Marrakech and the Toubkal Valley 2011

Place Jemaa el-Fnaa at night

I have just recently returned from a fantastically refreshing trip to Morocco, a country in North Africa with plenty of sunshine and mystique for the curious traveller. Here are a few reflections I jotted down over the week…

Sunday

We arrived in the bustling city of Marrakech at approximately 3 in the afternoon and stopped off at the Hotel de Foucauld off the main square (Place Jemaa al Fnaa) for lunch. The Place Jemaa al Fnaa is very much something out of Alladin with a wide array of snake charmers, story tellers, monkeys, henna ladies and water men.

We then went on our first venture into the souk for a big of haggling for flip flops. I managed to buy a purple kaftan haggled down from 220 dirham to 100 – remember that most of the time they’ll try to charge you either double or three times the genuine asking price!

Picked up some genuine Moroccan sell tactics to rope customers in – “fish and chips” “lovely jubbly” and “5,000 camels, yes?”

We then went back to the hotel for some Moroccan cuisine – special pear like vegetables and chicken tagine! Yummy!

Monday

The Tannerie

Woke up bright and early for a horse drawn carriage city tour and a tour of the tannerie, medina (10th/11th century), souks, the Jewish sector and the French sector.

We were given mint in the tannerie to block out the rather funky smell of animal skins which were pretty bad. We learnt about the stages taken to develop Moroccan leather – removal of fur, washing and the use of pigeon droppings to soften! Pigeon droppings are evidently poisonous to human skin so workers are required to wear long boots.

The leather is then processed and dyed before being taken to another part of the souk for auction. We were also told that a sign of good quality leather is one that lacks a smell!

We were also taken for a whistle stop tour through the fabrics section of the souk and it should be duly noted that in Morocco only natural dyes are used in all fabrics! Fancy!

We then visted a Berber pharmacy – a small run business which has received sponsorship by BMW of all companies! I bought the jasmine and citron oil for repelling mosquitos and wasps (it appealed to the irrationally fearful me) it smells wonderful as well. I also bought three pots of saffron as the average price of saffron in Morocco is apparently 5-6 times cheaper than that in England. I would like to believe that this is true. Nonetheless it’s apparently great with mint tea.

Spices and all things nice at the Berber pharmacy

A side note our guide notified was the way of informal employment in Morocco that is traditionally sourced in the souks. Unemployed people may sit around in the souk with others that are unemployed and wait for a contractor, a person who may need a handyman for errands such as remodelling or building one’s house.

Next we moved through the souk to various trade sectors – iron and leather which are of high value and to the carpentry sector where we learnt about the traditional styles employed in all furniture. The design used is inspired from how windows in Morocco were originally constructed. Women were not normally allowed out of the house way back when, however, now that women have much more independence in modern day Morocco a chance to reflect on the past is brought into fashionable furniture designed. Very much all of the furniture bought in the souk can be custom made!

All government buildings, we learnt, fly the red Moroccan flags and were swiftly also informed that it is illegal to take photos of them!

All of the medina buildings were of 10th an 11th century origin – pre Arab and the rest is 16th century buildings.

Upon conclusion of the tour, we went back for yet more haggling and bought a bag with carpet infill design and yet another kaftan (swear I don’t have a problem!). However, I did manage to get into a rather spectacular fight with one of the owners…

Tuesday

Awoke early for a journey to the Atlas Mountains to the Kasbah du Toubkal – allegedly Paul McCartney stayed to get over his ex! It is a lovely sustainably managed guest house style accommodation with incredibly peaceful surroundings!

The main room, Kasbah de Toubkal

We had a short stop for lunch (okay, maybe quite a long stop for lunch) with delicious bread and mint tea!

Following our lunch we went for an apparent ‘stroll up a hill’ which I’d like to rephrase as a ‘hardcore hike’ to some of the surrounding Berber villages. Some of the children were red haired! So sweet!

Berber Villages

We then enjoyed some Berber hospitality at a house in the mountains for some mint tea with thyme and biscuits. Afterwards we embarked for the rather long walk back to the Kasbah where we had some yummy chicken tagine for din dins!

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