Spending a significant amount of my younger childhood in North African countries like Tunisia and Egypt, my decision to venture into the world of Morocco was a quick one. 5 days in Marrakech, staying in a Riad in the Old Medina. £135 for the two of us. Booked.
Before our visit, we were told to be prepared for a sensory overload. That didn't even cover it.
The motorbikes, the smell of spices stacked high in baskets next to Berber bread balanced precariously on roadside tables, the constant beeping of traffic, the echo of the Muezzin call from 1000 mosques drifting through the clouds with the sparrows. And through all that, us faffing with camera kit trying to take it all in and film it at the same time, sticking out like sore thumbs in an area of Marrakech less touristy than Djemaa El Fna Square for example. I very quickly learned that filming and experiencing Marrakech simply cannot be done at the same time, so we left our camera kit zipped and locked in the backpack for a lot of the time, to allow us to get to know the city properly.
We headed to the Majorelle Gardens, after a feast of pancakes, chutneys and Berber bread for breakfast. The gardens are set in a tranquil space, with Palms, Cactus, goldfish and blue sky adding to the Zen vibe it gives off from the moment you walk in. Bamboo plants line the entrance of the gardens, in tall green swathes leading to a bridge and a deep red path through the foliage. Birds sing ahead whilst in the distance, shouting and drilling can be heard, along with the sound of the odd beep from a car or bike, gently reminding us that we are still in one of the most bustling cities on the planet. After an hour of wandering around and taking photographs, recording everything from the shapes in the sand to the cats meandering through the Cactus garden, most likely waiting for an opportunity to grab a goldfish from the pond nearby, we headed back to Marrakech where a guide was waiting for us.
Day two we headed to Ouzoud Falls, up near the village of Kasbah, deep into the Atlas Mountains away from Marrakech. The village is sprawling, set amongst a dramatic backdrop of valleys and waterfalls and traditional Moroccan carpets lining the waters edge, where the smell of mint tea resonated from the local stalls. We met our guide, who was probably 19 at most and we headed up the mountain. The path meandered on and over time gradually got smaller until we were walking up the rocks and through water. At one point, an elderly Arab man held out a ladder and our guide gestured towards it. Up we went. Up a ladder. Up a mountain. We could hardly believe it, but nonetheless we kept climbing until we got to the top. The view was breath-taking.
The water was icy cold and tumbling down from the rocks above with the sun blazing from above. Day two in Marrakech was wonderful, and so different from the madness of the city centre. However, this was the evening we were introduced to the giant cat. Or small Labrador. Whichever way you like to look at it. Sitting on the terrace, we were sharing a piece of Turmeric spiced chicken, which had been cooked on hot coals in a little shop in the old Medina, with some Berber bread from breakfast when we heard an almighty bang on the roof above. Everything rushed through my mind. Burglar? Gunshot? Person falling? We were briefly terrified until we saw what had caused the commotion. A grey and white cat meandered off the roof and down into our Riad. Cue the awkward cricket noise when neither of us knew what to say. One thing we noticed in Marrakech was indeed the sheer size of the Cats, but this particular Cat was huge, perhaps the size of a Springer Spaniel. Of all the surprises in Marrakech, this was actually the biggest. For the remainder of our trip the cat continued to make appearances, often drinking out of the pool and watching the sparrows that lived in the trees above our room (indoors!)
During our last days in Morocco we did a lot of exploring. Meandering through the medina practicing our Arabic or French, or wandering around the Cyber Park to take some footage for YouTube or photography for Instagram.
Djemaa El Fna square is an experience in itself. You are welcomed into the square by a boulevard of horses and carriages, waiting for excited tourists to take a trip around the city. After you come to the end of this, we were met by the sensory overload we were expecting and yet so underprepared for. Snake charmers enchanting puffing Cobras into submission and perhaps confusion, Barbary Apes in leather jackets and sunglasses, tied to their owners just waiting for a tourist to come and snap a photo with the primates, ladies singing and calling out, offering their beautiful artwork in the form of henna tattoos to everyone passing by, dates, dried banana, apricot, oranges by the cartful. Restaurants in full swing, even in December, which is usually a low season for visitors, tagines, handbags, shoes, t- shirts, sunglasses, postcards, shouting, everything imaginable seemed to be happening here. The smells were intoxicatingly beautiful. Everything lingered in the square, saffron, turmeric, oranges, peppers, paprika, all mixed together with the sound of sellers trying to persuade us to make a purchase. By early sunset, chefs began to make their way down to the square, ready for the evening feast of flavours which takes place every night in Djemaa El Fna Square.
On our final day in Morocco we headed to the street for the final time and came home with olive pizza, a spiced chicken sandwich type concoction, fries (believe it or not!) olives, peppers and a coal cooked chicken with saffron and turmeric, we think. Not forgetting the Berber bread. A feast. We had several tagines during our stay, the best one being in a rooftop restaurant next to Djemaa El Fna, which was chicken, with olives, (we ate a lot of olives) lemon and coriander, but we decided to stay local on our last night and ate only from the old medina street. The food in Morocco was nothing short of divine. Creative yet traditional and very tasty, with an abundance of different flavours. We did try to share this with the giant cat, but he wasn't all that friendly, so we feasted and shared the bread we had with the local sparrow population.
The trip was, for a number of reasons, eye-opening and an experience we will never forget. A bustling city which occasionally threw the odd challenge our way, but nevertheless, 120 hours in Marrakech was one heck of a trip, and a place worth exploring if you have 135 pounds and a spare 5 days.
Jo Goes Walkabout
Jo's Instagram - @Jo_Goes_Walkabout
Bill's Instagram - @Great_Spirit
YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCR7TMV5fj1P8TWeMPHpxpyw