from second class was only a couple of pounds (although the total cost of the return tickets was in the region of £15 each), and, not knowing whether we’d get an Indian-style ‘second class’ or a more European standard, we went for first, which turned out to have wide, comfortable chairs- more like armchairs- in 6-seater compartments with air-conditioning so cooling that it was actually a relief to go into the outside warmth.

Beautiful sunrise over the rooftops of Fes

Beautiful sunrise over the rooftops of Fes

We stayed at a Riad called Riad Zamane- heartily recommended- and, once we’d settled in, had some mint tea, and confirmed that, yes, there is indeed a bath in the bathroom, we ventured out to the medina, which is after all the main reason anyone would want to come to Fés.

Fés is a medieval Moroccan town and is famous for it’s sprawling, maze-like medina, which is one of the biggest in Morocco. A local man on the train told us- several times- that there are 9,500 alleyways in the Fés medina. This was right after he started speaking in Arabic to us, and when we answered in French he looked between us with confusion.

(In French) “Aren’t you Moroccan?”

“No…”

“French, then? Your French is excellent.” (This to Nick, obviously. No-one could ever accuse my French of being excellent.)

“Thankyou, but no, I’m English.”

“But, you [meaning me] are Moroccan, aren’t you?”

“No, I’m Australian.”

He nodded slowly, as if needing time to absorb this unexpected news while Nick and I looked at each other, both clearly thinking the same thing: our tans are obviously better than we thought!

Beautiful Moroccan architecture

Beautiful Moroccan architecture

But then the man rallied and started telling us, in great detail, all about Fés and it’s many, many alleyways, how we mustn’t let anyone take us anywhere to offer to show us anything, if we want a guide, get one at the station as they are cheaper, only hire an official guide, they will have a badge, expect to pay 250 Dirhams for one, no more, if we want to buy something we must haggle, it’s expected so don’t worry, how are we getting to the hotel? Oh, a transfer, otherwise there are petit taxis at the station… etc. Eventually he went to have a smoke somewhere (he never returned, who knows what happened) and his place was taken by another man in a suit, who also greeted us in Arabic, with whom we had almost exactly the same speech full of advice for negotiating the medina of Fés. All very friendly here, as I’ve said before. You wouldn’t get this on a UK train.

No Nick, you don't need another musical instrument!

No Nick, you don’t need another musical instrument!

So, into the medina we went. We didn’t bother with a guide, and the only map we had was the one memorised in my head from the Riad (it hung on the wall, and, oddly, they didn’t have any paper copies). However, despite all the dire warnings about getting lost, it really wasn’t too disorientating. There are two main streets that run parallel to each other, with many alleys running off them.

Fes medina

Fes medina

Well, what can I say about Fés medina? In many ways, it was very similar to the medinas of Rabat and Salé, which I’ve already described in my previous post. Add a few geese, many more cats or kittens, and several donkeys into the mix, not to mention the addition of constant attention from (usually) young men wanting to show us around for a few (hundred) Dirhams, as well as many more white faces and the occasional tourist group being herded around like cattle, and that’s Fés. Those working in the shops and stalls were genial, and even the waiters hovering out the front of restaurants, doing the old, “Hola! (yes, we must look Spanish also) Sir! Where you from? Cous-cous? Tagine? English? French? Good food, tasty, good price, please sit….” were quick to leave you alone and always had a smile. In all, although walking through Fés medina wasn’t entirely without hassle, it was all good-natured and we had a very enjoyable afternoon taking in the bustling atmosphere. We even had our first ‘street food’, which was a delicious bread roll stuffed with chips, egg and tomato sauce. Perhaps not what you’d typically think of when contemplating Moroccan street food, but we saw some other bloke with it and thought that it was a far safer prospect that the sheep’s head meat sandwich…. which seemed a popular choice with the locals.
That evening we splashed out and dined in at the Riad. The food was excellent, although I’m yet to have a tagine that totally knocks my socks off… must try harder, obviously.

Fes medina

Fes medina

Fes medina

Fes medina

 

Fes medina

Fes medina

The following morning we spent a happy hour eating pancakes and drinking yet more mint tea at a rooftop cafe in the middle of the medina, and then made our way back to Rabat. Our fridge was empty apart from a few pots of yoghurt and some chorizo, so we succumbed and ate dinner at McDonalds.

