Yesterday we took the long train journey from Fes, via Rabat, to Marrakesh. About eight hours in first class so it wasn’t crowded. The train itself though was packed so we were really glad we’d paid the extra small amount for a huge amount more comfort. Both the Fes and Marrakesh train stations are clean, modern, and quite splendid. Much nicer than most (all other) train stations I’ve ever been in. Clean bathrooms too which is always a bonus.
Having sat all day, we elected to walk to our accommodation, a little more than two kms away. Of course Pat and I now have packs that have been getting a little more heavy over the past few days. We’ve done limited shopping but it all adds up. Those nice new leather purses, the spices, the bits of jewelry, my blanket, etc etc. Jan has more restraint so she was not extra burdened! For the most part we walked along well maintained wide side sidewalks through a very busy section of the new town. A few crazy congested wide roads to cross but police were on hand to stop traffic as said traffic seems to otherwise disregard the little green walking man or white crosswalk markings.
Our accommodation is just off famous Djemaa el-Fna Square so we trudged through the milling throngs of humanity to the primal sound of throbbing drums, the delicious smells of meat cooking on smoking charcoal braziers, the sight of at least one snake charmer with his huge black cobra swaying. Pat’s not too fond of snakes so we detoured that section a bit. Finally into our street…. well the street upon which our accommodation is advertised. Before long we were past where it is marked on the map. Back track. Look around. Jostle. Sidestep. I ask a fellow in a shop – the shop is full of men – not one of them has the courtesy to acknowledge I’ve spoken. Clearly I’m not buying so why would they waste their time. Another shop owner does respond but only after being assured we have a reservation and we definitely aren’t going to some other place he’ll choose for us. He then mis-directs us. I like to hope not on purpose.
Pat and Jan, walking just ahead of me, make the turn down a side alley as we’ve been told and another guy leaning on a wall says that it’s close, yes we are going to right way. I’m smiling and thanking him before the penny drops that he has no clue where we are going so how would he know? So I ask him this. It’s a phenomenon here – people giving random directions to places a person may not actually be going. He decides to look at my map and see where we are really going. As it turns out we should be going down a different alley. We head off in the opposite direction – this guy leading the way and telling us it’s just down here and down another side alley – both alleys are dark and covered with archways and vines. Sure enough we come to a low heavy door – our accommodation’s name imprinted in a dull plaque that can hardly be seen in the dim light. Thanks are said and he then asks for money. Gee. No surprise really. Why should I have been so naive to think this was a kind person rather than an opertunistic guy wanting to take money from stupid tourists. Fact is, we absolutely would not have found the place without assistance. In Fes, a man helped us find our accommodation out of kindness, but given where we are, I really had no grounds to assume the kindness would be repeated. We refused to pay (A mistake? Probably yes. We should have negotiated the price first. But, as he initiated the conversation, where does one politely interject the potential price of the exchange? Difficult lessons being learned).
Our Riad is quite nice. Rustic with a central courtyard open to the sky and a large orange tree filled with singing birds in the centre. A sunny roof top terrace with the perfect amount of shad and breeze. We went out for dinner, then wandered the vast circumference of the Square avoiding the snake charmers, almost running afoul of a persistent henna painting lady who had Pat’s hand under her brush before she even knew what was happening, dodging beggars, restaurant touts, juice touts, souvenir touts, and lord knows what else, before heading back into the bowls of the medina and the quiet sanctuary of our Riad.
Today we’d not stepped into the main alley when we were being accosted by a fellow telling us about the special Berber appearance – today only, actually this morning only when we suggested we’d go later – at the tannery. Only happens every so often, today is our luck day….. Can you believe it – we fell for his nonsense. Off we went. The “just around the corner” was a total lie, it was quite far and around several corners. We ended up with a second fellow showing us the way but we wouldn’t go with him until we’d established the ground rules. He was happy to do this to have the opportunity to speak English. No kidding, we fell for that too, and he handed us off to the Tannery tout. Give us credit. We finally called a halt to the charade and left. The tannery tout walked with us harassing Pat for some distance before he finally got the message that we were not going to be taken advantage of at another tannery. I’ve no doubt those three guys had been in cell phone communication. The whole thing was too orchestrated to have been a coincidence. And by the way – there was no sign of any Berbers. A bit later another guy told us about a special opportunity to go visit Berber women and whatever it was they were supposed to be doing. Wise to the game we ignored him and carried on our way.
During our subsequent wander through the Medina we came upon a wonderful apothecary/spice/essential oils shop. Two knowledgeable charming young men were full of convincing ideas of what we might like – and they made some sales as a result. It was pleasant to shop without dodging insults. It’s pretty hot this afternoon so Pat is chilling in our room, I’m blogging up on the roof-top and Jan is off exploring.
My impression so far is that the Marrakesh Medina is noisier (due to numerous motorcycles), the products for sale are similar but there seems to be more variety here, there are also many more tourists here. Part of that reason may be the international UN climate conference that is taking place at the moment. Another striking difference is that Fes Medina doesn’t have one vibrant central square like here and this square is a captivating focal point.
First picture is our roof top where I am right now. The others are the apothecary and a tannery. Bit of tannery trivia. First the skins are soaked in lye until,the hair fallls off. Then they are soaked in a concoction of water and pigeon droppings for a few days until they get soft. Next come the dye vats. Now you know as much as me. Oh – yes they do stink.