South from El Jadida to Marrakech we had the newly found yellow orb, aka The Sun in the front screen the whole way, it was nice to see it. The toll free N7 road’s littered with small towns and therefore police check-points, it’s normal for Morocco. Other police wielding speed-guns were waiting for the less attentive, but I drive in either bare feet or socks only, it helps me to keep the speed down. We know these police tactics of old, nowadays they’ve got speed cameras mounted on tri-pods that will pick you up over 2km away, so I keep to 40km/h in towns, 60km/h out on an open road and 80km/h only when I see the sign for it. I never normally drive much quicker than 80km/h anyway, so that’s not going to be an issue. If Maps.me predicts 2 hours, it’s going to be 3, or more, but this is ‘Africa baby’ and the concept of time is very different to the European version. But the closer you get to big cities like Marrakech, faster time seems to run, water down the plug-hole effect. We approach from the north through ‘New Marrakech’, which could almost be mistaken for any UK city, but for palm trees lining the streets and the huge Koutoubia Mosque looming ahead.
Just at that point we pick up our first unwanted guide., ‘ped-man’. I’m sure they just tour up and down the approach roads looking for MoHo’s…ped-man shouts “follow me, I work for the car park”, no matter how many times you tell them you don’t need ped-man’s help, you’ve no choice but to follow, because that’s the way you were going anyway. He leads us to the gate, he’s also not too happy with 4Dh I give him, but that’s all he’s getting, ped-mad buggers off to find another victim. The ‘car park’ is surprisingly quite after all the din from the streets. Lodged between a graveyard and the back of a hotel, it’s surrounded by 3m walls, barriers and guarded all night. There’s electric (30Dh extra), water, toilet and gray water dump available too, all for 140Dh pn (£12.50), it’s expensive for a car park, but it’s the location that costs, at only 200m to the edge of Djeema El Fna square and you can just about hear the toot-toot of the snake-charmers and the rhythmic drums of the African musicians, but only if you cock your ear a bit to hear them.
If Morocco is a strange world to a European, then Marrakech must be the capital of strangeness to our senses. ‘Normal’ rules no longer apply, etiquette has left the building, personal space is out-of-fashion and forget everything you know about the simple act of buying a simple gift, it’s just not going to happen. Here, everything’s a haggle, it’s Del Boy country and they are all into it. Just walking around, you’re approached every 20m, by the looky-looky, hooky-ducky men (and it’s always men/boys) doing ‘the spiel.
You want Ray Bans, – hey..hello, bonjour, I do you good price on these,- you want smoke, you want cannabis cake?- this is the best restaurant in Marrakech, my brother own it…etc, etc. It’s a constant. We found the main square and adjacent main shopping street to be worse than the medina, which mostly consisted of ‘come take a look’ low pressure stuff. The evening market was just as frantic, then the kids come out too to harass you into giving them a couple of euro for all kinds of plastic rubbish, but what else is there to do? I’d like to give them all a fiver each, but tomorrow there would be twice as many kids and they’d all be looking out for me.
About 5pm the square starts to fill up with mobile eateries, pushed in on hand barrows and assembled with the speed and skill of repetition. Within an hour the first one is set up and dishing out fast food to anyone who wants to sit down. The stall set-up itself is an amazing feat of engineering and innovation, it all packs down to a couple of hand barrows, pushed into the square every night, than cleared away by midnight. They all have a numbered position within an area and all cast out linguistic ‘sales reps into the passing, walking wallets, it reminds me of line fishing in Norway. It’s good natured and friendly banter most of the time, I’ve been called everything from ‘Harrison Ford’ to ‘Srtarvin Marvin’ and finally, when all hope of a sale is over, always ‘see ya later Alligator, to finish. I thought the food stall ‘hookers’ were great fun, good natured and linguistically skillful, most fluent in Arabic, French, English and some in German, I even heard one having a go at Chinese…it’s got to be admired.
By day two, my little brain won’t stand it any longer, the constant bombardment of noise and visual input overload, triggers a self preservation reaction to escape and we agree to retire to the bus for the afternoon for a nanna-nap, just to get away from the noise and the ever constant need to be alert, ‘plugged in’, keeping ‘on-yer-toes’, even when sat in a cafe relaxing, it can become wearing after a while.
The night market is much the same as the daytime, only at night. More food, more flames, more smells, more kids peddling plastic band powered neon helicopters. Add a few groups of Moroccan story tellers huddled in groups, add a few jugglers and it’s much the same as the day version of the market, only in the dark…at least the ‘Monkey trainers’ have gone home. Most of the medina’s still open for business, electrically lit and just as full of shoppers as 10 hours ago, the butchers and bread sellers have shut-shop, but other than that it’s still going. It’s a long day for an employee here, most stalls/shops start around 10ish and the same folk are still in the same spot at 12 hours later, day-in…day-out. There’s no wonder some of them can get a bit cranky…occasionally.
Marrakech is an experience everyone should experience. I think if there was a list of ‘the seven experiences of the world’, this city must make the list. The (UNESCO listed) medina, the noise, the smells (good and bad) the sights not to be seen anywhere else (again, good and bad), and the constant bombardment of the senses all go to make up the ‘Experience of Marrakech’. We’ve seen Fes too on our trip in 2015, that’s also an ‘experience’ and in many ways makes Marrakech look a little sanitised and touristic. We now look forward to seeing Fez again.
Last time we were here in Marrakech we employed a guide for a tour of the city, not just for the medina, but we only found out this time around the value of the previous guide. We were marched all over the city and everything was explained out to you. The following day we ‘meandered’ around a similar route and it all seemed to be a complete visit. This time we were confident enough to get lost in the medina several times, it’s not hard to find the escape route. We also marched across the city to ‘attractions’ we visited before, the journey through the streets was more entertaining than the ‘attraction’ we didn’t enter at the end of the trek. So if we could wind the clock back and do it again, we’d do it exactly the same way. For the first trip, employ a guide…a good registered one. After that, you can easily stroll from one attraction/site to the next, but do be aware of the unofficial guides that will try to attach themselves to you at any point around the medina. It can be difficult to get to where you want to go to without collecting one, but be prepared to about-face and return later if the unwanted attention persists.
24h Guarded Parking,-Kautoubia. n39.62411 w7.99465 110Dh/pn (£9.75) +30 EHU (about £12.50 total) Black/gray waste disposal available, fresh water too no additional cost. Safe and very quiet (until first call to prayer about 06:00 Allah….but that’s Morocco!) Great location for Marrakech.
Have a great weekend.