the hoofindex - rewind to the previous trip (berlin) - fast forward to the following trip (st paddy's in Dublin)
Warm weather, bright light, and sun burn again! It's been a while since we've experienced all those in one place - but the oven was turned on high in Marrakech, full sun, not a cloud in the sky, and a temperature at 9am that reminded us of a hot day back in NZ. Right down to the nice cooling breeze. Of course that all changed by 10am when the sun was turned to extra high, the temperature continued to creep up and the gentle cooling breeze disappeared. All this when we decided to go on a marathon walk by getting lost in the Medina and ending up on the wrong side of town.
It all began... bloody early on Friday morning, a 6AM flight on the plastic fantastic RyanAir... which meant the alarm went off with at 4AM. A sleep in compared to the Berlin weekend - thou I did not feel like a box of birds. Once again I pushed the Hoof'ess out so I could catch another 10 minutes sleep while she showered - trying to regain the dream I was having of winning Euromillions and traveling around the world in a fully worked Dodge Ram truck... but to no avail.
We had 4 days ahead of us, and needless to say the Hoof'ess was very excited about all that hot weather.
We commenced our well rehearsed tactic of driving to my work, dumping the car there and taking a short taxi to the airport. The airport was quite quiet and since we weren’t checking in any baggage we got priority boarding and grabbed front row seats on the plane. The flight was a bit longer than we have gotten used to – it was just under 3 hours, but then we were heading all the way to Northern Africa.
This is Hoofy's third continent after North America and Europe... and tenth country, he's now reached double figures.
We approached Morocco from Gibraltar over the Med, and as we flew inland we saw tons of little village settlements everywhere and the countryside was greener than we expected. As we approached Marrakech the landscape got a bit browner and more like a desert. Then the city just appeared out of the landscape... the pilot decided to zig zag on his approach while the snow-capped Atlas mountain range provided the back drop for the city.
There were plenty of unknown airlines parked at the tiny Marrakech terminal and as usual Ryan Air parked as far away from the terminal as possible so we were bussed to the arrivals gate. We then joined quite long queues for a very manual arrivals procedure. The immigration agents had to type all our details into their computers by hand and they were in no hurry to complete any task… often taking breaks to talk to colleagues as they passed. Nevertheless we finally got through the queue and were officially in Morocco (and with the stamps in our passports to prove it… a change for the Hoof given his EU passport). We also changed our pounds into Moroccan dirham, since we couldn’t do it in London as it is a restricted currency and the government only lets a small amount out of Morocco.
Outside we easily found the taxi rank but it was organised chaos so decided to sit on a little kerb with our cans of Coke, refresh ourselves and observe for a little while so we could figure out what was going on (and have a laugh) before we tried to tackle the system for ourselves. It appeared that the locals catching the cabs were having no problems but it was funny to watch the tourists give the system a go. They approached the taxis and immediately the drivers swarmed around them and they would be shuffled from taxi to taxi until somebody either knew where the location was, got the right price or everyone agreed that the driver had the right to take the passengers. So after watching the circus for about half an hour we approached to see how we would go. Just like other tourists we were surrounded by drivers all eager to take us to our riad… the Hoof'ess, as always, was pre-prepared and had written the address on a piece of paper, which was snatched out of her hand by a keen driver. We were lead away to a ‘grand taxi’ (a big ol' beige Mercedes) and were just about to get in when a guy who appeared to be ‘in charge’ came and told our driver off. He snatched the address off the driver and headed in the opposite direction… we were keen to stick with the information so followed him while he found us another taxi, this time a ‘petite taxi’ (old beige Fiat). The driver knew the address and we poorly negotiated the price…like in Thailand the taxis have meters but don’t use them. Since we had no option but get in a taxi we agreed to his price and headed off to the city (which is situated a mere 5 minutes away).
The city was very cool… very, very colourful. All of the buildings are a pretty dusty pink colour and there are lots and lots of palm trees, grass and beautiful bougainvilleas along grand, wide avenues (you just have to ignore the rubbish that sits on every street corner). The taxi driver was a maniac, it was like a rollercoaster which, while I enjoyed the entertainment, the Hoof'ess didn't. She was a little more nervous watching the cars heading straight towards us because our driver decided to pass a few cars and a bus, three wide on a two lane road. We didn't really get a chance to get our bearings, or check out the surroundings. I could see in the Hoof'ess eye that she was wondering if she was going to survive the roads of North Africa.
