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'Up in the clouds today'
Something funny in the air
‘You will be up in the clouds today, but you will come down to earth with a bump.’ This was The Daily Mirror's forecast to all Sagittarians on its horoscope page; one which my father and I, both Sagittarians, thought rather appropriate as we touched down with an almighty thud on the runway at Agadir airport, Morocco, in August 1981.
Travelling with my father was fun all the way
My father, after a lifetime in the Merchant Navy was more used to travelling by sea than air and had already experienced enough shocks for one day. Somewhere, high above the African continent, the pilot had emerged from the cockpit to introduce himself to his passengers. ‘Who the hell's flying the plane?’ asked a panic-stricken dad.
‘Calm down, it'll be on Autopilot.’ I said reassuringly, beginning to wish we'd booked a cruise instead. The graffiti he'd spotted earlier in the aircraft toilet hadn't done much to boost his confidence in all things aeronautical either:
LOST, ONE TUBE OF BOSTIK - PLEASE RETURN TO FLIGHT MAINTENANCE ENGINEER
‘It's only a bit of light-heartedness; don't take it all so seriously.’ I told him, because that's exactly what he'd said to me the previous year on the channel ferry when we'd been caught in a storm and he'd been telling Titanic jokes, rounding them off with his very own rendition of ‘For those in peril on the sea.’
Now I'm getting my own back, I sniggered to myself.
We arrived at the Hotel Miramar: ‘Ideal for the budget conscious.’ The brochure had stated. Yes, that was dad all right.
But the accommodation didn't look too basic, and admittedly, there was a wonderful uninterrupted sea view, but one feature the brochure had conveniently failed to mention was our hotel's nearest neighbour - a fish processing factory; a presence we weren't allowed to forget throughout our fortnight's stay in Agadir.
We soon discovered that our little hotel was actually the oldest building in the area. We befriended an informative local who told us that it and the now demolished local cinema were the only structures to survive the devastating earthquake of 1960. Apparently, the cinema was packed full of people watching a noisy western, blissfully unaware that an earthquake had struck until the film ended, when they ventured outside, shocked to see their homes in ruins. The new town centre, as it is today, was then rebuilt, on a supposedly earthquake free site - a little further up the road.
‘Morocco’ in Arabic is known as Al-Maghrib, meaning ‘Land of the West,’ aptly named since most of its long coastline faces the Atlantic Ocean, while the remainder looks out across the straits of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean, towards Spain. It is a land of rich diversity, a melting pot of different cultures, the main influences being Arabian, European and African.
The terrain too, is one of contrast; from the snow capped Atlas Mountains of the north to the parched edges of the Sahara desert, in the south, with many fertile plains in-between.
My father, an incorrigible sun worshiper, expected little more from our holiday than to dash off to the beach directly after breakfast each day. He, at fifty four had already explored most of the world, or at least those countries with a coastline. But, at only twenty two my zest for adventure was perhaps at its strongest.
Intrigued by my surroundings, I chose to take advantage of the daily coach excursions in order to discover more of such a fascinating land.
I journeyed to Marrakesh, 240 Km inland from Agadir; a lush, verdant city at the foot of the High Atlas Mountains, the snow from which provides the city's water. Marrakesh, set on a dry barren plain, revealed itself just like a mirage, appearing, as if from nowhere, through the misty haze from the nearby mountain range.
I swam and had lunch at a luxury hotel, bargained for souvenirs in the ancient souks near the lively market square of Djemaa el Fna where both tourists and locals came to buy. And in the evening our party of day trippers were privileged to dine in a former palace. It was the most memorable day of the holiday.
When I returned to our hotel dad had had a memorable day too. ‘What have you done?!’ I gasped in dismay, as I caught sight of a large lobster-coloured object emerging from the shower.
‘Fell asleep in the sun,’ he explained pointing to his backside which now strongly resembled a bar of coconut ice. ‘Any spare places on your tour tomorrow?’
The following day we travelled 200 Km south to Goulimine the very gateway to the Sahara. We saw the ‘Blue men’ at the weekly camel market, so named because of the distinctive blue cloth of their garments, coloured with a dye which deflects the fierce heat of the desert sun. I offered to buy a few metres of the indigo cloth for dad and he was not amused, but he said he would give anything for a bottle of calamine lotion.
The ‘Blue’ camel men of the desert also known as The Touareg still make an incredible trek across the desert to Timbuktu in order to trade their wares, everything from gold to gadgets can be bought here as well as the proverbial ships of the desert.
One trader became interested in me and struck up a conversation with dad. It was the usual spiel: ‘I will give you thirty camels for your lovely daughter.’
For a minute I was worried, but eventually convinced dad of the difficulty he would incur in shipping thirty camels back to England.
On the return journey to Agadir we stopped at Tiznit which is renowned for its beautiful silver jewellery. The town itself, surrounded by swaying palm trees and a red crenulated wall, was a prime example of a fortified desert oasis.
Dad accompanied me on several other trips after that, now that he was out of the running for the best ever sun-tan. We visited Imouzer in the mountains on a half day tour and enjoyed a typical Berber-style meal on our last evening at nearby Temsya. Of course there were many places we did not have time to discover, but we always intended to go back someday.
In Agadir too, we made the most of our stay there, strolling into the city centre in order to find some interesting shops and restaurants. We bought leather wallets, brass ornaments and other unusual trinkets from the town wondering how we would ever get it all in our suitcases. Dad never got the hang of bargaining, always agreeing with the initial price. Dirham’s seemed to confuse him too, ‘What's that in real money?’ he would ask. Sometimes I wondered how he had survived all those years in the Merchant Navy.
Dad persuaded me to climb with him to the top of the headland in Agadir somehow convinced there was a restaurant at the top. When we arrived there after several tedious hours following a dusty track in the heat of the day we found nothing apart from some dilapidated wartime fortifications. But the view had been well worth the climb and we were able to take some magnificent photos.
Being with dad was often like that, he muddled along through life but things would always turn out well in the end. Had we looked at the guide book to start with we would have seen that Agadir actually means: ‘Fortress on a hilltop.’ But sometimes finding things out quite by accident make a holiday that more enjoyable.
On our last day we purchased stylish kaftans and djellabas from the market-place and some locally made jewellery and a Fez hat too. Then back at our hotel we dressed up like locals to photograph each other on the sun terrace. ‘Just like that!’ said dad doing a very poor Tommy Cooper impression. ‘Hey, take a photo of me with my jelly baby on will you?’
We came to love our friendly little hotel with its welcoming sun terrace, far away from the huge concrete monstrosities that were being built further along the coast. I wonder if it's still there, but perhaps it's better to cherish one's memories of a place rather than go back and be disappointed if everything is not as it once was.
Sadly, my dad is no longer alive but I often recall the many holidays we shared together in the early 1980s and I’m grateful for those times.
At home, above my drinks cabinet is a photo of dad wearing only his bathing trunks and sporting his dreadful sunburn on the balcony at hotel Miramar, and that is how I like to remember him. When I pour myself a drink I always raise my glass and say ‘Cheers dad!’ then, those happy memories of our holiday in Morocco all come rushing back. I never did return there with Dad but in the summer of 2006 I purchased a holiday apartment there. And I know he would have loved it, sun-worshiper that he was.
One of the imperial palaces in Tetouan
Tetouan Northern Morocco
Guide to Morocco
The Kingdom of Morocco
Agadir in Western Morocco - a popular tourist destination
How Not To Get a Suntan!
© 2015 Stella Kaye