Day 4
Wednesday, 14th October 2009

We didn't want to get out of bed this morning, it was so comfortable but the thought of the Riad Zolah's delicious breakfast was enough to coax us out and up onto the roof top terrace.

Aziz carried up the large silver tray and presented us with a slightly different selection today.

Half asleep we looked on bemused at one dish. "What's that?" we asked pointing to something green with a glacier cherry on top.

He described it as avocado blended with milk and sugar. I dived straight into my green milkshake and slurped it down in a flash. I even enjoyed the glacier cherry on the top. Julie couldn't bring herself to eat hers so I had second helpings.

We had company this morning as the neighbourhood cat climbed over from next door on the scrounge for some scraps.

Despite our bountiful breakfast it got none from us. The pancakes with flaked almonds & honey, cream cheese and bread, fresh peaches and sponge cake were all too tasty to give away.

Thankfully the cat soon switched its attention to a songbird chirping away in the corner and left us in peace to finish our breakfast.

We had nothing planned for today. No schedule to keep to, no must sees, just a dive headlong into the souks and go with the flow.

Derb El Hamman, Mouassine Mosque back door, Marrakech

Our little adventure almost came to a premature end within seconds of it starting. We turned a corner and walked straight into an oncoming donkey drawn cart. We pinned ourselves to the wall to avoid being trampled. (Not that we were ever in any real danger of being run over by the plodding donkey! )

It was interesting to notice how we began to see beauty in this alleyway. The dark oppressive and scary had now become light welcoming and beautiful. Maybe it was because we were glad to be alive!

We entered the souks through the gate near the Mouassine Fountains.

The sign on the wall gave two names for the souk ahead. We either walked up Souk des Teinturiers or Souk Sebbaghine depending on which name we preferred.

The narrow streets dappled with light and shadow from the trellis above were already becoming familiar as we walked past the wool dyers, the lamp sellers, the babouches.

At the end of Souk des Teinuriers we went with the flow, which more often than not was downhill, until we met Souk Nejarine where we crossed and into the open space of Place Rahba Qedima.

Literally meaning the "old place" it was now a spice souk, or at least it was around its edges.

There was a lovely warm aroma filling our noses as we entered.

Place Rahba Qedima, Marrakech

In the centre of this small square old leather skinned ladies sold raffia baskets, hats and heaps of dried herbs.

We came across the popular Cafe des Epices on the square. It called out our names, "Julie, Colin, come and sit down, have a drink, relax!"

It was so inviting we decided it was time for a tea break eventhough we only had breakfast less than an hour ago.

We sat down at a small table and browsed their menu written on a blackboard in both French and Arabic. They had various sandwiches and desserts and a variety of teas and coffees. We rather predictably ordered two mint teas.

It was only a small place with half a dozen tables. The was another floor upstairs and of course the obligatory roof top terrace. We were happy with the ground floor as if gave us the best view of Place Rahba Qedima.
Place Rahba Qedima, Marrakech

We watched people come and go. No one actually buying anything, until a young French family arrived and sat down in front of us.

They drank cafe au lait whilst their daughter was having a henna tattoo only a few feet away.

We slowly sipped our delicious mint tea. It was such a great feeling not being in a rush to get up and move on.

The old ladies were busy re-arranging their stalls laid out on the floor. An argument broke out between neighbouring traders over boundaries which was quite entertaining. They agreed to disagree in the end without any punches being thrown.

It must have been 36C today. "Who would buy a woolly hat in this heat?" asked Julie. No wonder they weren't selling any. "You'd explode if you wore one of them" I added.

Half an hour later with our mint tea glasses empty we reluctantly agreed it was time to leave. We left Place Rahba Qedima the way we entered, past the spices. On the corner on the way out there was a stall selling goat heads, a particular delicassy around these parts.

Place Rahba Qedima, Marrakech
Apparently popular in this souk were also items that find their way into black magic potions such as eye of newt, tongue of toad and countless other body parts, dried or embalmed.

In the small connecting alleyway we latched onto the end of a crowd that flowed into another open space. It was a small courtyard and was very busy. The people here were here to shop not just passing through.

This was Souk Laghzel where a jumble sale was set up. It was Marrakech's answer to eBay and it felt like the first real souk.

Women (and only women were permitted) brought their unwanted second hand goods to earn some cash. They were doing a roaring trade.

There was nothing here of interest for us to buy here.

