I’m in North Africa to follow the fortunes of the Nigerian team competing in the African qualifying tournament for the IRB Sevens World Cup to be held in Moscow in 2013. The tournament is being run by the Confederation Africaine de Rugby (CAR) and back in July the details were published as being held in Marrakesh in Friday 28 September and Saturday 29 September.
Being the kind of person that likes to be organised I looked up flights from London and found the perfect combination: Ryanair flying from Stansted airport on Thursday morning and returning on Sunday evening. As it was well in advance the fares were very cheap so I booked the seats. Using a combination of lastminute.com and Trip Advisor I booked three nights in a family-run hotel in the old town which had very good reviews and I felt pretty smug as the whole trip was going to cost me less than £300.
I should have realised from past experience that when it comes to Africa nothing can be taken for granted and sure enough the Nigerian team manager called me in August to say that he had heard that the venue might change, although it would still be in Morocco. I regularly checked the CAR website and a few days later it said that the tournament would be in Tangiers but a day later on the Saturday and Sunday rather than Friday and Saturday. I didn’t act straightaway this time and sure enough a week or so later the Nigerian Rugby Federation forwarded me an email from CAR that said that the venue was now Rabat, Morocco’s capital, and it would be on Saturday and Sunday.
I waited a little longer for that to be definitely confirmed then set to work creating a new schedule which will explain the title of this article. The Ryanair flights were non-refundable so it made sense to stick with flying to Marrakesh on Thursday morning. Some research on the internet revealed that the national train service is pretty good and there is a service from Marrakesh to Rabat that takes just over four hours, so I decided to use that on Friday afternoon. The Sunday flights from Marrakesh would have to be forsaken as we weren’t going to be able to watch the games that day and get back in time and after all, I was travelling for the rugby. So that meant flying back on Monday, but the scheduled flights from Rabat to London were prohibitively expensive. However Royal Air Maroc had seats for under £150 on their midday flight from Casablanca about 50km down the coast. There is a train service between the two but as I can’t be sure of their reliability it is likely we will take a taxi as they are comparatively cheap.
The final problem is that the flight from Casablanca comes into Heathrow so it will mean a coach journey to Stansted to pick up the car so in the five day trip we will have used almost every form of mechanised public transport other than a motorbike with sidecar!
The first leg of this journey has been completed although it meant leaving Colchester at 4am to catch the flight from Stansted at 6:30am. I can’t say I was sorry to leave the cold, wind and rain of England and arrive in Marrakesh to more rain, but at least the temperature is between 25C and 30C. The old town of Marrakesh is absolutely enchanting and we spent the short time we had here walking through winding streets, trying to avoid the donkey-carts and mopeds and having fun bartering in the souks.
The main square comes to life at night with entertainers, snake-charmers and street vendors selling food, and numerous cafes where you can drink mint tea and watch the spectacle of Moroccan night life. Dinner was traditional fare of lamb tagine with accompanying music and the bonus of a belly dancer at the end. We wended our way though the streets as the stalls were packing up, back to our accommodation at the Riad Al Jazira which was a real find.
The approach to the Riad doesn’t fill you with confidence as you go under an archway through a low-roofed passage until you reach a small wooden door. But when you enter you are transported to a wonderful building of courtyards, pools and lounges with spectacular bedrooms and staff who couldn’t do enough to help.
I was awoken this morning by the sound of the muezzin calling the faithful of the city to prayer, and after a breakfast of yoghurt, pancakes, cake and jam, there was time to write some postcards and answer some emails while Hilary had a massage before heading for the train station.
I am writing this travelling on the Marrakesh Express to Rabat, evoking boyhood memories of listening to the 1968 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song. Express is something of a misnomer as we have stopped several times in the middle of the mainly brown, sun-baked landscape, but we have gone pretty fast the rest of the time.
Tonight I will meet up with the Nigerian players and management team before they start the serious business of the qualifying tournament tomorrow, so my next article should return to rugby matters. If there is a signal at the ground I will be posting on Twitter @Andrew_Sarek and Facebook www.facebook.com/andrew.sarekrfu
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