Majoring in the minors in Marrakesh


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Published: November 10th 2019
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One cannot hold two watermelons in one hand ~ Moroccan Proverb



HE SAID...
Today we were travelling east from Essaouira to Marrakesh.

We walked from our riad (Chakir Mogador) to a bus stop just outside the medina, loaded our packs into the underbody storage compartment of a public bus and headed off to Marrakesh at 2:30pm. As we made our way through the outer suburbs of Essaouira, I realised we had rarely ventured outside the old medina’s walls during our two days in this relaxing coastal city.

We climbed from the Atlantic coast and headed inland, driving through flat agricultural fields on the way. Every so often the bus ground to a crawl as we slowly edged through small villages where busy Friday markets had spilled onto the main road. The bus trip was very comfortable, and time literally flew. Before we knew it we were driving through the outer suburbs of Marrakesh. We pulled into a train station car park in the late afternoon, jumped into a taxi and headed to Les Trois Palmiers, the same hotel we’d stayed in a few weeks earlier.

We checked-in, dropped our packs in our room and headed out to dinner at Portofino Restaurant. Our transport (which had been pre-arranged without our knowledge) was a horse and cart. The less said the better! We’d been feeling so sorry for these poor creatures during our previous stopover in Morocco’s Red City, and yet here we were – sitting like pompous tourists in a preposterous carriage, being lugged through the bustling streets of Marrakesh by a long suffering horse. I know I could have jumped out and walked, but I was really hungry… 😒

We were heading towards the medina, as our restaurant was located just outside the old city’s walls. When we pulled into the gutter of Avenue Mohammed V, we couldn’t get out of the stupid carriage fast enough. We headed up a narrow set of spiral stairs to a room on the top floor of the restaurant, which to our surprise had an opening roof. As we settled around a table, the roof was slowly opened by the busy staff, and it afforded a fantastic view of the Koutoubia Minaret which was just across the road. This created such a pleasant ambiance, despite the cool wind that flowed through the place as a result.

I decided on the kefta tagine (meat balls in tomato sauce with egg), while Ren ordered the lamb cutlets with vegetables and herbs from the Atlas Mountains. Both dishes were fantastic. I even ordered a beer! It was the fourth adult drink I’d managed to source since arriving in the country some three weeks earlier, and it was an absolute treat. I did try (on a number of occasions) to order a second beer, but my attempts were in vain. I can only assume that alcohol is a low priority item for hospitality staff in Morocco. Ren’s strong Long Island Iced Tea cleared her throat in no time (albeit temporarily).

The night had crept up on us (as had the cool breeze around our shoulders), so we shared a taxi back to the hotel and retired to our room, eventually crashing at midnight.

We enjoyed a very lazy morning. Breakfast wasn’t available until 8am (it was Saturday), and the only other scheduled aspect of our day was catching up with a couple of friends we’d met on our Eastern European adventures in 2018. It seemed such a luxury to sleep past 7am.

We ambled down to breakfast and hydrated with a selection of juices, including beetroot, honeydew and orange. There was also mint tea, along with a selection of bread, goats’ cheese and jams. I even tried pistachio yoghurt with cornflakes and milk, which I can only describe as a ‘different’ taste.

Ren wasn’t feeling well (her head cold had well and truly set in), so we decided to catch a taxi to the medina. We were meeting our travel friends at Café France, and we were lucky enough to get a table on the top terrace overlooking Djemaa el-Fna, the medina’s main square. It may have been a brisk day with occasional snippets of sun, but nothing could dampen our enjoyment of sitting and talking with Bruce and Jenny over a mint tea. It was surreal in such a good way – four Australian friends catching up in Marrakesh. The last time we’d all sat at the same table was in Bucharest (Romania), and what a day that was…

With time against us (as it always seems to be), we reluctantly bid farewell to Bruce and Jenny and made our way back to the hotel in a taxi. We decided to head out for lunch straight away, as it was already mid-afternoon. We tried in vain to find a few Lonely Planet recommended restaurants that seemed to be within walking distance from our hotel, but when we realised we were lost and getting nowhere fast (we were on foot with a VERY basic map), we opted for Café Atlas, which was closer to our hotel. We settled at a table inside, as it was a little too cold to sit outside. I ordered a lamb tagine with prunes and almonds, while Ren opted for a crepe with ground meat and cheese. The tagine was great, but the crepe was fairly ordinary. I opted for a mint tea with the meal, while Ren warmed up with a hot chocolate. The staff were incredibly friendly, and the place had a great retro atmosphere.

