Farewell to Marrakech

There were Christmas carols playing at Marrakech airport while we waited for our plane home. I don’t know why. It was an odd way to end our Moroccan week.

And we had a female captain on our plane home. I think that’s the first time that’s happened to me. Of course, Nicktor responded with some deprecating comment about female drivers which I just sighed at. She told us that we were being held up by a group of passengers who had been detained by the local police. We couldn’t move before the paperwork was filled out and their luggage was taken out of the hold.

We were wondering whether it was the group of boys from our flight out a week ago. We’ll never know because we didn’t hear anything else. Let’s hope so. They’ll fit in rather well…except for the lack of alcohol.

We had George and Mildred in the seats behind us talking inanities in voices designed to penetrate the head with all the subtlety of a drill. Otherwise the flight was uneventful apart from the couple of drips coming from the emergency exit door and making my arm wet. Nicktor wasn’t bothered but I thought this was a little more concerning than George and Mildred’s irritating chatter.

Meanwhile, back in our hotel…we had a lovely sleep in and late, long breakfast before we packed and checked out of the Hotel Islane. We left our bags at the hotel and headed across to the kasbah. The idea was to visit the Dar Si Said museum but we were waylaid.

But, before I go any further, I forgot to tell one more Papa Sikh story from yesterday which tickled my fancy.

As well as the tour to the Berber village and the cinema museum, Papa Sikh, Mama Sikh and the two younger Sikhs had booked a camel ride. As the rest of us were sitting having our lovely lunch, he suddenly jumped up from their table, grabbed four oranges and four serviettes and was out of the door. The rest of us had no idea what was happening but then, it was Papa Sikh and we were getting somewhat used to his eccentricities.

After we’d finished our lunch and the restaurant guy told us our mini-bus was waiting outside, we went and stood in the hot, dusty street where there wasn’t a mini-bus. Well, actually there was but not ours.

Eventually (and it was a longish eventually almost convincing us we’d be stuck in the Berber village, offering tours to tourists for the rest of our lives) the bus pulled up with a beaming Papa Sikh in his customary front seat.

Did you go for a bus ride?” I asked him.
No!” He replied emphatically, ending his sentences with exclamation marks as usual. “We went for camel ride!

He sounded like an excited teenager who’s just been told there’s something really angst ridden on the telly and he can watch it.

And how was it?” I asked, thinking I knew I already saw the answer plastered across his heavily bearded face.
It was okay,” Replied a decidedly unimpressed Mama Sikh from the seat behind him, with a roll of her eyes.

But back to today…generally when I stay somewhere for more than a few days, I get a feel for it. I can be fairly certain I’ll know where to walk to get where I want in a relatively short time and with confidence. Even in Beijing, it didn’t take very long for me to feel I knew my way around. Not so in Marrakech.

A lot of it looks the same and narrow souks thread between buildings with an annoying habit of exiting into an area identical to the one we’d left a mile or so ago. Even worse, I’ll come out of a building and suddenly realise we have to turn right when Nicktor insists we need to turn left. He was invariably correct.

This morning, for instance, we visited the Dar Si Said museum. I was sure we had to go in the completely wrong direction. Nicktor quickly set me on the correct course and we managed to escape. In the interests of complete disclosure, I should add that Nicktor insisted I include that in this post.

One area we were becoming quite familiar with was the kasbah and we confidently headed for the Dar Si Said museum. Then, on a whim, we went through a big set of gates to find the Bahia Palace. What a good call.

What an extraordinary place. Bahia means ‘brilliance’ and it definitely was. It was built in 1866 for the grand vizier, Si Moussa. It was then extended by his son, Bou Ahmed in 1890.

Now empty of furniture and inhabitants, it is a maze of brightly tiled rooms with the most amazingly detailed painted ceilings. As you walk around, from room to room, you are nearly permanently looking up.

A roomful of excited tourists
A roomful of excited tourists

Between the rooms are delightful open courtyards with fountains (sadly not working) in the middle of pools (sadly empty). These courtyards are remarkably cool. It’s easy to imagine how pleasant they would be in the middle of the Marrakechi summer when temperatures can hit 50.

It’s odd that we hadn’t found the palace earlier because we walked right by the big gates when we visited the Maison Tiskiwin earlier in the week. Still, we saw it today and thoroughly enjoyed it. Even the rather misleading female sign on the toilets that were for both genders. While the woman sitting by the door assured me it was okay to use it, the two women who emerged from them were not so impressed.

