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Sunday, 7 July 2013

Old Friends, One Week in Marrakesh & other chat

Good Morning
Arundel Eccentrics

Beautiful day here in sunny Sussex.
Wimbledon final this afternoon.

Not  quite as hot and sunny 
as when I recently went to Marrakesh but pretty close.

 It was  one of the best weeks I have ever spent.

Maybe because it was with friends I've known for so long.
Here is a little about us, the wonderful time 
we had and a small peek into life in Marrakesh

If you are thinking of going to Morrocco
 it might be of interest.


As Annie and I walked down the aeroplane steps, the hot afternoon Marrakesh air
almost took our breath away.

Four old friends in Morrocco for a week.
We were meeting the other two at the hotel. 
They would be flying in from
Geneva and arriving later. 

Our taxi driver, booked through the hotel, was waiting to meet us and
held up a scribbled placard bearing our names. 
He took our bags helped us change money and walked us to his car.

The car journey was exciting. We barely spoke. 
Neither of us knew which direction to look first. 
The hustle and bustle of the city only three hours away 
was to our Western eyes like a step back in time. 
Donkey and cart appeared to be the most preferred mode of transport.
After that it seemed to be the motorbikes that wove
precariously in and out of traffic often bearing entire families
balanced on their seats.

We arrived at the Riad in the narrow streets of the old town. 
The hotel building was traditional Moroccan. 
A pool at the bottom encircled by restaurant tables and chairs.
The bedrooms on the next two floors sat on each side of the square
balcony that looked down over the pool.Up on the roof there were a few
sun beds and a pool only really large enough to dangle your feet in. 
There was no roof and birds occasionally swooped down into the restaurant area
searching for crumbs on the floor.

Annie and I settled in and waited impatiently for our two friends.
After a couple of hours we could bear the suspense no longer. 
We decided to explore.
As we walked into the tiny, dark hotel lobby on our way out, 
we were met with screams and whoops. 
Jess and Lucy had most certainly arrived and in the same high state of excitement as us.

We met many years ago when we trained as nurses.
 I nervously walked into The Royal Alexander Children's Hospital in Brighton one frosty
January morning. 
Eighteen and naive, still living at home. 
I was ready for the outside world. Just a tad apprehensive. 
Dad left me at the door of the imposing Victorian building with a hug,a kiss on the cheek and the words, "Good luck love, "  before driving off in his Ford Zephyr.
I watched until his car could be seen no more  took a deep breathe
and walked in.

The hostel I was to live in was a large 19th century house not far from
Brighton Station. I was a bit of a hippy in those days.When introduced
to the others sharing the house,I looked at their long flowing
cheesecloth skirts and felt pretty sure we would get along.

Get along we did. The house shook with our laughter and the warden
regularly chastised us for allowing boyfriends to climb in the windows
after dark.

We have been firm friends ever since.
Seen each other through all that life can throw at you. 
Well, much of it anyway. 
Separations and divorces. Illnesses and bereavements. Exams and new jobs. 
Children and absence of children. 

After training and going our separate ways we kept in touch over the years. 
Sometimes spasmodically.
Keep in touch we did though. 
Letters, phone calls, parties, weddings and the occasional holiday. 
We whooped it up in The French Alps, Paris, Nice,Nice again Barcelona and Eastbourne.
I know, I know, it doesn't have the same ring about it. LOL
Just as much fun though. 

Seven days in Marrakesh

On our first day we wanted to get our bearings. We booked one of the
many horses and carriages seen all over Marrakesh, known as "caleche".
These take you everywhere of interest in the city at a very gentle

In the 1960's an English woman and her daughter were concerned about the
health and treatment of working horses, mules and donkeys in Marrakesh.
They set up a healthcare charity called Spana, to educate the owners
about training, treatment and health care of their animals. Apparently
the hooves of the horses pulling the caleche are branded. 
If you suspect poor treatment or cruelty you can report them to the local police.˝
9922463/Healthy-mules-for-Moroccan-farmers.html ˝
The guide will drop you off at points of interest.

Just be aware you will sometimes face the hard sell, but they will
mostly be fascinating places that you might not have found otherwise.
We visited a tannery.

 On arriving we were approached by a man carry large bunches of mint. 
Because by now we had become so obsessed with people trying
 to sell us things we didn't want, we tried brushing him away. 
The man insisted and eventually said

"No no, I am not trying to sell to you. You will need this under your nose"

He wasn't joking. The stench made you retch. The mint was a lifesaver.
The place fascinating. 
How the men work in those conditions is unbelievable. 

You CAN take photos but its worth checking first with your
guide. Many of the people working there don't want to be in a
photograph. One reason is it's their belief that you take their spirit
when you click that shutter.

Inside we watched rugs being made.
Were offered mint tea and all the rugs came out one by one.

At least the guy was entertaining and one of us DID buy a rug.

Throughout the week we only had one meal that was really bad. 
It was so awful that we only managed to force one mouthful. 

That aside, we found some wonderful places to eat. 
I'm vegetarian and in some countries variety can be a problem. 
I was in veggie heaven.
Vegetarian tagines and cous cous. 
Salads, fruit salads and juices that were freshly squeezed in front of you.