What made the souk interesting was just watching the interaction between the people, between the trader and the shopper.

One woman was trying to haggle down the price of a washed out red Nike T-shirt. She stood over the seller who was sat on the floor. They gesticulated towards each other in quite a heated exchange. Eventually money changed hands and the T-shirt was shoved into a cloth bag.

We followed the path through the mountains of clothes circling a small covered area in the centre where even more mounds of second hand clothes were on display.

Having completed the circuit we were caught in a bottleneck trying to leave. There was only one way in and out. It was at this point we stopped at a stall selling a mish mash of things.

What caught the eye first were the animal skins, especially the distinctive black and white stripes of a Zebra. The sadness we felt was racked up another notch when we saw a stunning bird of prey kept in a small cage. We took a closer look and in a flash the owner swooped and said "Hello my friend, you like the falcon?"

"Yes" I said "but it shouldn't be locked up in a cage" He smiled at me as I continued with"It should be flying high above us".

"For 800 dirhams I shall release him for you" he offered.

I actually considered it until Julie whispered words of wisdom into my ear "Yes, pay him the money, watch it fly away then straight back again onto his arm! "

Back inside the covered streets we joined the main artery. On the map its called Rue Semarine but it was also a series of souks.

In the dimly lit street the most dramatic of stalls were the dazzling lampshades. No matter how attractive they were we didn't stop. We didn't want to enter a discussion with the owner as to which one was our favourite when we really didn't want to buy any of them, even if they were gorgeous.

We perfected the art of browsing whilst continually walking. Coming to a stop outside a stall sent all the wrong messages.

"Hello my friend, you like the belly dancing costume?"

We walked through the textiles of Souk Smarine without stopping once, despite the best efforts of many of the traders.

"Small shop, small prices" "Looking is free" "Cheaper than Primark!"

We also perfected the most pleasant of "No thank you" replies.

I almost lost my concentration when I saw a selection of stripey djellabas and battled with desire. "Don't you think I'd look good in one?" I asked Julie. Common sense won and we continued on our way.
As we walked through an arch gateway the goods changed and it became a food market, Souk Kchacha, with mounds of dates, dried figs, nuts, things that looked like twigs and many more unidentifiable delicassies.
Before we knew it we had ended up in Jemaa El Fna. There were no snake charmers or monket trainers in this corner but it seemed a lot busier with market stalls and henna tattooist. "Hi honey, you want some Henna" one called over. I had to laugh and I actually stopped to applaud her, then walked away quickly before she engaged me in conversation.

There were several cafes around the edges of the square but we weren't hungry for lunch yet.

Instead we kept on walking, entering another souk off the northern edge of Jemaa El Fna, just below the minaret of a small mosque.

There wasn't much of interest here, just the usual touristy tat although there were a few stalls selling CDs. I've aquired quite a liking to North African music over recent years courtesy of Robert Plant's introduction.

After getting a little lost in here we evetually found our way out and back onto a familiar street.

We had walked this way earlier. We had seen the entrance and smelt the stink that seeped out from the egg souk. There wasn't a hope in hell of Julie stepping anywhere near it but curiosity got the better of me. I took a deep breath and entered.

The first few stalls were selling eggs, fresh eggs in carton trays.

The smell wasn't too bad.

So I found myself walking deeper into the enclosed market.

A little further inside the smell took a turn for the worse as it became more of a slaughterhouse than egg stalls.

Bundles of hens were being weighed, each one strangely pre-plucked in a small area along their backs.

Once bought they were then handed over to the butcher just around the corner who did the deed and prepared them for selling. Immediately to the left was the shop front where the plucked and gutted chicken could be bought.

As fascinating as it was to watch I simply couldn't stomach much more of the acrid smell.

It was so sharp it was bringing tears to my eyes so I left.

Whilst I was in the smelly souk Julie waited for me just outside the gates, near to a stall selling ceramic pots and plates. By the time I got back she was already in negotiations to buy a serving dish.

"Isn't that a lovely colour?" she said. "It would look perfect on our table when we have cous cous"

I must admit she had picked the nicest design of the lot and to be fair she had resisted the owner's suggestion that she should buy the largest plate available and chose instead a sensible average sized plate.

We ended up paying 120 dirhams for the blue-green dish which I thought was over priced but then again it would have cost twice that much in a posh department store back home so it was technicaly still a bargain!

