Or to be more precise, Marrakech. The good oil was that there was nothing to see in Casablanca, perhaps apart from the gin joint that looks exactly like Rick’s Cafe from the movie but which only opened in 2004. (You’d think someone would have thought of it sooner.) I suppose it would have been fun to see The Usual Suspects hanging out there, and to see if there was a pianist called Sam tickling the ivories.
But nah. Instead of having ‘As Time Goes By’ on my brain for three days I had the Graham Nash song ‘Marrakesh Express’. But I didn’t come by train – I flew, and was subsequently delivered to a wondrous hostelry in the Marrakech medina called the Dar El Danika. They had a thing about roses. There were rose petals on the bed and in the fruit bowl…
Roses petals on the bathroom basin ….
….as well as an actual rose in a vase.
There were rose petals on the shower mat…
…and there were even rose petals on the toilet cistern. But it wasn’t entirely an – ahem – bed of roses. In the end they went a bit manky and wilted and got in the way and I had to scoop them up and dump them in the bin. Plus somehow some rose thorns found their way onto the mat in the bedroom, and naturally my bare soles found two of them – ouch! That’s a rather poetic First World Problem, isn’t it?
This place was sufficiently charming and well-situated that it got away with having no TV – the only one so far on this trip. Apart from the desert camp at Wadi Rum, of course, where I couldn’t even get hot water out of the shared single shower but at least there was no muezzin. I’d trade TV in a flash for not having to be woken at 5am by that amplified wailing. Petra was the worst place. First World Problem? I don’t care!
The English language news channels provide the only watchable material anyway, but CNN only ever covers Trump and the best of them – BBC World News and the English versions of Al Jazeera and France 24 tend to repeat the same footage and documentaries. Al Jazeera is the best, I reckon, but I haven’t seen it in North Africa for some reason. Perhaps the Qataris are on the nose with their Arab brethren there.
Meanwhile back at the Dar El Danika…..Apart from the roses they welcomed me with mint tea, dates (which are as good as hard-boiled eggs for a freebie food scrounger like me), and plates of bickies and fruit in my room. The suite was fairly tiny and there was no room for a kettle and associated paraphernalia; tea or hot water would be brought virtually on demand on a tray, and at no extra cost. Even at 3.30am on the day I left!
The dining area took up the whole top floor, by which I mean the floor under the roof. Every building of whatever purpose, both here and in Tunisia, had some kind of usable space on the roof. I suspect a lot of life is lived on the roof on summer evenings when it’s hot indoors.
I was met on arrival by Leeanne, a Kiwi woman of about my age who manages the Dar for its Iraqi owners. She has a husband and family in NZ who don’t share her wanderlust. She works the tourist season here and gads about Europe and goes home in the off season. She was a real treasure full of good practical advice and help. F’rinstance on my first morning she sent me out to the ATM at the nearest branch of the government bank which she said would charge the least commission.
I found it okay but sundry locals lounging about warned me that it had no money. There were no tourists or cops around so I didn’t want to openly mistrust them by testing that claim with all eyes on me. I went back to the Dar and Leeanne promptly pulled sufficient of the readies out of her own safe to keep me in food and coffee and minor souvenirs until such time as I could find a reliable ATM and get my own stash.
I found it at the next place she recommended, a more distant branch of the same Al Barid bank, 20 minutes walk away through the crowded lanes of the medina on the edge of the vast Jamaa El Fna – the huge public plaza for which Marrakech is famous (a fact I confess to having only just learnt), and wherein many exotic marvels are to be seen and where I was headed anyway. Another World Heritage Lister – yawn. (Wink. Joke.)
It was an absolute riot of sound and colour. I took video but once again am stymied in sharing it with you by the inadequacy of hotel wifi. Might try and post to Youtube from home and link to the website from there later.
The snake sure had strange tastes in music if he wanted to hear more from this bloke. His instrument sounded like those jokey trumpety car-horns on fast-forward.
There were the inevitable armed men.
By then it was time for a mid-morning caffeine fix on the rooftop at the Cafe Addresse overlooking the Jamaa El Fna.
Then it was onward ever onward past wares of all kinds including…
The men at the fowls market didn’t look too happy about me checking out their wares. I suppose for one they know western tourists aren’t going to buy and might also show some distaste. I didn’t, because these birds all seemed to be reasonably accommodated and not distressed. I suppose that might change when they tie their legs together and hang them upside down for the customer to take away!
Cars aren’t allowed in the medina but unfortunately motorcycles are. Not that slow-moving working traffic like this is a problem; it’s the young men herbing around at menacing speed through the narrow lanes and tight corners. Not at all like well-mannered Aussie motorcycle boys, eh Dave? At least they don’t use that stinking acrid two-stroke fuel that fouls the air in south-east Asia.
