The day it all began was a long one. It was a day of travelling, dehydration and sporadic helpings of unsatisfying food, rounded off by a double whammy – a climate and culture shock – at the end.
We exited the airport into dense, sticky humidity. It was an especially hot evening for Marrakech, which ordinarily hosts the highest temperatures in Morocco, thanks to a flash storm which had recently hit. According to the airport thermostat, it was still in the mid-30’s. And this was at eight thirty.
It turned out our airport transfer hadn’t been arranged, despite me sending off an email earlier that day. Soon enough, after biting the £1.40 per minute bullet and talking in slow English over the phone, our driver arrived.
He set off at a pace down Marrakech’s busy streets – the experience less like a trot down the M3 and more akin to plunging headfirst into a Michael Palin documentary – and our taxi soon entered the haphazard and hectic walled Medina where we were staying. It was then, at our point of entry into Marrakech’s mazy, claustrophobic and cluttered old town, where the expensive transfer proved invaluable.
As we slowed to a standstill amid the shouts and shapes of a mass of people, exuberant now the sun had set on Ramadan, our host Ibrahim provided the link. Initially just another silhouette, he emerged from the throng and thrust open the taxi door.
We paid the extortionate but worthwhile fare (you’ll find a lot of things allegedly fit under the ‘extortionate and worthwhile’ umbrella in Morocco, but this one deserved its place) and Ibrahim escorted us through a labyrinth of clay-walled alleyways to a battered black door. Cautious, we stooped through and entered the paradise of Riad Jnan El Cadi.
A fountain stood in the central courtyard, around which eight rooms faced. Plants gave the place a leafy, organic warmth, in stark contrast to the dry, dusty Medina outside. The walls and floors were tiled, the former adorned with local paintings, photographs and artworks.
From the moment we first stepped inside, the riad had a distinctly, and almost delicately, casual feel. And as we heard the unforgettable sound of hot water being poured from height onto fresh mint leaves, the place began to feel like a home – a quiet haven – within the chaotic and intense Medina.