May 21st to 25th 2010

Kas and I travelled to Marrakech for the HP EMEA Top Achiever’s event, with a couple of nights extra stay for good measure. It’s a very interesting place to walk around and enjoy for a few days.

Corporate Jolly

Team Building

Marrakech City

The Magic Garden

A New Sport

A Corporate Jolly

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Somehow my boss thought I’d had such a good year that I was worth a jolly to the annual Top Achievers Event. Even more amazingly than that, funds were made available and I actually got to go. And so did Kas.

Sure, we had to book the flights over ourselves, but that was a minor point.

So my folks came down to look after the kids and we set off for Gatwick to catch our plane over.

Once we got to Marrakesh we were immediately engulfed in a tide of corporate organization. The company had laid on minibuses from airport to hotel, and they knew who was going to be on which planes, so they were waiting as we came through customs ready to escort us over as soon we arrived.

The hotel itself was some enormous golf resort place called the Palmeraie Golf Resort, which is around the other side of the city from the airport and it took a good hour or so to get there. As we arrived they had already arranged for a nice sit down and a cup of local sweetened tea while we were being checked in, and we had just enough time to acclimatize to our huge room before going down for the first event of the programme – a motivating talk in a huge auditorium. To be honest, it wasn’t that inspiring, but maybe because I’m used to being cynical about work after years of being used to constant change and tightening budgets.

Things picked up for the rest of the evening, by which I mean,  there was some food and drink involved. The hotel had a large central area with swimming pools, and they’d split it up into “geographical” zones with a bar and buffet table in each. We were ushered over to the UK & Ireland zone, where our business lead was running the bar.

There was a lot of alcohol involved. And a lot of food. And (strangely) a lot of carved watermelons. And towards the end of the evening there was some live music, which kept us awake for ages – most unwelcome given how knackered we were. Oh yes, as parents of two young children you can guess which side of the coin we landed when it came to that the choice between having a night of partying because we didn’t have the kids, and getting a good night’s sleep because we didn’t have the kids.

Team Building

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Saturday morning started with a hearty breakfast and then we set off for the main event. I use the term loosely, in that it seemed to be rather badly planned and involved an activity that I wouldn’t ever have chosen for myself.

We were split into groups of about 15 and assigned a local guide who apparently understood Marrakesh, and our task was to visit the souks and acquire as many items as we possibly could from a rather large list, whilst spending the least amount of money possible. My personal view is that it totally failed as a team building exercise. The couple of people in our group who were actually interested in either shopping, or seeing the souks, were in their element up to the point where they started pushing our guide around. Most of the people in our group (including me) showed no interest whatsoever in the task at hand, and seemed perfectly happy to be lead around the place gawping at locals involved in a variety of retailing and cottage industry activities. I’m not a haggler.

I was extremely happy when the guide eventually broke the torture by telling us we’d run out of time and we could go into a cafe where we could get a drink and end the pain. The cafe in question was large and we had a good lunch with some very welcome cold drinks. Everyone else from the other groups also met there.

Our level of achievement against the task list was apparently low to medium, but quite frankly I was surprised we achieved anything. Let’s just say that if our group had been on The Apprentice they’d have fired all of us. At the same time. In the first week. Still, it’s a laugh, innit?

During the afternoon a number of activities were on offer to fill the time, including golf, pampering in the spa, going shopping, and other things. Thankfully one of the options was “do nothing”, and this is the one we decided to do. We needed it.

In the evening things perked up considerably. We got our posh kecks on and jumped on a bus over to a posh country club around the other side of town, where we were having the official dinner. I was wearing the full black suit, which was a bit warm, and Kas was wearing a very posh dress and ridiculously high heels that became too uncomfortable to wear 5 minutes after we got to the event venue. Well, she has a bit of a hippy mind set with these things. Anyway, it’s easier to dance without them, which was handy later when the band came on.

There was some corporate chat beforehand then we were allocated to tables of 10 or so and gorged ourselves on a pretty lavish meal. There was some chat about various subjects but a number of the men at the table were interested in the progress of the UEFA Champions League final between Internazionale and FC Bayern. So people kept popping outside to get a phone signal so they could check the football score. And from then onwards I had a new euphemism – “checking the football score” now means the same when I say it as “turning my bike around”

I can’t remember what time we left, but it was late. At least the end of the day was considerably more entertaining than the start.