Most heavy loads are transported by donkey. There were hundreds of them plying up and down these narrow lanes, usually too fast for me to whip out my phone, enter the code and open the camera. Finally I nailed it but the donkey-owner clocked me and I had to give him a few coins.
This was a prestigious museum, set in another old palace and privately founded at the turn of the twentieth century by a rich local philanthropist/collector and his wife, who are obviously local heroes. I took umpteen pics inside ….
…starting with this large inner chamber made golden by coloured translucent roof panels. Everyone gasped as they walked in, me included. The camera doesn’t do it justice. There were so many interesting things on display, like this Berber saddle, designed, according to the sign, to be comfortable for both horse and rider.
If I read the French signage correctly, the Berbers got the idea for the samovar from the Russians via the Turks.
There was also a gallery of contemporary Arab/Berber art.
Then it was back to the hotel – via a different route and I didn’t get lost! I had a printed tourist map but also the handy Maps.me app, which can be a good friend but can also be a bit flighty, as Ray will attest from his time in Amman and Beirut, and as I had reason to discover the next day when I went to some different landmarks but got a bit cocky about how well I thought I knew the terrain. (In Maps.me you download the map using wifi before heading out, then it works offline when you are out, locating you and planning routes provided you can name and enter your destinations beforehand.)
There were these gardens, I THINK called Baadi or Bahdi….
…and this Palace Museum my phone identifies as the Mechouar Kasbah. I didn’t pay to go in; it was mainly about the external architecture, not a collection of artifacts, so I headed back towards the hotel, or so I thought. Thinking it was basically a grid, I followed my nose, occasionally consulting Maps.me and occasionally having to retrace my steps, having come to a dead end in some private residential nook of the souk. (‘Nook of the souk’. I like that.)
This was the only time I saw an apparently homeless person. I had my camera out and took a quick snap. A local fellow a few metres away spotted me and yelled something angrily in Arabic. I knew he meant I should leave the old fellow some money, having taken his photo, and I would have if the angry fellow (who looked a bit jihadi with his beard and headgear) hadn’t scared me away. Honestly!
I somehow ended up in a big walled park which seemed nice at first but after a while I started to worry that it was unvisited and uninhabited except by me and this turtle I came across. (There were little turtles on sale in the souk but I didn’t dare take a pic. Quite a few places had signs saying ‘No Photo’ if you weren’t going to buy.) A bloke at the entrance had said I could get through to the other side, but I did ask in French – was that where I went wrong? – and yet another bloke pointed me in the direction of a likely-looking gate in the wall, but as I approached it I was overtaken by this young rogue by the name of Ali, who told me it was closed; then he proceeded to ‘rescue’ me by a) showing me the way out through an obscure gate and b) leading me a merry dance through the lanes and alleys of the medina, all within a 500m radius of my hotel.
Leeanne had warned me about such perils! I wasn’t panicking because I had plenty of time and I enjoyed the exercise and the sunshine, but every time I stopped or slowed down to consult Maps.me, which needs a bit of a shake and a standstill for the arrow to find the right direction, Ali would speed me up and say ‘Come on, it’s just round this corner!’ He managed to keep this up for about 45 minutes. When I started to grumble and look cross he finally delivered me to the hotel where I offered him a 20-pound note (a bit over $2) and he spurned it, arguing that I should give him 100! Well, I knew I was going to have to offer him something for showing me the gate, although he claimed to work in the gardens so that would have taken all of 2 minutes of his time! And he did take a nice pic of me and that’s no mean feat.
On the other hand, it was obviously a practised scam, and I DID tell him I could find my own way after we got out of the park. Harrumph. And the cheeky sod asked me, just like that, bold as brass: ‘How old are you?’ ‘Too old’, I said. ‘Old enough to be your grandma’. He did have the grace or the smarts to scoff at that and hazard that maybe I was 40 or 50….he was either blind or practising his conmanship.
‘Take it or leave it’, I said, about the 20-pound note. He took it. The folks at the hotel entrance, seeing all this transpire, indicated by means of body language – headshakings, rueful smiles – that I could have sent him off with bugger all but basically did the decent thing.
My first night I had a nice hotel dinner. This two course meal with nice dips and bread and a couple of glasses of good chilled white cost the equivalent of about $80AUD. Par for the course for all these countries, it seems.
Leeanne recommended the Cafe Naranj for my last supper in Morocco. It had to be early and it had to be alcohol-free because I had to get to sleep by 8pm and up at 3am for a horror day of airports and flights – destination Egypt.