Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Walls of Meknes

Inside Dar Al Jemai
Imagine being so untrusting of your own tribal people that you import more than 10,000 slaves from Sub-Saharan Africa to serve as your army. Then imagine a building so vast that it housed 12,000 horses for them to ride with, next door, a huge cool granary built of stone with no cement only clay plaster to store a years worth of feed for both horses, their slaves and grooms (one of each per horse), the army and the city populace. Within the granary, ten wells supply water to a vast reservoir across from the building. Imagine being so fearful of your enemies that everything - the city boundaries, each of the several royal palaces - is surrounded with walls several feet thick, many feet high. Sounds impossible? This was Meknes at the end of the 17th century, Sultan Moulay Ismail's capital.

Even today despite earthquakes, the walls and many of the buildings are still in place, a monument to Moulay Ismail who, depending on your point of view, was either a tyrant or a hero. He freed Morocco from the Spaniards and the English (Tangier) and kept the Ottaman Empire at bay on Morocco's Algerian border. He fed his city when it was besieged by other Berber tribes and provided wives and food to his slave army so they would bred future soldiers - the Black Guard were at their peak 150,000 men. He also had the architect of the beautiful Bab Al Mansour executed when the poor fellow admitted during a visit by Moulay Ismail that he could have built a better gate. Moulay even sent to the Sun Kings court an offer of marriage for Louis' daughter Marie. An offer which was refused.

A Dar Al Jemai ceiling
We - Kevin & I, Gordon & Elise from C-Lise II - took an early train from Salé arriving in Meknes two hours later at 09:30, way before most of the city was up and around. A taxi took us across the river and up into the old town, a Unesco World Heritage site. The short trip gave us our first sight of the fantastic walls as we drove between them for several hundred metres - just two vast terracotta coloured walls separated by a narrow road, just wide enough for cars to pass and two pavements. Meknes main square after the huge expanse of Jemaa Al Fna in Marrakesh, was modest in size but surrounded by 20 foot high walls. Behind us Bab Al Mansour with its perfect Arabic arch and beautiful tile work and carving, on the left tourist restaurants with acres of chairs, tables and umbrellas, on the right a long plain wall topped by terraces of restaurants and homes behind, ahead the first of our planned things to do, the Dar Al Jamai museum. It was open and we were warmly welcomed.

The opulent Dar Al Jemai saloon
The museum was founded in the 1920's after the house had had a stint as a military hospital but had originally been built as a villa for the wealthy Jamai family in the 19th century. At least two members of the family were government ministers or Viziers. Upstairs several rooms have been furnished as it would have been in that period - our guide said it was for the Sultan's harem but it was more probably a family saloon, with low sofas, opulent tiling and large cosy rugs, stools and cushions. A couple of ornate incense burners not over large and needing a polish, some side tables and a large chandelier completed the interior decor, looking every bit as busy as a posh Victorian drawing room of the same era! The museum exhibits arts and crafts of Morocco with a lot gorgeous embroidery for Elise and I to ooh and ahh over but the house is the star. Though the tiling is a bit chipped and battered it is still amazing as is the carved plasterwork and the painted ceilings. Minimalist cool white interiors have nowhere near the appeal of this blaze of colour.

Meknes Alleyways
Afterwards we wandered out into the souks looking for but failing to find the Meknes embroiderers though we did find an old guy making the finest wool cloth on an ancient loom and the textile market. Elise purchased a teacosy and accoutrements embroidered in the two sided stitching that the RC nuns of Meknes teach orphan girls - the simple pattern worked mostly in cross stitch is exactly the same on both sides of the cloth. We also had a basic demonstration of Damascene work being done - fine silver wire hammered into burnished iron then polished to produce a smooth silver inlay with the piece then fired to turn the iron black - fascinating, we did not succumb to the sales tactics though.