Marrakech City

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We decided not to go straight home after the corporate jolly event. After all, we’d been there from Friday night to Sunday morning and there’d been all of 3 waking hours that weren’t occupied with some form of activity, and during this three hours we were knackered so we did nothing.

So we decided we’d stay over an extra couple of days, but as the corporate jolly was over we had to move hotels from the Palmeraie Golf Resort to the Royal Mirage Deluxe down in the city centre.

It was really quite nice there.

After chilling at the hotel for a while we decided to go for a walk around.

First up we went for a walk to the rather impressive Koutoubia Mosque, which was just up the road from the hotel on the way to the Jemaa El Fnaa. It’s the largest mosque in the city and it’s really very photogenic. During the French occupation of Morocco a whole network of roads was developed around the city with the mosque as the focal point.

From the mosque we plodded our way through the city heading for the Bahia Palace.

The Bahia Palace itself is a rather impressive construction with beautiful gardens that was built in the late 19th century. The overriding effect of the place in daylight in the middle of May is rather bright and white, There were lots of white walls and brightly coloured ceramics, and it was hard work not squinting.

In the evening we got ourselves cleaned up and went out for another go. We headed up to the Djemaa el-Fnaa for a bit of Tommy tourist activity, one part of which involved some very sternly worded pigeon-French trying to tell a henna artist that Kas most definitely did not want one, nor, indeed, did she want a small “tester” (which would no doubt result in some kind of money being owed). I’d read that this is a common practice locally, so thought it best to be up front from the offset. No henna, no money, no thankyou.

The Magic Garden

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On our fourth day in Marrakesh we decided to head over to the Jardin Majorelle. There’s not a lot to say except that it was rather spectacular and we were there most of the day.

You could also say that the gardens were once owned by Yves Saint Laurent (because they were) and that his ashes are sprinkled around there.

It’s a great mixture of brightly painted or tiled buildings and walls filled with tropical plants – mainly desert ones, but also with a few wet areas.

We got a taxi round as it was a little way away from where we were staying. The hotel was happy to oblige, and when we’d done it was easy enough to get another one back again. As it was mainly outdoors it was quite draining, so when we got back to the hotel we crashed. I think this was the evening we went for a dip in their outdoor swimming pool and snoozed our way through to dinner time.

A New Sport

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So what do you do when you’ve got a couple of hours to spare in Marrakech ? Go geocaching, of course! Although to be honest we probably couldn’t have picked a cache further away from our home location for our first geocaching experience.

Over a cold drink in Marrakech’s Djemaa el Fna square we used the newly acquired iPhone app to determine there was a cache about a mile away in the Cyber Parc. It started relatively well with the app getting us to the general vicinity of the cache but finding it was a completely different matter. The iPhone’s GPS is only accurate to about 50 metres (although we didn’t know this at the time) and things were complicated further by not knowing what we were looking for.

So the search started. We wandered around with the iPhone app in compass mode trying to find Ground Zero, we would follow the compass in one direction only for it to point somewhere else once we had got to the specified location. Convinced it must be nearby we looked in nooks and crannies in a nearby wall, in bushes, around trees, around lampost bases but still nothing. By now we were getting the odd strange look from a couple of students studying on a bench nearby, and at one point I got told off for going on the soil. At least I think I did, the problem was that the person dressed in a uniform was talking to me in French, at speed, and quite frankly my French is not that good. But I got the general drift of the conversation from the tone of voice.

Anyway, we went back to the app for more detective work. We looked at the photos uploaded by other people and determined the correct feature to search. We found it about two minutes later. Our first try and our first success! It was a micro-cache, which could be more accurately described as a plastic pot of the type usually used for vitamins.

We opened the cache and found a log book which we duly signed and then hid the cache back where we found it. The students had gone by this time, or perhaps we had scared them off – strange English people wandering around like loonies! In all it probably took us about 30 minutes to find the cache. With a proper GPS rather than the iPhone it could have been a lot quicker.

Finally, we uploaded our find onto the geocaching website via the iPhone app and then feeling flushed with success we retired back to our hotel bar for another cold drink and some crisps. The cache in question was the Cyber Parc Cache.

A successful end to a great holiday in Marrakech!