My earplugs do their job well in the morning as Paul tells me that he was woken up early by the call to prayer at the mosque just across the street. I didn't hear a thing!
Mohammed has arranged for a local guide to give us a brief city tour after which our time is free until two in the afternoon when we need to head off on the bus to our next stop, the coastal fishing town of Essaouira.
Our guide, Mustapha, turns up and is a bit of a character. He's a large man wearing a traditional long djellaba over his regular clothes. He starts by telling us that he won't be using the microphone on the bus as he is frightened by the sound of his own amplified voice! He laughs a lot, especially at his own jokes.
First stop on our tour is the main mosque. He gives us a quick history lesson in how the original mosque collapsed because it had been built on a waterway and how the sultan subsequently ordered that the architect be executed and his head preserved and displayed for all to see. However, when the sultan started a search for a new architect, not surprisingly, almost over night, there suddenly wasn't one to be found in the city! He laughs a lot through his entire story, his large belly wobbling up and down throughout like a jelly.
We visit various places and end up with a whistle stop tour of the souks. "This tour is just for looking not shopping." he jokily warns us. And boy wasn't he kidding! He scarcely pauses for breath as he rushes through the tightly packed streets of the souks. If anyone pauses to take a picture or look into a shop they find Mustapha vanished off into the distance or even more worryingly out of sight around a corner.
The packed bazaars are colourful and make perfect photo fodder so loads of us get left behind at various stages of our tour. The narrow streets are packed with locals, speeding mopeds, men pulling huge wheelbarrows and even the odd mule or two! All the twists and turns that we have taken leave me feeling a bit lost but I always make sure I pay attention to the next turn that Mustapha takes ahead of us so as not to be left behind yet again!
The tour ends with us being ushered into a local chemist where we're told of all the herbs and spices that they sell and how each can be more effective than Western medicine. The little shop has a hundred brightly coloured jars lining shelves on all the walls and is a photo opportunity in itself. They have medicines against acne, herpes, spots and other infections of the skin alongside spices to cook fish, vegetables or meat!
Or how about: Infusions for the loins and bladder - Acts to reinforce the musculature of the bladder reduce calculations in the loins?! (sic)
Well, almost everyone bought something. I got a three for two deal on mint tea which came in packets of something that looked like you would smoke them rather than pop in hot water! Thankfully the smell was quite obviously minty so a situation where I would have to answer awkward questions in customs shouldn’t arise!
We leave the shop with bags laden with all manner of weird and wonderful goodies. Well, to be honest it wasn't too expensive and like items in the UK would probably cost a lot more but the chemist would have been a happy man and I wondered if Mustapha would be getting a commission!
We were then shown back to the main square and that was basically the end of our tour. My stomach was rumbling so we all decide to find somewhere on the square to eat. Mohammed and Mustapha recommend an air condition restaurant on one of the side streets but really fancy eating something a bit lighter somewhere where we can do a bit of people watching too.
This turns out to be a lot harder than we had at first thought. The waiter at the first place we try beckons us upstairs into a cramped low-ceilinged room and when we walk out sits us by the kebab cooker outside which ends up grilling anyone who is sat by it too!
Then six of us sit down outside a more promising venue two to a table only for the owner to grumble about us using up too many tables and threatening to take one of them away from us. We counter-threaten to walk and he seems to back down for a minute or so before stupidly taking the table away from us and leaving us cramped around two. That's the last straw for us and the group gets up in unison with the owner looking on dumbfounded.
"Well we told you we would leave if you took the table away, so why are you looking so surprised. Now you have no customers!” I tell him as we walk off. Later on I spot with some cruel satisfaction that he still has no new customers.
The whole group splits up at this point and Paul and I end up going back to the first place and enjoying a nice sandwich washed down with a coke whilst watching the world go by. After this we explore the souks and Paul haggles to buy a fez for what we both think is probably too much but it's for a friend for whom we always buy silly hats on our holidays.
I'm on the lookout for a nice rug, so before heading into a shop that I spotted on our earlier tour, I take off my watch, sunglasses and cap to remove any obvious signs of wealth that will make getting a good price harder and then manage to persuade that seller that I'm a poor student who can't go much above the budget that I have set myself.
I think that I got a good deal at the end and the seller looks on annoyed as I take out my credit card to pay. "You pay credit card?!" he says, "That will cost you more!" I don't really budge much and I leave with him not even offering to shake my hand at the end. Thinking back, I have no idea whether being annoyed was just a ploy by him to make it look like I had got a good deal or whether or not I had indeed haggled well and got a better deal than most!
But I like my new rug and I guess that's all that counts in the end!
We still have a bit of time to kill and we reward ourselves with a tasty three scoop ice-cream each for under a pound. Yum!
Then it's back to the bus and our three hour journey West towards the coast and Essaouira. We will spend one night there before heading back into Marrakech for our final night and then the flight back to the UK.
It's early evening by the time we get there. We glimpse a long beach, port and the high city walls that surround the town. A hot shower later we head out to explore further.
We wander around a bit and find our ways onto the city walls and catch one of the most amazing sunsets that I have ever seen! The colours of the sky, sun and the contrast with the dark rocks and splashing surf below are extraordinary! Paul starts snapping away on his compact camera whilst I rue the fact that I have left my more bulky SLR back in the hotel. I can't take it much longer and run back to the hotel to just about make it back in time to catch the end of the sunset. The pictures are still amazing, though I do wish that I has simply taken my camera with me in the first place.
We walk down to the port where locals are selling their fresh fish and see the hundred or so seagulls flying above trying to get a piece of the action hoping that none of them feels like relieving themselves at the moment that we are walking past!
Paul and I check out the local cafes and restaurants for somewhere nice to eat but are turned away from the place that we decide upon as we are told that it is by reservation only and they are full up. I end up having a cheeseburger (of sorts) in the restaurant outside of our hotel whilst Paul has some calamari which he also liked.
Then we make our way up to the rooftop terrace of the restaurant that we had originally tried to get into. Up here there's just a bar and we start to wonder where everyone else in the group had got to as we hadn't bumped into anyone else on our travels. Reading the entry for this bar in Lonely Planet afterwards, we find out that this was the trendiest place in town. It's a bit chilly so high up though so we have a few drinks and are just about to leave when four of the others turn up. It turns out that they had been eating at the restaurant below and they'd had two spare seats that we could have taken. Oh well! They even had a belly dancer down there! *sigh*
We natter on for a few more drinks, (though it’s all a bit much for one of our group, aged 31, who naps off!) and knowing that we all have enough alcohol in our systems to fall asleep straight away we all head back to the hotel ready to explore the town and beach further the following morning.