Weaving fine wool cloth
Bab Al Mansour

A bit of the walls

The reservoir

One of the ten wells - Kevin & Gordon

Stables for 12,000 horses
Another horse and carriage ride provided us with a rapid tour of the main sites of Meknes, our driver cum guide stopping off at Moulay Ismail's tomb and the granary and stables so that we could explore them. The ride also included many of the walls and he pointed out the aquaduct that carried the water into the medina from the reservoir when needed, today planted with shrubs and small palms. At one point we found ourselves on a narrow road (our carriage only just fitted) on the outside of a wall with a steep drop into a valley below. In amongst the tall reeds was a tiny farm with cows, sheep and goats grazing on seemingly dried grass. Olives and figs grew along the embankment with the trees catching on the carriage canopy as we passed. These farm buildings right in the middle of the city were built of reed, corrugated iron and blockwork. This is Africa, but after the modernity of our marina and the grubby streets of Rabat it is still a shock to be reminded that Morocco a third world country though we know shanty towns exist even in Salé and can be seen from the tram on a trip to the supermarket.
Our lunchtime view
After a late and long lunch (Harira soup, Pigeon Pastilla's followed by fruit and patisserie) on a roof top terrace overlooking the city we started to head back towards the station. The first distraction was Meknes Museum, nestled under the walls close to Bab Al Mansour, not particularly interesting for its exhibits yet still another fine 19th century villa. Less opulent than Dar Al Jamai but with its large courtyard surrounded by single story buildings and working fountains interesting enough. Then down the street, closed to traffic whilst both pavements were under reconstruction - where else would pedestrians, cyclists, moped riders and workman be dodging round a JCB removing tarmac?  A young man was cutting the road surface with a grinding tool - no hard hat, no ear defenders and no eye protection; we gave him a wide berth.

Fountain in Meknes Museum
The pavement works continued up the hill in the nouvelle ville past Pizza Hut and Mac D's almost as far as the turning for the station. After all the walking the four of us were glad to be able to sit at the Petit Gare cafe across from the station and rest our feet. Our street side seats were conveniently placed so that the big sign board announcing train departures in the station building opposite could be read with hardly a movement of the neck!

The train was on time, we boarded in some confusion for the first class carriages were differently laid out to any we'd ridden in before - open carriages with airline style seating rather than the old fashioned French ones with their "compartiment"so the seat numbers booked didn't all exist. Never mind there were not many passengers on the train and we soon spotted four seats around a table to make ourselves comfy for the journey back. The countryside inland between Meknes and Rabat is very green with lots of farming - falaj irrigation systems like we'd seen in the Middle East together with more modern rotating sprinklers. Vegetables, grapes, citrus fruits and more plus acres of eucalyptus - we wondered whether Australia should send over some of their Koalas! Before 8pm were the crew back on board Temptress needing only a light snack before an early night after our huge lunch and two large poulet sandwiches from the catering trolley on the train which we shared.
Don't think any films have been shown here for sometime!
PS: I found this interesting piece on Moulay Ismail whilst investigating what to see in Meknes: On the trail of Sultan Moulay Ismail

Sunday, 20 October 2013

A Sunday Afternoon Bike Ride

Salé potteries

A small stack of pots

Spot the black bird - a Glossy Ibis?

The Skipper bravely heading off road

Storks wading in the marsh


A village on the outskirts of Salé

Storks obviously don't mind live electric cables

Afternoon tea on the Peniche
moored upstream of the bridge and the marina
Tour Hassan from the Peniche

Swells and NARCs

Help we're trapped!

Weather next wednesday
Actually we aren't trapped yet but next week we probably will be. It is looking like the entrance to river will become untenable. The Bouregreg has a bit of a bar and the entrance faces west, next stop North America. Out there in the Atlantic an autumn storm is brewing, moving north east towards Biscay rolling over the Azores high which in turn is a bit south of its usual position. So there will be strong southerly winds backing to a more moderate westerly off the Moroccan coast most of next week the net result of which will be swell... lots of it breaking on the bar! Great for Moroccan surfers but it means that the harbour will almost certainly be closed with us inside. We've yet to discover quite how high the swell needs to be for the harbour master to make his decision but it is forecast to be 2 or 3m high (it can reach twice that later in the winter) so we are assuming we won't be permitted to leave.

