Tuesday, 12 October 2010
I have always wanted to visit Marrakech. Before going, I had dreamt of the bustling souks, exotic flavours in the air and the awe-inspiring architecture. I was not disappointed.
My obsession with Marrakech started after watching Hideous Kinky - a small, independent film Kate Winslet starred in after Titanic. It's based on the novel by Emma Freud and is about a single mother and her two daughters escaping the rat race of London and instead are living within the craziness that is Marrakech, back in the 1970's. The film shows the beauty of Marrakech but also the downsides of making a living there and bringing up two young girls, on your own. The mother wants adventure for her daughters, whilst the daughters battle for a 'normal' life.
My obsession of wanting to visit Marrakech grew even more after watching the hilarious episode of Absolutely Fabulous, where the two friends stay in a Riad and end up selling Saffy at the market!
I love the hustle and bustle of cities, I find it addictive and I end up wanting to see as much as possible. I wasn't disappointed in Marrakech, we got on the coach and started our journey through the city towards the hotel.
My ears were filled with the beeps of the horns from the scooters being driven by men, sometimes with large crates balanced on the back or their whole family hanging on for dear life. Shocking to us, normality for them. The scooters and bikes zipped through the cars, there was no highway code.
We drove along the side of the city walls encasing the old medina, the old part of town. I caught glimpses of the markets inside, all lit up offering everything from leather goods to spices. We then ventured into the new town, plush fountains and familiar high-street stores such as Zara and Mango. No - get me as far away from them as possible, I thought.
The first day we lazed around the pool as it had been such a long journey and a late arrival. The hotel staff couldn't do enough for us, my friend Jas and I were amongst the only single girls there. Surrounded by couples we somewhat stood out, my blonde hair and her dark curls. I think the hotel staff were pleased to see us!
Moroccan men are reknowned for their obvious 'love' for women, many said they would be overtly sleazy and touchy-feely. I found them charming and flirtatious but in no way offensive and they never made us feel uncomfortable.
When we first roamed around the souks (markets) I was just awe-struck. We started our day in the main square, roaming around the market stalls offering fake Chanel and Dior scarves and bags (yes I bought a few fakes) and being beckoned in by all the keen to sell market stall holders. 'Asda price,' 'genuine fake!' and 'lovely jubbley' were regular hearings as we made our way round the souks. Young lads offering wooden snakes to purchase would run past, pushing the snakes towards my face. Snakes are my one phobia, even though I knew they weren't real I still let out a small shriek.
I was glad I took my many maxi dresses teamed with pashminas for my shoulders. I wanted to respect the culture of the country, no matter what I thought about women having to cover themselves from head to toe.
The colours of the authentic rugs, slippers, bags and pashminas were overwhelming, I think I saw every shade of red, orange, pink, green and blue. We had a go at haggling, I got a very good deal for two leather handbags and a pashmina. I found the most beautiful pashmina, red and orange with sequinned embellishment. It goes with absolutely everything and has become a real conversation starter.
The pashmina would later become very useful on our excursion through the Atlas Mountains and then on towards the start of the Sahara Desert. It was the most amazing two days, a lot of travelling in our chauffered jeep but I didn't notice the many miles we did. My eyes couldn't be taken away from the views before me. Our tour guide told us stories of how the children rode their bikes or walked for miles to get to school each day. They would leave their mud and straw houses, situated in the scattered little villages along the tracks and make their way to school.
We drove along the bumpy tracks through the mountains, the children cheerfully waving at us as we climbed up higher and higher, the air getting cleaner and the views getting more and more beautiful. Each village had it's own mosque, the beautiful islamic towers stood out.
At one point we stopped for a break from driving, a viewing point overlooking a terracotta village. A donkey was escorting it's owner through the village making it's ee-orr noises, a man was chanting the Quaran through a speaker and a small stream ran by where women were washing their clothes. I closed my eyes to let it all sink in.
We stopped off at a ruined Caspar (a castle) that was once used by the Moroccan Royal family for holiday retreats. The Caspar's interior was being restored and was adorned with intricate tile details that Morocco is known for. The views across the village below and then towards the mountains were breath taking.
We had lunch (a gorgeous lamb tagine with slices of orange dusted with cinnamon for dessert) at a famous film destination, a now unlived in village situated on a hill that was the backdrop for Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia and more recently, Prince of Persia.
Eventually, we arrived at our base for the night, a small campsite at the beginning of the Sahara. We arrived late at night so could not see the surrounding sand dunes that we would wake up to at sunrise. That night we were treated to a four course meal and bottles of wine followed by live music. Our tour guide told us we must climb the sand dune, so we ventured up the large sand dune at midnight. I was dressed appropriately - my pashmina had been turned into a turban by one of the waitors!
With a strong wind and only the stars and full moon to guide us, it was pretty tricky climbing the dune, however, it was worth it. We got to the top and sat on the sand, staring up at the stars that were shining down on us above us. No horrible orange glow guarding the stars, just a sea of darkness with clear bright lights.