The owner was a really nice bloke and continued chatting to us long after the sale had been concluded. It was a strangely deep conversation about happiness and destiny. Free philosophy discussion with every plate!

With our flow slightly disrupted we gathered our thoughts together and decided to find seek out somewhere new.

After walking a while up Souk Smarine we took a detour to the left. We didn't look at any map, we were confident it would pop out somewhere eventually, probably Jemma El Fna!

The street was called Traverse El Ksour and was lined with more shops selling fabrics and clothing.

We soon stumbled across an open doorway that lead into a courtyard. Of course we walked inside to have a look.

It took us by surprise when we discovered it was a beautiful square or at least had the potential to be one. It had seen better days but the architecture was still wonderful.

The entire courtyard was enclosed with by pillars and arches. The first floor balcony overlooking the yard had rooms leading inside. "This would make a stunning hotel" I suggested.

Someone overheard us I said "It used to be a hotel, a caravan hotel" then tried to get us to follow him to a carpet stall he new with very good prices! "Uh ... no thank you"

The yard was nothing more than a depot now where cart loads of goods were waiting to be delivered by donkey power.

I wouldn't be surprised if we returned here in 10 years time to find a 5 star hotel right in the middle of the souks.
At the end of Traverse El Ksour we came a T-junction meeting Rue Mouassine. Our flow took us against the gravitational pull of Jemma El Fna and up northwards past stalls filled with silver trinkets, mirrors and leathercrafts.

We came across a small sign that directed us towards a place called Dar Cherifa.

The name rang a bell as it's listed in several guide books as great place to visit.

It was described as a literary cafe.

It apparently was a cultural centre where local artists display and perform their works.
Rue Mouassine, Marrakech

We took a left turn down a narrow alley, Derb Cherfa Lakbir.

We thought we had found it when we came across this spectacular doorway but it wasn't where we were looking for, we had a few more twists and turns down this dark passage before we finally found it.

The doorway was not as grand as the one we had seen earlier.

It was just a simple wooden door but we knew that they served tea and coffee in a "serene atmosphere of an impeccably restored 15th century Saadian Riad" so we were excited by what lay inside.

That only served to make the disappointment even more bitter when the door was locked and we found out Dar Cherifa was apparently closed today.

Never mind. We decided to make our way to Cafe Arabe instead. It wasn't far at all, just a few minutes further up along Rue Mouassine.

We headed straight for the roof top terrace where the same chillax vibe that greeted us on our first day in Marrakech now welcomed us. This was such a wonderful oasis.

It was too early for Julie but I ordered a refreshing ice cold Casablanca beer. Sitting down beneath the cooling mist spray we thumbed through our guide books in search of a place for lunch. We could have stayed where we were but we'd eaten here twice already.

Having recharged ourselves in the comfort of Cafe Arabe we left to find a cafe that was recommended in all three of the guide books.

It was called Chez Chegrouni and was right on Jemma El Fna.

We took an alternative route down to the main square. I actually can't remember which way we turned. We were sucked into the souks one end and spat out another.

When we emerged from the shade onto Rue Sidi Ishak we were no nearer Jemaa El Fna. I was far from disappointed though as we had a new road to travel down with new sights to experience. Thankfully we saw the minaret of Ben Youssef Mosque to the north and walked in the opposite direction.

In a little while we came the doors to the Sidi Ishak Mosque. In front of which two ladies sat outside selling their vegetables from off the floor.

Moments earlier we saw a butcher hanging what looked like instestines from a hook.

Just around the corner a fishmonger was busy gutting his fish. We could smell it before we saw it. I turned to Julie as she turned to me and we said in unison "I've just lost my appetite!"

Rue Sidi Ishak eventually delivered us to Place Rahba Qedima, a place we recognised after our mint tea stop this morning. We knew our way from here down the now familiar alleys.

When we reached the end of Souk Smarine, stepping through the ornate gateway, we turned left just for the hell of it, just to try a different route.

This is where we came across Souk Albeh with its pyramids of black olives and jars of preserved lemons, carrots and all sorts of other fruits and vegetables.

A couple of steps beyond the olives and we stood at a cart load of fresh mint being placed into bunches and sold for 5 dirhams a bag.

Our nostrils flared as we freshened up our senses, an amuse nez, cleansing our senses and reigniting our appetite.

We finally entered Jemaa El Fna near Kharbouch Mosque in the north east corner of the square.

