Tuesday, 10 February 2009


Despite Mother Nature's serious attempt to thwart our travel plans, we managed to make it to Marrakech with no holdups whatsoever... a bit of a relief really, as the preceding day had been full of nervous phone calls to airlines, airports and rail companies. The plus side of the 'wintry blast' was an incredible view as we took off over London - definitely worth everyone else's inconvenience, I'd say!
The hotel was something quite special - the ceiling was hand painted in an ornate design, there were two four-poster beds, a balcony and harem-style couch... essentially, it was everything you thing Marrakech will be like. Good start.
Our first morning we walked about 25 min from our hotel in the new town to the Medina, mostly to visit the Information Centre... which was closed. Helpful. We weren't overly surprised as the guidebooks do all say that hotel staff are a lot more informative than the centres, so it wasn't too much of a spanner in the works. We went past Katoubiya Mosque, the tallest building in the city (in fact, there are laws which mean nothing near it can be taller than 3 stories, and buildings in the new city cannot be higher than it, so the view from the top is reserved for Muslims, as us infidels aren't allowed in mosques in Morocco - never mind, we had our own cunning plan for this - more about that later).
After lunch, we had a quick wander around Jamaa El Fna (the main square) and into the souks, after being stern with ourselves that we would NOT be buying anything today, no matter how guilty the vendors made us feel... it worked and we walked out unscathed (but eyeing up a few shiny things). It was here that we made a small mistake... pausing. Yes, you might think stopping briefly is a perfectly legitimate action whilst taking in a new city, but it isn't. Not in the main square anyway, as we found out when pounced on by a snake charmer who was anything but. Oh he was all smiles as he draped one of the reptiles around Kent's neck (I had the good sense to step back) and another on his head (eeew), then grabbed our camera so he could take a photo of us... but the smile soon stopped as we tried to leave without giving him the equivalent of the GDP of a developing nation. Kent managed to placate him with the equivalent of 20p, but I was concerned for a while there that we weren't getting the camera back...

The next day we stayed a bit closer to home and walked to the Majorelle Gardens, which are/were owned by Yves Saint Laurent. It's in the thick of the city, next to a busy road, but the high walls make it feel really quite peaceful and the gardens themselves are beautiful, with lots of exotic, err, things (not sure what it all was, but pretty all the same) and bright pots and walls.
The forecast for the next day was a bit bleak, so we opted for a bus trip to the Ourika Valley, which is in the Atlas Mountains - the other side of which is the Sahara Desert. [Eryn has left the building] The twelve year old boy that was to be the guide showed up with his people mover, fashionably late. And we were off, picking up two french women on the way. It was about 80kms to the top of the road. Most of that through very poor-looking flat semi-desert with the occasional shop selling either dead animals, of various kinds, with heads and legs on; or what some would call food shops, that were all seduced by coca-cola's offer of free shop painting, in a pretty red colour. After 40kms of passing horse and carts, dodging old men on motorbikes, being passed by tossers in Mercedes and honking furiously at all of them and more, we started to climb into the valley. At some points the road was breaking up a bit and at others the rivers we were working through had a lot of cars in them.
We stoped at a "genuine" Berber house and had a look at the way they lived and their facilities: the old water powered mill and the cooking and sleeping facilities. We also stopped further up at an Argan oil co-operative store and production unit. Argan is a type of plant that does not grow anywhere but southern Morroco. They make it into both a food oil and skin oil. We didn't buy any.
As the SNOW [in Africa] got heavier we stopped at one of the cute little bridges to take some photos. When we got to the top we were not keen for the three hour round trip walk to the waterfall so we headed home via another carpet store. But there was nothing as good as the Turkish carpet we had, so, much to the salesman's consternation, we bought nothing.
The next day we headed to the port town of Essouira. "Two hours" the bus guy said, only four hours 40min later we were there. Not the nicest town in the wet but we had a reasonable look around the port, bastion, markets and a museum. No doubt on a very nice summer day would have been very nice. Was getting home going to be the smooth two hours it should have been? No. Five hours later.
Sunday, God's day, the aforementioned infidels God's day. If Eryn hadn't been convinced that this is a very dirty stinky city yet, she was going to be by the end of the day. We had a walk through and around town. Quite a lot of walking for the day. We headed into town to have a look around before heading through to the tanneries on the other side of the Medina. Having walked around for about an hour and then popping out of the centre in the same place we went in, oops, we followed the city walls around it to get to the tanneries. The tanneries is the traditional place all the animal skins are tanned the natural way. In piss and bird shit. It smelt a treat. Was a very interesting process. Sing it with me.... You put the camel skins in the shit; you take the camel skins out; You put the camel skins in the piss; you take the camel skins out; You put the camel skins in the bleach; you take the camel skins out; scrape off all the meat; that's why it smells so sweet.
We had a look around two and into the shop with all the made and dyed leather goods. But we didn't buy anything, were getting good.
Also went around to the old Badii Place massive old palace built over 25 years. Was said to be one of the most luxurious and best decorated in the world at the time. Only lived in for 80 years. It is said to have taken 12 years to get all the good stuff, gold, tiles and ornaments out when the new emperor was demolishing it. Still in good enough state to get a decent view over town and see how huge it would have once been.
Last full day. Eryn was really keen to walk away from town up some hill at the back of town. And even though the guys at the hotel said it was dangerous Eryn just said "nah, it will be fine, aggressive drunk Africans nor scorpion and snake sandwiches bother me, lets go". So I dutifully followed. We headed about 25 minutes walk away from town towards some hills with old middle age city walls on them. Then up we went, took some photos and back down the other side. Fearlessly beating a path through the drunk Africans, mercilessly slaughtering hordes of snakes and inciting internal warfare amongst the ranks of scorpions that amasses to meet our arrival.
Had another wander around town and bought a few things. Had our fifth dinner of chippie sandwiches. That night was the first we went out to the evening market in the Jamaa. Every night dozens of dinner restaurants set up shop in the square and staff pester the money out of all and sundry walking past.
And that was much as it went down in Africa.

Kent... and Eryn who doesn't know this is up yet...

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