Busy marina
Meanwhile life in Rabat goes on, yesterday spurred by the weather and the lure of a swimming pool at the yacht club in the next port down the coast most of the yachts with children on board left - six or seven boats, a mix of monohulls and catamarans. Mohammedia is our intended next stop too but as it is a tiny port with little room for a large flotilla we'll bide our time, we are in no hurry, though with the swell forecast we did briefly consider leaving too. Our immediate neighbour a French yacht with a delivery crew also joined the exodus, heading for the Canaries. The rest of us continue to relax in the sun and join the round of sundowner cockpit parties swapping cruising tales.

This lovely S&S 40 footer from 1957 is for sale
Eid is over so hopefully come Monday the shops will have restocked and we can reprovision. We found out the hard way that Eid here is very different from the Middle East - everything except the trams stopped on the day itself and since Wednesday most businesses and shops have been closed. The supermarket shelves were almost empty of fresh food on Friday afternoon - chicken was the only meat on offer in Marjane and their vegetables were even more tired than usual. Fortunately we had supplies to see us through but today or Monday we must find some veg, milk and meat!

Almost all the boats that have passed through the marina in Rabat since we arrived are here because they are hanging around outside of the Canaries for either reasons of cost (marinas there are very expensive and safe anchorages few and far between) or because the time is not yet ripe for crossing the Atlantic. Anyway there are five or more rally fleets gathering in various Canary Island ports in readiness for November or early December departures - with between one and three hundred boats apiece that is a lot of full anchorages and marinas.  We can wait until it is a bit more peaceful.

Probably the most well known rally is the ARC which this year has two flotillas one heading via the Cape Verdes and one going direct to St Lucia. The cruising community here has christened itself NARCs - Not the Atlantic Crossing Rally - there are quite lot of us, something like fifty boats have reached  Rabat since we arrived of whom only two or three have been flying rally flags or owned up to be joining one or other of them. Some stay like us for ages, others only a couple of days to break their passage from the Med to the Canaries. And, of all of the crews we've met, only Temptress is heading for Brazil, the Caribbean is going to be very crowded this season.

So whilst we are hanging around we plan a few more train trips to other Moroccan cities - Fez or Meknes anyone?

Sunny skies

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Supermarkets of the world....

Bananas and grapefruit , Chellah
Beginning to wonder how much a of a link there might be between the contents of supermarket shelves and the local psyche... for example in the UK several aisles are given over to ready meals - are the locals that impatient for food? Here in Morocco what has bemused us are the shelves of boxes of processed cheese, you know those little cheese triangles we loved as kids but as adults find slimy, oozy and slightly repulsive not to mention rather tasteless, give me a good oozy Camebert anytime!

In Dubai the supermarket shelves reflected the fact that the population originates from all over the world - not just fruit and veg flown in but biscuits, coffee and mayonnaise, shampoo and showergel and virtually everything in between. Whilst our local Al  Jezeera in Bahrain had a definite North American slant, not surprising  since there is a huge US Navy base nearby.

There are three supermarket near the marina;  Carrefour with its generous sprinkling of supplies from France is a taxi ride away, Marjane a home grown version, is at the end of the tram line, then there is Ascima, a much smaller store located a short walk away underneath Salé railway station with much the same sorts of things on the shelves minus the clothing, plastic wares etc. All three offer rather tired vegetables, much better to use the market or stalls in the local medina. Fortunately they all do have a small butchery counter which we prefer to the fly ridden market stalls in the medina.

There are few ready meals on offer (not that I'd buy them) unless you want tins of tuna and bean salad or a pizza and a very tiny frozen food section with mostly veg and ice cream. But there is always an aisle of flour - never knew so many types existed - patissserie, bread, fine, coarse and more. Large sacks to smaller more familiar bags. This array somehow explains all the bread making activity we see going on in the medina; round discus' (or should that be discii?) of bread are for sale everywhere and crepes can be bought hot off the griddle.

Not only does the boxed cheese proliferate but so also processed meat in plastic sausages - shelves and shelves of the stuff and even the deli counter is not immune- that is virtually all they have on offer. It is referred to as "mortadella" but bears no relation to the original processed pork sausage from Bologna, the product on offer is halal and therefore chicken, turkey or beef based.