Having wandered around all the rooms and paid for the pleasure of using the loo, we headed down to Dar Si Said to look at the window frames. As it turned out, there weren’t many window frames. What there was, was a lot of doors, pinned to the walls as we wandered from room to room.

A window frame
A window frame

They were mostly Berber doors that looked incredibly ancient but were probably only from the 20th century. Still, they were delightfully ornate and sent Nicktor into glorious exstacy. Who knew he loves doors.

Every time he sees a pretty door, Nicktor has to photograph it to within an inch of it’s construction. He takes a minimum of 73 photographs from every conceivable (and some not so conceivable) angle. Close up, wide angle, macro, fish eye, telephoto, microscopic…there’s no end to his door mania. Hinges, grain, knockers, termites, nothing is left out in his desire to completely document any and every door he sees.

Needless to say, we spent a long time at the Dar Si Said museum. The building itself, was built by Si Said, the brother of the chap who extended the Bahia Palace. Again, there was a number of beautifully shaded courtyards with orange trees and fountains. And, apart from the doors and window frames, there are other artefacts like undateable pottery, wedding jewellery, furniture, spread out over the three floors.

And, of course, the ceilings are exquisitely decorated. Intricate knot patterns intertwining through, over and around themselves. These patterns are mirrored from ceiling to doors and window frames and plasterwork in the arches of the doorways.

In many ways I preferred the Dar Si Said to the more ‘showy’ maze-like enormity of the Bahia Palace. It may have been the fact that the former is still being used, albeit to house a museum collection while the latter is just a series of empty rooms.

Best of all the pieces, however, awaited us on the second floor. Amid pieces of beautifully carved furniture, were four little wooden seats with raised backs. They were the seats of a hand cranked Ferris wheel for babies. While they only have the seats on display, they were accompanied by an old black and white photograph of the contraption in action. Looked like jolly good fun.

On the third floor, there were carpets. We’d already seen an awful lot of carpets (Nicktor still has nightmares about the tanneries) so we left shortly after briefly looking at them and shuddering.

Leaving the museum in the correct direction, we headed for and wandered around the Jemaa el Fna one final time. It was mostly so that Nicktor could finally get a photograph of one of the local ‘Morris Men’. These are chaps dressed in red with strange hats and bells hanging all over them.

They seem to be self employed as posers. They are more than happy to pose with tourists then charge them for the pleasure. You have to admire their ingenuity. But, really? Just think about it. Unlike the snake charmers and night time entertainers, these guys are not actually doing anything (except for looking extremely silly). If they are in some sort of national dress why aren’t they dancing or playing instruments?

If you ask me, their sole purpose in life is to look as ridiculous as possible so stupid tourists, with nothing better to do with their dirhams can be parted with some.

So, Nicktor calls them Morris Men and has wanted to get a ‘free’ photo of one with his telephoto lens. And, I’m glad to say (for both our sakes) he managed to do it today and he felt like his trip was complete, flushed with the success and knowledge that he put one over on a weird local with no skills, dress sense or appeal. And he managed it without parting with about £2.

Happy, we headed back to our favourite cafe, next to the hotel where the waiter recognised us, even knowing our orders. Enough said about us being creatures of habit. It’s already been voiced many, many times.

Pleasantly ensconced at an outside table in the shade we sat, ate, drank and generally waited for the clock to tick around to 4:30 so we could catch the bus to the airport for our flight.

Finally, we said goodbye to our new mate (the waiter) and were rewarded with rather vigorous handshakes and cries of mon ami, collected our bags from the hotel and went and stood at the bus stop.

Like Beijing, I think I shall grow fonder of Marrakech as time and distance grows. Regardless of things I may have posted (after all who wants to just hear the good things?) I did enjoy our week. We saw some amazing things and had a glimpse of a very different world. Mind you, I could have done without the call to prayer every morning at 5:30.

I’d just like to end this rather long post with a final story that sort of sums up Marrakech.

While we were waiting for the bus, a man waved from across the very busy three laned street. When we didn’t notice him, he decided to dodge the cars, buses, bikes, donkeys and pedestrians and approach us a little more personally.

He asked me if we wanted a taxi. I shook my head and said no thank you. He asked me if I was certain because he could do a good price. I showed him our return bus tickets, cleverly purchased last week.

“We have bus tickets,” I said, vaguely waving them in his face.

He beamed a smile at me, nodded and lightly patted my arm in a friendly fashion as if admiring our travel skills. He then turned round and once more made his death wish laden trip back to his taxi.

It was a long and desperate way to look for a possible fare and it was a lovely way to end our week in Marrakech.

Bye bye, Marrakech
Bye bye, Marrakech
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