Chez Chegrouni was directly opposite. My empty stomach groaned.

We headed straight for the roof top terrace for a bird's eye view of the square. When we first arrived all the ring side seats had been taken but luckily within a few minutes a table was vacated and we made our move.

The ordering process was quite unique, pieces of paper and a pen was left on the table for you to write down your own order.

We wrote down in French Tomato & Onion salad, Cous Cous & Vegetables and Brochettes, (grilled skewered meat of ambiguos origin!).

A waiter came to our table to collect our piece of paper, then some time later our food arrived just as we ordered.

My dish could probably have done with a little extra seasonning as it lacked the punch of the several tagine dishes I already had. "It's probably the first one you've had that hasn't used meat stock !" explained Julie.

She was probably very right!

Julie's barbecued kebabs were tasty even if she was only 80% sure that it was Chicken.

The difficulty is that most things "different" taste a bit like chicken!

Our lunch came to 120 dirhams including sparkling mineral water. That was great value for money. The best feature was the table with a great view. We didn't rush away from our prime seating spending over an hour watching the world go by.

It was certainly a crossroads through which the whole of Marrakech came.

Everyone and their grandmother walked across it. Usually not stopping always on their way elsewhere.

The caleches, the horse drawn carts came and went, waiters walked across the square delivering take away tagines.

There were no snakes, no monkeys, no dancers nor prancers in this corner.

With lunch digested we retraced our steps back towards Riad Zolah along Traverse El Ksour.

I wanted to come this way as I remembered seeing a Moroccan flag outside one shop. There's one thing I alway try and buy when I visit some where and that's the national flag.

The entrance was very narrow as I walked inside looking for someone. The shop then opened out into a large room filled to the rafters with slabs of rolled fabric of every imaginable colour.

"Bonjour" the gentleman behind the cash register said.

I managed to explain that I was looking to buy a flag, a large flag. A younger member of staff was sent to retrieve one and began to wrap it up. I paid over my 50 dirhams after which the shop owner handed me this tiny little flag on a stick, the sort you see on a desk in front of a diplomat.

"No, no, I wanted the big one, Le Grande" I complained, making hand gestures that tried to explain the size I was expecting, like the one that hot away.

The owner nodded and rolled his eyes as if to say "Yes, yes, I know, you idiot". The large flag, neatly wrapped was handed to me and the litte flag on a plastic flag pole was a free gift. They all laughed.

I left suitably embarassed.

We joined Rue Mouassine where we walked past a stop full of mirrors. It reminded me of a photograph that had won a Travel Photography Competition a few years ago.

I attempted my own snapshot version of it.

My photo was a pale immitation but at least it was in the same veign. I'm sure if I had stood there a while longer I would have captured a more intersting scene in the glass reflection.
We turned into the dark Derb Laghnaiz Lamouassine. The shop selling tea cups and teapots was closed today. Whilst being very dark in most parts the pockets of light that broke through created a great atmosphere.

It was 2pm by the time we return to Riad Zolah, in plenty of time for our Hammam.

There was a public Hammam (for ladies only) literally around the corner from our Riad. We weren't going there but had booked one at our hotel.

I have to admit that neither of us knew what a hammam actually was. We thought it was something like a Turkish bath, one of those steam boxes you sat in and sweated.

We came downstairs at 3pm fully clothed like embarrassed school children with our swimming costumes on underneath. Aziz asked if we were ready for our hammam. We both nodded sheepishly.

He sent us back to our room and told us to return wearing only dark underwear and our robes. We thought perhaps something may have been lost in translation. "He didn't really mean underpants did he?" So when we came back down in our dressing gowns we still had our swimming costumes on.

Aziz explained that they could only do one of us at a time. By the simple virtue that Julie was nearest the steps Aziz lead her upstairs to the Riad's small spa.

I spent the next half an hour sitting in my dressing gown in the area between the inner courtyards trying my best to blend into the curtains, reading a large coffee table book about Berber handicrafts.

Meanwhile upstairs Julie was experiencing her first Hammam.

Half an hour later Aziz lead me up the stair to a warm, dimly lit, eucalyptus infused room where sat on a comfortable sofa surrounded by cushions was Julie. Her eyes were wide wide open, her eyebrows raised as high as they'd go. Her lips quivered a nervous smile.

"What was it like ?" I asked.

"It was different" was all she said.

