Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Marrakech, A Pedestrian’s Nightmare

The layout of the Souks was interesting because it was set out in sections where every shop sells the same produce. A whole Souk selling silver, another selling silks and so on which would be a bit like all of the jewellers shops in a UK shopping mall being organised side by side which I think we would find unusual but here the competing shop keepers seemed quite comfortable with the arrangement.

Getting lost in the maze of streets was not altogether surprising and we wandered around for an hour or so before we emerged at last in the sunshine of the streets. In a small square traders were set out in the centre selling products, squabbling with each other and encouraging tourists to stop and take a look. On the edge of the square there was a three storey café with a good view over the proceedings so we went inside and climbed to the top of the building where we sat in the sunshine and drank tea and coffee. We would have preferred alcohol of course but this was quite impossible because of the strict Muslim rules on drink.

After this short stop we made our way back into the streets but stayed in the open now and away from the Souks as we wandered in a westerly direction, (well, I think it was a westerly direction but it was difficult to be absolutely sure) along a narrow busy street where we had to have our wits about us not to be knocked over by the horse drawn tourist carriages that seemed to use this as a principal sightseeing route. And then there were the motorbikes and the pushbikes that made no concessions to pedestrians which meant this was not really the place to have a casual stroll.

The further we walked we began to leave the main tourist areas and the landscape transformed into a predominantly local environment with little markets selling vegetables and small butchers shops, just kiosks really, selling meat I couldn’t identify, except for the cow hooves and the sheep heads! There were lots of ad hoc improvised stalls sometimes no more than a blanket or a bit of cardboard on the pavement where men and women offered a few products for sale that had probably been grown in their back gardens or on their window cills.

Soon we were the only tourists amongst the crowds of men and women in their traditional Arab clothing, the men in long gowns called djellabas and the women in colourful kaftans, headscarves tied around the hair, some with face veils and a small minority with a full burqa. We were in unfamiliar territory now and although there was no danger and we felt perfectly safe there were no street signs to help with navigation so at a convenient junction we took a turning into a parallel street which seemed as though it should return us to Djemma el Fna.

By a stroke of good fortune it did and as we got closer the local stalls gave way again to tourist shops and we pushed our way back through the Souks and into the huge square where shifting circles of onlookers were constantly moving between acrobats, drummers, dancers and street apothecaries. We kept a safe distance from the snakes and the monkeys and had a second cup of tea in a café with a balcony that overlooked the square and we worried about finding somewhere with alcohol for our evening meal.

By now it was mid afternoon and for the time being we had had enough of the market and the Souks so we slipped out of the busy square along a road that smelt of equine piss with a line of horse drawn carriages with drivers looking for customers. We walked along the opposite side of the road and looked unsuccessfully for restaurants with alcohol along the main route of the Avenue Mohammed V but a short way along we had to admit defeat and turned instead back towards the Koutoubia Gardens and Mosque.

This involved the tricky process of crossing the busy road with two lanes of manic traffic driving in each direction. Buses, cars and lorries don’t give way to people in Marrakech so this was a potentially death defying procedure. There are zebra crossings marked out in the roads but they are there only for a bit of highway decoration and are not something a walker can rely upon so we watched the locals as they strayed into the carriageways and we stuck close to them because they appeared to have a sort of sixth sense about which vehicles might stop and which would simply mow a pedestrian down without a second thought.

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