Photo Diary: Marrakesh

We arrived at the airport in Marrakesh in the evening. We couldn’t find the right address and for a while I was sure I had booked a house which didn’t exist and we were all screwed. Fortunately we finally found a phone number and an address. I was the first to go through airport exit and meet the driver, Abdoul, who was wearing bright yellow trousers and looked bored. All the same, he was polite and enthusiastic, shaking my hand and letting all 7 of us squeeze in the taxi for the journey to the house. The first song we heard on the radio was Adele. Abdoul told us that it had changed a lot in Marrakesh, and behind closed doors we could ‘drink all the alcohol we want, smoke all the hash we want, snort all the cocaine’ if we wanted to.

From the few minutes walk from the taxi to the door we got stared at by at least a dozen people and one guys muttered ‘welcome to hell’ as we walked past. I felt like we looked like Patsy and Edina in the episode of Abfab when they visit Morocco. Everything was orange and pink and dusty, and we were excited to see something as exotic as palm trees after grey, crappy London.

The Riad we stayed in was spread over three floors, tiled from top to bottom in endless colours. The roof terrace looked out over the rest of the city, located as we were in the middle of Marrakesh only minutes walk from the square. When we went back up in the morning we saw that the city seemed to almost be entirely surrounded by the silhouette of the Atlas Mountains. Abdoul explained to us that it didn’t take too long to drive to the foothills and visit a waterfall.

Parts of the city were predictable; we expected it to be more colourful and chaotic than what we were used to and that people aren’t afraid to badger you (although there was a lot less than I was told to expect, lots of people just seemed to want to practise their English and tell you which parts of England they had heard of. Essex seemed to be the most popular area to mention).

It was the people we met who made it most interesting. Our front door was faulty and we were stuck outside it a couple of times, during which we met an elderly Arabic teacher who told us that smoking was bad, before pocketing my lighter and wandering off. When Jemima said she spoke only a little French, the teacher responded by saying that when you dive into water you either swim or you drown, you do neither only a little bit.

It was the most chaotic, most relaxing 5 days – it is a city full of tensions, where there are seemingly endless things to do, but at the same time, the possibility to do nothing but wander and relax seems just as feasible. You are not bombarded by advertisements for the latest film, musical, art exhibition, brands and dietary pills. The closest I felt to London was walking through the souks and seeing endless fake Adidas jackets hanging up. It was easier to relax, to not be reminded of the potential to do 100 and 1 things when wherever you may be in the city, whatever you are doing, and whoever you are with is enough for that moment.

Jemaa el-Fnaa at dusk

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The guide took this photo of us all at the first waterfall in the mountains. He seemed to also be an expert photographer, telling us exactly where to stand and where to take photos.
The guide took this photo of us all at the first waterfall in the mountains. He seemed to also be an expert photographer, telling us exactly where to stand and where to take photos.
Stick and Poke and Smoke
Stick ‘n’ Poke ‘n’ Smoke

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Our taxi driver to the Atlas Mountains told us his name very quickly, it sounded something like 'Simmonds', and almost definitely wasn't that. He wasn't just a taxi driver but also Bhanga and Elvis Presley playing DJ/dancer/conversationalist extraordinaire, alternating between all of the above and chatting on the phone, not hands free. He drove us through the wall of the palace, explaining that only the King and tourists could drive there. At one point he told us about the two main types of cheese, laughing cow and laughing camel. When we asked about laughing camel ('is it tasty?') he laughed and told us it is an aphrodisiac.
Our taxi driver to the Atlas Mountains told us his name very quickly, it sounded something like ‘Simmonds’, and almost definitely wasn’t that. He wasn’t just a taxi driver but also Berber and Elvis Presley playing DJ/dancer/conversationalist extraordinaire, alternating between all of the above and chatting on the phone, not hands free. He drove us through the wall of the palace, explaining that only the King and tourists could drive there. At one point he told us about the two main types of cheese, laughing cow and laughing camel. When we asked about laughing camel (‘is it tasty?’) he laughed and told us it is an aphrodisiac.
We walked forty minutes away from the city centre to a slightly fancier part of town where the bigger hotels seemed to be, on the hunt for a night club. We found African Chic, a big, dark place with weird, tacky decorations everywhere and only a handful of people. We sat tucked away on a table, making the best of happy hour (but only for one drink)
We walked forty minutes away from the city centre to a slightly fancier part of town where the bigger hotels seemed to be, on the hunt for a night club. We found African Chic, a big, dark place with weird, tacky decorations everywhere and only a handful of people. We sat tucked away on a table, making the best of happy hour, which turned out to not be an hour or so of squeezing in as many cocktails as possible, but only one cocktail half price. Fortunately nuts and soggy crisps came free – you win some you lose some.
View from our roof terrace
The view from our roof terrace. At night the setting sun lit up the palm trees which lined the sky and in the day you could see a whole new layer of the city, where you could probably hop from roof to roof for miles (we didn’t try).
Badi Palace
Badi Palace
On a rooftop enroute to the mountains in Berber countryside
Walking past every food stall in the square a guy will try and get you to sit down, usually 'fish and chips! Jamie Oliver!' but there were variations, like 'skinny punani!' and 'white meat'
Walking past every food stall in the square a guy will try and get you to sit down, usually yelling ‘fish and chips! Jamie Oliver!’ but there were variations, like ‘skinny punani!’ and ‘white meat’

Bahia Palace

Waterfall in the Atlas Mountains

Words and Photos by Alex Howlett

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