She didn't have any time to go into any detail as Aziz opened the door into the next room and I followed him. I took off my robe and hung it up on a hook on the wall. I slipped off my banana yellow slippers and placed them neatly to one side. He then opened a door into a small steam room and told me to sit down on the bench on the right. I did as I was told.

He shut the door behind and I sat there in my solitude, steaming quite nicely. It was a comfortable temperature, warm not hot. "This is nice" I thought.

After a few minutes the door opened and in walked Aziz, stripped down to his dark underpants and T-shirt.

"First time?" he asked. He must have noticed the fear in my face. "Uh hu" I replied.

What followed was quite possibly the strangest experience ever. It began with him smearing my body in a dark brown substance that was made with argan oil. It lathered slightly as he briskly rubbed it all over. Next he applied a soapy white fluid quite vigouously up and down both arms, legs, back, stomach, chest and armpits. He rubbed with some strength to the point where it hurt. I thought I'd have to check later for bruises.

After a thorough going over he reached over into a small bath and doused me in warm water by the bucket load. Once the attempted drowning came to an end he laid out an anti-slip mat on the floor and told me to lie down on my front. This I did. There was nothing to lay my head on other than the rubber mat so I raised my hands and rested my chin on them.

Aziz then pressed hard on the base of my back moving up my vertebrae methodically applying pressure in one second bursts along the way. When he reached the mid-point between my shoulders he pressed twice as hard and my bones cracked! I was so shocked to hear three rapid cracks like the sound you make with your knuckles. It echoed in the small steam room. I was expecing to be in agony but it felt strangley loosening and relaxing.

He was knelt by my side whilst torturing me in this way. He then stood up and walked over to the bench. I heard the rustling of a packet being opened and he said "I'm going to put on a glove now". My eyes widened. You could tell I was a little apprehensive by the way I squeaked out a "Scuse me?"

"It's going to be rough" he said. Well, my eyes almost popped out of my head. My heart was in my mouth as he approached. I was on the verge of saying "Listen, I don't want any funny business" when he leant over and showed me the black mitten he had over his right hand. "Feel" he said "it's very rough"

It was an abrasive mitten, called a kiis, which is probably Moroccan for scouring pad. It was actually made from a coarse plastic material. He immediately began scrubbing furiously. I wasn't prepared for how rough it felt. He was rubbing away as if he was trying to remove a stain from the carpet. It felt as if my skin was going to be red raw, even the thought of drawing blood wasn't beyond the realms of possibility.

He scrubbed all my visible skin exfoilating me from tip to toe asking me to turn over onto my back where he continued to thoroughly wash me. I wasn't best pleased when he began to wash my face. All I kept thinking was "He's only just done my feet".

So I lay there, in a crucifix pose, having my stomach scrubbed hard by the guy who served me my breakfast this morning. It was precisely that moment when the surreal nature of what was happening hit me and a wave of awkwardness washed over me. I was just glad I wasn't lying there in my underpants.

The embarrasment soon passed however, especially once the scrubbing ended. My skin felt aglow, sensitive and so alive. It felt incredibly invigorating. "Look" said Aziz and he showed me the black mitten covered with my dead skin. It looked disgusting. I never would have guessed that shedding my old skin would feel so stimulating. I felt revitalised despite the throbbing along my left side feeling a bit like carpet burns.

The experience was not over yet though. He asked me to sit up. I remained sat on the floor as Aziz washed my hair, again applying head massage techniques in doing so. Then the final act. He fetched a pot of the most wonderfully aromatic clay. "This is clay mixed with argan oil, rose water and orange peel" he explained. He smeared me all over with the concoction.

It was really dark in colour. I don't know where the mud came from but I imagined it came from the bottom of the river judging by the pieces of gravel in it. The fragrance was superb, it smelt good enough to eat.

I then stood up where Aziz washed me down with more bucket loads of warm water. Having checked everywhere for any traces of mud it concluded the hammam. "Touch your skin" he instructed me "is it soft?"

It was soft. "It must be very good for the skin" I said.

"Yes, of course." "We do this at least once a week in the public hammam" he explained.

I must admit that I felt amazing, not only clean but my entire body felt thoroughly relaxed.

We had booked a massage to follow our hammam but I couldn't imagine feeling any more relaxed. I floated through back into the dimly lit spa reception and sat in my robe and banana yellow slippers to wait for Julie to finish her massage.

