It was probably best just to shut your eyes and hope. A bus went by on one side and a donkey and cart on the other, while swarms of mopeds cut alarmingly through the traffic.
There are no lanes on the road to Marrakech – it’s just one big free for all that miraculously seems to work.
Luckily our driver was used to the chaos. If you can drive in Marrakech you can drive anywhere in the world, he joked.
This was our welcome to Morocco, full of life, colour, sights, sounds and, to be honest, a bit of a culture shock if you’ve never experienced it before.
We’d flown from Bristol to Marrakech for a week-long adventure – a few days on the coast for some sea and sun, before returning to the city to shop in the souks and soak up the atmosphere.
It’s an easy trip from Bristol – a three-hour flight and because you’re heading straight down, no time change.
First we were heading for the tiny village of Sidi Kaouki, a three-hour drive from Marrakech, where the comfort of the Rebali Riads awaited us. And our host Mohamed was there to greet us with some traditional Moroccan hospitality – mint tea and home-made orange cake before showing us around.
We had arrived in an oasis of calm. Rebali is a collection of modern villas with a boutique hotel feel, surrounded by lush greenery, with a tennis court, spa and swimming pools.
Our three-bed villa was stunning. Set in its own pretty garden with private pool, it was spacious and cool by day while, in the evening, a log fire was lit to take the chill off the spring nights.
It’s the perfect retreat perfect for a group of friends or a family, with the open-plan design giving plenty of space. Large sofas, dining area, well-equipped kitchen if you want to self-cater, and large spacious bedrooms and bathrooms mean there is room for everyone.
One feature you’re bound to play with is the sliding roof on the central galleried atrium. It’s designed to give more air on hot days and also for star gazing. And, talking of stars, there’s no light pollution here, so you’ll soon find yourself up on the roof terrace, trying to work out the various constellations – there’s even a map provided.
Accommodation is on a bed and breakfast basis and it’s all very relaxed. Once you’re up and ready to face the day, just wander down to the kitchen to let them know, and breakfast is delivered to your villa.
We ate in the garden by the pool, tucking into fresh fruit, pancakes or omelettes, freshly-baked bread and jams. You can also order dinner too, which costs an amazing £12 for three courses, and is again delivered to your villa – typically a starter of salad or aubergines in tomato sauce, followed by delicious chicken or lamb tagine with roast potatoes, and pancakes or fresh oranges with cinnamon to finish.
Although you’re in luxurious surroundings, you really feel you’re off the beaten track – the real Morocco is just on your doorstep, unspoilt by tourism.
From the comfort of your rooftop terrace you can watch village life go by – small herds of goats or sheep are herded into rocky walled paddocks by day to scrape away at food, and then shooed into shelter as dusk falls, donkeys pull carts or carry their owners along dusty tracks and you soon adjust to the sight of camels being led to and from the beach for a day’s work, giving novelty rides to tourists.
Outside our lush green gardens, the countryside was rocky, sparse and dry – it’s a poor country and the living is hard. There are a few cars and mopeds but transport here is mostly by foot, donkey, horse or camel and you soon get used to the background noise of braying donkeys and grunting camels.
The village itself is a smattering of white buildings, a little village square and several cafes and restaurants. But the beach is stunning and stretches for miles, with good surfing. Camels and their owners wait at the entrance to the beach, hoping for business, some locals arrive on horseback, others by donkey, and there is always a football game going on.
And there are two things you’ll notice.
The amount of litter, which for some reason just goes unnoticed by the locals and, secondly, there’s bound to be someone trying to sell you something. The hassle-factor is a bit of a culture shock, especially when you’re new and trying to get used to the money.
One beach trinket salesman was so persistent, the only way to shake him off was to leave the beach. We worked out he was trying to sell us three jewellery boxes for £90 – a narrow escape, and the price of a camel apparently.
You just need to keep a sense of humour and relax into the culture. You can do as much or as little as you want here. Mohamed visits his guests every morning for a chat and to sort out anything you want to do from a camel trek to visiting a local Berber family for lunch at a local village.
Highlights for us were a camel ride to a beach restaurant half-an-hour away on two thankfully sweet-natured, well-mannered camels – surprisingly comfortable and relaxing, once you’re on and up, which is a little hair-raising.
A short taxi ride away is the pretty port of Essaouira, which offers the chance to experience some haggling in the souks and explore the busy harbour.
It’s a throng of activity, packed with fishing boats of all sizes and full of atmosphere. Try eating at one of the little harbour stalls where you can choose your lunch from the catch on display.
But the best part of our stay was a walk to a local hillside farm with Rebali employee Houcine to see how his mother Zahra makes argan oil from the nuts that grow wild. We sipped mint tea, dipped home-made bread in dishes of argan oil and honey, and enjoyed a tea of home-made biscuits, chocolate and fruit.
Zahra spoke not a word of English, yet greeted us with such warmth and laughter, showing us the long, arduous process or cracking the nuts and grinding them by hand between two heavy stones to make the oil – used widely for cooking and also cosmetics.
As we made our way back along dusty tracks, being greeted by everyone we met, making their way home on donkeys and camels, there was real warmth and community, This was the real Morocco.
Next week: Marrakech.