Monday, 12 August 2013

Marrakech...another one off my bucket list!


The heat engulfed us
the minute we exited
from
Menara International Airport.
It was as I expected.
Dry & sharp.
Even the month of June is not spared
from the high temperatures of
summer. 
I've waited many years to travel to
Morocco.
And here I am... in
Marrakech.
Standing under the 
North African sky.
The evening air dry,
 with a hint of
jasmine,dirt 
&
dust.
The sky, a shade of
dark purple-black
with silhouettes of 
palm trees scattered here & there.
The Adhan call to prayers
added to the exotic atmosphere.
Our driver, a pleasant local chap who
spoke well, was waiting to transfer us
to the cool comfort of our
Riad.
And beyond that...a holiday adventure worthy
of a magic carpet ride.
That's what I thought...
The short ride to the
Riad,
was jam
packed with
visual & mental
anticipation.
Everything I've ever read
about this city
came into play.
Once we entered the
Medina,
which was the old city quarter,
the scene before unfolded,
&

at once,
the 21 st century slipped away.
The bumpy ride now took

on another form.
A sharp turn here 

a loud honk there,
further enhanced the
unfamiliar scene.
Narrow lanes choked full with
shops & cafes spilling
out onto the streets
already filled to the brim with everything
imaginable.
It's all very
Ali Baba.
Camels, carpets 

&
 dates.
Everywhere!
Mind you,
all through our week long stay,
Mr Ali Baba 
was nowhere to be seen nor heard.
Instead you get
Youssef, Hassan & Ahmed,
in all 
shades of shady.
Armed with their biggest talent...
smiles blessed 
with good teeth.
This is after all
North Africa.
A totally alien 
frontier even for 
frequent travellers.

I was in 
Marrakech
 with a group
of fearless
friends
who flew in from 
far & wide.
Ruri came in from Tokyo after a 22 hour flight.
Gomi tore herself away
from Shanghai.
Celina & Gordon
left 
Singapore 
in search
for an adventure.
While Karen & I
came in from 
Kuala Lumpur 
via
Granada, Spain.
6 intrepid thrill seekers
 all set
for an
anything-goes vacation.
As this photo suggests,
our holiday lay
beyond these beautifully forged
 brass-handled
sturdy doors,
so to speak.
The promise of adventure
in 
books & beautifully 
photographed magazines,
simply does not prepare you for the
real thing.
Our day starts as 
in any holiday, 
with a 
good breakfast.
The sun already a fiery ball
of intense heat, 
greeted us each morning
on the roof terrace,
where we sipped coffee 
&
drank freshly squeezed
orange juice.
Under a canopy of what appeared
to be a grass thatched roof,
with white voile curtains to shield
us from the morning glare...we 
contemplate the rust colored roofs of the
surrounding
Kasbah neighborhood.
It appears to be quiet.
But beyond this,
the ancient city beckons.
The walled
Medina
is where most
tourists would hold camp.
It's where most of the action is.
Apparently the 18 souks snake around,
connecting themselves through a myriad
of back lanes
&
further smaller lanes that
somehow takes you somewhere!
Marrakech
is the fourth largest city in 
Morocco.
Founded in 1062,
the buildings were initially
built in red sandstone 
giving rise to
it's nickname,
the 
Red City.
Legend has it
that the seven patron saints
of 
Morocco
are entombed here.
This is a photo of 
the main sitting room of our 
Riad.
I was told that in the old days,
this was the domain
of the master of the house.
Strangely,
I have seen similar weave patterns in
Laos.
My daily wanderings
through the 
hot & packed
souks, yielded little in terms of purchases.
I guess the fun was in the roaming.
Armed with no maps
nor
guide books,
may be an excellent way to discover 
the
unknown.
Fortune favors the bold 
but
not the foolish.
So beware!
In a place like this,
one has to be on guard at all times!
There are many juice vendors all over the place,
simultaneously calling out to you with
charmless abandon.
Harmless.
Just make sure to tell them you rather have
a glass that's not watered down.
If you've never had a date in your life,
here's your chance!
Stick to the ones that are sold in huge
metal pots as above.
These will not scam you!
They're actually
quite good!
After several days of meandering through
the vast labyrinth that makes up the
market in 
Marrakech,
I eventually found my bearings.
This was a blessing.
I could go have mint tea at my favorite
joint 
or
dash to the strip where 
the best shops are.
This is one with a 
"Dada"
from our cooking class.
This lady has been cooking since she was a child.
Under the glaring afternoon
sun on the roof terrace,
we cooked a 
lamb & fish tagine.
It was fun.
But the journey was much better
than the destination,
if you know what I mean.
After 3 hours of kitchen duty,
we sat to savor the fruits of
our labor.
The Ali Ben Yussef Madrasa
was a joy to behold.
Intricately carved stone & wood panels
took you to another time.
This ancient college was founded
in the 14th century.
It's no surprise that
it was the largest in the country.
Visiting this was one of my best moments
in the city.
One unique feature of the
Riad
is the central open courtyard
where a water feature
or
a small pool would
bring cool relief from the heat outside.
It also provides a mental
stimulus to calm us from
the chaos in the streets.
Of all the crafts available,
I found the ceramic plates to be the best.
The trick was to find ones that are
lead free.
The bright colors are a worry.
Nonetheless,
they look good in any environment.
Anthony Bourdain 
was seen slurping on these snails
in one of his travel shows.
I was tempted but
noticed that the broth
was never brought to
a rolling boil.
Several evenings,
 I circled this vendor
in the hope to summon
up enough courage to partake in
one small bowl.
Finally I decided
that I did not have a travel
show to proof anything!
Meanwhile,
back in the
souks...
I spent my days
wandering & taking in
the scenes as they
unfolded.
For me a good holiday
is to get acquainted with
the local surroundings
&
 if possible,
sample a little of
daily life.
I did come away with a pair of 
leather babouche slippers.
My only purchase!
Hand made in 
Fez
by a family making them for 
several generations.
The fine details sold me!
Since there was so much talk about the
Majorelle Gardens,
we had to go.
This 12 acre green lung
was designed by
Jacques Majorelle
sometime in the 1920's.
Along the way,
Yves Saint Laurent
acquired it.
Now, it's almost a must-see
on the tourist map.
We came, we saw
we left!
The contrast of
the 
old & new
I suppose,
is
a daily struggle.
As with any developing country,
the transition from one form to another,
as in the law of physics,
are at best 
complicated.
Not unlike making  
souffl├ęs...
one wrong move and it's spoilt!
I get the feeling they're making
a lot of souffl├ęs here.
Everyday I past this shop 
on my trek home.
Along the way I also
ventured past repetitive kebab vendors,
carpet sellers,
brass smiths
the odd tailor,
hand-stiching
away
in dimly lit confined quarters.
Plowing away at a skill
that was probably handed down
by his father.
These are the artisans that
I truly salute.
Of course in a place like
Marrakech,
every corner is a photo
opportunity.
In full color, 