When she came through she began to recount her hammam experience. Hers differed slightly from mine. Aziz had lead her up to the spa and transfered her over to her lady hammam attendant (for want of a better job title?)

She de-robbed and was about to walk into the steam room when the lady who was doing her bath stopped her and pointed to Julie's swimming costume. "No" she said waving her hands as if to ask Julie to lower her costume. She was quite insistent. A little reluctant Julie gave in rolling down her costume to her mid-rift.

"No, no " said the bath attendent shaking her head and waved her hands some more. Julie had no choice but to whip off her costume and stand there naked.

She didn't have to enter the steam room totally naked though because she was given a pair of white Crocs to wear. She felt so embarrassed as she stood there starkers but for footwear's worse fashion mistake. Of all the shoes in the world she really hates Crocs. But she went with the flow.

She was then rubbed up and down for half an hour by a woman in a wet T-shirt. "I would have paid good money to watch that!" I said.

"At least I'm never going to see her again" said Julie.

As I went through for my massage Julie went downstairs for a henna tattoo .... which was applied by none other the same woman who gave her the hammam!

My massage was pleasant enough but as expected it didn't enhance my feeling of relaxness. I rejoined Julie who was sitting downstairs dabbing herself with a sugar & lemon solution to help the henna to dry. Her left hand, right wrist and right ankle had a beautiful design all impressively drawn freehand.

After a few hours in our room we were ready to venture out for the evening to experience one of Marrakech's unique attractions, the night market of Jemaa El Fna.

Walking down Rue Mouassine we felt strangely anxious. Our super relaxed state was preparing itself for the onslaught that lay ahead. We didn't know quite what to expect, a frenetic mass of people, a mayhem of musicians, storytellers and chefs perhaps.

What greeted us was a surprisingly orderly arrangement of open-air kitchens and their trellis table restaurants. They all had a number so that you could note down the number of your favourites as you walked around browsing the menus.

I heared someone shout "Hey, Keith Floyd!"

It was directed towards me. The cheeky sod!

It came from the first one on the corner. I didn't make a note of its number. They had photographs of celebrity chefs eating at their stall. Keith Floyd was one of them. Heston Blumenthal and Antonio Carluccio were others we recognised.
The sun hadn't set yet so we hurried across the square to Cafe Glacier for the incredible view of this spectacle. It was almost busier up on the terrace than in the square!

We literally got the last empty seats tucked far away around the corner.

With our minumum purchase bottle of mineral water we sat and watched the sun go down.

It wasn't possible to see the mele below from our chairs so I spent a minute standing up at the edge of the balcony, blocking some one else's view in the process.

Most people were just like me. They wanted that photograph of the square at its most exciting. Some had come prepared with tripods and serious zoom lenses whilst others held aloft snapshot cameras to capture what they saw.

Jemaa El Fna was begining to fill up. The darker it got the more people arrived to eat and be entertained.

Within half an hour the day was night. The sky was jet black and the square was a glorious pandemonium.

Our anxiousness had now left to be replaced with excitement. We couldn't wait to return back down and join the throng.

Things were a lot livelier now.

The stalls were busy cooking their specialities over charcoal fires or butane flame. The smoke created an atmosphere of its own swirling above the kitchens.

Waiters attempted to entice us by reciting lines they had been taught such as "'Ave a butchers" in a cockney accent or "our food is spiffing" in an awfully posh accent.

I must admit that the food looked fresh with large brochette kebabs sizzling on the barbecue. Although not everything we saw looked good enough it eat.

One stall specialised in the delicacy of boiled sheep heads another served nothing but snail stew. I'm glad that I am now a vegetarian as the Colin of old would have taken up the challenge of scooping out the contents of the lamb's head just to prove that he was tough enough.

We had already made our reservation for this evening at Le Tanjia so eating here wasn't even an option.

They still all called out their numbers as we walked away.

"Remember best food at number 31"

We left the food stalls behind and walked towards the furthest corners of the irregular shaped square.

There was such a great atmosphere here by now.

We reached the north eastern corner where the storytellers collected. I joined a small crowd gathered closely around one sooth sayer.

He wore a large white turban and shook in his hand what looked like a zebra tail on a stick. He was sat down on richly decorated cushions, surrounded by a selection of animal skins, his eyes wild and manic.

His animated face was dark as the night but for his white eyes darting all over. His performance was lively almost crazed as he spouted out his wild story.

When his eyes fixed on mine I almost shat myself. I couldn't get out of there quick enough.

