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Day 11: Marrakesh

Marrakesh, Morocco 
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The grand portals of the Mamounia Hotel.
Michael Palin - SaharaI meet Amina Agueznay at a scrubby patch of wasteground outside the city walls, where taxis, donkeys and minibuses have worn the grass bare as they come and go touting for business. Names of destinations are shouted out and horns blasted to announce the imminent departure of buses, which everyone knows will not leave according to any timetable but only when they're full to bursting.

Amina is very much a modern Moroccan, a jewellery designer in her mid-thirties, unmarried and independent. She's short, bespectacled, articulate and possessed of an attractive self-confidence. She has lived and worked in New York and her English accent is more Mafia than Moroccan.

When we met yesterday I put it to her that the Atlas Mountains, the world- renowned backdrop to Marrakesh, are a computer-generated image to fool the tourists, for strain my eyes as I have these past forty-eight hours, I have seen nothing more than a dim grey blur in the hazy skies to the south.

According to Amina, the mountains not only exist, but they're less than two hours away, and she will show me villages more breathtakingly beautiful than anything else I've seen in Morocco.

She picks her way coolly through this frenzied transport market until she finds a grand taxi, an old Mercedes of the sort I remember in Munich in the 1970s, which she judges to be safe and sound. As we make to get in, an old man deftly intercepts us and stretches out a hand for some money. Amina gives him a coin. Very important, she says. Moroccans are very superstitious, especially about journeys, and a coin to a beggar will help ward off the evil eye.

We head south, passing low, flat-roofed houses with rough-textured, dried-mud walls. Storks circle above them, carrying food to nests high on chimneys or tall trees. Our taxi driver has perfected a technique of roaring up to the vehicle in front, hugging its slipstream, but not overtaking until he can clearly see an oncoming vehicle.
Marrakesh, Morocco 
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Haggling for a pair of backless slippers they call 'babouches'. The sign of quality is the number of stitches round each one. The yellow pair had 350 on each slipper. Not my colour, but I bought them all the same.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 11
  • Country/sea: Morocco
  • Place: Marrakesh
  • Book page no: 47

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