Anyone who's read a Wilbur Smith novel (and most of you have judging by the size and quality of his personal wine cellar near Cape Town) will know that Africa is a continent of romance and high adventure. It is a fact that hardly anyone visits that particular continent only once. Nearly everybody returns. Ask anyone, it steals your heart.
I remember standing as a seventeen year old at Europa Point, Gibraltar gazing out across the choppy straits at the hazy, rugged Rif mountains of Morocco less than twenty kilometres away. There were adventures to be had beyond those arid mountains - the wild animals, the incredible variety of cultures, the scenery, the vast plains, the deserts, the mountains. I wanted to see it all, but where t0 start?
Well, Marrakech as it happens. I went with my mother on a chartered day trip organised for the families of Gibraltar's RAF personnel. We were to fly south across the Rif and Atlas mountain ranges in a creaky old Viscount piloted by a former (and equally creaky) world war two Spitfire pilot. He used to take great pleasure in alarming his passengers by announcing -
"We're about to make out first attempt at landing. Please fasten your seat belts" every time he made the final approach to Gibraltar's notoriously difficult and rather short runway. But that's another story.
Marrakech was hot, hazy and hectic - and very red. All the buildings are red, the earth is red. We spent most of the afternoon in the Djemma El Fna (The Meeting Place of the Dead.) Its a huge square brimming with food stalls, snake charmers, acrobats, boxing matches, water sellers in garish traditional outfits, donkey carts - their drivers yelling "Balek! Balek!" (Look out. Look out.) as they ploughed through the crowd.
Then there was the souk - a labyrinthine market spilling through dozens of snaking, narrow alleys, a thorough assault on the senses. More food stalls, carpet shops, aromatic sandalwood carvings and camel leather souvenirs cascading from shopfronts. The tannery - what a smell, they use sheep urine apparently.
Then finally back on the bus, my mother chased by a man brandishing a large, rather cross cobra insisting that she pay him for a sneaky photo she took while she though he wasn't looking. Back on the ancient Viscount and home - totally exhausted by the whole experience, but with an enhanced hunger for more African adventures.
INTREPID TOURS - COLOURS OF MOROCCO 15 DAYS FROM $1670 PER PERSON
Experience medieval Morocco in Fes, Discover the ruins of one sultan's Versailles dream in Meknes, Have a camping adventure on the sandy dunes of the Sahara, Have lunch with locals in a kasbah, Trek through the impressive Todra Gorge, Relax with mint tea in remote Imlil, Kick back in the stunning coastal town of Essaouira, Indulge your senses in the souqs of Marrakech, Explore the fortified city of Ait Benhaddou.
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