The next day we were determined to find a decent supermarket, and so decided to take a taxi to a hypermarket we’d seen from the train the day before. We were rewarded with a clean, large, stocks-everything-you-can-think-of type of supermarket, and stocked up. With a fridge full of meat and a hanging net full of fruit and veggies, we took a last wander around Rabat.

We were struck, again, by how few tourists there were. I say few. I mean, I counted two tourists in the entire day, and that was me and Nick. Walking through the medina, which was a much calmer and gentler paced experience than in Fés, we were completely ignored. We concluded that, although Fés had been a rewarding experience and we’re glad we went, we preferred Rabat and its slow, authentic, yet vibrant and bustling atmosphere. We meandered through the medina’s alleyways, buying a bag of olives here, some spices there (Nick was planning a tagine for dinner, which turned out to be delicious, like everything else he cooks), a couple of bunches of fresh mint and coriander- but the best was saved for last when, just as we were passing through the gate to exit the medina, our attention was drawn to a tiny old lady behind a tiny old table, selling what looked like cookies. We bought a small bag and they were FRIGGING AMAZING coconut macaroons. So good.

The next day we left Rabat and followed the pilot boat back down the river with a sense of sadness at leaving such a fantastic place. We will definitely be back, hopefully by yacht again.

We had a fantastic sail to Mohammedia. The winds were light, but we put out the code zero (a type of sail for sailing in light winds) and made good progress. The sun was shining, but there was a gentle breeze in the cockpit, and we spent the passage reading and drinking tea- just for a change.

Coming into Mohammedia was a little nerve-wracking, not because of the entrance or conditions, but because we weren’t sure there would be space for us. Rabat marina had been rife with rumour that there was no space for visiting yachts in Mohammedia, the source being an Irish yacht that had been turned away the day before. We emailed and got no reply. We tried calling for a full 24 hours before someone picked up the phone, and were finally told that, yes, there was a berth for us. However, when we radioed in upon our entrance, we were told that there wasn’t anything, we had to move on. We insisted that we’d reserved a berth, there was a pause on the radio, and then we were instructed to enter the marina. We were helped into a space that was so narrow, we didn’t think we’d fit- and it was a close thing. But we slid in, with barely an inch to spare (well fendered, obviously), and were, once again, glad that we were able to communicate with the authorities in French.

Mohammedia is, I’m afraid to say, a rather uninspiring town. The pilot book describes it as ‘prosperous and elegant’, and it looks like it’s trying to be… but isn’t, quite. Certainly there are palm trees galore, and manicured gardens around every corner, including a very large, beautifully maintained park not far from the marina. But there are also many apartment blocks part-way through being built, with no evidence of any recent work, and the bars and restaurants all have a rather tacky air to them.

However, it’s not overly offensive, and we’ll stay here a day or two before making our way south once again.

Rabat and Salé

We left Cadiz after breakfast on Sunday to choppy waves and a fair bit of wind- about 15 knots. As Cadiz slowly receded behind us, the wind dropped off to 10 knots and shifted so it was now coming from behind, which was lovely. We tried poling out the jib so we could sail goose-winged, but annoyingly we weren’t quite downwind enough, and the jib kept wanting to backfill, so we ended up just leaving it.

Crossing the Gibraltar straight

Crossing the Gibraltar straight

It wasn’t long before we saw Morocco. Our first glimpse of Africa was very exciting, and we could also see the rock of Gibraltar as we crossed the Gibraltar straight. We were finally leaving Europe! Dolphins joined us to celebrate, which was a bonus since we hadn’t seen them since Biscay. The water was beautifully clear and blue, and we passed the day reading and enjoying the odd nap in the lee berth.

We enjoyed a dinner of bolognese before Nick retired to bed for a quick sleep before his watch at 10pm. I was left to enjoy the sunset by myself. The clouds turned into a dusty paprika and ochre colour above a fiery orb; even the sunset seemed to be celebrating our arrival to this new and exotic country.