We often buy some cooked meat to have with a salad for lunch or in sandwiches so when in one store they were offering tastings of some new brand the skipper decided to try it. He was warned by his first mate not to but he gave it a go anyway and was not impressed. Worse than luncheon meat was the verdict! Definitely not a food to be added to the transatlantic provisioning list no matter how good its shelf life might be.

Presumably all this processed boxed/wrapped stuff means there is a lack of refrigeration in many local homes as it surely can't be a reflection on the tastes of the locals whose tanjines, grilled fish and couscous dishes are brimming with flavour and texture or can it?

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Boat Jobs

Cleaning windows
 Cruising so they say is really about fixing boats in exotic places. Here in Rabat there is no shortage of either jobs or the exotic. In the morning before the sun gets too high or in the early evening crews are tootling around on their decks doing bits even if it is just washing off the red dusty sand that seems to cover everything or simply hanging out the laundry.

Laundry day for Temptress was yesterday. Today we made a determined effort to cross off some of the jobs on our boat list which is surprisingly short at present with only twenty or so entries. Kevin washed around all the hatches, the inside surrounds were a bit black with that mould that grows on dust gathering in the nooks and crannies. Keeping the porthole seals clean means they form a more watertight closure at sea (no leaks) so is a regular task. Meanwhile on the foredeck I stitched in place the replacement protective leather cover on the pulpit. I'd cut it out yesterday. Afterwards shut inside whilst Kevin hosed down the decks I sent a couple of emails either requesting info on future ports or sharing with fellow cruisers info we'd been given on anchoring in the Canaries.
New leatherwork

We've been quite constructive during our time in Rabat. Kevin's planks purchased from a Salé wood merchant, have now been turned into diesel can holders though we've yet to find reasonable quality cans. The plan is for three cans of fuel to be tied on to the planks on each deck - six times twenty litres in all means a further thirty hours of motoring. All part of our transatlantic preparation as our route to Brazil will almost certainly take us into the ITZ more commonly known as the Doldrums. There may also be space for two cans of water as an emergency supply. A third plank is to become two fender boards for when we have to raft up against fishing boats or lay against a rough quayside; by putting a board between the fenders and the object it helps protect both them and the boat from damage. For the landlubber fenders are large inflated plastic sausages that cost a fortune each but tied along the guard wires prevent direct contact between the boat hull and whatever we are alongside so save a lot in labour intensive hull polishing and maintenance. There is at least one port in Morocco further down the coast that will require them if we call in as Temptress will be moored with the fishing boats.

Port side diesel can support

Spare plank - to become two fender boards
The same source has also provided us with an extension to the galley work surface. Many years ago I purchased a huge expense a teak chopping board designed to fit in the sink recess making the space a useful place to prepare food or rest a hot saucepan. However there are two sinks so I have long wanted a second board to double the work surface but wasn't prepared to spend £75 on another lump of teak. In one of those light bulb moments I realised that the hardwood planks Kevin had purchased were rubberwood, ideal for a chopping board. Back we went to Rashid the wood merchant, his shop is small with two narrow aisles between vertical stacks of timber of all sort, below ground level underneath the office at the back are various cutting machines. He supplies the furniture makers in town and there is a wonderful scent of cedar and other woods. We presented him with our well worn teak board, could he help? Yes he could supply the timber and knew someone who would make one for us. No idea of the price but it wouldn't be expensive and would be ready tomorrow, in fact when we collected it the price was 150 dirhams. Another Moroccan bargain!
Galley sinks are now one big work surface

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Moroccan Leather

Protective patch on the sprayhood
 Morocco is renowned for its leathergoods - many visitors take home handbags, purses, wallets, belts, hats or bracelets purchased in the souk. If you poke around you'll find behind the souk stalls workshops tanning and dying hides, cutting or embossing leather with gold leaf and sewing pieces together; the whole process from raw skin to finished goods can be seen though not necessarily in the same place.

