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Published: February 2nd 2009
I finally stepped foot upon the dark continent ... so exciting! OK, it's taken me 2 months to share, but there is nothing like the feeling of stepping foot not only in a new country, but in a new continent. Africa is so far removed from Australia and the stuff of dreams as it feels so remote (and expensive) to visit. A bit of prebooking meant return flights and 4 nights accommodation for the princely sum of £165 ... or about 330 Aussie $$$, try getting across our country for that, let alone to another completely different part of the world.
We were staying in the middle of the Medina - a maze of alley ways which challenged even my sense of direction at times. The only sensible choice is to have the Riad arrange the taxi from the airport to avoid traipsing blindly in the dark and the 'helpful' locals who really, really, really have your best interests at heart (... perfume ... spices ... cop a feel). I admit it as it was late(ish) and dark we woozed out and after tea and a chat took to our beds rather than attempting to navigate the medina on our
Day 1 in Marrakech was spent wandering, firstly to orient ourselves and secondly to find the shopping (important always). After being informed that there was no point using maps our directions from the Riad were something like out, right, 2nd right, straight, take the middle alley, left after the mosque, down a bit, through the little square, veer right at the other mosque and then head for the main tower of the main mosque ... can't go wrong. I confess to some trepidation at following the directions, but blow me down I did and we ended up in Djemaa el Fna, the main square. This is home to snake charmers, monkeys, water sellers,
On the journey you pass through narrow passageways, dodging donkeys and carts, other passers by and peddlers. My one tip as a western females in any of these places I visit, never look lost. Most people just ignore you and let you go your way, look lost and you are stuffed ... it's like a ravaged pack of wolves who smell fresh meat (not quite as vicious, but the circling is not pleasant). The disadvantage of this approach is you probably miss opportunities
Ben Youseef Medersa Central Pool and Courtyard
surrounding are the cell like dormitory windows (if they are lucky!)
to interact, but I find that preferable to uninvited hands touching me in places I don't want. Poor Astrid would agree with me as some indecision on her part was rewarded with being groped by 13yo boys (ewwww).
I admit that shopping on my first day wasn't high up on the list so we headed south of the Medina to visit the Saadian Tombs which date from late 1500s/early 1600s but which remained hidden by the surrounding maze of the medina from western visitors until 1917. Lots of inlay, lace stone work and gardens with the odd cat or 2 running around. In Marrakech a lot of things open in the morning and the afternoon, but close in the middle of the day, which meant time spent wandering aorund the Tombs meant the next stop of the El Badi Palace was met with closed gates. Luckily a 'helpful local' was able to show us the way to his ... shop. Not fun, not productive, but part of life in these countries. Eventually extracted ourselves for a bit of a wander then found a little place for lunch.
Back to the main square then off in the afternoon to
visit a trio of places. Musee de Marrakech (Marrakech Museum), Ben Youssef Madrasa (a former islamic college) and Almoravid Koubba (kind of an early day, architecturally mixed up ablutions block). All 3 were on a multi buy ticket and are so close together it made it an easy way to spend some time. The Musee doesn't hold a great deal of information, but the architecture of this former palace is fabulous with an amazing chandelier in the main courtyard and the secrets of the harem (dark, windowless and very atmospheric). The ablutions block just across the square has incredible carving in the roof, you can imagine sitting and looking .. very nice!. The prize of them all is the Ben Yousseff Madrasa which is a maze of small cell like rooms surrounding a central courtyard and pool with a prayer hall at the end. Back a circuitous route to the Riad (those Medina passageways are a little challenging), then back to Jemaa el Fna to find a restaurant with a lovely view over the madness of the square. To be adventourous would have been to join the locals at the various eateries in the square, but I wasn't feeling overly
Day 2 was a day trip to the Atlas Mountains with an early(ish) start to make the most of the distances. You drive out of Marrakech and get onto open road quite easily as the town seems to melt away quite quickly. On either side of the road are channels where the melt from the Atlas runs down towards the plains. Stretching out on either side are crops - even though it's a hot and you'd think dry, the water feeds the crops and it's actually quite green outside the city. As you head into the mountains the channels become streams then rivers with narrow roads alongside. Vehicles fly around corners and in my opinion there isn't passing room, but somehow made it up and back without ending up 1. in the river or 2. smashed on the front of someone elses windscreen (a miracle!). You look up the valley and are enjoying warm weather while looking at snow covered peaks (a little early in the season, but there!). We stopped at a little village on the way up for a traditional tea ceremony and a chance to have a look in someone's house - it feels a
Jardin de Majorelle
Once owned by Yves St Laurent
bit intrusive, but I guess it's a way for them to make extra income. The village was clinging to the side of a cliff and overlooking the river valley - so if nothing else a beautiful outlook. We continued onward and upward to the Toubkal National Park and enjoyed lunch of salad, berber tangine and fruit - nice fresh fare. We sat on the terrace soaking up the sun then back down the valley for a little shop stop (more tea) then back into Marrakech and dinner again in the main square.
Day 3 was a change of pace, out of the Medina into the modern town and a visit to the Majorelle Gardens. Created by French artists and then purchased by Yves St Laurent right up until his death. It's open to the public and a lush oasis of cobalt blue, yellow and orange pots, bamboo, cacti, blue green pools, mosaic tiles and terracotta. It's a quiet break in an otherwise hectic place and in a part of the city which has nothing much else to recommend it so it's an amazing contrast between what is on either side of the high walls that surround the gardens. A
relaxing couple of hours then down the road to Gueliz, the modern Marrakech for a chance to sit for another hour or two at Cafe les Negrociants and watch the world go by. The cafe is at a major crossroad and you see it all - horse carriages, donkey carts, flash cars, robed and scarved men and women - while the fake watch, shoe shiners and nut men ply their trade. More wandering to the walls surrounding the Medina and eventually made our way back to the square to Argana for food. The food was good and we sat right on the edge of the terrace and watched the food stalls go up and the sun go down. After dinner a touch of shopping, a circuitous wander back to the Riad and a last tea before heading back in the morning.
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