The Madness of Marrakech
The train to Marrakech was long, but writing, listening to music, and gazing out of the window made the trip seem a lot shorter. I said in a previous post how I was impressed with the condition of the train to Fes, and that maybe I was lucky – I was! None of the toilets worked meaning every lucky user was welcomed with a pile of shit to contribute too. Smoking seemed popular outside the toilet – I even joined in. The train door was also left half open so you could jump out if you couldn’t stand the smell of smoky shit anymore. The cabin was nice and cool, and I guess the rest of the train wasn’t as we had to put up with some dodgy looking guys in oversized suits, who thought it would be cool to take up the luggage hold all in our cabin with their crap, leaping in and out every time a free seat became available. Rant aside, the journey was actually quite pleasant. We passed through many different landscapes where you could see the locals working their land or selling their goods. At times I wanted to jump out the half opened door and explore further than the eye could see, but I suppose I just weren’t adventurous enough.
Some seven hours later, the train pulled into the station of Marrakech. I grabbed my backpack and made my way outside. On arriving in a new place, It always makes me laugh as I stand there thinking “I have absolutely no idea where I am”. I located one of the many small cyber shops so I could get Michel’s number and see if he could put me up at such short notice – it’s funny because I told him I would turn up unexpectedly and here I was about to give him that unexpected call. After a short exchange on the phone I was on my way to his and Michael’s apartment which turned out to be just up the road – thanks Google Maps!
On arrival I was greeted by Michel with open arms – you would find it hard to meet such a loving person. We entered the apartment where I was greeted kindly by Michel’s boyfriend Michael, and their friends who were over for a drink. I could feel the stress seeping away as I sipped a cold beer in one of the most stylish, relaxed environments I had been in since entering Morocco. I had a double bed with air conditioning, and my own bathroom – completely spoilt. The next day I had what’s known in the backpacking community as “Travellers D”, and for a week and a half I suffered stomach cramps and diarrhea. It normally only lasts a few days but I couldn’t resist eating naughty food with Michel as he treated me to some delicious meals at local restaurants. I came to the conclusion that it must have been the filtered tap water I was drinking as when I stopped drinking it my condition improved. To quote Michel as we talked about my blog, “You should have taken pictures of the toilet as that’s where you’ve spent most of your time” – funny guy! After a switch to bottled water and a few days of eating bland foods I was back to my usual self. I won’t lie; I enjoyed staying in that week. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit down, drink tea, and watch TV series all day – well that’s what I did anyway – especially when you don’t feel well.
Armed with a map of the medina and it’s outskirts I set out on foot to see what Marrakech had to offer my curious eyes. I enjoyed walking through the Cyber Park Garden, and was very impressed with what they had created. It’s a beautiful place to see some of the cities wildlife – including all the cute stray cats! It was funny watching people queuing up to use the Internet points where everyone seemed to be messing around on Facebook – typical. I was mesmerized by some old sculptures at Maison Tiskiwin where on arrival you’re handed a booklet detailing the history behind all the items on display –an interesting viewing experience. I’ve bought a few things in and around the souks where haggling is a must if you don’t want to pay tourist prices – it’s not only a tradition in Morocco, but it’s also a lot of fun, and something which shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
Most evenings I soaked up the buzz of Jema El FNA. After the sun sets the place comes alive with smoky food stalls and live music creating quite an intense atmosphere. I occasionally walked through the hundred food stalls just to have banter with all the guys attracting customers – their one liners and funny imitations of British accents have got to be heard. I had my first Hamman at a public one with all the locals. I went with a masseur who works for Michel – he was assigned to take care of me. A Hamman is a place where the locals go to clean themselves; similar to a sauna but it has another room which is less hot where you clean yourself with a scrubbing pad. I nearly fainted in the heat of the first room; then I was scrubbed within an inch of my life in the next room. It was a great experience to be amongst the locals in one of their traditional routines of the week, especially one that leaves you clean and fresh afterwards.
As you walk around in Marrakech you will soon realize that there are motorbikes absolutely everywhere, it’s the only place I’ve been so far where I’ve had to check behind me before turning in the street so I don’t get ran over. A lot of the motorbikes are old school pedal and go, just like my dad used to have when he was a kid. Michel has one too, and after finding out how much I loved motorbikes he let me ride it, well, in other words, I became his personal chauffeur which was a lot of fun. Riding through the busy souk markets in the evening dodging everything from mules to antiques was one hell of an experience; I must make a video of it so you can see what I mean. There are lots of kids riding these motorbikes on the roads, and some of the things I’ve witnessed them doing is nothing short of a death wish, they’re riding in the hands of god of course, Inshallah!
If you made it into the medina, and down a side street, without getting run over by a motorbike, you will start to walk past many wooden doors. Although two doors can appear the same, what lies behind them could either be some very basic living accommodation or some grand up market accommodation. It was a bit of a shock to walk down a street in what appeared to be a very poor area, and then walk through a wooden door into one of the most spectacular Riads in the centre of Marrakech – a Riad is the name used for a grand house with a courtyard in the centre. That was my experience of the visit to Michel and Michaels Riad of whom I’m staying with. Their Riad is a place of incredible beauty in the finest of details. They have both done an excellent job in creating a dreamy Moroccan experience, and from the few Riads I got to see in the medina, I can certainly say that it’s a place which holds some real hidden treasures in terms of Moroccan architecture and style.
I have been with Michel and Michael for nearly a month, and never have I been treated with such generosity, that of which I am truly grateful. Over the past few weeks I have been reading Lonely Planet, and some trekking books for inspiration on some places to visit after Marrakech. Hiking again has caught my attention, and so I have decided to head south to climb Jebel Toubkal – the highest peak in North Africa. My Dr Martens have seen too many mountain trails and no longer have a grip on the sole so I’ve decided to do it in some surprisingly well conditioned New Balance running shoes which I bought from a market in the Souks. I will just have to see how they cope; my thick hiking socks should prevent blisters and add extra comfort. Afterwards I have plans to make my way over the High Atlas Mountains towards the desert for some camel trekking. There is a big journey ahead of me where I will be experiencing a totally different side to life in Morocco, outside of the big cities. To the mountains I go; on and upwards I march!
See you on the other side guys, peace and love, Jonathan x