Having leather items on board a sailing boat is not a good idea. They are prone to mould in the salty damp air so have to be watched and frequently aired. I learnt the hard way, a small leak through the deck found its way into my hanging locker and thence to a cloth bag containing the remnants of a life time of handbag collecting - result three mould covered lumps but leather is extremely durable. Despite what the manufacturers may have instructed a good wash under a cold marina tap and a bit of a soak in Vanish then fabric conditioner followed by some time in the sun restored them to a usable, sweet smelling state once more. Fortunately none of my bags are large or suede.

Turks Heads on the central spoke
On deck however leather is extremely useful as its toughness makes it ideal for preventing wear or simply offering comfort. Temptress' wheel sports a traditional leather cover to keep hands comfy.It was replaced several years ago by Lambourne Leather and mainly because it has been protected from the extremes of UK weather by a canvas cover when not in use, is still as good as the day it was done albeit a little faded. The sprayhood has leather patches on either side where the jib sheets pass to protect the canvas and a long strip sewn across the rear edge of the top where everyone leans when standing to look ahead.

Forward at the pulpit (the stainless steel frame at the bow) leather covers the taped pins that hold the guard wires in place to prevent the metalwork wearing away the genoa. These pieces, one either side of the bow regularly need replacing, lasting sometimes a year occasionally two and our supply of leather, scraps from when the sprayhood was refurbished a few years ago, was almost depleted.

View of the pulpit

Port side is ok for now
Starboard side worn out leather
We are in Morocco, leather is plentiful so it was time to go shopping... in a little alley off Rue des Consuls in Rabat's Medina we found a tiny shop scarcely wider than a door but deep. Hanging outside were a couple of large leather skins dyed green - fortunately they were too thin for our use otherwise I think the skipper may have bought one. I persisted with pigeon French "forte", "bruin", "blu" (brown or blue being the preferred colours) and the worn cover I'd brought as a sample. The shopkeeper pulled out and rejected various rolls of hide from a floor to ceiling high stack at the rear of his narrow shop. Then smiling he brought two forward to the half door across the entrance that served as a counter.

The mid brown thick leather smelt wonderful and was exactly what we needed. How much? Kevin tried to barter then faltered as his brain whirred through a quick conversion to pounds and realised that it was a tiny price. So after a quick visit to the ATM to get the cash we paid a grand sum of three hundred dirhams (£22.70) for a whole hide (You can buy a similar one online in the UK for about £100, certainly that was the price of the hide used to refurbish the sprayhood several years ago). The plastic carrier bag was heavy to carry home but Temptress now has a life times supply of strong, supple leather. I'll ensure that there is sufficient to cover the wheel should we have to and plenty to make pulpit patches, then what else can I use it for? Perhaps another handbag?

A whole hide

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Inland to Marrakech

Our room, Riad Morgane
The express train to Marrakech should take four and a half hours from Salé mostly because the line is still being upgraded beyond Casablanca.  Small delays meant Kevin & I and fellow cruisers Gordon & Elise were half an hour or so late arriving at our destination on Wednesday afternoon. A Mercedes taxi (the little taxis are cheaper but only take three passengers) then dropped us at a mosque near Bab Doukkala in the northern part of the Medina, we phoned our Riad and one of the staff came to guide us through the lefts and rights of Derb Sidi Lahcen ou Ali. The narrow alleys between the house walls are just wide enough for a small donkey cart or for two people to walk side by side. Many of the ornate doors that open into the courtyards are partly below pavement level they are so old. And as we were to discover the following morning at prayer time, tucked away amongst the houses was at least one more mosque. There was no chance of sleeping!
At almost the far end of the derb our guide came to a halt in front of an imposing wooden door and opened the smaller door set within it. We ducked and stepped through. An oasis of calm after the medina outside, two floors of rooms arranged on three sides of courtyard, a plunge pool at the centre graceful palms either side in large pots. Gordon & Elise had a ground floor room, ours was up some tiles winding stairs on the floor above and was well appointed with Moroccan painted furniture, shutters that could be left open, partly closed to be glazed or completely shut to plunge the room into total darkness.  In the ensuite was a huge terracotta coloured bath which I made good use of the following afternoon for a long hot soak.

