Venus Adventurer Julie has planned the perfect end to our trek up the Atlas Mountains. After a shower and a change of clothes we are off to the Hammam Ziami – a boutique hammam especially for tourists by the look of it.
Merzouga is our next stop – actually it is really the Sahara Desert, but there is no town there, so Merzouga is the best place to identify on a map. We are definitely out of the cities, it is dusty, hot, and the scenery is of two kinds – stony desert or date palm oasis.
Mostly the habitation is around the date palms, but a surprising number of people are living, or walking in what seems to be the middle of nowhere. Read more
Najate used to be a guide at the Hassan II Mosque, but now guides independently. She is educated and articulate and keen to answer any question about Moroccan and Islam life. She warms up to us by telling us a story.
A woman has 6 children, and sadly her husband no longer calls her ‘honey’, but rather “mother of six”. She is unhappy about this and after a family gathering he once again says “mother of six – let us go”. She had had enough so she replied “Let us go father of four”.
Ceridwyn Parr writes…
Need colour and sunshine and a taste of the exotic? Then a visit to Morocco will be just the thing. It ’s like entering Aladdin’s cave; the music, activity, spices, people, street life, take you into another world.
I was house-sitting in Manchester one cold and dull December, when I spotted an ad for a week in Marrakech. Over the weeks leading up to Christmas the price went down. As my spirits were also going down, Marrakech seemed the perfect pick-me-up. From the moment we landed, the magic worked.
Marrakech is a meeting point of African landscape, Arab culture and French/ European colonisation. We had enough French to get by, and enough curiosity to soak up the adventure of being in such a exotic and challenging place.
The first challenge was to get out of the English style comfort of the hotel and hit the streets. The first adventure was to the Djema El Fna, the largest traditional open air market in Morocco. Right in front of us one man spread out a mat, opened a basket, and revealed a hooded snake head. This was definitely the Arabian nights! A crowd gathered around , listening to the rasping rising tones of his flute. The snake wove patterns around in the air. I held my breath.
Ow! A sharp pain in my backside- someone’s hand had groped through the crowd to grasp my flesh. I held my friends arm closer.
All around, men in long robes, or djellabas, were setting up stalls and tables and chairs. All along one side of the square were big tables enclosing a grill. Plied up were purple aubergine, …..fish… Come and eat? We finally choseThe grilled aubergine became my favourite meal- I have never been able to reproduce it at home.
I was fascinated by the story tellers- one man would begin a story, others would gather, and add in a line or two, shouting and laughing, leaning in to listen. Then there were musicians, dancers, acrobats and jugglers, and of course the snake charmers.
To have a break from the endless movement and noise we walked up to a second level café which overlooked the square. Drinking strong and aromatic Arabian coffee and watching the action was a night’s entertainment in itself.
I am glad we took a guided tour the next day, as the culture shock is powerful. Having a man lead us through the streets of this city of a million people, past watersellers and Berber women begging, past carts pulled by donkeys, and luxury grand hotels, past the ramparts of city walls and doorways leading to mysterious interiors, was most reassuring. We just watched his brown djellaba and grey cap, and kept on going.
By our third day we had got over our culture shock and just wandered enjoying the street life., The streets are full of men- sitting around in cafes smoking, talking, shaking hands, kissing each other on the cheeks, giving white women the eye. The few women around are different. They are always in twos or threes, , always well covered in djellabas of grey, brown, dull pink, cream., with scarves and even veils to the eyeballs, always moving fast, never just hanging around like the men.
After two more lots of groping, and the hissing and cat calling which accompanied every walk we made, we resolved to go for self protection next time, and buy ourselves a djellaba- easier than all the hassle.
Our hotel organised a day trip to the beach- this entailed a taxi ride of a couple of hours through flat fertile farm lands, till we reached the clean wide sands of Essouira beach. Little boys played soccer , as we walked along in the mild sun. Certainly better than the grey damp of England! Fronting the beach are the stone walls of the old town. On the walls was a painter whose pictures summed up the Marrakech experience. Heavily robed women under a Moorish arch way, in the intense blue we later discovered to be called Marjorelle Blue.
The next day was the much anticipated trip to the Atlas Mountains, named after the Greek mythological Titan who held up the heavens on his shoulders, and was then transformed into the mountains at the top of Africa. Warm seaside town to snowy mountain villages in a few hours, of smooth highway then winding grinding roads. The hills appeared bare of habitation, until my eyes accustomed themselves to the variations in the reddish ochre landscape, and could detect houses, cut out of the same rock. Often the only marker was a carpet hanging over a terrace. We stopped for lunch at a tiny shop overlooking a wide valley, where our driver had grown up. He later took us to a former Moorish castle, with a huge internal courtyard, protection from heat and wind. How I longed to buy one or three of the richly patterned carpets on display, and how the sellers tried to get us to buy, but I resisted.
The old town of Marrakech, the Medina, is full of narrow lanes, high walls, courtyards hidden behind beaten metal doors, and endless street sellers in the souks. You go from spices piled into preposterous peaks, to jewellery made by my cousin in the mountains, to fabric, leather, musical instruments- what ever you want you can buy very cheap and very good.
The new town is like any French city- wide avenues, bland cream buildings, glass fronted shops, cars, apartments. But tucked amongst the urban blandness of Gueliz was an unexpected treasure.
The Majorelle Garden and Museum of Islamic Art is like an exotic version of the Chelsea Flower Show – pathways lined with ferns and palms, corners of bougainvillea, banana, coconuts, cactus and tropical flowers, streams and garden seats and birds- but the most astonishing feature is the colour blue. You will find single walls, or an urn or a stairwell in this striking colour, always contrasting with yellows, greens and reds .Jacques Majorelle was a French painter who created this masterpiece of a garden, collecting plants representing five continents. The gardens have been restored by Yves St Laurent and Pierre Berge and are open to the public. We loved the colour of Majorelle blue so much we have since bought a sofa that colour, and painted the walls a Moroccan ochre. Such is the power of travel!
Our week in Marrakech showed us only part of that city. Reading wikitravel, I realise how much more there is- so come a wet and dark December I will be off again, this time fully covered and ready to barter for a carpet.