The adventure started at 3am..acutally it started the night before when Tasha and I polished of a bottle of wine and some port, and consequently struggled to get up. So late cabbie and my habitual lost boarding card dramas aside, we set of to the land of tagines, couscous and leather…
Upon arriving in Marrakesh, I was surprised to learn that French is widely spoken in Morocco – this was to prove very handy. We were swiftly re-acquainted with the ways of the 3rd world i.e. any foreigner is fair game for a rip off. So to catch a cab that should have been £5, they tried to charge us £50! Needless to say, it wasn’t their day. In the afternoon we caught a bus to Essouira, and arrived there early evening (after almost being left behind at a piss-stop!).. our bags weren’t so lucky. We were advised that they would be waiting for us in Marrakesh the next day when we got back.. it would be 4 long, dirty-clothes-wearing, no make-up days before we would see them again.
ESSOUIRA is a truly beautiful, picturesque, postcard type fishing village, with little beached blue rowing boats, white washed houses, forts with canons, seagulls, and of course, typical to all Morrocan towns, a wall around the old city (medina). Perfect place to surf, relax, just chillout really. In the evening we wandered through the maze of streets lined with stalls, with the smell of ocean, fish and tagine wafting through. Next morning, we walked along the fort, and strolled along the beach while the seagulls flew overhead, and the kids played football. Then back to Marrakesh where there were no bags to be found. We requested, cajoled, we kicked, we screamed, we begged, we cried (actually only I did) all for nothing.. no one was interested in our plight.
So off we went to Fes (el Bali) , sans bags. In a way it was a small blessing not to be encumbered by them as we (and thousands others) boarded the overnight train. Tasha and I were fortuitously positioned to board at the front.. we were pushed on by a surge of people from behind, but were very grateful to have seats as people crammed the aisles and every other available inch of floor space. Lots of dodgy folk and shitty toilets (bad pun).. Happy to be picked up on arrival.
We stayed in another amazing riad.. a riot of colours and geometric shapes, with huge doors, open spaces, and balconies. After a nice breakfast in the courtyard, we were ready to explore Fes.
FES was a revelation.. in the medina, life was going on as it had for been for hundreds of years before. Everything was brought in by donkey. The streets were so narrow that you had to jump into a shop when a donkey was passing through. If you were unfortunate enough not to hear the donkey coming, you were unceremoniously booted out the way, as I inadvertently found out! The medina is humming with activity, and the air of mystique is preserved by the dimness of light (the sunlight is mostly kept out by the narrowness of the streets, immediately flanked by buildings throughout), as well as the old people, doubled over their canes, women with tattooed faces, and people darting in and out of doorways and alleys that are barely visible. It is difficult to walk through in a hurry as every little shop looks like Ali Baba’s caves, and beckons you with its tantalising display of all things shiny and colourful.. rugs, lamps, mosaic mirrors, jewellery. An unattractive modern twist is given by the string of Converse sneakers hanging from every other shop. Bit hypocritical as I bought a cute pair of yellow ones!
The next day we went to see what no visitor to Fes leaves without seeing, and the image that is synonymous with Morocco… the colourful vats of the tanneries. But what the images fail to convey is the god awful stench that fills the air. Those who have a delicate disposition are given a sprig of mint, which I initially thought was laughable, but soon found myself reaching for. The smell is due the pigeon shit and cow piss used to soften the hides for the production of world renowned, soft Moroccan leather.
Upon departing Fes, we were ecstatic to be re-united with our long lost bags. Perfect timing as I had bought enough stuff to fill them. From Fes, we caught a bus to Meknes..
VOLUBILIS is a Roman settlement dating back to the 1st century, that was damaged by an earthquake. The mosaics, baths, communal shitter remain in tact, and in surprising good condition. From there we dropped into Moulay Idriss, town of the most famous Morrocan, but didn’t see much due to bad weather. Now we were ready to head back to crazy Marrakesh for the final adventure.
MARRAKESH, the train ride back was quite comfortable, and as we got in at night, we checked into the closest hotel, had a couple of beers – our first taste of alcohol, an elusive luxury in the semi-dry state of Morocco, since we arrived, and promptly went to sleep.
After a good night’s sleep and much needed McDonalds breakfast (I was all tagined-out by this stage), we were ready to brave the souks of Djema el Fnaa, the main square in Marrakesh. After hearing so much about the harassment by shopkeepers, I was quite apprehensive, but was pleasantly surprised. Nothing like the harassment of India. I also learned that it is better to smile and walk on, then to frown and walk on. They are just trying to make a living – thanks Tasha. The souks are full of pretty things… I continued to shop while a sceptical Natasha, my voice of reason, constantly reminded me that there was a finite amount of space in my suitcase. The shopkeepers are very entrepreneurial, and said the funniest things in the hopes of engaging us. Some of the comments we got were..
- “English? Fish and chips”
- “Lookie, lookie, free to lookie”
- “Madam I will give you democratic price”
- “Big welcome”
- “Moskey” (instead of Mosque)
- “Vous etes Berber??!” – this when you tied to haggle as Berbers are renowned for this.
The other thing I didn’t realise was that the Moroccans are very much into Bollywood movies despite having no link to India, and not speaking the language.
In the evening, the schizophrenic souk becomes a wild, exotic beast, imbued with colour, smells, and heaving to the drums and tambourines. The centre of the square is filled with food stalls, diners, storytellers, henna ladies, horse carriages and more. Every night we would dine at one of the restaurants on the outskirts of the square, and revel in the atmosphere. After that we would go for a drink, then rest and wait for the all the craziness to begin the next day.
On our final day, we caught a taxi to the Ourika valley. No travel adventure is complete without a crazy driver story, and thus we were acquainted with our 80 year old, toothless, half blind driver, who insisted on looking at us while talking, which he did most the time, rather than the road!
The OURIKA VALLEY is at the base of the Atlas Mountains. It was very energising and rejuvenating to be among the green trees, and bubbling streams after a week of being in souks and medinas. We trekked well into the mountains, across some rickety wooden bridges, and dangerous looking, fast moving streams, and were rewarded with good views.
One final shop around the souks, and we were out of the colourful, crazy, land of Morroco..