The builder's donkey cart
outside our riad every morning
On the floor above was a large terrace with sun loungers, patio furniture and along one side a majlis tent with Arabic sofas for lounging in colder weather. Here we were served Moroccan tea (sweet green tea with mint) and checked in. Riad Morgane was delightful, a real taste of Marrakech; the staff and owners friendly and helpful.  The four of us decided to make the best of what remained of the afternoon and set out exploring though we weren’t exactly certain whether we’d find our way back but were assured we could just call!

From the mosque we headed vaguely south along streets lined with open fronted shops one making intricate iron lamps, another fixing motor bikes, another selling garments and yet another tourist trinkets. As in Rabat most of the locals wear djellabas – full length hooded overshirts or coats; the women’s were often in bright pinks or blues or printed with large patterns, the men’s usually pale yellow or fawn either plain or subtly stripped. Some older women pulled up the large hood over their headscarf and then folded the front of it back over their head to ward off the sun, presumably the extra part could be pulled down over the face in a desert sandstorm. The fastenings on these surcoats were a mass of tiny silk buttons set along intricate picot work from neck to knee.  Young and old alike wear them although many young men were in jeans and t-shirts.

The focus of Marrakech for locals and tourists alike is the large open space at the southern end of the medina Djemaa el-Fnaa. Surrounded by narrow souks it is impossible to describe the clamour of the hustling stall holders, the noise of the snake charmers’ pipes and tabors combined with smells of spices, mint stalls, donkeys and drains; all that during the afternoon when it is not busy. As sunset approaches foodstalls are set up, the entertainment expands to include Berber dancers, storytellers, magicians, jugglers and more. Part tourist entertainment, part local way of life the area is filled and teeming. We decided to eat early in one of the rooftop terrace restaurants, that way we could take it all in from above before plunging in ourselves.

Foodstalls waiting for customers
Musician cum storyteller

The following day in complete contrast we headed out of the Medina to the tranquillity of Jardin Majorelle an amazing oasis of bamboo, cacti and raked gravel created by a French painter and more recently by Yves Saint Laurent. Cool and hushed the red paths are lined with large pots painted either deep blue or bright sunflower yellow. There were a lot of tourists but it still seemed peaceful. The Berber museum in one corner was surprisingly interesting, the Berbers are nomadic with a penchant for adopting and adapting religions that came their way – originally pagans they first became Jewish then later Christian but layered these on top of their original feasts and practices, now they would be considered Muslim but again their highly coloured clothes, unique language and tribal traditions set them apart from the Arabs.

From the gardens the four of us negotiated a price for one of the horse drawn carriage taxi’s and took a trip around the nouvelle ville on our way to the Ben Youssef Madersa (or Madrasa) which is deep within the medina. We were dropped as close as our driver could get but it was still some several hundred metres through the winding alleys to our goal. Lots of shops selling meat, vegetables, wooden boxes, spices and more lined our path. Mid-day prayers were long over and many places were “shut” for lunch and siesta – a single broom handle across the entrance indicating this. Hungary we were happy to let Kevin scout up the stairs to a restaurant. Dar El Walidin in Rue Sidi Abdelaziz proved to be exactly what was needed; traditional tajines, olives and bread served at a slow pace in the relaxed surroundings. We were seated on low plump sofas with plenty of cushions by our smiling host. His wife appeared to berate him about something in a flood of Arabic and then help out in the tiny kitchen, it was late and we were the only customers. When we had eaten we drank mint tea and enjoyed just sitting before heading out in the bustle of the streets to find our goal, the madersa.

The Madersa Courtyard
One hundred and thirty two student rooms once occupied by one or two students each surround a large ornate courtyard. The plasterwork, wood carving and architecture is incredible but what you see is only the restoration, from glimpses in hidden corners and from the villa (now a museum) around the corner the original would have been vibrant with colour, every surface painted in red and gold, greens and blues. This was an ancient “university” where young and presumably wealthy men studied the Koran. The school that was based here only moved out in the 1960’s to a more modern location in the nouvelle town, the plumbing apparently unable to cope with modern needs. Back in our Riad the plunge pool had been filled so Gordon, Kevin & I enjoyed chilling down, we sat until we were shivering despite the water being over twenty degree centigrade! I was glad of that hot bath.