I had planned to let Nick sleep (what a loving girlfriend I am!) but he woke up at 10pm sharp and ordered me to go to sleep. I didn’t stick around to argue, and jumped into the lee berth we had set up for sleeping. The aft cabin is, to be honest, not the most comfortable place on the boat to sleep when under sail (or, under motorsail, which is what we were doing at the point- the winds had dropped off completely). The engine is incredibly loud, but not as loud as the bleeding autopilot which is installed right underneath where our heads lay. Additionally, when it’s a bit rolly, you tend to roll around also, since there’s nothing to stop you on a queen-sized bed. So, the lee berth it was.

For those who have no clue what I’m talking about, when I say lee berth I mean our couch (or settee if you’re in the UK!) next to which Nick has installed a removable canvas curtain that creates a little cot. Essentially, you’re prevented from rolling around with the motion of the boat, which makes things very comfortable indeed!

So, in short, Nick and I slept exceedingly well when we were off-watch, which made the whole thing a lot easier. I woke up and did 3am-7am (by which time the sun still hadn’t risen! The stars were lovely though). I had been worried about doing the night watch because in my paranoia I assumed there would be all sorts of boat craft, fishing nets and lobster pots that would be floating around without lights or AIS, but nope. Lots of fishing boats were about, but they were sticking to the 100 metre contour line and also had AIS, so we were able to avoid them easily.

Our first glimpse of Rabat's kasbah, which is situated at the mouth of the river.

Our first glimpse of Rabat’s kasbah, which is situated at the mouth of the river.

The next day we finally arrived into Rabat about 2:30pm. The pilot book said that we needed to call up for an escort down the river, so we radioed the marina. No answer. We tried calling. Not connected. Hmm, what to do? After about half an hour of continuous attempts, we gave up and turned on our 3G to look up the number of the marina. £7 in roaming charges later, we got in contact with them, and they sent the pilot boat out to meet us. Excellent.

Motoring upriver towards the marina.

Motoring upriver towards the marina.

The Rabat kasbah dominated the riverfront, followed by a modern-looking promenade of cafes. Fishing boats were tied up to various pontoons along the river, and we could also see a beach. We couldn’t wait to get off the boat and explore this city.

After following the pilot boat up the river to the marina, we were directed to a waiting pontoon. There was already another yacht there, obviously newly arrived like ourselves, and we both waited for customs and immigration to come and complete the entry formalities. We had heard this was a long and complicated process, but perhaps they had sped things up here in Rabat because the officials (of whom there were about 5) were on and off the boat within 20 minutes. We were then directed to our berths and tied up.

The marina here is very cosmopolitan. It is brand new and surrounded by a new development of apartments, shops and up-market cafes and restaurants. The landscaping is lovely, with rows of potted plants and palm trees along the walkways. It’s a very relaxing, laid back place.

The quiet part of the medina!

The quiet part of the medina!

Our first day in Rabat was spent exploring the medina and kasbah. The kasbah, which dates back to the 12th century, is very picturesque, with blue and white houses and tiny laneways leading who-knows-where. We also stumbled across a beautiful public garden, called the Andalusian gardens- it seems we haven’t quite left Spain behind yet!

 

Rabat kasbah.

Rabat kasbah.

 

We walked back through the medina, which was all a bit mad. It is obviously set up for tourists to a certain extent, because a lot of shops were selling things like teapots, tagines, and a plethora of random nic-nacs, but there was also plenty of workshops making beautifully designed doorways, arches and other woodwork, or perhaps a blacksmith banging something into shape, or a carpet… maker? A guy who makes carpets? Anyway, there were lots of traditional looking moroccan wares, and in stark contrast there were also plenty of shops selling fake nikes, MK bags, clothes, etc. There is also the food market, which was… interesting. A lot of the food actually looked really good, except that it was almost all covered in flies. We kept walking and found a Carrefour. “Excellent! We can stock up in a proper supermarket!” Er, no. The Carrefour was even dodgier than the marketplace- think cockroaches, food on the floor, etc- so we picked up some milk and yoghurt for breakfast, and continued on our way.

Rabat kasbah from the outside.

Rabat kasbah from the outside.

Today we went to Salé. Now, yesterday’s trip to the medina in Rabat was a bit of an eye-opener, but nothing we hadn’t come across before when travelling through Asia. So, today we decided to explore this side of the river, which the tourist map we picked up yesterday didn’t even bother including. Obviously not many tourists come over this way (something I suspect will change when the marina development is completed). Indeed, after several hours in the medina and its surrounds, we didn’t see a single other foreigner.

