When I think back to my trip to Morocco, all the memories form a single unit in my head. Each sensation, each colour, each sound and flavour are all blended together. This is not because my memories are failing in my old age, far from it. It is because that is what it was like to be there at the time.
The city of Marrakesh is known for a few things internationally: shopping, desert excursions and heat. These three main topics that you will read about in in-flight magazines barely scratch the surface of this city, and do it, very little justice. True, the shopping is fantastic, it is in close proximity to the beautiful high desert and Atlas mountains – and yes the heat is obliviously a climatic factor. However, there is something far more to this enchanting place.
The ancient brickwork and stone-covered streets belie its age. At nearly one thousand years old, the city’s layout is very insular, confusing yet somehow comforting. The constant bustle and noise that rise off the dusty streets combine with the colours of the locals’s attire, the bright modernist advertising, and dusty yellow light, all combine until your brain just accepts them. The flavours of the countless street food opportunities in the markets, the press and heat of the souk, the comfortability of the horse drawn carriages; the memories are all there, and inextricably intertwined. To love one part of Marrakesh is to love it all, there is no sense that you can take only what you want.
The Souk itself is among the most famous in all of Africa. In terms of a place to spend money, in my mind, it is second to none. I managed to part with a great deal of my money there but ended up with a huge suitcase of treasures to bring home. From goat-fur slippers and walnut photo frames to kilim belts and antique sculptures form the Gabon – this bag was heavy. Incredibly, the local city have Tourist Police who you can not only ask for direction, but are there to stop people being scammed. This makes shopping a much more pleasant affair than in days-of-old. They wander around in full uniform arbitrarily dealing with the quips and quibbles, but are always respected – by both sides – it seems.
After the sandblaster of the Souk, time to decompress is advised, and there is only one bit of advice I can give you in this respect: go up. Many of the best bars in Marrakesh are on rooftops. These grant you fantastic views and cool breezes, some even having mist-cooling areas. They also allow you a very good view of life in the city. From the rooftops you can follow people’s progress through the crowds. The crowds themselves are pure madness. I saw dentists selling false teeth under parasols, beggars training birds of prey to ride on vultures, baboons being flung at people’s heads, several arrests, snake charming, fortune telling, henna artists and even some acrobats. The views of the crowds from above tell a very honest story of the city. The diverse crowds and colourful atmosphere represent a city happy to have your attention, glad of your presence and insistent on entertaining you for each and every minute you are there.
Another bit of advice is to go to the ancient ‘Jardin Majorelle’. It is a walled garden in the centre of the city that is beautifully laid out and maintained. It is like an oasis of calm compared to the sweltering barrage of the streets. Take a few hours to go and experience it. Lie by the turtle filled pools, under the hugely varied canopy and reflect on the noises you can hear from over the wall, perhaps.
On my last day I made a decision to leave the city, and go out into the desert to decompress, and I can honestly say that it was one of the most important decisions of my trip. It was like an entirely different world out amongst the tranquil palm orchards, and sand dunes of Northern Africa.
Photos and text by Hugo Donnithorne-Tait