Supper – we had tried to book a restaurant recommended by a local met on the train but despite Patrick, Riad Morgane’s French owner’s best attempts we couldn’t get a table at a reasonable hour, 22:30 is no time to eat! Back to Trip Advisor and we found that the 3rd most popular place in town was literally across the road from our Derb. Hotel Maison Arabe was founded in 1946 but although their craft shop is easy to find opposite the local mosque, the main hotel entrance is somewhat tricky but locals pointed out which alley to turn down. Drinks in the jazz bar downstairs with soothing live music from a grand piano in one corner, then on to the dining room when our table was ready. Service was everything that you would expect from a  place with such a French influence, the staff amusing yet attentive and the Moroccan food was superb, we all had the roast lamb a speciality of Marrakech, richly flavoured, succulent it melted in the mouth.

The rich colours of the Marrakech Museum
Early on Friday Gordon and Elise departed for a longer desert trip and exploration further inland. Temptress’ crew have unsurprisingly had enough sand and camels so were booked on the 14:55 train to Rabat. We wandered in the nearby streets and purchased some canvas from a workshop making patio umbrellas and majlis tents as well as school bags and shoe holders. Then Kevin tried some of the ironmongers in the same street but failed to find the U-bolts he wanted to fix some planks in place along the guard rails. Afterwards we found ourselves near to the carpet and furniture shops of Sharaz, our acquaintance from the train journey so went visiting. Mint tea, a warm welcome followed by a demonstration of the different types of carpet form the various regions of Morocco followed but we didn’t succumb to the gentle selling technique of his colleagues.

We returned to the Riad to check out before midday but were able to leave our bags whilst we found some lunch. One last wander through the souks of the medina led to discovering some more upmarket streets with art galleries and antique shops before plunging once more into the tourist areas with zillions of leather shoes, handbags, keyrings and more hanging from every possible surface, the ground covered with tangines and pierced iron lamps. Everywhere the stall holders called to us; “special price”, “you need a carpet” (a statement not a question), “what size shoe madam?” – it made a change from the "pashminas, handbags and t-shirts" yelled by the sellers of Dubai! Another terrace restaurant overlooking the Djeema watching people bustling here and there, carpets rolled out for prayers to enable the overflow of the various congregations to kneel even occupied some of the  space between the souks and the orange juice stalls.

Then it was a taxi to the station, foiling one final attempt to fleece us – "my meter not working sir" forty dirhams to le gare du train, Kevin offered twenty but settled for thirty (about £2.30). The train was late; first ten minutes prior to arriving then 25 leaving. It being Friday afternoon there was a huge crowd all getting away, going home etc for the weekend. Travelling first class meant a booked seat in a compartment. Our “voiture” (carriage) was number one so we climbed into the first one at the rear of the train, it being labelled as number one. Someone else came to claim our seats. He patiently explained that Car 1 was the next first class carriage further along in the middle of the train – so the rear of the train had car 2, car 1 was in the middle and car 3 was at the other end – presumably it all made sense to someone but at every stop there was confusion!

What with track works and the delays caused by our train being late leaving meaning it had to wait for access to the single line part south of Casa (the local name for Casablanca) it was almost nine in the evening by the time we reached the boat. An hour and a half after we’d thought but it was great to be home. We’d eaten on the train – poulet sandwiches turned out to be large baps filled with roast chicken, green olives and lettuce – so we weren’t hungry but purchased in the Ascima supermarket under the station 500ml of milk (for breakfast) and a large chilled bottle of “Fanta Limon” to quench our thirst once we’d opened up the boat hatches etc as it was steamy hot down below.

We had had a fascinating two days made more enjoyable by our companions Elise and Gordon with their tales of cruising S America and the Pacific. Marrakech is an amazing and unique place rich with history and tradition combining the modern with almost filmset perfect souks, mosques and restaurants in a way that can be described as only Marrakech. And next? Some more prosaic provisioning and laundry chores then sometime next week or perhasp the the week after tides and weather permitting a few day sails down the coast to explore more of this fascinating country.