Marrakesh, with its ochre-coloured buildings, towering minarets and bustling souks is quickly becoming a distant memory, the joys and delights of roaming its streets being progressively replaced by a sense of having returned to drudgery. Although the three weeks of work I have gotten under my belt since my return have provided fertile ground for that feeling to fester, the seeds were sown in Marrakesh, everything from passport control and its lengthy queues, an hour and a half spent waiting for a bag to turn up and even more queues at the body scanner as we waited to exit the airport all setting the tone for what seemed like running a gauntlet. Once through all of that bedlam and outside the airport, the smell of smoke – somewhat like the linger of the remains of a thousand spit roasting fires – was a warm welcome of sorts.
Having gotten to our hotel – the Movenpick Mansour Eddahbi – quite late on the Saturday we arrived, we spent the next day getting ourselves familiar with our surroundings, mainly to work out where dinner could be had close by, and where we could get bottled water – thankfully the Menara mall was handy for both. On our first evening out we had the good fortune of running into an English woman, her daughter and her Moroccan son-in law, who were kind enough to suggest a few lower priced places close by.
The days went quickly with visits to various places, all on the beaten path. The in-house botanist at the Argan oil factory we stopped at as part of the Ourika Valley tour impressed with his knowledge of a number of herbs and their use in alleviating various maladies from diabetes to psoriasis, albeit as a precursor to a hard selling session. There was also the hike up a precipitous rock face towards some water falls which at various times felt like flirting with death; no regard for health and safety one of the quintessentially English – and aged – couples on the climb pointed out as they dropped out halfway along the climb. The Yves Saint Laurent Museum was one of the most sought after places, lengthy queues guarding the entry on both days we tried. We braved the consequences at the second time of asking, being rewarded by what was a truly fascinating experience centred around the YSL oeuvre and his connections to Marrakesh. Elsewhere there were pit stops at the Koutoubia Mosque and the gardens close by, various places in the old Medina, including a tannery, the Saadian tombs and the Bahia Palace.
We opted for a trip to the Chez Ali fantasy show on our last night, joined by a motley of other folk – an Italian couple, an Indian family of five, an older French couple and a trio of dark skinned French speaking folk. The facade of the venue was imposing, framed as it was by a large gate, ochre-red walls and a guard of horsemen lined up either side. Once through body searches and then allowed to go in, we were seated around round tables in a tent for the meal – a legume based soup as a starter, lamb dates and nuts as a second course and then a bowl of couscous to wrap things up. There were tricks by the horsemen, what looked like a demonstration of military tactics in which the mounted riders charged at the crowd and set off their guns into the air, and then a belly dancing session. All of that made for a far more sedate experience than clambering over rocks in the Ourika valley just a few days ago. The weather was much warmer – and drier – than London, the low twenties and high teens being a welcome escape from the sub-zero temperatures in the Northern England city we would have been in if we hadn’t gone to Marrakesh. Here are more pictures, hardly done justice to by my iPhone.
I found shades of Lagos in everything; the relentless, in-your-face hustle of people trying to sell everything from tours to bottles of Argan oil, the laisser-faire approach to driving and diving through junctions, roadside bus stops with people spilling into the roads and the police checkpoints a few of the more obvious similarities. That mopeds were everywhere, and more than a few ancient Peugeot cars didn’t help ameliorate that festering feeling of being on edge, of always being only a few misaligned bits of Swiss cheese away from a monumental cataclysm. I suspect I was far more concerned than I should have, but on these travels I am finding that rather being away from home, I carry shades of home with me; warts, joys, near dystopia and all.