“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” –Mark Jenkins

Monday, 3 August 2015

Last day in Marrakech

Woke early - hot, tired and grumpy. Had enough of shopping but decided to go into souks anyway and ended up getting the most shopping of the whole trip including gifts for Ant and the usual home-made, obscure musical instrument for the house. This time it was a 3-stringed "Gunibri" made from a tortoise shell.
Back to the Riad for our last yummy tagine lunch before checking out and relaxing in the spa with a bit of reflexology and a pedicure. I'm not one for prodding and poking, massage or creams and potions, so I was a little apprehensive. My last few attempts at this form of relaxation have not gone well - but we had time to kill and it was stupidly cheap so I agreed to have another go. I had booked reflexology which I had understood to mean a fancy foot massage so you can imagine my face when she told me I had to take my trousers off and lay face down on the bed with my face in the hole.... here we go again I thought. It would not have been so bad except the room was directly off the courtyard where reception was and she kept going in and out of the room to fetch things, leaving the door wide open each time. One kid came in and asked where the toilet was at one point! Not my definition of relaxing at all, but I have to say the pummelling my calves got eased a fair bit of the walking pain, but sadly the reflexology did nothing for the arthritic pain across the toe joints. Let's hope the miracle Moroccan Argan oil sorts that out instead.
After a sweaty taxi trip and a wave goodbye to the singing mosques, we arrived at the airport to a delayed plane and no real restaurants. Tried to sleep on the way home, but was stupidly uncomfortable. A shame for the trip to end this way, but couldn’t be helped.  I crawled silently into bed at 2am (well my mattress on the floor in our empty house)  – I needed to be back at work 7 hours later.
Full moon over the Medina in Marrakech
All in all, Marrakech was a fantastic weekend break – although I’m not sure I would go back – it’s a real assault on the senses.  I’m very glad I experienced it for myself. Mum and I had a cracking time as always, I'm just not a great lover of shopping and whilst there was an abundance of subjects to take photos of, every single one demanded payment - and not just payment for taking pictures... payment for every picture and again if you used a different camera. Too many people, and the constant haggling, hustle and bustle was too much for my comfort levels I think.
The ancient mystery of the desert snake charmers was also somewhat marred by the wearing of premier league football shirts and tracksuit bottoms.
As someone who was fortunate enough to be born in the UK, I feel somewhat ashamed that I am complaining about the signs Morocco is showing of making progress and morphing into something akin to Western Europe.  But the trip was a harsh reminder that time is running out to see the old world, and all those places I read about as a kid. Soon there will be no ancient places left that are untouched by the laws of the EU or the inappropriate and irreversible actions of the western world. A very saddening thought indeed.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Majorelle Gardens and the Magical Muezzin

There is an enormous mosque in the centre of Marrakech called Koutoubia, which we tried as best we could to photograph, but to be honest it's not particularly attractive, so we wandered the adjacent rose gardens in the morning which sadly weren't much better. We had however switched to taxis to get into town as blisters were already bulging from flip flopping it for 6 hours yesterday - so the walk round was really quite pleasant in the sun.

In the afternoon we took a beautiful horse and cart ride ("Caleshe") to the Majorelle gardens for lunch also known as the "The Yves Saint Laurent gardens" and they were a complete contrast. Absolutely stunning. Cool and shady and with the most perfect specimens I think I have ever seen in a garden. Believe it or not the photo on the right that looks like an elephants foot is a huge tree that was growing in a raised bed and towering over us.

We took a taxi back into town to the Riad for cold showers, olives, wine and champagne before heading back to the main square in time for sunset and dinner which I timelapsed - I had been told about the square and how it comes alive from about 7pm onwards, so I set up the camera on my tripod hoping it would make a good subject.

It felt cooler in the evening as we sat eating; we were quite high up and had the breeze in our faces which was lovely and very welcome. We had lovely staff looking after us, as well as friendly neighbours on the table next door who didn't mind the noise of my camera clicking away as it time-lapsed the busy crowd below backed by the setting sun.
There was a magical moment on that roof terrace which made you hold your breath to listen... It started when the first Muezzin went off far far away in the distance to my left – seemingly on the edge of the Sahara – a few seconds passed and another rang out from a mosque in the opposite direction – it was like the buildings were calling to each other across the desert – eerie, spiritual and somewhat beautiful at the same time. It has to be said though that the other 4 times of the day the minarets blasted out the call to prayer it was just loud and irritating!
We took a tuk-tuk back through the busy square to the Riad for the full moon rising again on the roof terrace (and alcohol allowance of course!). An absolutely amazing day today.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

The "Hubbly Jubbly" man

Got up for sunrise only to discover it obscured by the only tree for miles around!! We nicknamed it "The Dodo" on account of its silhouette at night.

Everyone who goes to Marrakech is warned about the illegal guides who happily take you all round the medina for hours, then demand payment for their guiding services before letting you go. So we were clued up on the situation and determined to go it alone. However, when we left the Riad we hadn't got more than a hundred yards when we got accosted by the "Hubbly Jubbly" man who "was not a guide" - telling us that there was a Berber market in town - the last day before the Berbers retreated back to the Atlas mountains and 5,000 people would be haggling for leather at a local auction which is not really for tourists and therefore much better for photographers. Of course it sounded too good to miss and so we confirmed he was not a guide, we confirmed he did not want payment and set off in the direction of the tanneries. Of course he turned out to be a "guide" and although he did take us to visit the tanneries of both Berber and Arab owners, (one does smaller animals - sheep and goats, and the others process the larger animals, camels and cows), he followed this with the obligatory tour of artisan shops owned by various members of his family, a herbal pharmacist run by his sister and finally an antique pot shop that we simply walked out of!  It was at this point we ended up duping him as we refused to pay him a penny and reminded him that he had earlier told us he was "not a guide" and we "don't need to pay me". He clearly wasn't happy, but maybe next time he will think twice about telling lies to tourists.

With aching feet and rumbling tummies, we stopped (or hid) in a cafe in the "Place des Epices" for food and a spot of aerial market photography.
As a predominantly muslim country, there is no alcohol served in restaurants or cafes. So during the heat of the day when westerners are gagging for an ice cold pint, the locals drink mint tea  (nicknamed "Moroccan Whiskey"). For us, it simply meant we had to get ourselves back to the Riad where they sold wine and it was permitted to drink our stash of champagne in the room.

We stayed at the Riad for dinner too, so we could watch the full moon rising around 930pm from the roof terrace, whilst drinking and chatting. so hot - thankful for the gentle breeze that flows across the roof at night.