Monday, 3 October 2011

Marrakesh – Assault on the senses!

Our bedroom in the Riad
Flying into Marrakesh, I really had no expectations of what we would encounter during our stay in Morocco expect it was a Muslim country and we should be polite and mindful of their customs. After landing and having no trouble finding the local bus into town (its just outside the airport main doors, passed the taxi’s, 10Dh one way).  A hot tip for anyone heading straight for the Medina… get off at the stop where you can see a million horse drawn carriages next to a park – this is next to Djemaa el-Fna. I wish we knew that before going another 15 minutes to the train station and than had to catch the locals bus back to the same place.

Djemaa el-Fna early in the morning looks vast and plain, only the orange juice sellers have setup (4DH for a fresh glass!) with a few eager touts pointing you towards their preferred place to eat/sleep/buy spices.
Dark allley way towards our RiadOur Riad was somewhere in the Medina, and from what we could tell it was somewhere near one of the larger Mosques in the north (Mosque Ben Youssef). We walked through peaceful alleys of people setting up their shops with the occasional teenager telling us the direction to the main square then offering to show us.

After finally weaving endlessly through ‘derb’ after ‘derb’ we resorted to asking a shop owner who seemed extremely eager to help. After showing him the piece of paper with the address, I asked “Do you know where this is?”
He replied “Anglais? ah non non non” and gave the piece of paper back. 
“D’accord, Je peut parler un peu” I replied and asked again, in French, for directions.

He seemed very impressed that someone who spoke english actually knew a french phrase or three, and he helpfully pointed us to the dodgiest looking ally we’d seen yet… directly in front of us. Hesitantly, thinking we’d be mugged around the corner, we walked away with him looking expectantly at us for a tip, but unfortunately for him it didn’t really occur to me at the time what his expectant look meant.

I stood up as tall and menacingly as a skinny computer nerd could and ventured down this dark alley. We were finally confronted by a studded leather door with our number above it which we knocked with trepidation. After a while the very friendly housekeeper greeted us and showed us to our room, which was quite cosy and funky. After Sarah had a chat with the French expat owner in french (I think I understood 40% and missed a few major details :), we set off to explore Marrakesh.

By now, it was around midday and things had come to life. There was a mind boggling array of colours everywhere, strange smells, vendors yelling, mint tea flowing.. it was amazing and intimidating at the same time.


We wandering around lost whilst avoiding touts, seeing all the major sites of the Medina and Marrakesh; had lunch down the ‘food alley’ next to the main square for around $3 for us both. We wandered into the Ville Nouvelle for a change of scenery and in search of water, while returning back just before dark to see Djemaa el-Fna square come alive! There were makeshift restaurants  setup everywhere, snail soup vendors, story tellers entertaining massive audiences, bands, games and a endless sea of human bodies moving around each other in complete chaos.

Dinner was at one of the makeshift restaurants with each shop having a insistent waiter who had a unique catch phrase (“Remember Sir, Number 7 takes you to heaven”). It was quite expensive for a large dinner for two, around $7 and not particularly better than the food down the road for $3! But the following night we did enjoy a tasty cinnamon tea with cake for 50 cents, followed by snail soup for another 50 cents. The snails were, interesting… Sarah even drank a bit of the snaily broth; but now neither of us can walk past a snail soup pot without feeling a bit nauseous.

The souks seemed to pack more vendors and more buyers into the already overcrowded spaces on the warm nights, with even more tourists in their short shorts, tank tops and low cut tops mixing amongst the mostly conservative population. One girl we saw seemed to be wearing little more than a pair of underwear with a tank top, happily roaming around oblivious to the looks the locals and other tourists alike were giving her.
IMG_1109_1After finishing a final run around of the souks trying to find water, we heading back about 9pm by which-time the markets had closed for the night. Somehow we managed to attract the attention of  a drunk teenager who came over and blocked my path while shouting “I know you think I’m that!” (pointing to the rubbish pile) and continued his rant while following us down the darker alleys. Eventually we stopped and told him goodbye firmly, just to have a equally firm “Make sure you watch out” in reply. It seems he wouldn’t be last teen we’d have a running in with in Marrakesh, with another telling us the usual line of “Sorry, this alley is closed”, which we gave the standard reply of “Ok, thanks”.. but this guy also got in my face (he was half my size) and I told him goodbye and to keep moving (in french)… to which he turned around and got as close as he could to my face and said “Don’t tell me what to do, this isn’t your country, this is Morocco… not France, you stupid french bastard!” and ran off laughing with his mate.  I was so caught by surprise at his aggressive stance and tone, I didn’t have time to laugh and tell him that I wasn’t French.

The vendors and touts aren’t as aggressive as in South East Asia, but watch out for the teens  and touts – we got taken by a tout in a very smooth operation but luckily we only lost time and no money. Generally kids will always tell you that something is closed, whether its the alley they’re playing in, the sight your going to see or the Riad your staying in… generally they’re just bored and like to mess with tourists. We found that kids will tell you an alley is closed if its a residential area, which is fine – they probably just don’t want us wandering around interrupting their game of football.

IMG_1082After a while we decided to switch to English for those who could speak it as I have the feeling that the locals are a little weary of French tourists (who seem to be in the majority).  Incredibly, I did witness a lady walking in high heels down a derb talking *very* loudly on her phone with her little dog behind her on a leash stopping to piss on a bench, next to a teapot on the ground, where a local family was sitting outside their apartment drinking tea. The lady stopped, looked at the dog, half shrugged in apology with a barely audible “Pardon”, gave a giggle and walked away with the family all looking at each other in complete disbelief that a dog just pissed on their chair and had an attempt at the teapot too. I assume a French expat or tourist judging by her distinct accent and she spoke to the locals in French, not Arabic.

On a side note, after walking around the medina and Marrakesh for several days, we learnt some important lessons about road rules. The first was pedestrians are the lowest forms of life in the transport spectrum. In the Medina, the order somewhat goes: 
1) Donkeys with Carriages
2) Motorbikes
3) Hand-pulled carts
4) Bicycles
5) Anything else that has four legs or wheels (i.e. one of the thousand cats that stroll the medina)
6) People

Outside the Medina, on the roads its even worse. There are pedestrian crossings, but they really serve no purpose as the car fly straight past when your crossing... we’ve seen people actually apologising to car drivers for using the pedestrian crossings for when the driver had to stop the car to avoiding hitting them!
IMG_1136Not surprisingly we saw three accidents on the way into Marrakesh from the airport, all involving motorbikes with one pedestrian who was hit (an old lady who was clutching her leg with one hand and had a theatrical posed arm over her forehead) and another which looked more serious involving a father and son. The one involving the child I thought was going to be gruesome as he was around five years old and they came off at speed with neither wearing a helmet; but apparently, as the father demonstrated, these accidents aren't too bad. After the bike stopped skidding down road and the father jumped up and ran back to his screaming child sprawled out on the road… he just picked him up by the arms and literally shook him until he straightened out.

Anyway, that’s all for Marrakesh. I would highly recommend it if you don’t mind a bit of chaos and getting lost. We’re off to Casablanca and Rabat next!
Dave (and Sare)

1 comment:

  1. I'm from Russia and Marrakech is on of my favorite places to be visited.
    Every time i go to morocco, I experience some day trips from Marrakech to an attractive city. It's really amazing


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