Fri 18th - Tues 22th September
Marrakech, Morrocco – Fri 18th, Sat 19th & Sun 20th September
We arrived in Marrakech early afternoon and found Darren at Hotel Menara on a western corner of the Medina wall. The rooms were basic but with a balcony and the hotel had a large sitting and eating area around a pool. The smell of horse piss from the horse and cart ‘parking’ area in the street alongside the hotel was overwhelming most of the day.
Six of us strolled into the Medina, along the Cyber Park and passed La Katoubia mosque, it’s impressive minaret briefly illuminated by the glow of the setting sun. We head straight into the main square of Djemma el Fna which is a hive of activity as the evening food stalls are being prepared. There are fresh orange juice sellers all around the perimeter selling glasses of sweet refreshing liquid for 3 dirhams, just 30p. We stock up on bags of roasted salted almonds, dried apricots and dates before locating a restaurant with a roof terrace overlooking the square. As the sun sets, the day’s fasting ceases and the food stalls are a frenzy of activity. Ladies with hands and feet ornately decorated in henna try and entice us to sit on their stools and have ours painted. Young boys walk around with sorry looking macaque monkeys on leads requesting money in exchange for a photo. Men in straw hats with copper cups hanging from their bright red jelaba’s are selling chai, mint tea. Small groups of friends with musical instruments are having private jamming sessions in celebration of the forthcoming end of Ramadam. It’s hard to leave the nights festivities and make our way back to the hotel but we have 3 nights here and plenty of time to indulge in Marakech life.
The following morning involves a short walk to the Yves Saint Laurent gardens where cactus and other plants are beautifully presented in manicured beds surrounded by blue mosaics paths and brightly painted pots. Back in the Medina we get lost in the endless clean alleyways of the souks, neatly laid out and nowhere near the hassled experience I was expecting. The souk sellers engage in the usual banter and try and encourage us to look at their stalls but our wanderings mainly go unhindered. I wonder how the umpteen shoe sellers can make their living from so many thousands of brightly coloured leather slippers. I am taken with the red lanterns of stretched goatskin decorated with henna and, after some heavy bartering, succumb to a ‘matching’ pair! Unfortunately the post office is closed for a few days over the period of Eid so I stow them carefully on the truck until I can find an appropriate place to package and send, no doubt with a few other purchases.
The food stalls offer a range of tagines, brochettes (meat skewers), fish, salad and veggies at between 50p and £2.50 a plate. For the more adventurous there are steamed snails and head of goat (a delicacy apparently)! The atmosphere is fantastic with the constant hustle and bustle of the square is fascinating course of entertainment while we eat.
A hot afternoon wandering the Saadian Tombs, and the Palaces of Bahia and el Baha I was hot, sweaty and in need of a good scrub at a local Hammam. The boys head off in one direction and the girls head off in another as there are separate male and female buildings to be located in the narrow streets. These Hammams are the wash houses of the locals who visit here every day for a communal bathing experience. We are greeted by a look of surprise, but, with the help of an explanation from a young girl off the street, we are soon half naked being washed and rinsed by a bemused elderly Moroccan lady. An all round interesting experience.
Essaouira, Morocco – Mon 21st & Tues 22nd September
On the west coast of Morocco just north of Agadir the pretty fishing port of Essaouira is a pleasant blue and white building fortified town with an artistic feel. This is our last stop in Morocca before the long drive over the Western Sahara into Mauritania. The town is clean, pretty and fairly quiet as most of the summer tourists have already departed. Ramadam ended today so whole families are dressed up in their traditional jelaba’s going out for an evening feast with friends and families. We all use this as an opportunity to wander, relax, read and catch up on our washing, shopping and internet before a 5 day stretch of desert driving and bush camping.