We moved along to a far more sedate form of entertainment. A group of musicians were setting up huddled around a gas canister powering a small bright lightbulb.

The banjo player plucked his strings as his companions clapped and warbled away.

I enjoy listening to traditional Moroccan music, although I'm more familiar with the "sahara blues" from Mali artists such as Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabaté.

We mingled between the clusters of audiences collected around the various performers, acrobats, magicians, musicians. The coolest of the lot, by a long shot, was this guitarist who rode in on his motorbike, sat down with a group of percussionist friends and played some amazing music.

He was playing a traditional 12 string instrument similar to a lute or Oud. He had it amplified right up, raw, distorted and exciting. The sound reminded me very much of a group called Tinariwen, a band of Tuareg musicians from Mali.

I enjoyed the music so much that I worked my way to the front. This aeging hippy woman motioned to me to sit down. I sat down next to her then noticed that Julie had stepped back to hover at the back.

One of the guys slapping a large tambourine came around with a small basket to collect some money and I gladly donated 20 dirhams

I sat to enjoy the performance but the moidering hippy was getting on my nerves, trying to strike up a conversation whilst all I wanted was to appreciate the musicianship and take a decent photo of them.

I was obviously polite but that just seemed to encourage her. I eventually gave up and just got up and left.

I rejoined Julie and we moved on, leaving Jemaa El Fna past the dried fruit stalls, past the Cafe Glacier and down Rue Riad Zitoun El Qedim.

We had walked this way on Monday in the daylight but it was a different street in the dark. Most of the shops were shut and apart for the mopeds whizzing past it was practically deserted at this time of night .

The light at the end of the tunnel was Place des Ferblantiers and our dinner reservation at Le Tanjia.

I have to admit that one of the reasons why I suggested eating here was the prospect of belly dancers.

The guide books all recommended it as a venue to experience the traditional Moroccan entertainment.

We were greeted at the door and taken inside into a magical room. It was like floating into the milky way.

Everywhere we looked light dappled the walls. Large lanterns projected their intricate patterns onto every surface including my face which made me look all blotchy.

"Could you move your head a little" asked Julie "your face looks a bit weird. It's giving me the heebeegeebees!"

We were the only customers in the room. Also present were a troop of five waiters and a trio of musicians sat in the centre. There was no sign of any belly dancers. "Perhaps they'll be upstairs when we eat" I thought to myself.

The band played a superbly hypnotic song which got me clapping along and almost on my feet. The waiters were also caught up in the music joining in on the chorus. They were all smartly suited and sporting a traditional Fez.

Whilst synonomous with Morocco we hadn't seen many people wearing them in Marrakech.

We sat and enjoyed a beer and a Gin Fizz. I don't think I need to say whose was whose. Strangely, before we could leave and be shown to our table, we had to pay our drinks bill as if the upstairs and the downstairs were two seperate concerns.

We were shown to our table on the first floor balcony. It seemed far too small an area to accomodate belly dancers.

We browsed the menu and for once I wished I ate meat. Not because I actually wanted to eat meat but because I wanted Julie to experience a dish called Mechouli, a traditional slow cooked lamb that was only available for two people.

We toyed with the idea that we could get away with ordering it anyway but we decided against it.

Instead we ordered a starter called pastilla des legumes to share. It was a large filled pastry, a disc some seven inches in diameter, one inch thick. A pastilla is traditionally filled with pigeon meat but this one was of course only vegetables. It was so delicious, we shared it as we normally do, 2 parts Julie's, 8 parts mine.

My main course of veg tagine paled in comparisson in flavour but at least Julie enjoyed her skewered chicken kebabs with sauted potatoes.

We were still half expecting belly dancers to gyrate their way between the dining tables but they never did arrive.

It was only 9pm, perhaps the place only got going later in the evening?

We weren't about to find out though as we were both absolutely shattered. We decided to ask for the bill. At 720 dirhams (inc. a bottle of wine) it was the most expensive meal of our trip yet the quality wasn't any better than what we had for lunch at Chez Chegrouni at a fraction of the price.

We returned up the dark alley of Rue Riad Zitoun El Qedim and across Jemaa El Fna unscathed finally reaching Riad Zolah half an hour later. We only lasted a further 30 minutes up on the roof top terrace before bringing the day to a close and headed for bed.

Thursday >  

ęCopyright 2000 - 2020