Morocco has always seemed a bit of a mystery to me. The only Moroccan I can name is Younes el Anouyi, the tennis player that befriended all of Australia after once losing to Pat Rafter, yet all I would hear about Moroccans in general was that they’re ‘invading’ Europe and absorbing all of their social security benefits. I imagined Marrakech to be dusty, dirty, difficult to naviagate, but a rewarding challenge. I was wrong on about half of all counts.
It ain’t dusty or dirty at all. It actually, in a weird way, reminded me of Siem Reap when driving in from the airport – orderly, full of ‘foreign’ buildings, a little warm and populated by interesting people (and animals) on the footpath.
Navigation was clear fail for us. The streets twist and wind in all sorts of directions and street signs are almost non-existent. Doesn’t help that all of the buildings, bar mosques, are square mudbrick structures with no windows. But we managed to find the beautiful Menara, where students learnt the Koran, the Saadian Tombs and the gorgeous Musee de Marrakech, where the building was actually more amazing than the exhibits.
We also managed a hammam, where we were doused in burning hot water, had our skin ripped off from head to toe and left to drown in a plunge pool. The effect was actually much more pleasant than that and was definitely a highlight of our stay.
We stayed in a riad – a traditional Moroccan guesthouse housed in an old Moroccan manor. We were greeted with mint tea, served a huge breakfast every day and met with the image of a plunge pool in the middle of the courtyard. It was the type of thing you’d imagine only royalty would ever be able to enjoy. And we ate like royalty too – lots of couscous, tagines and pastilla, my favourite.
You can’t talk about Marrakech without mentioning Djemaa el Fna. It’s the biggest town square in Africa, and quite possible the biggest regular gathering of people outdoors in the world, outside a sporting event. It’s full of food hawkers, street performers, snake charmers, fortune tellers and generally people who are drawn to a crowd. It’s full of people of every age and background. All through the Medina, the Old Town inside the city walls, if you’re able to meet someone’s eye without the feeling that they’re about to screw you over, they´ll usually whisper ‘welcome to Marrakech’ or a simple, smiling ‘bonjour’. But the Djemaa el Fna is really the only place you’ll find women after dark in the Medina.
I have to mention women in Morocco as it really puts your own life in perspective. Moroccan women are streets ahead of the majority of women in Africa and the Middle East, but still very hidden. They sell you bread and earrings, clean your riad and carry their children in slings on their backs. They look at you – I have no idea what they’re thinking – through hijabs, beneath headscarves or behind doors.
But outside the Medina, it’s a different story. Perfume and sportswear ads show women in next to nothing and groups of women in platform shoes head to the nightspots of Ville Nouvelle. Yep, this is the first country I’ve been where the travel language isn’t English, but French. English is the language of the con artists.
The Ville Nouvelle is really the only spot in the city where you can spy any alcohol (no serving any in sight of a mosque, nigh on impossible when you consider the fact that you hear every call to prayer of the day) and also houses the city’s football stadium. Paul and I set off to see a match on Saturday night, only to be turned away (along with thousands of Moroccan men) by the riot squad. We got the hell out of there and went to a bar to drink… Coke.
So I’ve now seen one city in Morocco. Marrakech is the ‘Red City’; Fez, Casablanca and Rabat are the blue, white and green cities. I’m starting to think that I wouldn’t mind making up a bit of a Moroccan rainbow.
** Note – I’ve edited the last post – it was written crappily due to me being frustrated by the Moroccan keyboard. **