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A few days away: Morocco, the Atlas Mountains and Marrakesh, not your average long weekend but it was a 50th party.

Early morning flights from various points all coincide nicely to plan and we’re weaving up through the foothills from Marrakesh on ridiculous hairpin bends, dodging the donkeys and goats. And having ridden up, there was only the precipitous down to follow. Into the green valley cupped in the palm of severe mountain ridges.

The hotel, a haven, allowing us much more than anyone around us could hope for. Beautiful gardens, nurtured over decades; pomegranate trees laden; jasmine and rose bushes flooding the air with scent; kitchen gardens full of beds of herbs and vegetables maintained by thin irrigation channels like veins, carefully tended and intricate.

Nights, honestly dark and star-studded. Mountains creating a serrated edge at once looming and foreboding while blowing open the galaxy to amazement.

And the red red earth…its beauty doubled by the blue of the sky. You have definitely moved nearer to the sun.

Then there was the rush of Marrakesh. An astonishment of noise, colour, aroma and unavoidable humanity.

There is something medieval about the souks, the winding unfathomable ways between the workshops, the forges open to the small alleys spraying sparks onto naked flesh, the smiths glistening in the dim recesses, the men working leather with bare hands rubbing and forcing unfeasible looking solutions into the hides, their own skin puckered and blistered, blind men, beggars, a thousand people busy at the thousand different things of their day…and yet almost all with mobile phones. And the motorised traffic that squeezes through prising a path through pedestrians using only patience and the sound of their horn.

In the old medina, the only women aside from the tourists, were dressed in the traditional ‘modest’ way. One evening following advice we visited the ‘new medina’, in reality a series of streets that were where all the latest shops, hotels and nightclubs were,  and here the women, a mix of locals and tourists at least by appearance, were wearing their hair loose, in high heels and designer jeans/clothes. All barely 15 minutes walk apart. A distinctly odd co-habitation.

And at night the Djemma el Fnaa which is simply a spectacle, a thing to be experienced. A huge spread of humanity and commerce, with story tellers (probably some poets), bands making the most outrageously danceable music with what look like little more than random collections of wood and metal (plus the odd stringed instrument)…and food everywhere, singed over charcoal, roasted in tangines or on skewers. Mint tea, the pouring of which into the tiny glasses, is an art form in itself. The aromas float on the underlying stench of urine, whether horse, human or other.

All overseen by the minarets and the regular web of the calls to prayer thrown over the city. It would be hard not to love Morocco but the place is exhausting.

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