I should have known it was going too well. As we were about to board the aircraft, the gate crew made an announcement. Due to a wildcat strike at menara airport, Marrakech, we were instead flying to Casablanca. We would then be transferred to Marrakech by bus, a journey of some three hours. Woman makes plans: God laughs.
Cue frantic trying to phone the riad to rearrange pick up. Unsuccessful. Asked the gate crew – I had booked the hotel through b.a. – to be told it would all be sorted out. Ho hum. Arrived in Casa at about the time we should have been in Marrakech. There were supposed to be people on hand to help – what we actually got was a young lady who pointed at the buses. ‘Is ok’ was all we got. It was gone 10pm when we reached menara airport, and ‘is’ was not ‘ok’. No pick-up. Of course, I did not know where the riad was. Google maps, the hotel map and google earth showed three different locations. And my phone didn’t work. We tried to haggle for a taxi. Shoulders were shrugged. It was 400 dirham or walk. And yes, of course the 400 was to the door. No, he wouldn’t just abandon us in the medina....
Taxi driver having disappeared in a puff of smoke we were running, over cobbles, along a crowded street trying not to lose sight of our suitcases. The two lads portering soon abandoned the trolley they had, and set off dragging cases behind them. We were trying to take it all in. Now approaching midnight, the alleys were full of people, shopping, eating, cooking, yelling at donkeys, and staring at us. One of our guides came back to point out my rucsack was hanging open. Goodness knows what had gone from it. Bizarrely – in those few frantic minutes I fell in love...
Having politely given us time to argue over a fair price with the porters, Simon opened the door and let us in to riad karmela. He briefly showed us round, and to my dismay we saw a beautifully laid dinner table in the courtyard. I had planned for us to have dinner the first evening. Simon quickly assured us it would be fine to have dinner the next night instead, and sent home the cook who obviously been waiting for us. He fetched us a beer, we checked out the roof-top for a smoke, swigged on the dutyfree and tottered off to bed.
Next morning, we breakfasted on the roof and remarked on the heat. At 7.30 a.m. Guess I was right to leave the pac-a-mac and the woolly pully at home then. We tentatively set forth, running the gauntlet of ‘not-a-guide’ and ‘big-square this way’. We learned the tanneries were that way, there was a special berber sale today only, leather was sold cheap at the auction at 4 o’clock, and this road was closed while that one was muslims only because of the mosque. Eventually we worked out a circular route so at least we didn’t keep passing the same people....
That first day, we spent getting our bearings, and making a few essential purchases from the little hole-in-the-wall shop. Tonic water [called Schweppes] and washing powder [omo] mostly. We found a cafe on place d’epices, which became our sanctuary for the whole of stay. The usually recommended place in that area is cafe d’epices but it was absolutely packed, so we found Rahba Kedima diagonally opposite, where we were made very welcome throughout our stay. Dinner and a bottle of wine in the riad came to 56 euros.
Saturday was our anniversary. We mooched about the souks in the morning then had our first hamman and gommage in the afternoon. This was arranged in the riad, and was very relaxing. Dinner in the riad again, fixed menu but every item was different from the night before.
Day three we went to look at the new town. We stopped in the emporium artisanal on the way; found it very restful but also very expensive. We had coffee at the hotel solarium and pretended we were in Paris but at a tenth of the price. The lavatories here are very good, newly refurbished and fully stocked. Many of the shops were closed in the new town. They seem to have Sundays off here. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when we got back into the medina. Did not like the shiny pavements and lack of shade in the new town.
That evening, we ventured out at night for the first time, and ate at Naima’s, a home-cooking style fixed menu place near our riad. Dinner and a bottle of coke each was 220 dirham. We were made very welcome and had someone to wave to every day from then on.
Monday we went to see the storks in the Kasbah, and had a good nose around over there. Feeling a bit brave, we ate at stall 14 in the square. Calamari, bread, sauce and aubergines each came to around 90dirham. Excellent food and really good value. We did come to grief on the tea stall, no.70, where two glasses of spiced tea and a small portion of halva cost us 70dirham. Done up like kippers! But hey ho. It happens when you take your eye off the ball.
Tuesday we set out for jardins marjorelle. Sadly we went astray and ended up in the huge market at bab el khemis. But we had a fine old time, looking at all the stalls, stopping for ‘nes-nes’ [instant coffee] and poking our noses into all the blacksmiths shops along the way. Decided the gardens would wait and went to the museum of photography instead. This was a wonderful place! Loved the photos, but best of all was the documentary running on the tv upstairs. All in French, it showed an expedition with a group of berbers through the mountains.
Wednesday we found majorelle. We also found a supermarket near the gardens, where 50ml of cosmetic argan oil cost me 50 dirham. In the fixed price artisanal shops, the same brand was 102 dirham. We loved the gardens and easily spent two hours there. We did not go in the museum. Coming out, we were offered a taxi back for 20 dirham. We told them we were going for lunch first. Lunch was a very good camembert sandwich and excellent coffee at a restaurant just outside the gardens. Much cheaper than inside. When we went back to the taxi rank, mysteriously the price had risen to 60 dirham. I taught them some anglo saxon and stropped off. A taxi picked us up a few yards away for 20 dirham.
Thursday we went on a trip to the Ourika Valley. We did the mint-tea in a berber village thing – and the argan-oil co-op thing, then had the most expensive set lunch of the trip. The food was ok, but really 120 dirham for the set menu was way too much. The climb up to the falls was dreadful. I was terrified. At the top [we thought] we were shown a vertical route, using a ladder, which was the next stage. We were told if we didn’t go up, we would have to go down on our own with no guide... up it was then. I have bad knees, a dodgy hip and a mortal dread of heights. We were told the trip was a short walk to a waterfall – it was a long scramble over rocks, and a climb using handholds. Most worrying, I am sure that my travel insurance would not have covered those conditions. Oh, and the waterfalls? Seen better after a short walk in Yorkshire.
Friday we spent the day at L’atellier de Faim D’epices, on their package which included Mythic Oriental spa. This was a great day out and I shall review it.
Saturday was our last full day. Suddenly, we realised we had not seen any of the museums or buildings on ‘the list’. So we rushed round the museum of Marrakech, where, contrary to many of the reviews, I found the exhibits very interesting. We went on to the madrassa, which is an amazing building, but I was very uncomfortable upstairs and had to rush back down to the courtyard to wait for my husband. Too many ghosts in there! We then went round the corner to a riad I had spotted earlier. It is home to a foundation supporting female artisans, and had some very good quality craft work. In the basement was a very interesting exhibition of political paintings by a local artist. They also hold free folk-concerts every evening, but we were running out of time.
Sunday was for last minute shopping and saying our reluctant goodbyes. We have a few regrets, for instance, I wanted to try meschui but the weather was so hot the whole area was too smelly for me. Next time, maybe.
We spent much of our time watching people, asking questions, getting the ‘feel’ of Marrakech. We have come to various conclusions, learnt many lessons, and fallen in love. We will be back, inshallah..