09.03.2012 - 16.03.2012
After a short flight from Oporto, we are now in Michael and EJ's villa outside of Marrakesh. It is a very posh and gated community about 40 minutes from town. We were met by the maid and then later the cook, speaking only French and Arabic, neither of which is our strong suit. It is quite a place, with three big bedrooms, red concrete and tile floors and walls, and even our own swimming pool and backyard. The sun is quite strong, but the water is still too cold, for us at least, to swim. This is definitely a place to relax and do nothing. Extremely private, there seems to be almost no one else around. Although there is a free shuttle service back a forth to the city a few times a day, it takes a while and is not something you want to do more than once a day.
Out here you could be anywhere, although there are distant views to the snow capped Atlas mountains from other parts of the development.
We spent a couple of days walking around the old walled city and its enormous medina. Full of narrow streets and alleys with bicycles, horses,motorbikes, and people, lots of people. You can get anything you want at this restaurant, and not just food. There are carpet and cosmetics shops, clothing and material shops, spices, kitchen utensils. You name it.
The shopkeepers aggressively try and pull you in. "Good price, good price," they cry. Some seem prepared to bargain a great deal, others not at all. In a carpet place, "morning price velly good," which is exactly what they said in India. In the P.M. it would be "good afternoon price." In fact Marrakesh feels a bit like India, full of touts and locals hitting on you to buy stuff. Eventually, Nanette did buy some ground minerals to make natural colors for artwork and kohl for makeup. You take your life in your hands in this medina though. Traffic from all directions, you have to have eyes in the back of your head to avoid being mowed down by something or someone, motorized or not.
In Djamaa El Fna, the main square, there are snake charmers, story tellers, street musicians, even break dancers, as well as some good, if expensive, (relatively so) tagine restaurants.
In the evening, we hear the place is really hopping, but we never made it much past sunset. It was plenty lively when we were there. It is an interesting scene, a more or less constant parade of tourists and locals, some dressed in head scarves, others completely covered in djellabas, often in bright colors. There are horses and buggys, and men balancing plates or other goods piled high on their heads as they zoom around on motorbikes Although some of the women are almost completely covered, many of the young seem to wear stiletto heels and a lot of makeup. Its a mix of traditional dress and high French fashion.
At one point we went to look for an old Jewish cemetery, which we managed to find after going in circles for a while.
Castle Wall Near Cemetary
It was nothing special, but Jews have apparently lived among the Berbers here for 1700 years, though there are few of them now. We got lost on the way back to meet our ride to Villa Akbar. Luckily we managed to find an upscale hotel and someone at the desk spoke some English and was able to call our driver. Somehow my own phone, complete with a new sim card, did not work. French is the lingua franca here, along with Moroccan arabic and various Berber dialects in the mountains. English is not widely spoken and so it is a bit difficult to find our way around with our minimal French and the maze like streets in the old town.In some ways Marrakesh still seems like a French colony. There are lots of French tourists and a number of the more upscale shops and hotels seemed to be French owned and managed, especially in Gueliz, the new part of town. Gueliz is confusing enough in its own right, and it took us a while to locate a few well hidden art galleries that we had set as our destination.
I went off to inquire about renting a car to explore some of the surrounding areas, but managed to walk right into a closed glass door banging my noggin hard. Shortly afterwords I twisted my ankle on an uneven patch of sidewalk and then once again banged my head after leaving the WC. I felt like I had been in a street fight with myself. Yet another reminder that the old bod and my perceptual skills ain't what they used to be.
We made our way to the Majorelle gardens and house, former home of Yves St. Laurent who lived here for years.
The garden was quite elaborate, but chock full of French tourists. Instead we preferred a room in the museum full of Berber artifacts, but set up with lights and mirrors to look like a clear night in the mountains. A lot like a planetarium. On this day we did manage to find our way back to the driver, but not before Nanette lost a book in an internet cafe. It is easy to lose things simply by setting them down and then moving on. Perhaps another, gasp, symptom of aging. We lose things at home of course, but usually they show up somewhere in the house. But, no worries, with the help of our driver, we were able to retrieve the book and all was well, other than the bump on my head and ankle. I think today qualifies as a "hard travel day," despite the fact that all we did was tour the city. Tomorrow we have declared a rest day, and we will simply hang out at our villa by the pool.
Koutoubia Mosque at Night