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Walking through Marrakech

Home -> Africa -> Morocco -> Travelogue Morocco -> 08 September 2003

Monday 08 September, walking through Marrakech

Breakfast is until 10, so we can sleep late and we feel much better than last night. The first thing we do is contact the airport and we are relieved to hear that our luggage has arrived. But we are not in a hurry and we eat our breakfast on the patio of the hotel, next to the small swimming pool. This patio lies all day in the shade, but we can feel it will be a hot day.
Then we take a cab to the airport and Elisabeth still doesn't like the traffic here. We have to wait quite some time before anyone shows up at the lost luggage office, no matter what we do (asking people, telephoning). But eventually we get our bag and that feels quite good, to have our own things with us.
McDonalds at MarrakechOur hotel is located in Gueliz, a modern neighbourhood of Marrakech and near the main street of Marrakech, Boulevard Mohammed V. We start walking along this road in the direction of the old centre. Most buildings are fairly modern, but we are quite surprised to see an American fastfood restaurant, although the building has been adapted to the style of the country.
Mosque Carriages or kalechesThere are mosques everywhere with their accompanying minarets and we also see a lot of carriages (called caleches) to drive tourists through the city. It strikes me that the coachmen are much less obtrusive than 13 years ago, when I lived and worked in Morocco for half a year. Tourists were bothered in an aggressive way, but new policies from the police and the city council have changed that.
Bab NkobAt Bab Nkob, one of the 20 gates in the almost 17 kilometers long city wall, we enter the Medina, the old centre. On the streets we see all kinds of transportation: bicycles, handcarts, donkey carts, carriages, taxi's, scooters, cars and tourist coaches, all in a jumble. This morning we walk since Elisabeth still has to recover from the taxi drives last night and this morning.
Elisabeth between the palmtreesThere are many parks in the city and a lot of trees, especially palmtrees which Elisabeth is so fond of. Marrakech is one big oasis, on a plain situated between the Middle and the High Atlas. In this park we have to take a rest in the shadow since it is extremely hot, between 35 and 40 degrees Celsius. This palmtree is huge and has multiple trunks.
Minaret of the Koutoubia mosqueFrom afar one can see this tower, from all directions; it is the minaret of the Koutoubia mosque, the 'Eiffeltower' of Marrakech, also called the guardian of the desert. The 67.5-meter high minaret has been restored beautifully and was first build in the 12th century. In Morocco non-muslems are not allowed into mosques, so we have no pictures of the interior.
Dry fountainIn vain we look for cool places, but it is hot everywhere and even the fountains are dry. So we start looking for the nearest bar. There are many of them, although at most places there are no alcoholic drinks. But we are quite happy with coffee, tea and soft drinks.
After this first break we walk on to the nearby Djemaa el Fna, the Assembly of the Dead. This is the famous heart of Marrakech where executions used to take place. Now it is a merry place with lots of entertainment, especially for the tourists, but at night there are also many locals. The Unesco has proclaimed the place an 'oral heritage of humanity'
Snake charmerThe first entertainers we see are the snake charmers. I know how keen they are to swindle tourists out of money, so I try to zoom in on the cobras from a distance. But we have been noticed already...
Elisabeth with snake Teije with snakeBefore we can hold them off we have snakes around our necks and what can we do but make a picture. Even during the process of taking pictures I am negotiating with them about the price: they want to have € 5 for two pictures! It is customary to pay something, since this is what they live from, but 5 Euro is a ridiculous amount, so they get 1. They are not happy with it, but then did we ask for them?
Snake charming is not realy what these men do: the snakes are heavily drugged (and their poison teeth have been removed) and they even have to hit the snakes to get them moving a bit. The music is only there for the tourists since snakes are deaf. They have bad eye-sight but can move a bit with the flute. But it has its charm, although the animal protection societies wouldn't like it.
Satellite dishesWe walk around a bit to watch the watersellers who are dressed in flamboyant red clothes, the musicians and acrobats, the monkey tamers and the stoy tellers without spending any more money. After an hour or so we climb the stairs to a roof garden pub with a nice view on the place. We also see the satellite dishes on the shabby mud houses. A home is not complete without a satellite dish (and a refrigerator even when there is no electricity in the house).
We sit here for hours and enjoy the vivd scenery but then we want to see more and we enter the souks, small alleys where flamboyant colours prevail. In earlier times trades and crafts were housed together in their own area, but since tourism has grown so big there are more and more souvenir shops in all streets Still, one can recognize the crafts that used to dominate certain districts. Everywhere we see gold and silver, colourful carpets and coloured pottery.
Souk, MarrakechWe walk through the streets, going along with the crowds. The mixture of the hustle, the heat, the overwhelming smells, varying from garbage odor to mouthwatering food smells and the colours everywhere give the souks their oriental character. We stray and lose our way. It is a walk through a completely different world.
Entrance of a mosqueBetween all the shabby houses we now and then stumble upon a splendid piece of art, often part of a mosque which is hidden between the houses except for its entrance. There are dozens of mosques throughout Marrakech and from a roof one can see more than ten mosques lying around Jemaa el Fna square.
Garbage on the streetsA municipal garbage service is unknown here. Sometimes we see people with a handcart sweeping the garbage on a pile and sometimes they throw it on their cart to bring it to an unknown destination. We try to convince ourselves that this smell is one of the important characteristics of this town.
Near Ben Youssef mosqueAfter straying for quite some time we arrive at a larger square. We seem to be near the Sidi Ben Youssef mosque and the Medersa, an Islamitic school, founded in the 16th century where one could study theology and Islamic law. The mosque is the centre around which the Medina is build and dates back to the 12th century.
The museum of Marrakech The museum of MarrakechThe museum of Marrakech is established in a palace. Besides the splendid mosaic decorations on the floors, walls and ceilings one can also admire a lot of contemporary paintings. And, what is best, it is a cool place.
Souk Roof garden near Jemaa el-FnaWe walk back to Jemaa el Fna through other parts of the souks. We also cross some more northern parts where poverty clearly rules. We feel almost ashamed to walk here, as the rich tourists we are. Back at the Jemaa el Fna we are pretty exhausted and sweaty from this walk that took hours. It is time to look for a restaurant where we can sit on the roof!
Jemaa el-Fna Jemaa el-FnaFrom the terrace we have a beautiful view on the square and we can't get tired of watching all those people crawling like ants and enjoying the ambience. Snake charmers' music fills the air, sometimes joined by the muzzlemen that chant their prayers from the mosques.
At sunset we take a cab back to the hotel and Elisabeth still doesn't like it very much. Distance between vehicles is not measured in meters but in centimeters. I just turn a knob in my head and put my fate in the hands of Allah. Normally, when I sit next to a driver I also keep a watch on the traffic, but here there is no point in doing that, unless you are willing to risk a heart attack. So, I must say the drivers here are good.
There are not many heavy accidents in the cities, mainly with some damage to the bodywork. Accidents on the roads through the mountains are a completely different story, especially at night. The death toll there is 10 times the amount compared to accidents in Europe.
Fortunately, we arrive sound and safe at the hotel and after a cold shower we sit for hours in pubs near a roundabout, watching the traffic roaring before us. It is a chaos but everything goes allright, well, just.
For the first day here we have walked and seen quite a lot. We had wanted too have an easy day but we are already totally absorbed by the Arabian culture. We feel very satisfied when we go off to bed.


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