Admitting that to date I have been excelling in my sloth study course but have been perhaps left wanting in my ‘I am a traveller’ campaign, I have, against all kinds of judgement, agreed to go from Taroudant to Marrakech, across the mountains by Grand Taxi, having discovered that no bus goes that way and not relishing the idea of more time in the seaside town of Agadir.
There is nothing wrong with Agadir, it is a very nice seaside town but after Taroudant it seems garish and brash, a little like going back to McDonalds after a decade of silver service at the Savoy.
“We will mees you Keem” Mahmoud assures me as I hand over my key thinking that I’ve hardly been a sparkling wild fire centre of attention; leaving that to the newly arrived Irishman who insists on telling everyone in that slow, loud, deliberate, consonant stressed English, his entire life story. His victims, like captured birds, smiling and nodding in complete incomprehension, looking around for any excuse to remove themselves from his bird cage.
“Yes, you have been very gentile. Very Taroudant, like family. We will miss you in the lobby after breakfast on your computer and again in the evening – you will come back of course?”
All this in French so he could have been saying “Fuck off you stupid old cow”, but I don’t think so.
My carriage awaits. A Mercedes no less. I know this because my son spent an entire summer teaching me the badges of all the makes of cars not only from the front but from the rear too – I can’t begin to tell you how useful this has been.
Asides from the badge which I am pretty convinced he bought in the souk and added to the car to improve its credibility, there is nothing remotely Mercedes like about it. The supposedly ‘Grand’ taxi that is.
I get in the back – there is no seat belt.
I move to the front – there is a seatbelt. No working wing mirror but – a seatbelt.
Strapping me firmly in (it takes a while; the socket is tied together with string), my driver introduces himself.
“Mahmet”. He extends his hand.
He speaks no English and only a little French.
“Keem, Mahmet, Mahmet, Keem, Keem, Mahmet, Mahmet, Keem!”
It’s going to be a long journey.
I have no idea how far it is from Taroudant to Marrakech just that the journey is going to take about five hours.
We pass the farms of oranges and olives on the plains and far far into the distance I see the mountains, Mahmet chattering away – me struggling to reply.
He tells me that we will soon be approaching the argants, I think, he means apricots.
This isn’t so bad, we should be in the foothills soon.
OK let’s get something straight. Approaching the Atlas mountains from Taroudant, you drive for about an hour over flat plains, then – you hit the mountains.
There ARE no fucking foothills!
One minute orange trees, the next kill a goat terrain!
About this time I hit the ‘beam me aboard Scotty’ button. It fails. All I can see in front of me are crags and peaks and what look like pencil lines winding ever upwards – surely not roads!?
I keep hitting the beam me aboard Scotty button. (If the fucking safety belt doesn’t work I don’t have great hopes for the air bag).
“C’est traquil, n’est pas Keem?” Mahmet beams at me.
NO IT IS NOT FUCKING TRANQUIL!
I slam my foot onto my (also not working) driving instructor’s override brake pedal as we screech round yet another hair pin bend on a road barely wide enough accommodate one vehicle let alone another coming in the other direction.
I pull my leg away from the door (like that’s going to help).
I AM GOING TO DIE!!!
“ Voici Keem, la nege!”
FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!
There’s bloody white stuff everywhere and it’s getting closer to eye level. It looks like a beauty salon, saturday girl has been let loose on a French manicure of heroic proportions and been a little overenthusiastic.
“Look Keem il est Magnifique!”
Look? I can hardly breathe!
Mahmet tells me how wonderful it is, as we narrowly miss yet another oncoming vehicle, this time a lorry that is so long it forces us to move so close to the edge of the mountain that I can feel the wheels slipping off.
I watch a goat nimbly scrambling up a ninety degree angle to avoid being squashed.
I WANT TO BE YOU! I WANT TO BE A GOAT!
All I can see are the road signs, well bits of rock telling us how far we are from Marrakech.
MILES OR FUCKING KILOMETRES?!
184 – OK WHAT HAPPENED THERE?!
Finally we are eye level with the bloody white stuff.
‘Le summit?’ I tentatively enquire, now feeling car sick, air sick and any other kind of sick you care to mention as we pull up at the only building for continents.
“Oui, nous mange ici”.
We are at the top of a bloody snow covered mountain, we have spent over two hours on the roller coaster of death, and he wants to eat!?
The restaurant at the end of my universe is called La Belle Vue.
It has a sign ”LA BELLE VUE”.
I DON’T FUCKING CARE!
Next to the sign, placed at the edge of the mountain, is another piece of rock which has painted on it: 2100 M.
I gulp for air, panic rising. There can’t be any oxygen. Nothing should be this high! Only aeroplanes should be this high!
I should be in an aeroplane looking down on this from the safety of my Easy Jet baked bean can.
Why does anyone want to go up mountains?
What possessed Hannibal to take Elephants over them? I bet the elephants weren’t that thrilled.
Alexander the Great, Richard the Lion Heart, all of them? Why couldn’t they just settle for therapy?
A Berber omelette, actually a tajine of eggs and vegetables, and all the while I’m thinking…
…WE’VE GOT TO GET DOWN.
And I’m cold.
I checked the temperature for Marrakech this morning 26 degrees and sunny.
Well it’s not fucking 26 degrees on top of this mountain, Mr Smart Alec weather man! It’s flatlining! ZERO! Possibly even minus zero!
Teeth chattering, we finish our lunch (I have to confess it did settle the stomach) and, having declined the kind Berber’s offer of ‘voi-ing’ his home made jewellery, we set of on the downward slalom.
Whether it was the food or the thought that we were on the home straight, I know not, but the second half was more bearable. A bit like childbirth, when you get to 10 centimetres, you know it’s nearly over.
The scenery on the other side was truly astounding and when we turned yet another hairpin to be met by the sight of a massive turquoise lake framed by snow peaks, even I had to admit it was ‘Magnifique’.
I discover that Mahmet has a wife and two children and that his wife is in hospital with a serious heart complaint, his children are living with his parents while he provides. Life is not easy in Morocco if you aren’t a tourist.
He discovers that I am single and free and he decides we are the same.
“Libertie” He winks.
I don’t think so, Mahmet.
We arrive at the hotel in Marrakech and I am so relieved I hug him and plant a kiss on both cheeks, promising to email and reserve him as my driver should I return. He was a very careful driver and despite many stops where we had to refill the radiator with water or he “take a peess”, we survived.
Had I known what was in store would I have embarked on the journey?
I’ve crossed the Alps, the Hardangervidda, the Drakensberg (mere hillocks) and now the Atlas and I can say, without reservation, I like my mountains in the distance – preferably the far distance.
The VIP ‘up close and personal’ enclosure should come with a large sign –
ONLY GOATS AND PILOTS