We’re here: N31.49183 W9.76303. It’s a campsite on the Atlantic coast, walking distance from the seaside resort of Essaouira. Not that we’ve walked in, we only had the energy to make it over to the beach and watch the camels. It’s been lovely and sunny all day, slow-cooking us in the cab as we drove and I discovered our dash-mounted fans no longer work; perhaps a victim of my attempts to fix the cab heater. Oops.
Ju met Pascale, the lady who runs the campsite at Marrakech this morning to pay the bill. 1520Dh for three nights – about £126 (current rates £1 = 12Dh). Considering the average campsite around here is 100Dh a night, and there are some for less than that, this may seem somewhat excessive. However, the campsite actually costs 150Dh a night, which is good value for such a top quality campsite. The rest was for laundry (80Dh a load), hot, delivered pain au chocolat (10Dh each), transfers in and out of Marrakech (40Dh each, each way, totalling 160Dh), a bottle and a half of wine (140Dh a bottle), two 2 course gourmet meals (195Dh each), a couple of 33cl 1664 beers (30Dh each), a 150cl bottle of water (20Dh). We basically had a blow out.
Our nosh-up last night was top notch. Served in their custom-built and self-designed restaurant, looking out over the infinity pool reflecting up-lit trees, by the campsite owner Andre and cooked up by his wife Pascale. There were only the four of us and a German couple in the place. Crucially, it was accompanied by a few bottles of Moroccan ‘Vin Gris’ or grey wine. This is made using red wine grapes, but instead of removing the crushed grapes after a few hours (which makes rose wine) or days (red wine), they’re removed immediately. Tasted great.
Once we’d eaten Andre (originally from Belgium) got us a wood fire going so we could sit under his carved plaster ceiling (2 men, 6 weeks to complete), sip wine and chill out. As always, everyone wanted to know how Andre could afford to build this place and some interrogation took place. Turned out he used to run a campany which had dealings with Moroccan mining companies (silver, phosphorous, and some others) and had sold this company. Him and Pascale had done some travelling, including adopting 3 brothers and sisters from Brazil and finally buying an olive tree grove outside Marrakech, designing the campsite himself (only paying a Moroccan architect to sign off the designs) and building it. Incredible, and none of us can suss how he will ever turn a profit from the place. Maybe he doesn’t need to, as he later showed us pictures of him competing in a 4×4 race across the desert in the south.
We asked them what it was like running a business in Morocco and they told us:
- There’s loads of paperwork, especially for getting a liquor license.
- They couldn’t get an import license for alcohol, so they could only flog Moroccan stuff and a few bottles they’d brought from France when they came in.
- There’s a 40% tax on importing other items, and the tourists then get another 20% VAT added on. It’s not cheap to buy stuff here. Chris was looking at a Thetford cassette seal, which turned out to be something like €60.
- Moroccan staff would randomly quit, regardless of how much you paid them. If Allah wills someone to not come in, then that’s what happens. One female worker had been told by her husband she could no longer work; she just stopped coming in regardless of her contract notice period. One chef was on twice the usual rate, but Allah had intervened and off he went.
Once we’d negotiated the 2km rough road off the site, fended off begging and stone throwing nippers and driven around Marrakech’s somewhat nuts roads, we dived into the Marjane supermarket for one final stock-up. Video below of the roads, not as mad as all that, you just have to go slowly and keep your wits about you, oh, and make sure you liberally use the horn to fend off buses and the like!
I’d hated the Marjane in Fez, but liked this one, probably as we’ve had loads of experience buying direct from little shops since then and I was happy to have fixed prices and a choice of stuff! We have to leave the country by the 24th, so no need to buy much stuff. Wine (we found the 140Dh stuff from the night before for 50Dh), beer, cheese, spice, cakes, a Moroccan Pot Noodle type thing, mint tea and the like are all stacked up inside Dave for the coming days. 6 cans of 33cl Heineken were about 65Dh so we passed up and opted for wine at about 35Dh a bottle.
Leaving Marrakech, we cruised along the rough road, overtaking the odd lorry, until after an hour or two we found the road turned into a (a) dual carriageway with (b) smooth tarmac and (c) hardly and traffic and (d) wasn’t twisting and bending all over the place. Ma-flipping-jic! 100kph speeds between towns and police road blocks had us into Essaouira in no time, with the cab view smoothly changing from desert rock to green trees and fields as we went. We’re now chilling out ready for an assault on the medina (old town) tomorrow morning. There’s lots of wind here too, so Chris’ kite should be pulling me head first down the beach at about 10am!