End of the road: Marrakech

22 Jun

We’re riding on the Marrakech express. I hum Crosby, Stills and Nash’s song as quietly as I can. Most of the group are too young to know it. Just a few mountains and the highest pass in Morocco, Col du Tichka at 2260 metres, stand between us and the big smoke. Yacine recounted the story of when he was a small boy and the highlight of his calendar was the annual bus trip to Marrakech with his family to stock up on clothing and household goods. Leaving their High Atlas village after morning prayers they’d arrive at 9am, shop all day in the soukh, then stand in Jemaa El Fna place, the largest open space in Marrakech, to watch the acrobats, trained monkeys and snake charmers, and listen to the story tellers while sipping on a freshly squeezed orange juice from a stall in the square.

20130621-173116.jpg

20130621-173202.jpg
Just before 5pm when things were really heating up Yacine’s father would announce it was time to leave for the bus home. Yacine would beg and plead to be able to stay just a little longer but he was never allowed to stay past 5pm.

As soon as he got a job that paid enough to save some money Yacine took himself to Marrakech and booked into a hotel overnight so he could stay in Jemaa El Fna all evening. We’re all keen to experience this fabulous place.

My vertigo is tested as we wind around countless switchbacks with steep verticals and sections of the road edge patched with bricks. A photo stop for the mountain panorama has me inching to the edge to get the shot and wishing others would back the hell up. Roadside stalls display Berber ceramics in deep greens and blues, semi precious stones and thick, bright rugs.

20130621-173312.jpg

20130621-173356.jpg

20130621-173425.jpg

20130621-173511.jpg
Coffee stop today is next to a store where women demonstrate the extraction of argan oil (marketed abroad as Moroccan Oil) from the nut and sell products made from the unsaturated fatty acid rich oil. Many of these stores belong to women’s cooperatives. I buy argan oil conditioner to restore my frizzled hair and a jar of delicious and nutritious argan oil with honey, just the thing to spread on bread for breakfast.

20130621-173605.jpg
Three stages of the argan nut. They taste like bitter almonds.

20130621-173749.jpg
Laura. Try before you buy.

It’s the hottest day we’ve encountered, by the time we pull into Marrakech it’s 36 degrees celsius and we are melting. We farewell our stalwart driver Lahcin and check into the hotel but before we can dive into the pool Yacine takes us for a brief orientation to the city, starting from a vantage point high up on a restaurant terrace above Jemaa El Fna. It’s only 1:30pm so the crowd is thin, we can spot snake charmers and monkey men under bright umbrellas and beyond them the juice and food stalls just as Yacine had described. We’re given a lecture we’ve heard several times before about how to prevent pickpocketing, how not to get sick, how to bargain for goods and taxis and how to get back to our hotel. Well, it’s worked so far, not one person got sick or met with misfortune during our week together.

20130621-173858.jpg

20130621-173941.jpg

20130621-173710.jpg
Plans are agreed for a final dinner before everyone heads their separate ways.

Our disparate bunch of Aussies and North Americans has become a cohesive, supportive little band and we all love Yacine to bits.

Sadly for me I can’t join the dinner as Stuart is flying in from London and his plane is delayed an hour to offload a nervous passenger who decides at the last minute they don’t want to fly…. I collect him at the airport and just have time to see Yacine briefly to introduce Stuart and say my goodbyes and thanks. I hope with all my heart Yacine meets a good woman who deserves him so he can have the family he desperately wants.

20130621-174110.jpg
Free to explore Marrakech on our own for the next two days Stu and I choose a leisurely pace, a little sightseeing in the cool of the mornings, soukh shopping, pool and pampering in a hammam in the afternoons.

Our sightseeing is the grand 19th century Bahia Palace with its traditional Moroccan craft features and the 12 acre French Colonial Majorelle Gardens, rescued by former business and life partners Yves St Laurent and Pierre Berge from decay. The not for profit foundation they created augmented the gardens with a well curated museum of Berber craft, clothing, textiles and jewelry.

20130621-174218.jpg
La Bahia Palace.

20130621-174329.jpg

20130621-174408.jpg

20130621-174442.jpg

20130621-174508.jpg

20130621-174528.jpg

20130621-174559.jpg

20130621-174655.jpg
Majorelle Gardens

20130621-174749.jpg

20130621-174814.jpg

20130621-174840.jpg

20130621-174901.jpg

20130621-174925.jpg
The Gardens’ classy coffee shop.

20130621-175022.jpgThree of the collection of Yves St Laurent’s annual greeting card prints.

20130621-175201.jpg
Cameron’s birth year

20130621-175300.jpg
Tristan’s birth year.

20130621-175409.jpg

20130621-175432.jpg
Some of the pieces date from the 18th century and come from tribes all over Morocco. I’m especially taken with the elaborate symbolic jewelry created by the women from coral, amazonite, amber and silver. Particular shapes and symbols are believed to prevent disease and elaborateness bestows social status. Jewelry is also a form of family savings even today. Sadly it is forbidden to photograph the collection.

Our forays into the soukh yielded two large handwoven pieces of fabric made of arabian camel hair and silk. They’ll brighten two of the bedrooms in our new home. Neither of us enjoy bargaining and we don’t have room to carry more baggage so we left it at that and just enjoyed wandering the endless alleys where meat stalls stand next to fabric shops and a barber.

20130621-175554.jpg

20130621-175617.jpg

20130621-175641.jpg

20130621-175705.jpg

20130621-175745.jpg

20130621-175838.jpg

20130621-175859.jpg
It’s hard not to become obsessed with doors.

20130621-175955.jpg

20130621-180028.jpg

20130621-180049.jpg
The oldest mosque in Morocco.

20130621-180201.jpg

20130621-180226.jpg
Classy Cafe El Arabe, sister Donna’s recommendation.

The hammam with scrub and massage on our last day removed the last traces of the desert from my skin and prepared us for our next adventure. A week-long stay in a Berber village in the High Atlas Mountains to do some walking.

Our final evening in Marrakech called for a celebration dinner at La Mamounia Riad Hotel. This rates as the most magnificent hotel either of us have ever set foot in and it’s worth the menu prices to be able to wander the grounds and drink in the beauty. Our waiters and the maitre de were a little hyper but it seems to be the expected style in this kind of restaurant in Morocco. The food is sublime and it truly felt like an enchanted evening.

20130621-180433.jpg

20130621-180503.jpg

20130621-180523.jpg

20130621-180549.jpg

20130621-180612.jpg

20130621-180643.jpg

20130621-180705.jpg

20130621-180733.jpg

20130621-180803.jpg

20130621-180827.jpg

2 Responses to “End of the road: Marrakech”

  1. Chevalier June 21, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

    It’s so beautiful, you are doing the same trip as I did a long time ago and i am so happy to see all your nice pictures. I was not rich enough 20 years ago to go to the Mamounia but I will do on a next time.
    Iam glad to know Stuart is ok now. Have a very good trip in the Atlas.
    Bises
    Marys

    • Sharon Tickle June 21, 2013 at 8:05 pm #

      Thanks Maryse, Stuart sends kisses and me kisses and a hug! Hope you get back to Morocco soon!

      Sxx

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: