Fragments of Marrakech

I really didn’t enjoy Marrakech at all.

It had nothing to do with being tired from being on the road (and my feet) for two whole weeks, or having spent double my budgeted spending money by then, or the garish pink hotel room (yep, bright pink from floor to ceiling), or the chaos that is the Place Djemaa el-Fna – the marketplace and square renowned for its’ snake charmers, acrobats and story-tellers.  Nor the exorbitant entrance fee for Yves Saint Laurent’s Jardin Majorelle, within easy walking distance of my hotel. Perhaps it had a bit to do with the Medina where you are harassed more than anywhere else in Morocco, as by then I really was fed up of being harassed.

But more than all of that, I really felt that Marrakech had no soul compared to the rest of Morocco.  Days later, in a taxi ride to the airport in Casablanca, my taxi driver surprised me by agreeing with me.

And so my photos of Marrakech are not an all-encompassing view, but rather a tiny glimpse of a city whose name alone has fascinated travelers for centuries and I do wonder about that train ride from Casablanca that inspired Graham Nash to pen a psychodelic pop song about the hippie trail in Morocco that would become a massive hit for Crosby Stills Nash.  I love the song* by the way, if not the city 🙂

The photos were all taken inside the hurly burly crazy souk.

Chicken doesn’t get fresher than this.  Note the egg laid in the crate despite the confined space.

The local dentist advertising his wares …..

A trip to the local laundromat.

The local taxi rank.

And finally a shot taken from a rooftop restaurant where I sadly discovered a man living on a neighbouring rooftop in a makeshift tent.

* Marrakech Express

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Essaouira

I fell head over heels in love with Essaouira, the gorgeous seaside town that was the repite from the chill of my sojourn in the High Atlas Mountains and where lunch came straight out of the ocean.

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I could happily live in Essaouira with its orderly Medina and lovely eateries tucked away in the side streets. And the gelato sold on the Square, where I had the closest thing ever to Bangkok’s famed coconut ice-cream.

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The quaint harbour reminded me of Kalk Bay back home, but with a North African backdrop 🙂  It’s little wonder that Essaouira was chosen as a location to film Game of Thrones.

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I could do without the seagulls though.  Their loud shrieks throughout the night kept me awake. So did the accoustics in the Riad where the one towel they gave me was so thin it was fraying.

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Four years ago I made a rule that I will never visit the same place on my Bucket List twice because there are so many other places I still want to see.  I made one exception after visiting Chobe in 2015.  And I will make another for Essaouira 🙂

 

The history of a city in its doors

Travelling through Morocco you soon sense that the architecture is a cosmopolitan cultural blend reflecting the country’s long and rich history of rulers and invaders – both Arabic and European – and that the doors in particular are very much a gateway to another world.  In Essaouira, once you are able to take your eyes of the array of blues, there’s some incredible history to discover.  And not all of it is blue.

For centuries Moroccans of Jewish and Muslim decent lived peacefully side by side in cities such as Essaouira, Fes and Marrakech, which is evident in the hallmarks on their doors.  These range from unique patterns and symbols to Jewish stars, some of which are even dated and evoke centuries of history.img_9908conv img_9907conv img_9906conv

But many of these Jewish familes fled the mellahs – the Jewish district in Arab cities – for Israel following the Six Day War.  Some have never returned and many houses like the one in Essaouira pictured below are locked up and have been left to deteriorate.  (Note the Star of David in the plasterwork above the arch, alongside the fading mosaics).

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Other more modern doors bear Moorish style motifs, delicate mosaics and ornate and interesting door knockers.

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Whether they are made of wood or weather-beaten steel, they all add to the charm of Essaouira.

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Then if you can drag yourself away from the doors for a few minutes you will find yourself in the middle of a typical street scene that could be anywhere in Morocco – the inescapable washing and arches and cats and faded reminders of a byegone era.

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The Leather Tanneries of Fes

They hand you a sprig of mint to take the edge off the odour as you enter the building, but nothing, in my view, can disguise the smell of Fes’ tanneries.

You first get a sense of the magnitude of this industry as you approach the tannery complex – literally hundreds of damp and recently dyed hides laid out to dry in the sun wherever there is free space.

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But the real action is in the dyeing pits in the Medina, the subject of many photographs from travel books on Morocco, where dozens of men stand knee deep in the pits of pigeon poop and natural colors in the hot sun, dyeing hides before they are fashioned into jackets, handbags and other commercial products.  Work in the tanneries hasn’t changed for centuries and this is the place to go if you want to experience the real authentic Fes.  Be warned though – the stench really does take your breath away.

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And all around the tanneries, that all too familiar sight – the satellite dish 🙂

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