Morocco 2010 - Marrakech


I’ve been coming to southern Morocco on and off for 35 years. For the last 25 or so I’ve tended to avoid Marrakech, preferring instead the towns and routes south of the Atlas Mountains. Marrakech has changed, of course. Gone are the mutilated and deformed beggars, the men with no legs on skateboard-like carts, the sometimes scary guides who latched onto you when you weren’t acting confident. Everone looks better off. The donkeys in the tourist areas look fairly healthy and aren’t being beaten. The souks have overflowed into once residential streets round the d’Jemaa el Fna. There is so much more commercial activity. And ATM machines.

Yet the square is still full of farmers down from the Atlas for the day, watching the story tellers, magicians, acrobats, drummers, fortune tellers and charlatans, sellers of aphrodisiacs and spells. In spite of the tourists it’s still a place for Moroccans. Wonderful! I’m enchanted again.

We eat good food - 35 years ago that never was possible - in a hard to find restaurant recommended by our guide, and later on we wander into a quiet area of the souk that specialises in antiques. Amazing stuff but, although we ask, we can’t get a price for anything. 10pm, not the time to sell.

The following day we wander round the souks, delightful in the quiet, cool early morning, hot in the afternoon, and we venture into the brutality of the tanneries. We’re given a sprig of mint to counter the smell. And we’re charged over the odds for the guided tour - “For the men”. You wouldn’t want to argue. A grim place - for man and beasts. A place that makes you think again about buying a cheap Moroccan leather belt or wallet. Bad humour enables men able to work in places like this but really, it’s not the way it should be.

I buy a carved plaster square from an artisan just outside the Souk Serratine. Our guide, Mohamed, has trained to do this work, yesterday I’d asked him to explain the technique but I’d never seen it in action.

A couple of of nights at an old favourite hotel in Ouirgane (2 hours from Marrakech on the Tizi n’Test road), Au Sanglier Qui Fume, provides a day of rather hot relaxation in the the foothills. Back to Marrakech for last minute shopping and photographs.

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Tanneries, Marrakech