On our way back to the hotel we picked up some Moroccan biscuits from a nearby bakery, then bee-lined for our room. Ren crashed into bed before the door had time to close. I headed out for supplies later in the afternoon, as we needed to replenish our ever-dwindling stock of throat lozenges and cold and flu tablets. I stumbled across a few pharmacies in the surrounding neighbourhood, but they were closed, so I had no luck on the medicinal front. However, all was not lost, because I did manage to find an upmarket bottle shop that sold wine! After some very friendly but not terribly helpful wine advice from the shop manager, I picked up a local bottle of red and some red chilli chips. Success! On my return journey to the hotel I made an executive decision to replenish our ever-dwindling stock of Moroccan biscuits. All in all, a highly successful reconnaissance mission. 😊



SHE SAID...
Today we were travelling from Essaouira to Marrakesh, by public bus.

After a brief moment of stress when a bag that had been left behind at the hotel had to be rushed to the bus station for a group member, we settled into the three hour bus trip. We left the coastal vibe of Essaouira very quickly, and the landscape was soon a vast stretch of brownness with little green dots of olive trees as far as the eye could see. The tiny villages had small square houses, a few donkeys and many fruit trees. We also passed a few larger market towns full of people. We wondered if it was just Friday afternoon crowds, or if there was a festival going on.

We had comfortable seats at the front of the bus, and I was asleep in no time. I slept the whole way back! We arrived at a bus station in Marrakesh that was very close to the main train station that we’d arrived at the last time. And again, we had the hassle of getting taxis for all of us. After much negotiation, with a bit of yelling (the head taxi guy) and walking away (Khalid, our group leader), we eventually got the four taxis we needed. I got the impression that it was a tightly controlled operation, and the taxi drivers weren’t allowed to freely negotiate with their own passengers.

After a week in rural Morocco and a few days in the laid-back medina of Essaouira, being back in Marrakesh with hordes of traffic was a bit of a deafening shock. But we adjusted very quickly into its rhythm. It was nice being back in our familiar neighbourhood of Gueliz and the generous sized rooms of the Les Trois Palmiers (Three Palms) Hotel. I managed to sneak in a short nap before we got ready for our last group dinner.

We thought we were catching taxis to dinner, but Khalid surprised us with a horse drawn carriage ride. I detest horse drawn carriages and have protested against them in almost every big city I’ve lived in. But this was our mode of transport to dinner, and it had been offered to us as a treat with the best possible intentions... so we climbed in with Mike and Dot, and off we went. The carriage ride took in the ritzy parts of town and eventually dropped us off near the medina and our restaurant – Portofino. Now, going on looks (mainstream) and location (on the main drag with hotels and many restaurants), we would have never picked Portofino for dinner, but I stand corrected. We were shown to the roof terrace, and when the roof retracted, we had an eye-level view of the Koutoubia Minaret across the road! 😊

As the sun began to set, it cast a beautiful golden glow on the Koutoubia Minaret and across the surrounding red earth walls. Our rooftop dinner was truly atmospheric. Andrew ordered his favourite dish of kefta tagine (meatballs in a tomato sauce with eggs poached on top), and I deviated from the norm and ordered lamb chops with vegetables and herbs from the Atlas Mountains. It was my first non-Moroccan dish in the country, and it was really fabulous. The very strong Long Island Iced Tea helped me stay up later than I should have. But by the end of the night, my voice was just about all gone and I was wishing I could have been teleported directly to my bed.

We waiting for the public bus for a little while, but we were eventually told we’d missed the last bus! So we squished into petit taxis and I eventually crawled into bed well after midnight. I slept really well with the help of the new cough syrup. However, my cough was even worse the next morning and my voice was still missing in action.

