After our camel trekking adventure into the Sahara, we hopped a bus and headed straight west, over the Atlas Mountains to Marrakesh, also known as the “Jewel of the South”. Marrakesh is a major economic centre in Morocco and home to about one million people.
Unlike other places we have visited, we spent a fair bit of time outside the medina walls, in the modern part of the city. We walked to the bus terminal to get tickets for another day and we visited the Majorelle Gardens (more below). Modern Marrakesh has wide sidewalks, busy streets, and wonderful large buildings; just like any other large cosmopolitan city in the world.
We also spent a fair amount of time walking around the medina and exploring the different souks and markets. I found they had a different “feel” here. The shops were more commercial; some had neon signs, prices were often displayed, and there were more actual stores than stalls. They were busier too, many more foreigners were around and many were shopping, so I was hassled less to come in to their shops. Lastly, the medina roads were wider, which was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it was easier to navigate around people but a curse because motorcycle traffic was allowed, making it more dangerous, as it is surprising just how fast they move through the throngs of people plus the fumes get trapped in the enclosed spaces.
The large open square, attached to the Medina, Djemaa el Fna, was also unique in that it had a carnivalesque quality to it. The plaza was full of people, juice stalls, eating venues, street performers, snake charmers, people with monkeys, henna artists, people hawking watches, sunglasses, phone cards, etc. It was noisy, it was fascinating, it was fun; but if you stopped for a moment, and say looked at the snakes, someone was on you almost immediately for money. I had one incident with a henna artist. As I was walking by, a woman suddenly grabbed me by the hand and had a vice grip on my finger. She started drawing all kinds of things on the palm side of my hand. I kept saying “Non, Merci”, “I don’t want this”, and “I’m not going to pay”. She wouldn’t stop. I finally did break my hand free and Sanford and I started walking away quickly with her running behind. The crowds were big, so we did manage to lose her. We had some napkins and I was able to wipe off the dye. We were lucky. We were told afterwards that I should keep my hands in my pockets whenever I pass that area because that is what they do; do a whole design and then demand money. If you walk away, apparently they have men working with them who will then chase you down. Perhaps because my design was not completed they didn’t bother, I don’t know.
I had been feeling ill for a few days. Stomach issues had plagued me since Merzouga and I was now feeling quite nauseous. In the souk markets are a lot of Herboristerie’s, and I wanted to go into one and see what they could do for me. On entering, I told one of the white coat clad fellows about my stomach issues and he had me sit down. He then went off to one of the hundreds of jars on the wall and took out a heaping amount of powder on a tablespoon and came towards me and simply said to open my mouth. I did and he shoved the powder in and then gave me water to chase it down. The powder? Cumin!! I swallowed a whole lot of cumin and then sat for about five minutes. I did feel better for awhile but it didn’t last. Later in the day, Sanford mentioned my issue to the host of our riad and she gave me some pharmaceutical medicine that pretty much cleared my stomach issues.
On the sightseeing side, one of the most visited sites in Morocco and a highlight for me was seeing The Jardin Majorelle. Jacques Majorelle (1886 – 1962) was a French orientalist painter, who in 1923 decided to live in Marrakesh and purchased a vast palm grove. He designed a garden, a living work of art composed of exotic plants and rare species collected during his world wide travels. He opened the garden in 1947, but died in 1962, and the garden was left abandoned. In 1980, the clothing designer, Yves Saint Laurent, and another investor acquired the garden, and restored it and added to it. The Jardin contains gorgeous botanic gardens, picturesque walkways, ponds with turtles, and exotic plants from all over the world. It also contains a memorial to Yves Saint Laurent, a room of his annual love greetings, and a small museum.
Another site I particularly enjoyed were the Saadian Tombs, an approximately 500 year old funerary complex built by Abdalla al-Ghalib and Almad al-Mansur as a tomb for Muhammad Shaykh, the first Sultan of the Saadians, and extended family members. It’s a compact, and not completely restored, complex, which was very ornate in parts with intricate detail.
That’s it for Marrakesh!