Today’s guest post is by Emma from Adventures of A London Kiwi
In my imagination, Marrakesh was a riot of desert sunshine, exotic spices trailing on the wind, haunting calls to prayer and camels gracefully swaying through dusty streets. In reality it was all those things combined with a sprinkling of hand carved wooden soccer balls, silver scooters parked outside mosaic doorways, satellite dishes mounted on adobe daubed buildings and bright yellow road signs with international icons and Arabic script.
Many (self-proclaimed) travelers set off with the intention of discovering the genuine soul of a nation, but can you really find it via on the Internet, within a week and staying in a luxurious hotel? When we explore new countries, we can often fall into the easy trap of tourist constructs – the squeaky clean version of an old fashioned world we want to see rather than real every day life. But, there are a few ways that we have found as shortcuts to unique history and the flavour of a new culture.
Forewarned about the attention we could get travelling as women on our own in Morocco, we arranged for a local guide to meet us in the foyer of our hotel. His name was Sahmi, an enthusiastic 65-year old ex-primary school teacher who asked us what we wanted to see. Still slightly clueless despite frantic Googling the night before and rather jet-lagged, we arranged for a half day walking tour to include the Jardin Majorelle – the infamous Yves St Laurent cactus garden, the labyrinthine souk and a few of Sahmi’s favourite spots. We also asked to see the tanneries to Sahmi’s slight discomfort – they’re not a very ladylike place to show guests.
The tanneries were almost primal; a field of men stood hip deep in pits full of natural dyes and storerooms of feathers, small rooms of men hand scraping the hides off animals, straw, mopeds speeding around corners and donkeys pulling carts of goods (who then enjoyed a sweet treat of our mint). Having read further once we were home, the pits can be a tourist trap where entry and exit fees (or purchases) are elicited from unknowing foreigners.
As our guide softly took us through the winding streets, he explained the rich tapestry of Marrakech history whilst our imaginations ran riot through the secret doors, worship chambers, enclosed spaces, large sun filled courtyards and bloom carved doors.
Walls lined with jars of Berber health cures as old as the desert itself, the odd set of coloured fake spice cones surrounded by agog tourists, bewitching door frames hung with lamps in every metal and glass hue and tagine pots heaped in groaning piles, every size shape and colour. The smell was a riot of fragrance: fresh lemon wood carving, ylang-ylang, wafts of food from small cafes, winter orange blossom heavy on the trees, mint tea and just the hustle and bustle of people.
Sahmi seemed to sink us further and further into a dusty gem box, keeping us from curious (and occasionally over the top) approaches from local shopkeepers, before leading us to explore the Bahia Palace.
Exquisitely laid mosaic floors, fragrant orange-tree lined terraces and bare plaster walls awaiting thick winter tapestries, crowned with neck achingly ornate ceilings. Without the selfie wielding tourists, you could easily imagine the slippered hustle and bustle of a Grand Vizier’s court; trays of sweetened mint tea and bite size delicacies wheeling through the corridors, whispered familial intrigues, children being naughty in amongst the lavish greenery and occasional biting words between the wives vying for affection.
I think it’s fairly safe to say that with our local guide, we found our shortcuts to Marrakech’s unique history and a few flavours of the Moroccan culture.