Thursday 23 November

Porridge for breakfast, then we must return to civilisation. We follow the path we came up on two days ago back through the villages to where we left the bus. As we assemble ready to depart, Hillary is missing. Finally, she appears with Jo and Andy. They had seen a bright yellow jacket over on the other side of the valley, and after joking that it must be Hillary, suddenly realised that it was!

Tichka Pass

The mountain road to Marrakech is spectacular. We wind around many hairpin bends, each presenting a new and magnificent view. The road itself is quite an impressive feat of engineering, in places cut into the mountainside, or raised up on a stone embankment. We pass two open-top lorries carrying men and horses, we assume, fresh from filming in the desert.

At Tatterat — a tiny village on the main road — we stop for refreshments. There is freshly pressed orange juice and quite deliciously creamy goat’s milkshake. A small old man stands by his fossil stall on the roadside. He doesn’t seem in a hurry to strike a deal and says he’s too old to bother haggling. As it happens, most of our attention is occupied with the other shops along the high street, to the delight of the shop keepers. Most of the things here are much better value than in the more touristy areas. Only one trader complains — no one is visiting his shop because it is right at the far end of street.

We continue through dramatic scenery, now somewhat behind schedule, until finally the landscape begins to flatten. Cactus plants with broad flat spiky leaves line the road. We reach Marrakech in the mid-afternoon and go straight to the main square, the Place Djemma el Fna so that Andy can give us a brief orientation talk.

Koutoubia Minaret

Our hotel is the Hotel Foucauld, close to the Koutoubia Minaret and not far from the Place Djemma el Fna. It is a rather late lunch. Clare and I manage to grab a sandwich at a café on Bab Aguenaou.

Returning to the Place Djemma el Fna, it is initially something of a let-down — a large square with stalls dotted around and the cacophony-wail of a couple of snake charmers. Even the snakes don’t look very interested. It it’s not busy and the plain tarmac surface makes it look more like a car park. In fact, the main road runs along one side of it with nothing to demarcate the chaotic traffic from the rest of the square.

The souk, starting from the far side of the square, seems to offer more promise and it is not long before I am lost in its alleyways. The traders here are much more pushy and it is hard to make rapid progress in any direction. They are friendly and courteous, but it is sometimes necessary to be very firm in order to get away. Carpets, wood carvings, boxes, clothes, cloth, shoes, metalwork, jewellery, spices, vegetables, live animals — the list is endless.

I come upon several shops selling the Berber drums that I am after, and after looking at several, I settle for a shop with a very helpful and knowledgeable owner who explains the difference between the decorated glazed ‘tourist’ drums and the plain earthenware real instruments, which have much better skins on them. We start at 300 Dh and I finally get the drums for 100 Dh when I begin to walk away. I am realising that my previous tactic of starting at half the price they initially offer was far too generous!

Place Djemma el Fna

We meet up near the hotel that evening and then find a restaurant with a balcony overlooking the Place. It is now much busier than before, and the whole square is bubbling with atmosphere. People sit on long benches around a group of food stalls near the centre of the square. If the aroma is anything to go by, the tastiness is guaranteed. So no-doubt are the bugs.

One of the more popular games is fishing for bottles of soft drinks with a small hoop suspended from a bamboo cane. It looks very easy; the hoop simply has to go over the neck of the bottle. The owner demonstrates it with a deft flick of his wrist. But he has no need to enforce a strict time-limit on us. After nearly half an hour, we have still failed to bag a single bottle between us!