A Deserter Abroad: Marrakech

When you have been given gardening leave because your strategy to piss your boss off just enough to boot you out of the building succeeded, but he cannot actually sack you as he got too angry and failed to implement the correct procedures, you might want to doss around in an exotic location and do sod all whilst getting paid to do it.

That is how I found myself watching the sun set on the beach at the Spanish resort of Tarifa with TC, my travel companion, drinking €1 bottles of sangria plonk whilst trying to keep upright from the effects of the relentless Levante wind. And the sangria.

‘That is Africa over there,’ I said. ‘We should go.’

‘Yeah, but we are here for a bit of a party,’ replied TC. ‘It’s not too party friendly over there and not too booze friendly.’

‘It’s deathly quiet here and when have I ever failed to get us some booze?’

‘But we live in South London and we are now in Spain…  Oh, go on then, let’s go tomorrow.’  

And that was that, we were on a mission of discovery. A mission to see if it was harder to obtain booze in North Africa than it was in South London which admittedly, is not very hard. We set the success criteria as finding:

  • An offy
  • A bar
  • A dive not operating strictly within the law.

We got up early, found a shop so that I could send my former boss a postcard, jumped on a ferry and ended up in Tangiers full of optimism. This was not the first time I had been to Tangiers. I went as a child and my enduring memory was a shady fella offering my father a couple of camels for my mother. This was the early eighties and was as normal as North African plane hijackings at the time. I also remember a lot of blokes wearing fezes but I can’t recollect if this was the fashion at the time or whether we had stumbled across a Tommy Cooper convention.

We decided that Tangiers was a typically crap border town so we would get the overnight train to Marrakech, after I had found a postcard shop.  

Medina time

Arriving early in the morning we set out in search of an offy. If you ever require anything dodgy, home or abroad, it is always best to ask a cabbie, which we duly did. We had read in Lonely Planet that there was only one offy in Marrakech but it was rather vague about where it was.

We jumped into the cab, turned left out of the station for 100 yards, turned right and there it was. ‘Fifteen dollars, please’. Eek.

The offy

It was very much like entering a Bargain Booze, with shelves of beer and spirits cramming every available bit of space. We enquired as to whether it really was the only offy in the city and he proudly stated it was and that he operated on a basis of bribing whoever needed to be bribed so his booze was a ‘bit expensive’.  

‘There are a couple of supermarkets selling beer, but they are no good,’ he told us. We purchased a very expensive bottle of vodka and some equally pricey beers and headed back to our accommodation.

Ease to locate 2/5

Range of booze: 5/5

Price: 1/5

Atmosphere 3/5

Overall: 3/5

The bar

In the evening we found bars. Well, two bars. Two hideously expensive bars. The sort of pretentious Moroccan-themed bar that you would find on a London rooftop. Only we were on a rooftop in Morocco. Admittedly, the weather was better, bar the occasional dust storm, but they were lacking clientele. It had the atmosphere of a bridge club orgy. There really wasn’t much to write on a postcard about this place and we both deserved better, so we left.

Hideously expensive bar

Ease to locate 3/5

Range of booze: 3/5

Price: 1/5

Atmosphere 1/5

Overall: 1/5

The illegally operating shithole

Upon our exit, a bloke armed with a cobra tried to mug us by threatening us with his snake. Usually I would crap half a pound of prime Dundee cake at the sight of a snake but this one was not right. It had been defanged. It had had the ability to really fuck up your day taken away from it and it looked a bit sad. It had gone from a majestic life in the desert murdering small mammals, to the mugging implement of a street robber who couldn’t afford a flick knife. All it was capable of giving you was a gummy nuzzle.

I explained to the would-be mugger (who, in fairness, was only demanding a couple of dollars) that his snake was shite. We shook hands and went our separate ways.  

‘Hey, mister, do you want some beers,’ came a call from a 13-year-old boy behind us. Me and TC looked at each other, briefly questioning the morality of letting a teenager guide us to a drinking dive. We decided that back in London, it is usually 13-year-olds accosting you outside the offy and asking you to get them some tins of Super Strength and a pack of ten Bennies, in a mildly threatening manner. With that in mind we decided that none of our moral obligations were being broken on this occasion.

We followed him into the crowded labyrinths of the ancient medina, passing the hot, sweaty mix of humanity traversing the narrow passage ways. We passed endless shops selling rugs, carpets, hookah pipes and tourist tat. We walked for ages with no sign of a bar. Then we followed him into a shop.

‘This is good shop, mister,’ he said.

‘We wanted a bar,’ I said.

‘This is good shop, though, mister.’

Good shop

Perhaps this was like one of those tours organised by a Spanish hotel, in which they take you to the main attraction and then on the way back leave you for a couple of hours at a dreary pottery factory in the hope that you’ll buy some terracotta shit that you don’t want, let alone need, and the operator gets a nice little kickback.

TC bought herself a rug. I bought myself a brass lampshade, a lighter, a postcard and some stamps. The lighter I had bought turned out to be of some interest, however, as when you pressed the button on the side it projected a poor quality 1970s style porno image onto whatever surface it was pointed at.

We were no nearer a drinking establishment but these purchases were enough to gee up our pint-sized guide and within five minutes we were knocking on a heavy wooden door set into the side of one of the city walls. We paid our guide ten dollars and he was off into the night with a cheerful, ‘Careful in there, mister’.

The door opened and heeding the young lad’s advice, we walked into a place that looked like Aladdin’s cave. Only Aladdin had cleared all his shit out, fucked off and invited the local alcoholics and drop outs in for a free-for-all. There were benches and rugs. There were scraggy cats. There were the unconscious and semiconscious sprawled across the benches and rugs. There were a couple of elderly gentlemen having a half-hearted punch up in the corner. The air was thick with smoke from hookah pipes and weed. The barman was built like a bull and looked like his daytime job was an executioner.


‘What do you want?’ he asked.

‘Two beers, please.’

‘Where are you from?’

‘England,’ I said.

‘Where is she from?’ asked the barman.


‘Your beer two dollar, her beer four dollar,’ he said.

‘OK mate, ta.’ I said. ‘Have a tip as well.’

We had barely got halfway through our second beers when another young lad who acted as a spotter ran in and informed us that the police were coming. Those sober enough clambered over the unconscious and crammed through the doorway. Out on the street they were off and away into the night, leaving those less capable to the mercy of the Moroccan police.

We made good our escape and headed back to Spain.

Ease to locate 0/5

Range of booze: 1/5 (beer or beer)

Price: 4/5 (loses one point due to blatant racism)

Atmosphere 4/5

Overall: 5/5

What we learnt:

  • If you are on a debauched drinking holiday, do not get tempted by the mystic allure of North Africa
  • Asking a taxi driver to embark on a nefarious mission with you nearly always means you are going to get stiffed, farewise
  • Careful where you point your lighter

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All images by the author