Wednesday, April 13, 2011

April 4th – Medieval Mayhem in Marrakesh

From Morocco's most modern and westernised city, we had a long 3 hour drive to one of its most exotic and timeless cities – Marrakesh. Again, the countryside was surprisingly green, and in fact, the weather was bordering on cold.
On getting to Marrakesh and before immersing ourselves in its chaotic street life, we went to the more relaxing environment of the beautiful Majorelle Gardens (once home to Yves Saint Laurent), full of exotic plantlife and odd-shaped cactuses.

Next, we went to the beautiful 19th century Dar el Bahia Palace, richly decorated with intricate plasterwork, inlaid wooden ceilings and colourful wall tiles, like a mini-Alhambra. From here, we went on to a lovely local restaurant for a fabulous lunch, entertained by a couple of talented musicians, who were able to coax even the most reluctant passengers to join in (fortunately, a simulated "bad knee" precluded me from joining in the fun – what a pity).

Even though this feast was making us a little tired, a perfect antidote to sleep was provided by a walk around the sensory overload that is the Medina, with its colourful souks thronged with people. As we explored the narrow lanes, we passed so many stalls overflowing with produce that it looked like we were entering Ali Baba's caves, while the constant entreaties to buy meant you didn't know where to look. This was just a warm up though, because we were then given an hour's free time to explore the famously manic Djmâa el Fna Square.

The whole place is a constant cacophony of wailing snake-charmers playing away on their piercing pipes, hawkers trying to get you to buy their food, story tellers shouting out their tales to the enthralled crowds, and hustlers trying to get you to pose with their monkey. When you looked at the unsophisticated entertainment on offer, it doesn't seem like it can have changed much since the Middle Ages.

This vibrant place is great for photographers, and My God the hawkers and hustlers know it. They seem to have spotters positioned around the square ready to pounce on anyone taking a photo of anything – they then rush over to you to demand a dollar because you may or may not have photographed their mate with a monkey on his arm. If you take the easy option and relent and give them the dollar they've asked for, they then raise the price to ten dollars.