|Our room, Riad Morgane|
At almost the far end of the derb our guide came to a halt in front of an imposing wooden door and opened the smaller door set within it. We ducked and stepped through. An oasis of calm after the medina outside, two floors of rooms arranged on three sides of courtyard, a plunge pool at the centre graceful palms either side in large pots. Gordon & Elise had a ground floor room, ours was up some tiles winding stairs on the floor above and was well appointed with Moroccan painted furniture, shutters that could be left open, partly closed to be glazed or completely shut to plunge the room into total darkness. In the ensuite was a huge terracotta coloured bath which I made good use of the following afternoon for a long hot soak.
|The builder's donkey cart|
outside our riad every morning
From the mosque we headed vaguely south along streets lined with open fronted shops one making intricate iron lamps, another fixing motor bikes, another selling garments and yet another tourist trinkets. As in Rabat most of the locals wear djellabas – full length hooded overshirts or coats; the women’s were often in bright pinks or blues or printed with large patterns, the men’s usually pale yellow or fawn either plain or subtly stripped. Some older women pulled up the large hood over their headscarf and then folded the front of it back over their head to ward off the sun, presumably the extra part could be pulled down over the face in a desert sandstorm. The fastenings on these surcoats were a mass of tiny silk buttons set along intricate picot work from neck to knee. Young and old alike wear them although many young men were in jeans and t-shirts.
The focus of Marrakech for locals and tourists alike is the large open space at the southern end of the medina Djemaa el-Fnaa. Surrounded by narrow souks it is impossible to describe the clamour of the hustling stall holders, the noise of the snake charmers’ pipes and tabors combined with smells of spices, mint stalls, donkeys and drains; all that during the afternoon when it is not busy. As sunset approaches foodstalls are set up, the entertainment expands to include Berber dancers, storytellers, magicians, jugglers and more. Part tourist entertainment, part local way of life the area is filled and teeming. We decided to eat early in one of the rooftop terrace restaurants, that way we could take it all in from above before plunging in ourselves.
|Foodstalls waiting for customers|
|Musician cum storyteller|
The following day in complete contrast we headed out of the Medina to the tranquillity of Jardin Majorelle an amazing oasis of bamboo, cacti and raked gravel created by a French painter and more recently by Yves Saint Laurent. Cool and hushed the red paths are lined with large pots painted either deep blue or bright sunflower yellow. There were a lot of tourists but it still seemed peaceful. The Berber museum in one corner was surprisingly interesting, the Berbers are nomadic with a penchant for adopting and adapting religions that came their way – originally pagans they first became Jewish then later Christian but layered these on top of their original feasts and practices, now they would be considered Muslim but again their highly coloured clothes, unique language and tribal traditions set them apart from the Arabs.
|The Madersa Courtyard|
Hotel Maison Arabe was founded in 1946 but although their craft shop is easy to find opposite the local mosque, the main hotel entrance is somewhat tricky but locals pointed out which alley to turn down. Drinks in the jazz bar downstairs with soothing live music from a grand piano in one corner, then on to the dining room when our table was ready. Service was everything that you would expect from a place with such a French influence, the staff amusing yet attentive and the Moroccan food was superb, we all had the roast lamb a speciality of Marrakech, richly flavoured, succulent it melted in the mouth.
|The rich colours of the Marrakech Museum|
We returned to the Riad to check out before midday but were able to leave our bags whilst we found some lunch. One last wander through the souks of the medina led to discovering some more upmarket streets with art galleries and antique shops before plunging once more into the tourist areas with zillions of leather shoes, handbags, keyrings and more hanging from every possible surface, the ground covered with tangines and pierced iron lamps. Everywhere the stall holders called to us; “special price”, “you need a carpet” (a statement not a question), “what size shoe madam?” – it made a change from the "pashminas, handbags and t-shirts" yelled by the sellers of Dubai! Another terrace restaurant overlooking the Djeema watching people bustling here and there, carpets rolled out for prayers to enable the overflow of the various congregations to kneel even occupied some of the space between the souks and the orange juice stalls.
Then it was a taxi to the station, foiling one final attempt to fleece us – "my meter not working sir" forty dirhams to le gare du train, Kevin offered twenty but settled for thirty (about £2.30). The train was late; first ten minutes prior to arriving then 25 leaving. It being Friday afternoon there was a huge crowd all getting away, going home etc for the weekend. Travelling first class meant a booked seat in a compartment. Our “voiture” (carriage) was number one so we climbed into the first one at the rear of the train, it being labelled as number one. Someone else came to claim our seats. He patiently explained that Car 1 was the next first class carriage further along in the middle of the train – so the rear of the train had car 2, car 1 was in the middle and car 3 was at the other end – presumably it all made sense to someone but at every stop there was confusion!
What with track works and the delays caused by our train being late leaving meaning it had to wait for access to the single line part south of Casa (the local name for Casablanca) it was almost nine in the evening by the time we reached the boat. An hour and a half after we’d thought but it was great to be home. We’d eaten on the train – poulet sandwiches turned out to be large baps filled with roast chicken, green olives and lettuce – so we weren’t hungry but purchased in the Ascima supermarket under the station 500ml of milk (for breakfast) and a large chilled bottle of “Fanta Limon” to quench our thirst once we’d opened up the boat hatches etc as it was steamy hot down below.
We had had a fascinating two days made more enjoyable by our companions Elise and Gordon with their tales of cruising S America and the Pacific. Marrakech is an amazing and unique place rich with history and tradition combining the modern with almost filmset perfect souks, mosques and restaurants in a way that can be described as only Marrakech. And next? Some more prosaic provisioning and laundry chores then sometime next week or perhasp the the week after tides and weather permitting a few day sails down the coast to explore more of this fascinating country.