Our riad (B&B) was in the ‘’New Town’’ – the area which the French built during their time in the country. It was in a beautiful residential street tucked behind one of the main boulevards and lined with fragrant orange trees. Our host – Patrick, invited us in, gave us the grand tour of his house and then served us some delicious mint tea. It was quite difficult to communicate with him since his English was very poor and our French was even worse, but he was very helpful and there is nothing like some good old sign language. He then showed us to our room which was on the roof terrace - sensational view and a great little room.
It was very traditional and right next door to the outdoor living area and had views over the neighborhood. Needless to say with the sun shinning, blue sky's, warm weather and four day weekend, Hoofy was very happy and just couldn't stop smiling.
After ditching our bags we decided on a short walk to get our bearings before settling in for a relaxing afternoon of reading in the sun on the terrace. We put on our walking shoes and headed for the Medina (the old area of the city, behind the city wall – the French left this area untouched as they were sensitive to the traditional life of the Moroccans, and it was actually a good choice on their part). It was about a 15 minute walk from our riad, along the boulevard which was undergoing a bit of regeneration – actually more like a lot of regeneration. About half of the footpaths were ripped up, buildings were boarded up but it was hard to tell if they were going up or coming down - or just plain unfinished, and then there were the multitude of trucks and building machinery parked on the footpaths.
We decided to be brave and head into the Medina for a quick look. We had an overall map of the area, but many of the streets in the Medina are either un signposted, or not named on the map - while others are just not even included on the map. Not only that but none of them are straight, or anything remotely like a structured city plan - essentially just a big maze.
The gates into the Medina are impressive - this being a "minor" entrance.
Inside the Median was an assault on the senses…. mainly smell (and not the good kind) and sound. It was absolute chaos with the narrow paths being shared by pedestrians, bikes, motorbikes and a fair few donkeys. The rule was meant to be that pedestrians stayed to the right, but there were plenty of stalls and we just didn’t want to get that close to them, especially as we passed butchers who didn't know what refrigeration meant - while I coped, I think the Hoof'ess was considering going vegetarian. There were all sorts of carcasses hanging up in the open air and lots of cuts of meat sitting on the counters at the booths…all in the open air, 30 degrees and with flies sitting on them. Especially upsetting for the Hoof'ess were the stalls with the live chickens, an unusual alternative to refrigeration to make sure the meat stays fresh. However then you'd pass the vege guy whose goods were also covered by more flies than I've seen - especially the fruit. Marrakech could be the ultimate Jenny Craig weight loss scheme - perhaps they should advertise that in America.
There are apparently plenty of undercover ‘tourist police’ in the city and that has luckily stopped a lot of the problems that tourists experience in developing countries. We weren’t bothered by stall holders or touts. Apparently when a local is seen to be bothering a tourist they can be carted off for hours of questioning so the problem has almost completely disappeared, however in a country with over 20% unemployment it is still very tempting for the locals to try it on. And that’s exactly what we experienced after wandering around in the medina for about 30 minutes. We were approached by a man telling us that it was auction day at the tanneries and we should pay a visit and as luck would have it, he could show us the way! We tried to shake him for a little while, but then decided it was easier to just walk with him for a while…every time we tried to go a different way from him one of his mates would appear from the woodwork and tell us that the road was closed because of the mosque and we couldn’t go that way. This line came up many, many times over the weekend.
When we got near the tanneries the smell was completely overwhelming! They use all sorts of ‘natural’ things to soften and dye the leather and it was without a doubt the worst thing I have ever, ever smelt!!! It was also quite graphic in nature and I thought that the Hoof'ess was going to hurl…our guide was not happy that the Hoof'ess was refusing to go in to look at the goods for sale, but better to offend him than her throwing up in front of the locals. We made a very speedy exit from the area and through the nearest gate in the city wall. We found ourselves standing on the road opposite a shantytown and still smelling ‘’life’’ around us, so it was time to carry on back to the sanctuary of our riad, whatever direction that may be?
