ourika valley

Marrakesh – Part Two

Let’s continue my brief tour of Marrakech, with a couple of excursions thrown in for good measure. But firstly, Marrakech or Marrakesh? I’d seen both spellings in abundance. I had to look up the answer, which turned out to be fairly obvious. Marrakech is the French spelling. The English spelling ends with ‘esh’, because that’s how it’s pronounced. With that dealt with, where shall we go first? How about to a mosque or two? The Ben Youssef Madrasa is a must see, with some of the best preserved and most detailed stone carving, tiling and design. The word Madrasa has come to have a pretty negative feel to it. It’s where British Muslims go to learn how to blow up buses and trains. According to the Daily Mail anyway. Some have done so, there’s no doubt. Most of the time though, a Madrasa is no different to a monastery.

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Religious extremism is a problem, and one that the Islamic world suffers from as much as any. I’m not religious, but I like the concept of the five pillars of Islam as a basic foundation. Now, doesn’t it just depends on how you decide to interpret how they should be implemented? That doesn’t change according to religion. The Christian bible also demands certain ladies be stoned to death, you know. Marrakesh is just one corner of a very diverse Islamic world. It’s a tolerant and reasonably open culture and not the full story. But what I saw is, I reckon, similar to most cultures across all religions. Humans beings out to earn a dollar to keep themselves and their families housed, clothed and fed.  Having said this, Islam has some catching up to do regarding social normalcy.

I spoke with a few Marrakechis about their religion. It is important to them. They didn’t particularly care if I bought into it. And they were decent people. No one was beheaded during my visit, and no females thrown in pits to have rocks thrown at them. That may happen in places around the world, but it’s simply not the whole picture. I can’t help but feel conflicted by Islamic prayer. Five times a day? It’s so OTT and unproductive. On the other hand, knowing how us humans have such short attention spans, and need constant reminding….

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I enjoy a quip and a quote as much as the next person. Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, is a personal favourite. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” I’m not sure how many blogger/forum signatures contain that quote, but let’s just say it’d take a while to add them all up. It’s popularity doesn’t diminish it’s truth. And you don’t need to listen to a man, or woman, very long to know how far they’ve been. Or haven’t been, as the case may be.

None of this changes the fact that there are very significant issues that Islam needs to deal with. Nor does it change the fact that I’d prefer ton live in London or Mexico City to Riyadh or Cairo. It’s simply to say that the world is far more complex than our (often faulty) preconceived notions allow for. And that our own intolerance and ignorance is neither a solution nor a signpost to progress.

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But let’s leave religious malcontent behind us, and seek out some tranquility. The Majorelle Gardens are a perfect respite from the fumes, the hustle and bustle and noise of the Medina. Once owned by Yves Saint Laurent, and still home to a chunk of his artwork, the gardens have a very French African feel to them. Lots of blue, green, yellow and terracotta. There’s also a bit of Mexico in the there too – a ton of cacti that are all carefully labelled with the country of origin.

These gardens are pricier than most to enter, at about 60 dirhams. But worth every penny. You might also want to spend a few dirhams on a taxi there, as it’s a fair trek. We did walk back into the city, but seeing as we had a hotel as far to the south of the Jemaa El Fna square as this is to the north, it was a few dirhams well spent.

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As pleasant and green as the Marjorelle gardens are, you still might get the urge to move further away from the mayhem of Marrakech to really allow your lungs some recovery time. There’s a whole host of excursions you can take. Want to trek through the Sahara on a camel? Go to a coastal city for a day? Or perhaps just a trip through the snow capped Atlas mountains up a valley or two? We chose the last of the three options, hiring a guide in a 4×4 to Ourika Valley.

On the way we stopped at a Berber souk, then a Berber home where we enjoyed a cup of hot, sweet mint tea. Next we went to a spice garden, where they make the famous Argan oil and many other natural remedies from locally grown herbs and spices. With those out of the way, on we went through the mountains to a series of waterfalls. None of which are likely to be the most awesome waterfalls you’ll ever see. But they are pleasant and the scenery on the way there is magnificent.

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When you get near the waterfalls, you’ll be provided with a new guide. He will, undoubtedly be a friend of the guide you’re already with. And he’ll want a frankly ridiculous 200 dirhams (£20ish) to show you the way. Let me give you a free tip. You really don’t need a guide. You’ll see a ton of restaurants either side of the river. Cross the river, and you’ll find the path. Worse case scenario, you’ll be approached by people offering their services, and you’ll have no trouble beating them down to 80 to 100 dirhams.

The rather sad thing about this part of the trip is the litter. Monumental amounts of it line the walk. You’d think that the locals might make the effort to clear up, but alas – they do not. On your way up you might also feel a bit thirsty. And upon returning to the car, you will almost certainly have a hunger going. There’s a huge range of dining options. My suggestion? None of them. Average food at ridiculous prices. Take a packed lunch and have a few bottles of water with you.

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And so ends my quick virtual tour of Marrakech and it’s surrounds. We enjoyed our trip very much, although our hearts still lie in Budapest which remains the best city trip we’ve taken. By far. But one can’t keep going back to the same place again and again. Samuel Clemens wouldn’t approve, at all. Onwards to new adventures. Next trip on our calendar? It’s in just two weeks time.

Till then, I have a few more sets of photos to share. Ourika Valley, click here. The Madrasa is here. And the Marjorelle gardens are here.