Wednesday, November 05, 2008

funky cold medina ...

Fruit & Veg for sale in the Kasbah

As we stepped of the boat I remembered a long standing promise from 15 years ago.

"If you're ever in Tangier, let me know and I will get my family to kill a sheep for you"

Now I'm as partial to a bit of roast lamb as the next man, but I doubt I could eat a whole one in the 2 hours before our train was due to leave.

I hadn't kept in contact with my old work pal Ali, and however much I suspected the bright lights of Rotherham may not have kept him from making a return to his previous business giving camel rides to tourists on the beach here, there wasn't going to be time to engage in a full scale man-hunt.

Our first class sleeper berths were basic but (an abominable toilet aside) comfy and we soon dozed off to the gentle rocking motion of the train. I awoke an hour before arrival as we were still rolling through the rock strewn desert with nothing more than the occasional settlement breaking the monotony. Then, out of nowhere the bright green oasis that is the Palmerie of Marrakech came into view, set against the backdrop of the snow-capped Atlas mountains.

The city of Marrakech splits into two parts, the relatively modern "new town" complete with sparkling marble floored train station and high street brands. Then the terracotta walls of the old town, looking like something from a film (doubtless plenty have used it as a location).

It's only once inside the walled city you appreciate the enormity of its network of bustling souks and medinas - although boosted by a thriving tourist economy this is still very evidently a way of life for most of the local population.

Most of the thoroughfares are off limits to cars, so after a taxi ride to the nearest road we hired a local guide with a pushcart to help us find the Riad (traditional house set around a courtyard) that would be our base for the next four days. The vast network of derbs (alleyways) that fill the city walls was just like a gigantic maze for grown ups and had us constantly lost over the duration of our stay.

Hat for sale in the Souk

The epicenter of the old town is the huge main square where snake charmers and musicians gather to entertain the crowds. Around dusk the food vendors arrive to set up their stalls and begin selling traditional Moroccan delicacies like Tagines, Kebabs and Couscous and, in reference to their French colonial past, a whole row of stalls selling steaming bowls of fresh snails.

Competition from the stallholders was fairly brisk, and at times we would find our way blocked by several hawkers armed with laminated menus trying to win our business. Each stall had a number, so after managing to bypass their advances they would invariably call out something like "remember me, number 23!" as you disappeared into the night. As we deftly sidestepped one vendor his unique call stopped us in our tracks "remember me, Sainsbury's - taste the difference!".

Well, you can't blame him for trying.

The cold and rain we had outrun on our dash South had caught us up again, so we spent our final day visiting a traditional spa in a Villa out in the Palmerie. I had only made the trip to join Mel for lunch, however when I discovered that the traditional Hammam involved being "washed like a baby" by two young girls in swimsuits I could hardly refuse.

Now I should point out that any thoughts you may be having that this was some sort of vaguely erotic experience are severely misplaced. What they had failed to mention is that in between each bathing came exfoliation with what could be best be described as rough mittens of a texture like a Brillo pad.

It left me feeling less "washed like a baby" than "scrubbed like a saucepan", but at least my skin was glowing as we boarded the return sleeper to Marrakech ...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

These pretty pictures of quaint market stalls are all very nice - but what about the 'abominable toilet'. Now that sounds entertaining :o)