A quick stopover in Heathrow from Australia and finally landed in magical Marrakech, Morocco, to a pleasant North African gentle breeze.
I have taken a while to write about the amazing month spent in Morocco back in 2011, before heading over to the incredible continent of South America.
My only excuse to you is that this travel was during my pre-WordPress days in which I used MS Word to write-up my travel journals. And, only completed my Morocco and South America write-up until the point of being robbed in Peru, of our laptops plus much – another post for later.
For now, lets travel to exotic Morocco.
I’ll leave you with a little tune from the 1960s to get you into the groove before we start: Crosby, Stills, & Nash – Marrakesh Express as I think it fits in nicely with my post.
Many thanks José María Jiménez De Muñana Burgos for the remastering of this classic song.
Now that you’ve re-acquainted yourself or heard this song for the first time, I hope you are in the mood to read on…
Well, it was cheaper for a one-way ticket from Australia to Heathrow, and then to tack on the Morocco flight.
The one-way flight from Heathrow to Casablanca, where you wait on the plane for forty-five minutes, before flying onwards to Marrakech, only cost £133 at the time. (This flight is slightly cheaper these days.)
Finally arriving at the Marrakech airport, we bartered for a taxi but instead, stung with the “Transport Touristique” mini bus (MAD$150), which is more expensive than a taxi. Not sure how we ended up with the mini bus for just two people.
The Medina – Finding the Riad
First impressions during the drive from the airport is that streets seemed unusually quiet and very broad, making the drive more dramatic in the darkness.
Following the eight-metre high ancient stone walls of the Medina whilst listening to Cat Stevens blaring from the driver’s CD, and watching dotted city lights appear in the distance, until arriving at the entrance of the Medina, seemed surreal.
I am in Morocco. A country I longed to visit.
Some seven kilometres from the airport, the Medina entrance is marked by two ten-metre high (maybe higher) imposing towers.
Crossing through the towers and slowly entering this ancient city, felt as if we were being swallowed up by time.
A few minutes after the entrance, our bus could go no further – too large. And as if by magic in an all too well-rehearsed scene, a small boy appeared from nowhere. His crudely-made wooden cart ready and proceeded to load our backpacks onto the cart.
Manoeuvring his little cart precariously whilst leading us down narrow cobbled stone alleyways, winding around aged bends, under arches of ancient times, we finally arrived at our Riad (traditional Moroccan house); only a few hundred metres away.
A solid time-worn wooden door, studded with fading brass nuts and a huge ornate door knocker, marked our abode for a while.
Of course our young escort wanted a tip. Nothing is for free in life, right?
Fumbling around finding nothing small in Dirhams (Moroccan currency), he received €5 instead…lucky boy for a five-minute job. The beaming smile on his face was enough to know, he had a good deal.
A little Background
As the fourth largest city in Morocco, following Casablanca, Fes, and Tangier, Marrakech was founded in 1062. Berber farmers inhabited this region since Neolithic times.
Built in 1070 by the Berber dynasty of the Almoravids, the Medina (Old City) lies within the surrounding walls.
The Medina’s red expansive walls were built in 1122–1123 and adopted 12th-century Andalusian influences. Many buildings constructed in red sandstone were also built during this period, which resulted in Marrakech’s nickname: “Ochre City” or “Red City”. Covering around 13,000 hectares and to the east of the city, the palm groves, can also be traced back to the period when the walls were built.
Awoken by the the ‘dulcet’ tones of the Call to Prayer around five in the morning, the sound was as if the speaker laid between my sheets, sharing the bed’s warmth. Not impressed.
I had forgotten from my 1985 travel through Egypt and the four months through Indonesia in 1998, that the Call to Prayer, which blares from speakers on every corner (almost) starts very early. Too early for my ears.
Spent the next few days wandering, exploring, and generally getting lost down the Medina’s maze inside its magnificent walls.
Turning every corner in the Medina opened a new scene in authentic Moroccan life. People are very friendly and polite.
Moroccan Arabic and French are the two main languages spoken. Hawkers speak both, plus Spanish, Italian, English, and many more languages thrown in, which they pick up from tourists – very impressive.
As you walk past the well-oiled tourist traps, hawkers listen and try to pick your origin, from the way you speak or your appearance.
If they can’t work it out, they of course ask: “where you from?” in many different languages until they suss you out, then it is latch-on time. Australians really confuse these guys. The hawkers can’t work it out by just looking at us, as they can with many other nationalities, so just keep trying. It is fun to play at their own game, when I don’t speak at all and let the guessing games begin, and we all laugh.
Jemaa el-Fnaa Square
Jemaa el-Fnaa Square is a popular bustling meeting hub. An excellent place to people-watch and take snippets of everyday life.
This square comes alive from about five in the afternoon onwards and is a hype of activity that swirls around you, whilst you mingle and venture along with a swarm of many bodies.
Wonderful smoking food stalls, sacked dried spices, intriguing drummers, local musicians, exotic snake charmers, comforting food aromas, and hundreds of locals leisurely wandering around – a feast for one’s eyes.
Spend hours pondering and absorbing all that is on offer in this square.
Desire a little warming and hearty soup with bread from as little as MAD$3? You won’t walk far until you stumble upon a stall, which sells your desire.
Try some snails, a delicious vegetarian Tagine, freshly-cooked seafood, or anything really – it is all served in this square. The food is wonderfully delicious and you will try something different each time you dine.
Many things are still handcrafted in Marrakech. It is not unusual to see a local working out of his street-front home, weaving cloth, beating out silver teapots, or iron mongers crafting ancient ornate traditions.
Just thought I would mention that the Argana cafe we frequented a few times in the square was bombed two weeks after we left Marrakech. The bombing killed 17 people and injured another 25.
You just never know, do you?
Outside the Medina’s walls
Although I saw a little of what laid outside the Medina whilst driving from the airport, venturing outside the Medina on foot is like entering another world completely.
A contrasting world to the authentic Medina and one which offers mod cons such as McDonalds, KFC, and of course, high rises. For me, this is not Morocco but guess it’s Morocco’s progression.
Explore Morocco with wonderful tours from Marrakech
If you have some extra time in Marrakech, then this city is a great base to book either day tours or a several-day tours across the stunning Atlas Mountains. Read all about the surreal Saharan tour in this post.
We entered the gorgeous and homely Riad Cherkaoui (MAD$328 per night) that was open in the centre, blanketed by stars and a clear night’s sky.
A wonderful two-storey building with all rooms facing inward towards a courtyard in the middle of the home, which includes a sunken brightly-coloured mosaic plunge pool.
Our room is very much as I imagined. Sumptuous and inviting.
Stone walls painted in the traditional wall finish of Tadelakt (resembles honed stone or leather), and lots of brightly coloured mosaics.
The bathroom includes a hand-beaten copper sink, polished brass taps, and a cathedral-high ceiling. Heavy hand-crafted wooden doors with hand-made brass hinges secured the rooms…like stepping back in time a few hundred centuries.
A wonderful very generous breakfast (included with room) is served between 8-10am. Freshly squeezed orange juice, home-baked cakes and breads, freshly brewed coffee, sweet green tea with clumps of fresh mint, and hot chocolate awaited our presence.
Catch the Petite Taxi (MAD$30) from outside the Medina to the railway station.
The train to Fes (MAD$195) takes around seven hours. As a first-time traveller to Morocco, I am not sure whether any public transport runs on time in this country.
Time will tell…