The locals going about their business, a common sight carting stuff around with horse and cart.
A view of the outside of the Medina - the holes in the wall are to provide airflow and allow movement in the wall due to the extreme changes in heat.
Once the aroma had cleared from our nostrils it was time to find somewhere acceptable to eat a late lunch. We found a café and shared an omelet. We then stopped at one of Marrakech’s two supermarkets for some supplies – Coke and snacks to stash in the Hoof'ess handbag, since we had already decided by that stage that finding decent food easily would be nearly impossible when the stomach demanded feeding. We then spent a few hours, like planned, reading on the roof terrace at our riad. Finding dinner then proved a bit difficult too as the café on the corner of our street didn’t really serve food, so we settled on a freshly cooked doughnut and two Cokes before hitting the bakery for fresh bread rolls that we took back to our rooftop terrace. Was a bit uncomfortable sitting in the café anyway…apparently cafes are only the domain for men in Marrakech – women don’t go out for drinks, food or coffee.
Saturday morning we had a lovely leisurely sleep in before striking out for the Medina again. First stop was to pick up a hat, couldn't believe that heading to the sun I'd forgotten my hat!
We then decided to walk around the outside of the city wall instead of getting lost inside heading in at an entrance close to Jemma El Fnna square - the heart of the Marrakech Medina and the main square for the market stalls and evening food stalls.
We sat in a café for a while and just people watched opposite Marrakech’s famous mosque. Then we walked to the square and observed life there from a rooftop restaurant, while we enjoyed a chicken and cous cous dish.
It was the first outing for our handy little language translator which helped in finding suitable dishes.
The view from the restaurant - the square was emptier than we thought it would be - with not many stalls given the space available.
Feeling a bit rejuvenated we walked out into the square and checked out the snake charmers and men with monkeys in little waistcoats which concerned the Hoof'ess.
We then had a quick browse at the markets before heading out to the jump onto the "hop on hop off" bus for a trip around the city’s main sights.
Just a little further around the medina wall was the first stop. It was one of the gates leading to the Kings Palace - a few tourists had cosy rides in the horse and carriages.
The route for the bus was a bit disappointing since there aren’t a lot of things to see and it is really only a way for tourists to get from hotel, to hotel, to city easily - but this was one of the avenues we drove on which were created by the French.
There was one decent stop - the largest gardens in the town.
We wandered around there for a while before heading back to the bus and camel stop. I suggested a ride - but the Hoof'ess wasn't keen. Aparently they smell. We jumped back on the bus to get ourselves closer to the riad. Then it was a bit more reading on the rooftop terrace before our big night out.
At breakfast our host, Patrick and his live-in male ‘friend’ were telling us about a great restaurant with belly dancers so we took them up on their offer to make us a booking there (and come with us aparently!!). So at 9.15pm we headed out in Patrick’s old convertible Fiat for this ‘famous’ restaurant. It turned into a great evening even if we couldn’t really communicate with them. The food was excellent and so were the belly dancers…
...and it was one of the few places that actually serves alcohol in Marrakech – it caters for the ex-pat community of diplomats and businessmen. I had a beef tangine while the Hoof'ess had a fishcake tangine with some nice Moroccan wine - I tried a Casablanca beer. After dinner we headed to the bar upstairs for more drinks and some dancing…or at least dancing by Patrick’s friend. We never got to the bottom of what their relationship was….Patrick had recently moved to Marrakech and the younger Moroccan guy lived with him and was quite obviously gay and very affectionate…. but Patrick had a wife and children back in Lyon and he visited them frequently. Anyway, we didn’t get home until 2.30am!
Sunday morning we had a bit of a sleep in before getting ready to hit the markets and Medina again plus fit in a bit of sightseeing. We walked down to the city wall with a 8 year old tout accompanying us (ended up giving him about 50p to get rid of him) and then caught the "hop on hop off" bus so we could get closer to one of the city’s castles.
