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Making merry in Morocco

The taxi driver was named Marouane. As I studied his bulky frame and thick, greying eyebrows, he flung his rusty C-class in between the throngs of old-fangled scooters with not one ounce of regard, giving off a whiff of hashish with every jerk of his wheel or tug of his beaded gearstick. “Marrakech” he slurred somewhat alarmingly through an equally thick moustache, “is the greatest city on earth, we have everything here, you will see”. And so, in an attempt to do just that, I swivelled on the hot leather of my seat and pushed an already peeling nose up against the glass of the window, observing every inch of crumbling wall and narrow backstreet until suddenly the beige car ground to a halt and Marouane turned to me; “Welcome to the Medina” he grinned toothlessly.

I’d been rambling through a web of backstreets since Marouane had dropped me and my backpack off down a narrow rue. Shortly after I had managed to slam shut my gawping jaw, it came to my attention that I had stumbled into the famous souqs of Marrakech. Almost immediately my susceptible, westernised senses were flung into a dizzying overdrive as the current of these entrancing markets pulled me ever deeper into its bottomless pool of sights, scents and sounds.

For a long while after, I wandered along the yellowy, uneven pathways of the markets, a transfixed, captivated figure amidst the mayhem of the spluttering motos and the shrill cries of the spice merchants. Yet, after only one hour, two bags of nutmeg, three silk scarves and a fistful of dates, the smoky scent of street-side cuisine began to flirt with my sinuses and in the end, the cliché proved too appealing to turn down.

The flocks of locals sipping their mint tea and smoking their sheesha had hooked me from the off, and I didn’t care one bit. In no time, I had sat, ordered and then devoured a delicious Lamb Tagine which cost me but 25 Dirham. Ideally, there might have been an icy Corona on hand to wash it all down, but in Islamic Morocco, beer’s a rarity at the best of times, never mind in a local haunt like this one. No, I would be quite alright with my Fanta Limon for now, thanks.
In English it translates as “Assembly of the Dead”, but when one is faced with the sprawling expanse of the Djemaa El Fna, “dead” is the very last word which springs to mind. Rather, the massive square, dating back to 1062, is positively teeming with life. The countless snake-charmers, acrobats and story tellers present form an eclectic melting-pot of animated entertainment beneath the searing glare of the North African sun. Mingling in seamlessly with these very Moroccan showmen is a snaking, lengthy parade of juice stands. In the pounding midday heat, the cheeky hassle of their vendors will twist and charm your drained arm into a careless submission.

One particular limb-twisting vendor named “Brahim” was the lucky recipient of my parched custom, and as I guzzled down my second Jus d’Orange he eyed me and suddenly asked if I was in Marrakech alone. Although I found this a little odd, I nodded nonetheless, and then a look of wild excitement spread across his swarthy complexion: “Well then I take you out tonight, show you the new Marrakech! Singing, dancing, eating…women, whatever you like!” At first I was sceptical of the youngster, assuming that he would be demanding a handful of crisp Dirham come the night’s end. To this suggestion however, Brahim appeared almost offended, and he immediately reassured me that the offer was one of genuine sincerity. He smiled expectantly to reveal a set of jagged teeth and so the youthful charm, rather than the dentistry, of this fresh-faced local had twisted my arm yet again and it was now harder to resist than a glass of his frosty juice. We would meet at six.   
After a short trip back to my humble hotel room for a shower and a fresh shirt, I re-emerged and headed back to the Djemaa to rendezvous with my new tour-guide. The soft, cool air that came with the arrival of evening was a welcome relief and it was under the sparkling pink blanket of the sky that I found a restless Brahim, waiting in the very same spot where we had met just hours earlier, his black hair slick with gel. Now however, his, and just about every other juice stand in the square had been replaced by vast legions of steamy food stalls, mystical story-tellers and quite simply thousands upon thousands of people. The assault on my senses was launched yet again as it was decided that we would eat at Brahim’s brother’s stall before heading out into Gueliz for some good old-fashioned cavorting.


Pacha Marrakech, “Africa’s biggest nightclub”, is a part of the exclusive club group based on Balearic party-island Ibiza. The intense terracotta walls and medieval archways of the building are able, however, to give the place an authentically Moorish feel, yet this is surely the only thing Moroccan about Pacha Marrakech. From the second that I was inside the enormous dancehall, I felt that I was in an entirely different city, with the hypnotic melody of the gourd flutes replaced by the thumping anthems of Armand Van Helden, and the smoky aroma of char-grilled chicken by the salty scent of European revellers.

Amazed by this sudden reversal of cultures, I approached the sleek, glassy bar with Brahim and ordered a straight Jack, my tour-guide deciding on a Pepsi. We chatted excitedly at the bar for a while, with Brahim telling me how Morocco was becoming more and more of a liberalised Islamic state, something that he said was “great news” for himself. Assuming that the man was a lover of nightlife and something of a party animal, I chuckled and took a greedy glug of bourbon. Then however, his gratitude to the state took on a whole new meaning as out of nowhere his confused boy’s face, all lips and tongue, sailed toward mine through the blinding lasers of Club Pacha Marrakech. Instinctively, I palmed away Brahim’s sweaty forehead and then confessed, with an awkward smile, that I wasn’t “interested”. I then bid my friendly, yet ultimately confused guide a polite goodbye and made my escape through the same tight entrance that I had passed only minutes before, leaving behind the pumping house music and one disappointed juice vendor; I hailed a taxi. 
On my flight home the aircraft cabin lurched from side to side, infusing the thin air with the nauseating smell of complimentary meal. As I sat with my eyes closed, breathing only through my mouth, I recalled how Marrakech, from that colourful wander into the souqs the morning before, to the yet more colourful wander into Club Pacha, had more than justified Marouane’s claim that the city had “everything”. Effortlessly, and without a shred of pretence, the Red City puts others to shame, with its sheer zest, zeal and personality exposing the likes of London and New York as stale, numb, heartless affairs. So as far as “greatest city on earth” is concerned, although not an obvious candidate, you’d certainly be hard-pressed to find a place more vibrant, more diverse and more bursting with life than Marrakech.

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