Rensina Van Den Heuvel organises tours in Morocco, Queensland and Mongolia – here she writes about a day in Marrakech
Mohammed came to pick me up in the Touristique van at 10.30am on the dot and the music that was wafting loudly from his stereo was very calming. The type of music which can make you relax and feel at ease. Thank goodness for that because Mohammed has a lead foot and he drove the three Germans and I, at breakneck speed, through thick traffic into the Souk in the centre of Marrakech.
“Come bek at three, Medem.” he says as he drops me off near the largest Mosque in Marrakech. ‘I will pick you up in front of da Portafino Restaurant”, he says as he points across the street, slams the sliding door closed behind me and honks his way back into four lanes of traffic.
“Oh heck, I have over four and a half hours to use up” I am thinking. ”How will I do that AND how the hell will I find my way back here?”
I look down the street towards the Souk. It is positively alive with oceans of people and so many colours as women flit about in their vibrant jellabas. There are masses of cars, horses, carriages and motorbikes and I can hear the thundering noise that comes with all of that. “There is no mistaking that I am in Marrakech.”
I take a quick look at a few landmarks around me and step out excitedly towards the seething mass of activity. Venturing into the Souk at Marrakech, alone takes courage. A great adventure no less! And really, how can you ever be alone, walking amongst the thousands of people who are in the centre of Marrakech today?
My main goal is to find a gorgeous traditional hotel, suitable accommodation for next year’s trip. I would also like to buy myself a colourful cotton jellaba to take back to Australia and add to my collection.
Firstly as I walk down, the main road which leads down to the Medina, I take notice of some of the buildings and other things around me. As I am not usually very good at orientation, I have learned to take notice of my surroundings, after getting myself into some, lets just call them ‘sticky’ situations in my life of travel!
Okay, so as I walk down the street, I notice all the horses and carriages are on my right and as I keep walking, I find myself in the main square which connects to the Souk. Aha! I know where I am. I was here last year.
Many alleys come off the large main square and even though it is fairly early, they are already teaming with life and the effects on all of my senses is the way it always is in Morocco.
Loud, smelly, wildly decorative, delicious, colorful and unbelievably awesome….everywhere you look!
The square is alive with snake charmers, monkeys doing tricks, lots of juice stands selling freshly squeezed red grapefruit and orange juice. The stalls, a giant mass of oranges and grapefruit stacked inconceivably high. There is food cooking on hot coals, morsels of meat on skewers, smoke from the burning embers being swished this way and that with the changing breezes and smells reminiscent of Sunday roast lamb.
African fabric drapes over beautiful, caramel colored women, their hair intricately beaded as they squat on blankets, selling jewellery and Berbere women sitting on stools under large red and yellow beach umbrellas, who will henna your hands in a half hour. A few motor bikes crawl slowly amongst the throng of people and there’s the clip, clop of the horses hooves against cobble stones as they tow carriage around the busy streets.
A band of musicians wearing massive red hats, shaped like the tops of tagines, with bells and blue, yellow and green pom poms bouncing around, as they wander through the crowd drumming and playing exotic instruments.
It’s the sort of music which makes me want to wiggle my hips and throw my hands into the air in wild abandon.
All of this is happening under a bright blue, clear Moroccan sky with loads of sunshine. I go down some alleys into the darker covered area and there is stall after stall of color and design. Jellabas, scarves, shoes, babushes, fabric, clothes, jewellery. Once you enter the souk every centimetre of your visual space is taken up with color and shapes and designs. It is full on.
It is a riotous labyrinth of activity noise, color and music. After a half hour I give up totally on ever trying to find my way out the way I came in and I plunge in, leaving all of my uncertainties and ‘what if’s’ about anything behind me. I will find the massive stone minaret belonging to the mosque again and find my way back to Mohammed.
There is something intrinsically special about wandering alone. I feel self contained in my own bubble. The mistress of my own destiny. There’s a tiny excitement in my belly of the not knowing, the lack of plans and the freedom of not having to cater to anyone else’s needs. I allow myself to get totally distracted and drawn into the Medina and it’s low light and constant hum. It’s sort of relaxing, just meandering the intricacies of this giant hive of aliveness.
I stop to look at hundreds of jellabas, the gowns that almost all the women in Morocco wear. (And in many other Islam countries). They are incredibly beautiful and available in every hue, every pattern and decorated with literally thousands of different beautiful and ornamental braids and trims. It is hard to describe and even harder to imagine until you set eyes upon them. They hang from the ceilings and it is difficult to drag my gaze from them. (Fabric is one of my serious passions.)
I look up at them as I wander along. I can not resist just gazing up like an astronomer searching the night sky. They all hang there with their sparkly braids, beads and embroidery, tempting me. I hear “Medem, Medem, what you look vor? You like dis? Vat color you like, Medem? I give it you, good price.” I just smile and wander. I think I am drugged by all the color.
A young man with a gentle demeanour runs a stall which actually has a few prices on some of the gowns. Fifty Dirham. That attracts my attention and I stop to look. After much consideration and the young bloke’s, unending patience, ((and NO pressure), I buy two light weight cottons. One is rich earthy brown with golden cream embroidery all down the front and the other is bright blue and summery with thick white, ornamental braid down the front.
Perfect for Australian summer at home…
and here in Morocco after my afternoon shower.
Find out more about Rensina Van Den Heuvel and her tours in Morocco, Queensland and Mongolia