The sights and sounds of Marrakech by night only truly come to life when you travel by two wheels. Gary Inman swings a leg over his motorcycle and heads into the madness.
This is what my socks must feel like in the washing machine. After six hours of calm and near solitude on the Tangier to Marrakech toll road, hitting Morocco’s most exciting city is a shock. The traffic builds fairly slowly after the end of the motorway. First there are a few extra delivery vans, then a trickle of big-wheel mopeds and now a swirling torrent of humanity on two and four wheels.
Malaga to Morocco
Young women on the pavement stare. Middle-aged men smile and scooters still buzz, throttles on the stop, but they give me a little bit of extra room. Every half-kilometre I get closer to the Medina - the old, walled quarter of the city - the street scene becomes more hectic. The road is dual carriageway, and while most rudimentary traffic laws are being respected, there’s a developing world freedom to proceedings.
Everything flows and hardly anyone wears a helmet, while every vehicle cuts back and forth in an effort to be in perpetual motion. Then a donkey and cart appears clip-clopping the wrong way up the road - big, hairy ears and impassive eyes facing down the oncoming traffic.
And that’s why I love Marrakech. It’s a city of hustle and bustle, colour and culture, and its chaos lends itself perfectly to the ride of a lifetime on a motorcycle. Less than 24 hours ago I collected the bike in Malaga, southern Spain. Now I’m riding through an exotic, alien city, soaking up never-to-be- forgotten sights. Now the road I’m on arrives at a junction with three others, and the imposing Medina wall towers in front of me. Deep breath, I’m going in.
In the Medina, the roads often narrow, in some places to little more than alleyways. This stops all but the most persistent cars, but not the bikes and scooters. And not me. That’s why a motorbike is perfect for exploring Marrakech. There aren’t any no-go areas for bikes.
If the greater Marrakech area seemed mad, within the Medina the intensity and contrast is turned up to 11. I’m funnelled into a street lined with stalls and packed with Moroccans big and small. Even here, where it is actually difficult to walk without constantly changing direction to pass people, the scooters don’t slow down. Yet nothing seems to go wrong. Only very rarely are voices raised, and then only for a second.
Eventually, I find Jemaa-el-fna, the historic hub of Marrakech. This square isn’t square like a formal European palazzo, but more organic. In daylight Jemaa-el-fna is full of chancers and performers extracting money out of tourists. There are men with psychopathic monkeys on leads. Tourists walk up and pay the price of a meal to have their photo taken with these tormented, demented macaques. Then there are the musicians, hammering drums and blowing whistles that make a nasal squeak. Oh yeah, and there are the cobras.
Soon I head for the Palais el Badi. Butted up to the palace walls is the Kasbah. My guidebook says ‘a Kasbah is a fortified house with crenellated towers in one or each corner’. It’s less impressive than it sounds, and difficult for me to discern where it starts and ends. I certainly don’t want to rock it, and decide to keep moving.
But I’ve ridden a long way in the last couple of days and I’ve pushed my luck a lot in the last couple of hours. The bed in my riad is calling, and I’m ready to listen.