I can cope with being sick, but I get very cranky when I lose my appetite! I forced myself to eat a few pastries and started a course of antibiotics that morning. Thankfully Andrew was feeling much better… and judging by the time it had taken him to recover, I knew I had to bunker down and deal with this bug for the next 10 days or so. We said our final goodbyes to the group members who were still around at breakfast from the last trip, and Mike gifted Andrew his ‘Magic Umbrella’. 😊

I managed to get myself ready by mid-morning (I felt I was moving in slow motion!) and we headed into the thick of things at the Marrakesh medina. It really was great to be back in Marrakesh, and to again witness the vivid display of colourful sights, music, sociable locals and everyday Marrakeshi life. It was an exotic sensory overload in the best possible way.

We were at the medina to meet Jenny and Bruce – friends from Australia we’d met in Hungary, and travelled through Romania with. We crossed the busy Djemaa el-Fna Square, and made our way to Café France. If was so good to see them both again. We shared a mint tea and caught up on news. They were just starting their Moroccan trip, after which they were walking the Camino in Portugal. I wonder on which continent we’ll meet next? 😊.

I had hoped I’d have enough energy to do some medina exploration, but I didn’t last long. So we taxied back to Gueliz and searched (in vain) for a restaurant mentioned in the Lonely Planet Guide. We walked in circles for over 45 minutes before giving up and eating at Cafe Atlas near our hotel. It was an old world Art Deco-ish cafe that wouldn’t have been out of place in the 1950s. Andrew ordered the lamb tagine with prunes and almonds, and I ordered crepes with mince meat and cheese. Andrew enjoyed the tagine, but my appetite was still low, so I couldn’t finish even half my meal.

Andrew brought me back to the hotel for a two hour nap and then went back out to get supplies. The pharmacies were closed, but he had success in the wine, water and pastries departments. On our last trip to Marrakesh we’d discovered a tiny bakery that sold delicious Moroccan sweets and pastries, so Andrew got some of our old favourites as well as a few new flavours to sustain us through the evening.

We had the group meeting for our next Intrepid Travel trip – Morocco Atlas and Atlantic at 6pm as usual. Khalid was continuing as our group leader and we met Andrew (UK), Sarah (UK), Monica (US but living in Spain), and Ineke and Anya from our last trip. Two other group members – Stephanie and Vanessa (Australia) – hadn’t arrived yet, so we met them the following morning.

We skipped the group dinner and had a quiet night in our hotel room. We had to pack and get ready for the last leg of the trip (which went south of Marrakesh). Our room was very comfortable, but as with the last time, we had to stand in the doorway of our room to get wifi, or trek down five floors to reception.

Our second stop in Marrakesh had been a very quiet affair, and this was mostly due to my lack of energy. However, it was also a much needed rest and recovery stop before we started our next trip. Plus, we had one more stop in Marrakesh in a little more than a week, and I should be (fingers crossed) over this dreaded lurgy by then.

The quiet evening gave me the opportunity to catch up on the group dynamics for the last time on this trip: I bid a warm welcome to two new players – Little Ms Twins. These two were the epitome of grabby and pushy. They were the quintessential selfish travellers. There had been little irritations from the beginning, but as the trip progressed their self-seeking ways started to really chafe all of us, and comments started to be made openly to them – but they honestly did not care a single iota! They’d blatantly push in front of others to grab food or drinks, hip and shoulder people in queues to be served first at shops, and openly ask waiters to serve them first while they were in the process of serving others etc etc. However, the most annoying of all their habits was to step in front of people who were taking a photo in order to take their own. The photo bombing thing came to a head when we were all politely hanging back giving everyone a chance to photograph the ‘goats in trees’ (without spooking them), when one of them walked straight up to the tree, scaring the goats off and wrecking everyone’s photos – the chorus of yells from us all was as infuriated as it was disbelieving. She merely shrugged and walked off. Seriously, how thick was this woman’s skin?

As for the old players: Mr Rude and Ms Scary actually settled down after the dinner incident in Zagora. Who would have thought that being told to settle down in a strong teacher’s voice would actually work??? 😊

Ms Whoops had another accident – a shower head fell on her head. Now I know this could have been a serious accident, and we should have been concerned… but the small accidents and incidents had been so frequent that we’d developed a certain level of desensitisation. The person who told us the story could hardly get through it without giggling. Even the doctor in the group later confessed that she felt bad she hadn’t thought to make sure Ms Whoops wasn’t concussed. But I can happily report that we got through the trip without bandages or a hospital being needed (as I’d predicted way back at the start of the trip).

