Marrakesh is an assault on the senses – hot, colourful, beautiful, noisy, ancient. The short drive from the airport took us past the high pink mud wall of the Medina, the old city, the taxi weaving between donkey carts, mopeds carrying entire families, small trucks with the occasional person lying with their feet up in the back, talking on their mobile phone, camels with blankets on their backs waiting to give rides. The sky was a pale blue, thick with desert dust.
The first adventure was finding our riad (a small hotel). The taxi couldn’t get to the door as it was in the Medina in one of the myriad winding alleyways. The driver dropped us in a busy street, and immediately we were accosted by a crowd, all offering to take us to the riad. Something we quickly learned was never take advice from a local, there was always an ulterior motive, whether to take us to their shop or simply send us in the wrong direction and any advice taken would need to be paid for. The taxi driver gave us advice which was fairly accurate, then an elderly lady took us the last few metres, for a small payment of course. Then we were in our oasis.
The riad was glorious – cool, smelling of flowers and so old. We walked through a door in a high wall, down a winding passageway to the open area in the middle. A small swimming pool was surrounded by open rooms with sofas and ottomans, bougainvillea climbing the walls, small palm trees in pots. We were taken upstairs to our room. It ran across the width of the riad, looking into the central space. The walls were painted deep red, the high ceiling ornately patterned with hand painted flowers and symbols, heavy decorated light fittings hung down, each with a large tassel dangling. The windows were patterned with iron swirls and with wooden shutters. Over the next four days this became our peaceful refuge, when the busyness of the souks overcame us.
Strangely, in finding our way around I came into my own. Travelling with two people who have accurate maps in their heads, always know which way is north, when I haven’t a clue, this time they were flummoxed. Walking down alleyways that twist and turn, passing through archways and souks took away all their sense of direction, but my observations of a lamp shop here, or a mark on a wall there meant that I could find my way easily.
By the second day we were thinking we would never get the hang of this – the constant demands to buy, the constant directions ‘Square that way!’, flattening ourselves against walls to let mopeds and donkey carts go by, learning just what we could take photos of without being shouted at, but gradually it started to come together. I will never be a haggler, way too stressful, but my daughter was good at it, buying lamps and whittling down the exorbitant initial price to something very reasonable, and all keeping her own good humour and that of the souk owner.
Four days was enough, so much to absorb, but I would say the experience of Marrakech was one of the best I have had. It will stay with me for a long time.
Not a lot of time or opportunity for sketching, these are just a few.