We ended up getting off at the wrong stop and had to walk quite a bit…in the wrong direction!! Don’t know why they don’t try harder to design a map for tourists or at least put up a few signs in some language other than Arabic!!! We ended up walking through some rather interesting food markets – mostly vegetables but a few stalls selling non-refrigerated cuts of meat and fish….
...which as you can imagine gave off a wonderful aroma. After wandering for about 45 minutes we finally found the right direction to walk in after spotting some more tourists and their buses. After a walk around most of the castle wall we found that it was closed! So we gave up on the sightseeing idea and headed back to the main square for some food.
We chose a different rooftop restaurant this time and spent quite a bit of time there just people watching over our Chicken & Citrus Tangine….it was absolutely fascinating!
Feeling refreshed we took to the markets for a spot of shopping - although Hoof'ess had to stop briefly to make friends with one of the locals.
They are supposedly set out in their specialist areas but I think souvenirs have taken over most of the massive area. We ended up buying a couple of bits of wood to hang on the wall – one has a sort of Moroccan scene on it and the other has a page of the Koran painted on it….apparently pieces like this were used for memorising the Koran back in the day. After wandering the markets for a while we had finally had enough and wanted to head out, but unfortunately our luck with direction ran out and we ended up walking around and around and around in circles for over an hour and still had no idea where we were and how to get out of the Medina.
As you can see, its all so closed in, and with no landmarks or street signs which is how we ended up completely lost. We had been refusing help from any locals that offered, but once the signs of tourists also wandering around disappeared we caved and agreed for a guy to guide us back to the main square and out of the Medina. I am sure they position themselves on tricky street corners for this pure purpose. After the Hoof'ess gave him strict instructions that we didn’t want to visit any of this mates shops we set off through the narrow streets. We finally got to what looked like the edge of the Medina and he told us that all we had to do was keep walking straight along the road and we would get out. He then pulled a sob story that he had kids so needed money…we were going to pay him about 20d but he demanded 100d, which is only about £6, so we gave it to him and set off. The street however ended up at an intersection where we had to either turn left or right…and he hadn’t given us instructions on which way to turn. Like magic a group of kids turned up offering to show us out for a fee… probably the first man’s kids that he told us about!!!! We refused to pay anymore and instead went on gut feel and after another frustrating half hour we were out! Very, very frustrating cos much of the stuff inside the Median all looks the same – mosques, doorways into pretty mosaic courtyards, butchery stalls, Coca Cola stalls and rubbish lying around. Everything is only one or two stories high so you can always see sky and palm trees which always makes you think that that outside is just around the corner…but it never is!
By the time we had done all this it was dinner time and all of the orange juice stalls in the square had swapped for smoky kebab stalls so we chose a nice one and settled at the table for some chicken, lamb and beef kebabs accompanied by bread rolls, Cokes and the evening prayer call.
At the end of our dinner we were approached by a lady who looked like she was about 100, begging for money. The Hoof'ess felt really bad but decided not to part with any money but did give her the huge bread roll that she hadn’t eaten….she sat down right next to us and tucked into it and was extremely grateful. The square had also come alive with entertainers – bands playing African drums, acrobats, jugglers, more men with monkeys and more snake charmers…it was absolutely fascinating!!!
If you look closely you can see the monkey men and snake charmers. Their tactic involved having one of their ‘team’ come through the crowd at you, brandishing a snake. They put it around my neck while the Hoof'ess completely abandoned me… with the look of "back the truck up buddy and get your snake away from me!!!" - she may have acutally said it!
One final look at the Mosque before heading back to the Riad.
Monday morning we sadly headed back to the UK. The Hoof'ess didn’t enjoy the flight back at all...the security at Marrakech airport is very, very slack and we wonder if the UK government have any idea of what is going on there? They only gave a very quick look at our passports (although took an age to type all of the details into their antiquated computers, but they didn’t once look at the photo and match it to the person in front of them), the X-ray machine was not being watched, we had a lot of liquid in our bags and we got a very brief pat down. Then when it came time to board we were allowed to just wander onto the tarmac and the air hostess was so frazzled that she wasn't rechecking boarding passes….nice and safe!
After this warm long weekend we had a cooler weekend in Dublin planned - this time to celebrate St Paddy's Day!