I am not desperate for a lie-in since Clare got the double-bed and I got the floor. Must remember to ask Andy for a twin-bed room next time. Breakfast consists of boiled eggs, bread, and apricot jam (yum!) and then Andy briefs us on our first day. We have a central kitty to cover various expenses and tips (an important aspect of life in Morocco Andy informs us), which seems like a good idea. In fact we are all so keen to contribute that Andy, who hadn’t anticipated a career as a security courier, has to ask some of us to hold off until later.
We go first to the Hassan II mosque, built over the sea on huge concrete pillars. It is one of the few mosques in Morocco that non-Muslisms may enter, and is the third-largest mosque in the world. It was built by public subscription in the early 1990s and is a monumental and imposing though rather sombre and heavy building. In complete contrast, our guide is very amusing and quips about all the mod-cons — the colossal electrically powered brass/titanium doors at the west end of the building, the 360-speaker PA system blended into the rich architecture, and the opening roof. The latter slides apart in two pieces to expose the interior to the sky on special celebration days. Underneath the mosque are public baths (Turkish and Moroccan) as well as a large car park.
For lunch, eaten outside in a cool courtyard, a beef kebab (brochette) with rice and chips hits the spot nicely. Nineteen is admittedly a large group, and perhaps not unexpectedly, the dishes arrive haphazardly, with some main courses arriving before starters.
There is little to detain us in Casablanca and we continue to Rabat, the administrative capital of Morocco, to visit the ruined mosque at the mausoleum of Mohammed II, and the Hassan Tower. The minaret terminates abruptly, as if cut with a cheese slice, at the point where work stopped after the death of its originator, El Mansour, in 1199. All that remains of the mosque are the pillars, standing in neat rows like trees in an orchard.
A short drive takes us to the neighbouring town of Salé for a walk around the old quarter. We enter a maze of narrow and steeply winding alleys between painted blue and white-washed houses. At the top of the hill on a square overlooking the bay a group of boys are playing boule.
Our final destination today is Mèknes, a hundred miles inland to the east of the capital. We follow good roads away from the coastal plain and into gentle hills as dusk falls. The engineering from the bridges to the road signs betrays a strong French influence, strangely familiar yet disconcertingly alien due to the Arabic script on the signs.