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A night at the Jemaa el Fna

Home -> Africa -> Morocco -> Travelogue Morocco -> 11 September 2003

Thursday 11 September, a night at the Jemaa el Fna

We start the day very quietly. First we walk through Gueliz which is reasonably modern. There are a lot of hotels and office buildings, restaurants and bars. Also some very deluxe shops. The roofed central market looks a bit like a souk but is much too orderly to be compared with the souks in the old city centre. A beggar, whom we had given some money yesterday, is very enthousiastic when he sees us and he thanks and blesses us again, although we don't give him any money today. We feel a bit embarrassed about it, for we haven't done that much for him.
We are hunting for souvenirs and we buy some nice Moroccon ashtrays and a leather lamp (made of cowskin). We could buy them a bit cheaper in the souks but there is too much choice there and too many shopowners who want attention. And when haggling one has to wait and see if one gets a good price. Now we also get an idea about the prices and what they should be at maximum. Since we only want to buy a few small items we don't want to argue too long about the price. But when you are really interested in buying bigger souvenirs, carpets for example, it is a good idea to take your time, comparing prices and haggle while drinking tea with the shopowner. But, be careful, they really feel offended when you leave without buying anything, or when you buy without haggling!
Our morning drinksAnd we start early to replenish our moisture reserves. Every morning when we open our balcony door the heat blows into our faces. At night we have all doors and windows closed and sleep with the air conditioning turned on. The first two nights we tried to sleep without it and with the windows open, but it was too hot (it never gets lower than 25 degrees). After this break we probably leave our map and Dutch travel guide behind, since we can't find them after some time. So we buy another map and we still have a much better English guide (a Footprint guide: Marrakech & the High Atlas Handbook).
When we arrive back at the hotel at 2 o'clock, the cleaners are still busy with our room. Every day they clean everything, even mopping down the floor. We are so early since we want to spend the evening on the Jemaa el Fna square in the Medina and we want to be rested.
Swimming pool of the hotelThis is a good time to take a dip in the small swimming pool that belongs to the hotel. It is only a few meters wide and about 7 meters long. The patio is surrounded by high walls and there the sunshine never comes in, so it stays very cool and nice, a relief after walking for a few hours through the city.
Back on the street we feel the difference; although we are used now to the heat it is much warmer than we had expected and we first buy an icecream. It is a bit tasteless but it is cold and that is the most important thing. Around 5 we have taken a seat at one of the restaurants with a roof garden from where we have an excellent view on Jemaa el-Fna to observe all that happens.
Jemaa el-Fna square Jemaa el-Fna squareIt is not very busy, yet, and the artists do their best to attract the attention of the passing tourists. As soon as they have seduced them into taking a picture the negotiations about the price starts. Some try to make a deal beforehand, but afterwards this price is not always enough and a second negotiation starts. When we later walk through the crowds we are being avoided by the monkey tamers when we tell them we think it is outrageous how they treat their animals. We would have liked to tell them we are members of an animal protection group, taking pictures for in the newspaper, but they have run away already, cursing us. Of course it has its charm to see these animals and take a picture from such a short distance but we can see the monkeys and the snakes are not very well treated.
Jemaa el-Fna square Jemaa el-Fna squareSometimes there are some nice performances, but dancing and making music for at most 10 seconds and then ask € 1 is a bit too much, we think. The artists themselves think otherwise and regularly pursue people who don't want to pay.
Jemaa el-Fna square Jemaa el-Fna squareWhen the sun sets the tourists and locals pour over the square and taxi's and carriages arrive constantly to bring new tourists. People with fully loaded carts also arrive and start to build stalls.
Jemaa el-Fna square Jemaa el-Fna square at nightSince we are much nearer to the eqautor the sunset only takes 15 minutes and soon the square is only lightened by lamps and cooking fires. We thought the square had been already very busy, but now it is turned into a pandemonium of clamor and smells.
Jemaa el-Fna square at night Eating on Jemaa el-Fna squareMost visitors are tourists but we see also a lot of local people eating at the stalls. We also try one, but the meat is either burnt or almost raw. The fish is allright. But the cook gets very angry when we don't want to give him a tip. According to him he sells the best meat on the square. We hope that isn't true for the sake of all other people eating at other stalls.
It's big bussiness, but also a fantastic spectacle one shouldn't miss. We stroll for some time between the stalls and we are very firm in holding the salesmen at distance. We have to, since they keep insisting when they notice that one is hesitating.
When we later step into a cab we soon regret it: we have met one of the many suicide cabdrivers, or so it seems. The driver thinks 1 centimeter between cars is more than enough space, especially when driving behind scooters. He is swaying from left to right, sometimes even uses the other side of the road and honks his way through the traffic, arguing loudly with other drivers, through the open windows of other cars when they are in between. He has dozens of nearly misses and is constantly very resentful about the other drivers which he lets us know, shouting to us. I am shaking when I get out of the car. I only see that his cabnumber is higher than 1100 when he drives away at a tearing pace, and I will not enter another cab with a number between 1100 and 1199.
Our regular table at Charly CabanaRestaurants and bars are open quite late, so we take our place along the Mohammed V boulevard, first at Charly's Cabana where we are welcomed every night with more enthousiasm. They don't care if we have dinner or just have a drink and all people of the staff take some time to talk with us.
Just before the restaurant is a taxi stand and there are always 5 to 10 taxi's. Every minute one or two drive away and new ones arrive. But we also see an average of 8 taxi's a minute passing by. That is 10 per minute while there are 1600 taxi's in Marrakech. Statistically, we only have to sit here for a few hours to see all cabnumbers passing by! The numbers are on both sides of the taxi and at the front. The same is true for other places in the city, we have often counted them at several times of the day. Near Mohammed V boulevard it is almost impossible to look at the street without seeing less than 4 taxi's at the same time, regardless of the time of day. Another puzzle. This way there seem to be much more taxi's than the 1600 we were told.
It is a city full of contradictions: a medieval centre and the souks, the modern busy urban traffic, old palaces and new apartment complexes, heavy veiled women and people following the newest fashion. We are told that the economy is growing rapidly here, but that mainly the already rich people benefit of it and the gap between rich and poor only grows bigger.


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