Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Among friends in Marrakesh.

The best way to visit a region is to know someone who lives there and visit him during the trip and it is this unique opportunity we had for our visit to Morocco. I worked for several years in Ottawa with Said, a born Moroccan, who returned with his family to live in Marrakesh. So we left our boat in the national capital of Rabat and put on our backpacks to visit them and to visit at the same time this tan city with its souks and of course the Moroccan food. On the picture you can see from left to right Leila, who at fourteen is already at her fifth comic book drawn on paper, Danielle with her legendary smile, Hakim who like all teenagers doesn’t talk much, but becomes quite feverish when the subject becomes the latest video games, then at the other table we see Sylvie the active career woman who is a director in a clothing company and finally Said physicist by training, engineer by passion and university professor by profession. It’s with all these nice peoples that we spent three days in Marrakesh. The picture was taken in one of the many restaurants that open every day in the public square of Jemaa El Fna, Marrakesh’s most famous area.

The Moroccan architecture is the first thing that strikes in Marrakesh. The city has a regulation stating that all houses must be of color tan which is the color that was obtained with earthy materials used in the early days for building construction. But it's not just the old walls of the medina that captures the eye but also more modern constructions such as the main train station in Marrakesh that you can see here and that is perhaps not a monumental building in size but is of impressive beauty when you stand in front of it.

Just behind Jemaa El Fna Square we find the famous Moroccan souks. But unlike Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, which is full of shops selling only bits and pieces for tourists, here souks form a real shopping center for people of Marrakesh and one finds everything in this maze of incredible streets and squares. As a matter of fact it was a good thing Said was with us because we would have gotten lost for sure. Once out of the souks we were back to the central square where we find traditional water carriers such as this one. Now I'm not sure that anyone still buys water they carry in their water pouch made, I think, in goat skins, but they are constantly asked by visitors to be photographed, for few dinars of course.

Bulk produce is one of the many interesting things to see in the souks. Spices, nuts, dried fruits, supposedly medicinal products or simple natural soaps can be found in industrial quantities around the maze of boutiques. And prices are frankly very reasonable. Then, in the periphery sections of the souks we find factories where craftsmen manufactures things sold in the sections closer to the central square. A small note by the way about the vendors in the shops. As you can imagine one doesn’t walk in front of a store without being approached by the vendors, which is perfectly normal as they are not there to put color into the background but to sell their products. But unlike similar places in most other countries, Moroccan merchants know the meaning of the word ''no'' and it was possible to walk without too much hassle in this commercial maze especially when we stood not too far behind Said that everyone took for an informal guide who had caught two tourist losers and who would be asking them a sizable commission for bringing customers.

Finally, our visit of the souks ended in front of a bowl of snails served in a pepper sauce and sold in one of the few designated kiosks on Jemaa El Fna square next to the snake or monkey handlers. Snails were pretty good by the way, but Danielle, who is usually very fond of snails that you buy in tins and are served with garlic butter au gratin, just passed on them this time! I wonder why?

I could not finish my article on Marrakesh without at least showing you a picture of Said and his family’s beautiful house where we spent the three nights of our stay. Unfortunately we did not bring our swimsuits, which was a shame since it was around 36 ° C (97 ° F) during the whole time we were there. It is also in this house, I called the Belkouch Manor, that we ate most of our traditional Moroccan meals generously provided by our hosts. In the end, visiting the attractions of Marrakesh was of course interesting, but after three years of traveling and over 45 countries visited, it’s really the time spent with our four friends that was the most interesting. It was good to see Said and Sylvie after so many years and finally get to know their two children, Hakim and Leila, who were about seven and five last time we saw them. Our stay was a bit short but we hope to see them again next time they come to visit relatives in Canada.