We stayed in Ryad Laarousse
and just to the left of the Ryad Larousse Hotel is the most lovely small
street cafe.We often ate there in the evening if we'd had a good lunch.
The only savoury was omelettes but they had the most fantastic juice
concoctions and fruit salads all made to order. 
Really healthy stuff.

Simple, gorgeous food.

One of the loveliest places for delicious food combined with a soothing
ambience was the cafe at the Marjorelle Gardens. The gardens themselves
are beautiful and a must for the tourist trail, not only due to the
beautiful surroundings but also for the links to Yves st. Laurent. 

mother and her offspring
We spent almost the entire day. After wandering a little we stopped for
coffee in the aforementioned restaurant.  Then we meandered some more before a
long al fresco lunch. By then the gentle sprays of water emanating
around the courtyard cooled and soothed.

Before leaving we decided to have one last walk around. Even then,
there were corners we delighted in finding, that somehow had missed first
time around.
On leaving the gardens, just around the corner,we almost fell over an A
board advertising excursions into the Atlas Mountains. On impulse we
went in and booked.Walking back to the hotel we inwardly groaned as in
retrospect it sounded a lot of money for one day. 

It proved to be the best trip we did.˝

The following morning our guide Abdul was waiting punctually outside
the hotel. He was charming and spoke good English and French. His
vehicle was a comfortable four wheel drive with excellent air
conditioning. We all felt the promise of a good day.˝

We drove out of Marrakesh and were into the country in no time.
Our first stop was the Berber Market in a small village a few miles out
of town.

Berber men come from their homes in the mountains with their
donkeys to buy supplies for the family. There are very few
women. Only those who live alone would be expected to shop there.

Vendors tried to persuade us to buy jewellery and clothing through the
open windows of the car. They followed us as we made our way towards the
We walked up through the meat area. Even the carnivores felt a little
nauseous. Meat hung from hooks on every tent. Stray cats could be seen
tearing at raw scraps behind tents. Sheep's heads lined the ground.

We made our way up the hill, the stalls going up in tiers. Fruit and
vegetables then clothes and assortments of items like rugs bags, clothes
and shoes. All the while we were followed by vendors pushing items at us
or pointing out areas of the market,then asking for money saying they
were guides. Abdul did his best to keep them at a distance, but there
were too many and mostly we had to fend for ourselves. We all purchased
items of jewellery but it was impossible to buy from everyone.

One or two spoke a little English. They could see our irritation with
the constant harassment. ˝
"We are sorry. Just trying to make living. Feed our children"

Towards the top was a "pop up"cafe. Rows of trestles in a marquee.
"Five star restaurant". The men following us joked.˝
As we neared the end they shouted "Look here is the Berber car park." ˝
Not one car in sight. Just around 100-150 donkeys.Many standing
patiently in neat rows. The only form of transport that would be capable
of taking purchases to isolated mountain homes.

It was fascinating. Most people friendly.We were extremely careful when
we took photographs. Some people were happy to be in photographs, many were not.

Our next stop? Talk about one extreme to another. The most fabulous
hotel belonging to Richard Branson, at the foot of the Atlas Mountains.
Luxurious and beautifully furnished.

 Every attention to detail addressed. 
Ladies in their Gucci seemed to float past. 
We wandered in awestruck silence looking every inch the tourists.
 One day it would be great to stay there in our own Gucci's, though I'm not holding my

We were interested to hear Richard Branson and his mother do a huge
amount to assist Berber communities.

**Eve Branson Foundation is dedicated to enhancing lives of Berber
communities in Atlas Mountains, improving living standards through
healthcare, education & women’s economic empowerment.˝

Onwards into the mountains stopping briefly at a Co operative producing
and selling Argan Oil. 
Berber Women's Co-operatives have sprung up all
over Morrocco, the only place in the world producing the oil. 

They help the economic status of Berber women.

The grand finale of our day was to ride mules up into the
mountains.There were moments when I thought I might die. No, really I'm
not joking.It started off gently enough,plodding up through village
streets. But then we turned to go up steep mountain paths so narrow and
treacherous the mules kept losing their footing. The guides held the
poor animals where possible saying "no problem, no problem". I wished I
had their confidence.

We made it. All in one piece. After much squealing and screaming. It was
worth it. The climb upwards was beautiful, but nothing could quite prepare us for when we arrived.
Sitting on the roof terrace at the Kasbah de Toubkal (a hotel and restaurant)we were spellbound by what we saw.For once ...speechless.

Have a look at the link...they say celebs go there to get away from it all.  I can see why.
Jimi Hendrix used to come to this area in the 1960's. He called it Paradise.

The views were astounding. The lunch, served by the most charming waiters, delicious.
The route back down was less stressful and we were able to walk, albeit
on rather shaky legs.

Jemaa el-Fnaa Square

Sitting in any of the restaurants above Jemaa el-Fnaa square in
Marrakesh in the afternoon you can watch the hustle and bustle below
while relaxing with a mint tea, cold drink or lunch.

We spent many an afternoon doing just that.

