In Craig’s words: The ancient town of Marrakech was once a temporary campsite for nomads who travelled across the Sahara trading with African tribes to the south. A permanent city was not founded until Ben Youssef of the Almoravind dynasty erected the Koutobia mosque in 1062. It certainly does still maintain itself as one of the liveliest trading posts in Africa. Empires and dynasties may have risen and fallen under the watchful desert eye, but the intensity of the city is as alive and well as it’s always been. The ancient town concealed within the Medina is a virtual labyrinth of alleys and side streets. Motorbikes seem to be the main mode of transport through the narrow streets, which the locals navigate with the expertise that comes with scant disregard for consequence. There seems to be very little as far as consequence is concerned, based on the amount of traffic forced along the narrow tunnel like maze at the speed at which it’s done. I’m sure there must be collisions, but not nearly as many as what there surely should be. It’s as if the locals have all been positively charged, thereby repelling each other irrespective of the distance available when the two bodies pass by each other, and the speed at which they do it.
Where the ancient practice of bartering for goods is still considered as official trading, negotiating skills are certainly required when securing a deal. No longer are you offered the luxury of waltzing into a store and parting with cash as advertised per item. Instead you are offered the opportunity to acquire said product for a bargain well below the asking price. Word of warning though, this means of trade has been practised in Marrakech since before the dawn of the city itself. Although hard bargains can be driven, many a smile has vanished from the face of the seasoned traveller, walking away from a deal when the realisation that the newly purchased carpet was never intended but instead belongs in the category labelled impulse buy. Never-the-less shopping in Marrakech certainly is an experience to behold. The shop owners are generally very friendly and not aggressive or overly pushy. It must be remembered though that you are in their domain of which they have been masters for centuries. Enjoy the experience and rather walk away from any unintended sale. You won’t walk away from Marrakech without purchasing something, so just ensure that you’re clear about what you want before getting into a situation where you’re negotiating a price for something that was never intended.
Away from the hustle and bustle, although still maintained within, is the solace of your respective Riad . We stayed at the Riad Dar Zaman (www.darzaman.com) and were very well looked after by Adil and Hassan. Upon our arrival we were offered the choice of two rooms and chose the one situated on the rooftop. The rooftop terrace was laid out with deckchairs and cushions in keeping with a local theme. It was from here that I noticed the intensity of the blue skies above. It may be the lack of clear skies during recent weeks, but surely a bluer sky would mean a new hue added to the spectrum. With the help of an infused Moroccan green and mint tea, the distant sound of life below and birds above reduce the intensity of the outside world to a distant memory. In fact, from above is where I preferred conducting my observations. The market-trading square of Jemaa el Fna is surrounded by roof top terraced restaurants and tea houses. An excellent vantage point to take in the sights and sounds of the snake charmers, henna tattoo artists and fresh orange juice sellers plying their trade below. As evening descends the square is transferred into a bustling range of food stalls selling a mixture of fine Moroccan cuisine. While in Marrakech we on more than one occasion indulged in the local tagines at several of the fine eateries. A delicacy that has prompted me in wanting to get my own tagine in order to combine the delicate flavours and fragrance of sweet and spicy in the comfort of my own home. Unfortunately the ancient Shisha (Hookah) tradition was not available in any of the establishments we visited in Marrakech. As it turns out Shisha smoking has been banned in all public places in Marrakech, but can however be enjoyed in the confines of your Riad. If time had allowed I would have afforded myself the luxury, and taken advantage of one of the many spas available for a hammam and massage treatment. Another tradition well worth investing should we happen to find our way back into the pulse of Morocco.