Little Ms Trouble had many more episodes… escalating in weirdness and aggression. She yelled at the driver of our 4WD in the Sahara (she was in another car), and she directed antagonism our way about inane things like lining up for the toilet or the fact that Andrew and I take selfies; but the last straw for me was at an incident at a ‘goats in trees’ stop. The shepherd asked us not to get too close to the flock for fear that we’d divide them. She claimed she didn’t hear the request, so when it was relayed to her by another group member, she barked back that the shepherd didn’t say it to her... and kept weirdly repeating ‘he didn’t say it to me’, as if this person was lying. I would have barked back at her, but the lovely person in question merely smiled and made a peace hand gesture. I can learn a lot from that person! 😊

While many of our fellow travellers had been good travel companions, I need to make special mention of the lovely people whose company we have thoroughly enjoyed on this trip. Firstly, Mark and Sue were the unofficial Mum and Dad of our group and I can’t tell you how reassuring it is to have nice people you know you can count on should you need it. Secondly, Mike only spent the second part of the trip with us, but in that short time provided much humour and great company… not to mention the ‘give as good as you get’ cheeky banter and like-minded political discussions. And lastly, Ineke has been our Little Ms Sunshine and Little Ms Hug rolled into one on this entire trip, and along with Anja, they have made our trip so much more entertaining and fun – we are so happy they will be continuing on the third leg of this trip with us.

Next we travel southwest to Sidi Ifni, an old Spanish enclave on Morocco’s southern Atlantic coast.

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10th November 2019

Marrakesh
Great you could meet up with friends. Sorry you were not feeling well.
11th November 2019

Re: Marrakesh
Thanks Merry - it's horrible being sick on the road, but I was grateful that it didn't really stop us from doing what we wanted. Yes its was lovely seeing friends - we are aiming to catch up on a different continent each year :)
12th November 2019
streets of marrakesh

Nice photo
I have a similar photo, but yours is much better, with better lighting. It was close to the train station wasn't it?
13th November 2019
streets of marrakesh

Re: Nice photo
Yes it was! I saw this art work on our first trip but just didn't get around to photographing it... so I was very happy when I managed to do it on this trip :)
13th November 2019
streets of marrakesh

Cool mural
I really like that mural. /Ake
13th November 2019
streets of marrakesh

Re: Cool mural
Thanks Ake. It caught my eye as soon as we stepped out of the train station... but being on the side of a multi-lane road and near weird intersections, it was hard to photograph. I would have preferred to get a close-up shot :)
16th November 2019

Group travel
On my first Intrepid tour in Cambodia we met such lovely people , all Aussies and Kiwis ...we were blessed. Managed to meet up with lots of them on my travels there last winter.
16th November 2019

Re: Group travel
Some trips are better than others - we tend to have about 90% nice people on most trips, but this one had a slightly higher than normal rate of not-nice ones. We have reconnected with and re-travelled with many intrepid travellers over the years too - it's lots of fun! :)
5th December 2019

Horse carraige ride
That's very sad. I know how you feel :(
7th December 2019

Re: Horse carraige ride
It created an internal conflict for us, but we didn't want to make an issue of it because it was done with good intentions :/
1st January 2020

Marrakesh
Sad to hear you were both sick on this leg of your trip, but I can commiserate because the upper respiratory bug I caught flying into Morocco seemed to hang on forever! We could see the mural of the man in your photo across from our hotel (Hotel Opera Plaza)!!! The intersection there was very noisy but our room had 2 sets of sliding doors to keep the noise out. As for the horse carriage, a ride in one was also a part of an evening outing for us too, and while I truly felt guilty about it, I did manage to give the horses sugar cubes and apples as a treat before we set out. Sadly, I believe that if horses could no longer be used by the locals trying to make a living in this way, the fate of these horses might be even worse. Regrettably, I saw few animals that were well taken care of in Morocco.
5th January 2020

Re: Marrakesh
We normally get over travel bugs within a few days, so we were both surprised at how long these infections stubbornly hung on. I had no idea there was a hotel so close to the train station! But then again, when ever we were around there, we were trying to catch a taxi or cross those confusing lines of traffic. I just realised you must have had a respiratory bug and a stomach bug at the same time in Rabat! How horrible :( I have just seen that you have a new post - off to read it now :)

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