Last year, Cliff gave me a wonderful surprise for my 40th. He threw me out of bed at some ungodly hour of the morning and told me to pack my bags. Then we drove to Málaga for my do-it-yourself birthday present: a fully-fuelled plane and a flight planned to Marrakesh. Everything was in place for a 72-hour stay in a lovely Riad full of shadowed courtyards and tinkly fountains.
This was also our first time taking the Saratoga outside of Europe. Despite the last minute nature of the flight, I thought I was prepared – Morocco is described as the most European of the African countries and I’d read up on it before. But that didn’t save us from a healthy dose of culture shock.
Upon our return, I wrote this list of ten important facts that Wikipedia neglects to mention:
- Casablanca Controllers don’t think it’s funny if you respond to a call with “Play it again, Sam.” Not even a little bit.
- Although Marrakesh is an international airport, they don’t have radar, so you will continue speaking to Casablanca long after it seems like you should have spoken to Marrakesh about your imminent arrival in their circuit.
- The taxiways are not marked so it is vital that you keep count so that you know where to turn off. Coming in on runway 10, it’s the second right. The follow-me will not appear until you are almost at your parking spot.
- The nice man who comes out of the follow-me van will offer to “stop you wasting your money on a handling agent” by escorting you to the terminal. He will not mention that that it is a half mile trek in the African mid-afternoon sun to the terminal building and that he has no intention of helping you with your luggage. As you drag your suitcases across the tarmac he will shout at you to watch out as the service agents whiz past in their vans. He’ll expect a hefty tip for doing so (although, to be fair, less than the handling agent would have charged).
- You need a Shell card to buy fuel on credit in Marrakesh. The fuel man will tell you they take all sorts of different credit cards. He has a stack of paperwork to prove it – photocopies of all the different cards they accept. He will make you look at every one to confirm that you don’t have it. They are all variants of Shell.
- The old city is only about 15 minutes away by car. Your taxi will stop at random places en route to your hotel. The driver may lean out to speak to friends or even jump out of the car and dash into someone’s house. It’s not a set-up – he’s simply getting directions.
- Once in the old town of Marrakesh, do not buy orange juice from market stalls that don’t show pricing. The price jumped from 3DH (40 cents) to 50DH (almost seven dollars) at neighbouring shops.
- Bargaining is expected in the souks and described as a national sport. If you are polite and give reasons why you think the price should be less whilst being flattering about the product, you will generally find you can purchase things for 50% of the price originally demanded.
- You can not replace your borrowed maps with up-to-date VFR maps in Marrakesh. They will tell you that you need to go to Casablanca to purchase local maps. When you point out that it would be nice to have them here to follow the VFR routing out of Marrakesh, they will agree and explain that they were told they had to stop selling them because they didn’t sell enough.
- Remember the fuel man who told you that you could purchase your AVGAS with cash? What he meant was “cash with a receipt from the bank” as opposed to the cash you drew out of the ATM specifically to pay him with. He will refuse to sell you gas without a bank receipt. You now can’t get MORE cash because it is illegal to take Dirham out of the country. Bring a Shell card.
I’m hoping to return to Marrakesh this summer – I’m longing for another Dinner in Djeema and I need to restock my stash of spices and Moroccan tea. This time I shall hopefully be a little bit better prepared!