sepia
or even 

black & white...
but be wary,
they're tired of
being photographed.
Preserved figs for breakfast anyone?
Another shot of that 
wonderful 
Ali Ben Youssef 
Madrasa.
As with any cuisine,
fresh ingredients are crucial
to the outcome of the cooking process.
We were repeatedly
told by the
 French manager of the cooking school
that they have the best!
Smiles before a meal!
Personally,
I found the cuisine repetitive.
The best meal we had was 
at an establishment ran entirely by women...
Al Fassia.
The roast lamb was mouth-watering!
This country is blessed with an abundance of everything.
Water comes crashing down from the 
Atlas mountains
to keep the fields well irrigated.
There's enough sunshine months
to grow virtually anything.
And since pesticides are expensive,
everything is supposed
to be organic.
Somehow, I have to carefully consider
that logic...
Yes I confess to my nocturnal
return to
Djermaa el Fna.
That 
mother-of-all town squares!
The contrast of this square
from day into night
is mind blowing.
At any given night,
there are several thousand people
crowding here for all kinds of reasons.
Food stalls, steaming with seafood,
lamb stew, chicken this-and that,
& even one stall devoted
entirely to boiled eggs!
Then there's the entertainment ranging
from story tellers 
to 
magicians
to
musicians
&  
not forgetting the 
medicine men
nor the water sellers.
They're all here
so should you!
All kinds of small plates of everything!
Very tapas-like meal on
 my final night.
Many foreigners
have come here to set up businesses.
There are many 
foreign run establishment
for your perusal.
This was one such example.
Just make sure to do a bit a of prior research...
being foreign run does not
necessarily mean they
know best.
Sunset over the square
cast a romantic shadow over everything.
The golden glow of light fades 
into darkness in minutes,
hiding all that is 
good & bad.
With night comes 
a cooler relief
but here,
the speed seldom changes. 
It's simply a change in
backdrop.
Life goes on
&
on comes the show.
My week here has been 
an experience.
Good or bad
I cannot say.
Fortunately I leave with many stories to
tell...as I may never return.










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Nice of you to write!