Walking through the Salé medina was quite possibly the biggest culture shock I’ve ever experienced. Sadly, I didn’t have my camera with me- I’ll just have to go back another day! In the meantime, you’ll have to use your imagination.

The parts of the medina selling shoes, clothes and quite possibly every other household item you could care to name, was one thing. The wares weren’t usually confined to the store itself, but displayed on trestle tables in the street, or simply on cardboard on the ground. There’s also plenty of shops selling dried fruit, nuts and dried herbs, all displayed in beautiful pyramids.

We reached the fresh food section, and, since this was where the action was, continued on through the throngs of shoppers. This was when it got interesting. In a narrow alleyway, people simply spread their produce on the ground, or perhaps on a table if they were lucky. Produce is weighed with old-fashioned scales, cats and kittens sniff around hopefully before being shooed away, flies buzz everywhere, the ground is sodden (with what, I don’t know: it hasn’t rained since we arrived, and probably not for some time before that), a cart laden with a recently butchered animal of some kind forces everyone to move to one side, another cart pushes through, this time with neat piles of fresh bread. We pass pens full of live (but probably not for much longer…) chickens, as well as stalls selling meat of all kinds, not much of it identifiable to my Westernised perception of what qualifies as edible meat. Sheep seems to be popular, in particular sheep heads (which are layed out in neat rows, like all the other meat) and sheep feet (hooves?) which hang from the ceiling. The scent in the air seems to alternate between body odour, cat’s piss, mint and coriander, and fish. The phrase ‘assault on your senses’ seems to be bandied around far too much, but that pretty much sums up the experience.

We finally emerged into an open square selling fruit and veggies, and we walked around the perimeter of the medina and through the more suburban streets. We also stumbled across the jewellery quarter and the, for lack of a better word, IT quarter on our travels. Eventually we found our way back to the marina, where we enjoyed a well-earned smoothie at one of the cafes. No beer here!

So, I realise this is turning into one of my longest posts yet, but I’m not quite done. Allow me to sum up our first impressions of Morocco. In short, I think we love it. It’s a little bit bonkers, and we’re beginning to feel seriously concerned about our chances of buying meat that meets our hygienic requirements. It’s dirty and smelly and all those things. But, it’s also incredibly enchanting and beautiful.

Rabat medina backstreets.

Rabat medina backstreets.

However, the thing that’s blown us away the most has been the pure kindness of the local people. Waiters and shopkeepers sort of have to be kind. It’s expected that when you buy something, you get a warm smile in return. However, it’s the local people- the people passing us in the street- that we’ve been utterly amazed by. We’ve only been here two days, and I already have too many examples to fit in here. But every time we stop and a junction and wonder which way to go, we are immediately offered help by a random passer-by. Today as we walked down a little suburban street a middle-aged gentleman walking past smiled at us in some surprise. He said (in French), “Hello! Have you visited the (insert name of some lovely old house that we’d just come out of)? Yes? What about the Grand Mosque? No? Oh, you must go there. Enjoy! Goodbye, and have a good day!” Then he just kept walking. We’ve had that happen to us at least four times in two days. Just random people spotting us, walking up and telling us the good places to go. Initially, we were not only taken aback, but downright suspicious. In fact, I think that suspicion will be hard to shake off, but we’re trying. We keep assuming that the next thing to come out of their mouths will be a request for baksheesh, or an offer to take us to their brother’s friend’s uncle’s carpet shop or whatever, but that never happens. They just smile, say “Bonjournée!” and walk off, leaving us feeling not a little bewildered.

However, the most touching moment happened today as we were passing a small group of children playing on a street corner. They spotted us, and suddenly grinned at us and waved. “Monsieur et madame! Bonjour!” We laughed and said hello back. Then, I saw a girl out of the corner of my eye following me. She was probably eight or nine. She grabbed my arm, and as I stopped and turned towards her (thinking, bitch that I am, “Is this girl about to try and grab my bag or something?”) she gave me a big, shy smile, then reached up on her tiptoes to kiss my cheek. Then she ran off back to her friends.

We’ll be staying here for quite some time, I think.