Marrakech is a city of cats. Plagues of them. Few dogs and, I suspect, fewer mice or rats. It’s a city of mopeds and scooters. I differentiate because, whilst they’ve come to mean the same thing in the UK, they still have real mopeds here. With pedals. Marrakech is a city of dust and fumes. Much of it thanks to the scooters that zoom around literally everywhere – road and pavement are often the same thing. Marrakech is a city of spices and oils. Just as well, as the eucalyptus is the only thing that saves your sinuses from the dust and fumes.
Marrakech is a city of noise and mayhem that deafens, disorientates and tires you. Yet it keeps the city alive and invigorating and enthralling at the same time. It’s a city of mazes and labyrinths. The two are not the same, and the latter is easier to escape from. The streets might be narrow, but you can get a donkey and cart down everyone of them, as is proven even few minutes. Marrakech is a city of smells and aromas. The former are found near the horses and are foul. The latter come from steaming tagines and pots and pans. Fine dining is not on the menu in the Medina, but good food is. Sometimes. It’s hit and miss. Sadly, I have to report miss is the more frequent.
Marrakech is a city full of people, as any good city should be. Smiling friends are everywhere, but telling which ones are friends for rent is an art form. Generally speaking, assume they’re for rent and will want a few dirhams at the end. The girls are often mystically beautiful, the men usually unshaven. Wealth is rarely evident unless you leave old Marrakech for new Marrakech. Religion is very evident, but not troublesome. Unless you’ve been watching too much Fox News and travelling too little to know any better.
Marrakech is a city of salesmen peddling their wares or selling their dubious knowledge as guides. These people are all friends of the friends for rent, and they’ll smile, jostle, cajole and stalk every last coin out of the unsuspecting tourist. They’re not as bad as the Egyptians though. I cam prepared and lost little but my patience. Voltaire once looked at the ratio of soldiers and civilians, and declared Prussia not to be a country with an army, but an army with a country. Likewise, Marrakech is very much a tourist trap with a city.
Marrakech is an ancient city by any standards and an all consuming experience. That’s just the right word for it – you don’t go there to have a vacation but an experience. As the rest of North Africa descends into political and economical chaos, Morocco stands alone as a haven of sanity in the region, where travellers can go about their day in safety and where residents, by and large, can go about their lives with relative freedom. As such, Marrakech, Casablanca, Fes and other major tourist draws in Morocco stand to do very well in the foreseeable future as money rich Westerners look for an alternative to Cairo, Damascus, Beirut, Sharm et al.
I have nearly a thousand photos to whittle away into a more manageable collection to publish on Flickr. And to accompany a story or two to tell here. For now, here’s a little slideshow, created on my phone, with photos and audio recordings made with my phone. You can get a closer look at these photos here.