The first thing to do in marrakech is to understand the new town area and medina area. The medinas get quite dirty with garbage during the day but are generally cleaned up at night. Outside the medina area there is a lot of garbage littered - a lot like the cities I have visited in Asia. We have rented a lovely 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment with a swimming pool and a private terrace in the new town area about three blocks from the medina. There is a supermarket below the apartment so it was easy to stock up on a few breakfast items.
Most people speak french in morocco, especially in marrakech, so I quickly downloaded word lense on to my iPad to help us communicate (I can read french better than speak it but that is still pretty limited). Our first day we decided to hire a guide to help us navigate the medina -BIG MISTAKE. Mohammed (everyone here seems to be called Mohammed) although very nice, only seemed interested in taking us to his friends at the cooperatives and souks to make purchases, when we were hoping to learn more about the people and medina area. This is when we found out these guides get a commission from the vendors. However, Mohammed was very useful in taking us to the train station to purchase our tickets to Fez and the bus station to purchase our tickets to essouria.
A souq or souk is an open-air marketplace or commercial quarter in Middle Eastern and North African cities.The equivalent term is "bazaar".
It is Ramadam from June 30th to July 30th. Muslims worldwide observe this as a month of fasting. This annual observance is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The month lasts 29–30 days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon.
The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root ramiḍa or ar-ramaḍ, which means scorching heat or dryness. Fasting is fardh ("obligatory") for adult Muslims, except those who are suffering from an illness, travelling, pregnant, breastfeeding, diabetic or going through menstrual bleeding.
While fasting from dawn until sunset, Muslims refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids, smoking, and engaging in sexual relations (they must keep busy the rest of the year as most families have more than 10 children, Mustapha has 17 siblings), in some interpretations Muslims also refrain from other behavior which could be perceived as sinful such as swearing, engaging in disagreements, backbiting and procrastination. Food and drink is served daily, before sunrise and after sunset. Spiritual rewards thawab for fasting are also believed to be multiplied within the month of Ramadan.Fasting for Muslims during Ramadan typically includes the increased offering of salat (prayers) and recitation of the Quran. Each night the roads around the largest mosque in marrakech are blocked off to traffic to allow the thousands of Muslims to attend prayer. It is quite a sight. All the westerners stand across the street watching but everyone is very respectful, refraining from taking photos (even me).
The fasting in this heat - it was as high as 49 degrees one day is very difficult. The people do not mind tourists eating or drinking - in fact they encourage it as they do not want us getting sick.
Every evening around 7 pm you can smell the foods being cooked ready to be consumed at exactly 7:45. We met a couple of youngs guys at a shop in the medina and that evening we ran into them again they were carrying a pot of Moroccan soup and invited us to share a meal with them. Moroccans love to share their food (during sunset and sunrise). A number of Muslims will eat until 4:30 am then sleep most of the day (unless they must go to work, or to the market to purchase food.
Negotiating with the vendors is much the same as it was in Asia. You need to know what you are willing to pay for the item, be willing to walk away and start at about 1/3 the price they are asking. Each time I do this I end up with the item - now I have a suitcase of goodies I do not need! But it is fun negotiating - sometimes they even want to sit down and negotiate over tea - especially the carpet vendors. Of course all items are Berber from the mountains or Sahara desert and handmade! There are a lot of street children in the market selling cheap toys and packages of Kleenex. These children are not homeless but are sent out by their families and are not to come home and will not be fed until they bring home money. Once we knew this we bought Kleenex and would share food with these children.
Largest mosque in Marrakech
Across the street from our accommodation was the jardin Majorelle. A public garden opened in 1947 by Jacques Majorelle who came to marrakech in 1919. The garden is an overpowering abundance of vegetal shapes and forms representing five continents. After Jacques death the gardens were acquired and restored by the famous designer Yves Saint Laurent. There is a memorial in the garden to celebrate the life of Yves Saint Laurent.
One day we took a bus to Essaouira a city in the western Moroccan economic region of Marrakech-Tensift-Al Haouz, on the Atlantic coast. The city was known in the time of 11th-century Geographer al-Bakri and, as he reported, was called Sidi Megdoul. In the 16th-century, a corruption of this name became known to the Portuguese as Mogador or Mogadore. The Berber and Arabic names mean the wall, a reference to the fortress walls that originally enclosed the city. The style of the buildings have a great Portuguese influence lots of markets, vendors and restaurant. The promenade looks as if it is being restored and will be a nice addition to the city when finished. Essaouira was much bigger than we expected but it was lovely to sit by the ocean and enjoy the breeze - a relief from the heat of marrakech.
One night we took a horse drawn carriage home from the medina, another night we decided to walk. Although we are only about three blocks from one of the medina entrances, once in the square we would need to make our way back through the dark alleyways of the medina. We decided a better option would be to follow the roads outside the medina - we left the medina at 9:20 pm and got home at 11:10 pm - what should have been a 30 minute walk took us on a 2 hour journey but we felt quite safe and did see lots of marrakech. It is amazing that when the temperature is 49 degrees during the day and drops to 33 in the evening it seems quite cool! The 24 degrees air conditioning in our apartment is freezing!
Our last day in marrakech I decided to enjoy a Hammam that I have heard so much about. The Hammam is an incredibly important part of Moroccan culture and life. Men, women and children will visit their local Hammam at least once a week, and spend two or three hours there (sometimes even longer!!), catching up on gossip with their friends, and following the long rituals for cleansing their bodies until their skin glows.
The public Hammam experience is a real eye opener for the more reserved Westerner such as myself. Men and women bathe separately of course, but the women are far from shy with each other when it comes to the public Hammam. They will usually go with their friends or family, both to chat and socialise, but also to help each other with the ritual. I opted for the more expensive western version!
Upon entering the lovely spa I was ushered into a room with a couple from Manchester (Mag decided not to participate in this adventure) where the spa owner discussed the services and served us sweet tea and mint water. I decided to go for the full package and have a Hammam, hour massage and facial (cost 90 euro). You are then taken into a room one at a time where you remove your clothing (they give you paper underwear) put on a housecoat and lock up your belongings. I was then taken to a room, tempature much like a sauna except the walls and large benches were made of heated granite. After being showered I was to lay down on the warm granite while being washed and an Argan oil put on me - left for ten minutes and then rinsed off. The girl then puts on the magic glove that has a sandpaper feel and begins to rub the entire body - I never knew one could have so much dead skin. Rinsed off, coated with some sort of mud substance and then left again to sweat on the warm granite. When the girl returned I was rinsed off and then she washed my hair. My skin has never felt so soft - just like a babies bum!
After some more tea I had a massage (similar to the ones we have at home) and then a facial where I had the anti- aging treatment (seaweed mask). This all took about 2.5 hours and was a great way to spend my last day in marrakech. The couple I met from Manchester invited me to the henna cafe down the alley - I went with them and had the most amazing sandwich (lamb and egg - I know that does not sound appetizing but it was delicious). Jason and Sarah were ver interesting as she was here to volunteer working with the homeless in marrakech for two weeks - she had lots of interesting experiences!
Time to leave marrakech and off to fez by train - a 7 hour journey.