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Its people are friendly, too. On my last evening here, a squat man in his fifties pulls up in a delivery van as I try in vain to hail a little red cab. “You go to Old Town?’’ he queries, dashing around to open the door before either myself or my four companions can even answer. He looks far too enthusiastic to be untrustworthy, so we pile in. Immediately the back seat gives way, and we are reclining awkwardly among a haul of computer monitors and TV screens in the boot. We collapse into a fit of giggles and cannot stop. The rear-vision mirror is skew-whiff and the man drives with worrying abandon.

We enquire about what he does for a job and, in French, he utters something about being a part-time delivery driver. Then he pauses, and in English, blurts, “I’m a Berber taxi!”. We take this to mean an illegal cab, but by this stage we’re heaving far too much with laughter about our bit-parts in this comedy sketch to care.

The driver enjoys this, too, and with his foot still firmly on the throttle, turns to look at us. “C’est magnifique,” he beams joyously. We wish he was paying as much attention to the traffic. Nevertheless, we arrive at our destination, having had one of the most enjoyable interactions with a Fassi yet.

The following day, we veer off the tourist trail, 40km south of Fes, to the village of Bhalil. Here, the hands of time have also got stuck. Villagers are turning out for the weekly market, from which I spot two boys wielding a bucket stuffed with a cow’s head. Still nothing is wasted.

We’ve come here to meet Lalla Aicha, an 86-year-old widow who lives in a cave. It’s a rare dwelling, only a few of which have been carved out, among regular houses, here at the foothills of the Atlas mountains. Its elderly owner bounds from a doorway with outstretched arms and multiple kisses for all 10 of us, then invites us into her dome-shaped pad for mint tea, or, as locals like to call it, ‘’Moroccan whiskey’’. They‘re the only words Lalla Aicha knows how to say in English. Mohammed tells us it’s common for a Moroccan to drink 25 cups a day – usually with a fearsome amount of sugar. ‘’It’s good for healing, it’s good for warming, it’s good for refreshing and, some say a good …’’ he pauses for dramatic effect ‘’… aphrodisiac’’. I choose to believe Lalla Aicha drinks it because it’s refreshing.



We take a seat in her cave and she dances over to us with a bucket of water on her head. This granny is phenomenally strong – a result of her 25 cups a day, perhaps?

My last few days are spent in Marrakech, and not even cosmopolitan Casablanca could have prepared me for its grandiose sprawl. The souk-filled medinas inside its dusty pink walls, along with sweeping palm-tree-lined boulevards and glass-fronted shops, really smack you in the face.

I enter Djemaa el-fna, the main square, and it’s like a carpet has been swept from under my feet. Chaos reigns.

Steeling myself, I take on a gauntlet of snake charmers, donkey carts, horse carriages, castanet-clanging water sellers and turbaned potion-makers. I get the jitters when I see that a monkey with an arse shaped like a balloon – in a dress and a dog collar – clocks me, so I dart to the right. Here, I encounter a row of orange-juice vendors, practically throwing it at me to try – or buy. As I march on, a woman wearing a hijab and pyjama pants grasps my arm.

“Hello madam, you want beautiful henna for your hand?” I refuse politely, and continue to charge into the guts of the square, like a pinball shunting from one encounter to the next, trying to soak up the atmosphere, but avoiding the hawkers. Despite the cacophony, the melodic muezzin rises above it all in a call to prayer.

After two days in Marrakech, I yearn for a reprieve and find it in the whitewashed fortified coastal town of Essaouira. The Unesco-listed town and fishing port has stunning ocean views and a warren of tiny shops and stands to explore. I resist a camel ride along its curved shore and instead make a beeline for the seafood market, haggling on a price for a plate of scampi, whiting and king prawns for a fiver. Simply slapped on the grill, it proves delicious.



I catch myself in a sun-slackened stupor, and wonder if it’s the sea breeze that has taken the edge off hawkers in Essaouira. But then, I’m offered weed six times in succession.Nothing may get wasted further north, but it seems down this way, doing just that is encouraged. I’d give my kingdom to escape on one of those rubber-soled donkeys from Fes now, but instead make do with my own feet, wondering which adventure I’ll bounce into next.

Rebecca travelled with Imaginative Traveller, which offers Moroccan adventures from 8-15 days, from £650pp.  imaginative-traveller.com

How to do it

GETTING THERE: Ryanair flies direct to Marrakech from £181 return. (ryanair.com). Fly to Casablanca with British Midlands International from £103 return. (flybmi.com)
WHEN TO GO: Travel outside the peak tourist season, July/August, to avoid crowds and heat.During winter, from November to March, it can get cold and rainy, especially in the Atlas mountains.
CURRENCY: £1 = 13.3 Moroccan dirhams
ACCOMMODATION: A double room and breakfast in Ryad Naila, in Fes, costs £22.75pn (hostelbookers.com). In Meknes
a double room and breakfast at Riad Yacout costs from £34pn (expedia.co.uk). Riad Omar in Marrakech is £40pn including breakfast (riadomar.com)
SEE: visitmorocco.com

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