Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Cobras and conspiracy theories: Marrakech day one

So last time I didn't give you the greatest impression of Marrakesh (which I stand by). But it wasn't all bad. Nothing we did or saw was really like "wow, that was amazing, I'll remember that till I die", but we saw some okay things.

I arrived early on Sunday morning and sat straight down to breakfast at the hotel, which was a nice surprise since I didn't even know that was included. We chose to stay in a "riad", i.e. a traditional(ish) Moroccan house arranged around an inner courtyard, located in the old town centre just a couple hundred metres from the main square Jemaa-el-Fna.

This proved invaluable as it is reeeeally hard to find your way around the souks and old city. It's confusing enough to begin with, but it's multiplied by the amount of people giving you unsolicited advice on where to go (often without even knowing where you want to get to). After a few experiences of getting completely turned around and totally lost, and people at one street corner telling you to go one way while at the next they say something completely different, we figured out that it's mostly best to ignore what people tell you. Most of the time, the main place they want to get you to is walking past their shop. And some of the kids probably just plain want to amuse themselves by getting you lost.

Related to the dodgy directioners are the young men who "guide" you around. They appear next to you as you stop to discuss what to do, read a map or even if you're just strolling around with no particular destination in mind and ask where you're going or offer to show you the way. Unfortunately, telling them that you don't need help or that you're not going where they want to take you often doesn't stop them either following along behind you or "leading" from in front of you. We found that no matter how many times we told them we didn't need help or how slowly we tried to dawdle along to demonstrate that we were not, in fact, being guided by them, they were a master at unobtrusively waiting at the next corner or stopping in front of a shop for a few seconds before magically appearing just in front of you again and bounding off to recommence "showing you the way". None of them actually asked us for anything, but we only got rid of a particularly persistent guy wanting to take us to a tannery when I pointed to my inappropriately be-sandled feet and flatly told him there was no way I was going in one of those places dressed like that.

Anyway, our first day started with a quick walk through Jemaa-el-Fna (more on this later) to where a bunch of horse and carriages are lined up to take tourists around. We just wanted a quick trot to the Jardins Majorelle rather than a whole tour, so we had to go through 5 or 6 different coachmen trying to persuade us to do a whole (expensive) trip before we finally got spat out at the end of the line and found a guy who would take us there for cheap.

This was meant to be a photo of cobras being charmed in Jemaa-el-Fna, but mostly turned out being of the angry man chasing us to make us pay for taking a photo. (We ran away.)

Carriages in front of the Koutoubia mosque. It wasn't #VisitMyMosque day so we didn't get to go in
It was the Marrakesh marathon that day so a lot of roads were closed (somewhat erratically - I saw one poor straggler running surrounded by mopeds), which meant that the carriage unceremoniously dumped us out what turned out to be quite far from the Jardins Majorelle.

But it meant we saw a bit of the marathon. For some reason, I find this guy checking his watch funny. Yes, I know, people who run and stuff want to know their pace and everything, but he just looks so casual about it. 
One good thing was that we wandered past a supermarket on the way and found out that they have Galaxy chocolate in Morocco!!! No Minstrels, booo, but still... Why can't continental Europe get on board?

Anyway, the Jardins Majorelle, designed by a painter of the same name in the 1920s and later bought by Yves Saint Laurent. I was expecting flower gardens and wondering what there would be to see there in January, but it turns out to be very appropriately ferny and cactus-y and different. I imagine a welcome patch of shade if you're there in the middle of summer. I'm not quite sure why they're one of *the* must-sees of Marrakech, but they're nice enough.

I think this must be the allegedly famous "Majorelle blue". It's a museum within the gardens which we didn't go inside

There's also a little gallery with a collection of love-themed posters that YSL used to send out annually to his friends

The 70s were the coolest
After the gardens, we walked back to the city centre, wandered around in the souks and had lunch at a funky terrace in the sunshine. (Ahhh, sunshine and 20ish degree weather, oh how I've missed you!)

In the alleys of the Medina somewhere

View of a market stall from the restaurant
While I'm more one to keep myself to myself, Liz will and usually does strike up a conversation with just about everyone she meets. When I'd done the tour of one particular shop, I came up to her in the middle of having a conversation with the female shopkeeper about the Koran. The woman was memorising it via a CD playing on her laptop. So far so good, the conversation turned to (the woman saying) how welcoming Moroccans are and how accepting they are of people of other faiths and you know, of course we're nodding and saying how lovely everyone had been and blah blah blah. And then she mentions the terror attacks in Paris and how that has nothing to do with Islam, and again, obviously we're all "oh, of course not, people don't think that" whatever whatever. Now, the woman's French wasn't amazing, and I'm not claiming that mine is perfect either, so when she said something like "when I saw them shooting a police officer, I thought, 'this is a film'", I just thought she was speaking metaphorically. As in, "I couldn't believe my eyes, it was like a scene from a movie". But she went on a bit and then came back to the topic and said "if you watch the video where they shoot the police officer, you see that no blood comes out. And they have made films in that same place before. It is not real, it is just a film". So yeah, that's where we realised that this woman literally believed that these attacks were staged.

We kind of hummed and hawed a little and wrapped up the conversation and, outside, did the whole "did she say what I think she said?". Looking up online, I found that this is actually a legit conspiracy theory (and by legit, I mean it exists out there, not that I think it's true). I find that pretty horrifying, since if you believe it, it means you're not only denying the facts of what happened, but you're also claiming that someone - it seems to vary whether the conspiracy theorists blame Israel, the French government or the US - deliberately cooked this up in order to blame and persecute Muslims. So that ends up feeding more hate and possibly even provoking more attacks in the future. I don't know why this surprised me in particular, I mean we've all heard the same kind of stuff about 9/11, but I think hearing it live from someone in a Muslim country, rather than just from a random nutjob on the internet really made me realise how widespread and pernicious these things can be.

Anyway, those were pretty much all my adventures on Day One in Marrakesh, before we had a (weird and pretty bland) dinner of Moroccan crepes on a terrace overlooking Jemaa-el-Fna, which by night becomes a huge and bustling marketplace.

Jemaa-el-Fna by night


  1. When I finally make it to Marrakesh, I will definitely reserve a place to stay near some landmark or else I'll totally be lost!

    I had a similar experience in Bangkok with people offering advice (often unasked for) and usually trying to lead you to their or their buddy's shop. It's kind of way I pretty much hated my time there and preferred other cities in Thailand.

    And yes, those conspiracies have also been talked about on the news. There are a lot of youths in France who believe it. It's so sad. (And scary.)


    1. I'm more likely to go to any other shop/restaurant than the ones that are hassling me to come in, but unfortunately that's pretty much all of them!

  2. "We ran away." Hahaha!

    1. Well, walked quickly at any rate.

  3. Oh, "walked quickly" doesn't have the same ring to it at all!


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