The drums from Berber dancers mixed with shouts of street vendors
enticing buyers to their stalls. Horses clattered across the vast
expanse pulling decorated carriages taking visitors on city tours.
Donkeys hauled carts laden with anything from building materials to

Looking down we watched snake charmers and jugglers. Chained Barbary
apes and fortune tellers.Tourists inadvertently taking a photograph of
any of these were chased across the square for payment.Women pressing
tourists to have henna tattoos on their hands. Vendors on stalls selling
fruit and freshly pressed juices calling out to tourists. Shop owners on
the periphery of the square noisily touting their wares and enticing
passers by to go inside. The souks on the edge of the square were,on
most days bursting with both locals and tourists. The former confidently
haggling for everyday essentials. The latter practising their bartering
skills walking away with rugs, lanterns,bags, Argan oil......˝
"Keep your smile and tell me your best price "˝
"Hello, come and see my lamps"˝
" Beautiful Moroccan bowls inside. I give you good price"˝
"Where are you from? Come and look..lovely leather handbags. My brother
makes them"˝

Then there is the Moroccan cheeky chappie approach.˝

"English? Lovely jubbly. Apples n pears. Come in my shop."˝

Its noisy and busy. But nothing can quite prepare you for the evening.˝

Around five o'clock we noticed huge carts being pushed into the square.
The already busy place became frenetic. Tents were erected.Food cooked.
Trestle tables emerged.˝

When we returned to the square around nine o'clock it had taken on a
whole new persona. There was a cacophony of sound.˝

Smoke and steam rose from the pop up restaurants producing an eery
atmosphere.Thousands of people were flocking into the dimly lit square.
Moroccan lamps were laid on the ground to sell and many lit. Lights
shone from the food vendors stalls who were all calling out vying for

business. It was just amazing.

Up into the mountains

We wanted to go up to see the famous waterfalls and wound up spending the most beautiful and also the most dramatic, day.

But...I'm getting ahead of myself

Let me first fill you in.........

A few years ago we all met up in Paris, 
Annie dropped
all the wine she had so carefully chosen
just as we were leaving the hotel
to return home. 
Smashed the lot.

 Then  there was Nice. 
Beautiful with an air of sophistication about it.

 Annie had her bag stolen
 while eating lunch al fresco.
Nice again.
Annie tumbled down the hotel steps
broke her leg.
Returned home in a wheelchair.
Was in plaster for months.

Barcelona was a great one.
What happened there?

Oh yes!
Annie had her all cash stolen by a gypsy woman.
The buxom woman must have been quite nifty with her fingers.

We didn't even see the cash disappear from Annie's wallet.
She was pulling out a 5 euro note to pay for a 
Flamenco dancing ticket.

A few minutes later happened looked in the wallet.
All the notes ....gone 

 Annie bellowed out a stream of expletives
 and as if from nowhere,
out stepped a rather
attractive plain clothes policeman.

By then my chum was feeling suspicious of
the entire Spanish nation.

Gorgeous he may have been but she screamed
" They are all in it together"

Even after he produced ID she was reticent.

He did, however chase and catch the offending gypsy woman, 
who pulled all Annie's cash out of her very ample bosom....Yuk.

Annie  lurched forward, so eternally grateful,
she wanted to kiss our knight  on the cheek
 Only to jump backwards with equal speed,
 when she spotted the enormous cold sore on his gorgeous Spanish lips. will understand now, why on every trip,
we wait..
and wait......
to see what will befall our 
lovely, accident prone chum.

Then its just such a relief to get it out of the way
the anticupation often worse than the acuality.

The Mountains

We were a happy bunch that day with our charming guide, driving into the Atlas Mountains. Joking and laughing it seemed the perfect day.

Stopping off at places of interest along the way we found a Berber house to visit, camels aplenty, views that made us gasp and antique /craft shops by the roadside. We went to look in one such place. It was packed full of interesting pieces. Annie in her excitement rushed to look at a chair.

"They've got these in Briiiiiiighton" she was saying, as she tripped over a cable,fell and cracked her head on the aforementioned chair. It was a nasty cut, pouring blood. If we had been near a town we probably would have got it stitched. Poor Annie was in a bit of a state.

The nurses leapt into action. I have to say I was impressed by their handiwork. Our guide ran to get his first aid kit. The gentleman who owned the shop stood looking a little pale in silence, no doubt thinking we might make a fuss. The head cleaned and dressed with hair tied neatly over the wound to act as stitches. Annie was relieved. We were relieved, not only that she was ok, but that the much anticipated accident had happened  and it wasn't too dramatic.

The mountain streams  were beautiful and we stopped for lunch at one of the many restaurants by the roadside. There were tables and sofas down by the waters edge.
It was glorious. The food wonderful. No doubt in the winter its a different matter but on that summers day it felt like heaven.

We did venture further on and clambered up towards the waterfalls with a local guide.
We didn't manage to get all the way, sadly.
If you go, you will fare better than us by wearing walking shoes or trainers.
They  are advertised all over Marrakech and its well worth taking the trip.

Just beware of cables on  floors in antique shops. Ha ha

Have a great Sunday 

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