This is the second part of a re-post, in 1595 words.
The next day, we went to look at the Koutoubia, and the gardens that surround it. Due to the celebration of Ramadan, the whole area was full of sleeping worshippers, resting during their time of fasting, and awaiting the call to prayer. We did not go into the Mosque, but walked around the gardens, which were dry in the heat.
We then went to explore the extensive market, set around the main square. This is a maze of tiny stalls and shops, most of which are selling the same things; souvenirs of Morocco, and different types of clothing. There were also spice and juice stalls, and a range of fruit sellers as well. The dreaded mopeds were much in evidence, buzzing in and out of the passages between the shops, occasionally bumping you, as they tried to wriggle past.
It was all much as you might imagine. Exotic at first, but with endless haggling, and shop owners pestering, until you soon tired of it all. We retreated to the oasis of our hotel, to relax by the pool with a cold drink.
The following morning, we took an open top bus tour, supposedly the best way to see the sights in and around the city, with some stops further afield in what was essentially a palm-tree desert. This was actually very amusing. There were so few tourists, the bus was presumably running at a loss. As a result, there was no guide commentary, and the headphone commentary advertised on the side was also notable by its absence.
The young lady supposed to be guiding spent the whole time downstairs talking to the driver. We were left to work out for ourselves what we were seeing, with the aid of a map in the tour brochure. We did make the most of the hop-on-hop-off facility though, so managed to see a fair bit of the area, including the famous Marjorelle Gardens and a stunning view of the Atlas Mountains surrounding the city.
The bus returned when it was supposed to at least, so we were thankful for that. The older parts of the city within the walls of the medieval Medina were a real delight, and exactly what we had hoped to see. With the lack of tourists, life was going on much as normal, so we were able to see the place as it should be seen, and not just as one giant gift shop.
The hotel staff had recommended two places to visit in the evening, as an alternative to eating in the hotel. One was a swish-looking courtyard restaurant, some distance away in the ‘new city’. This restaurant also featured in our small guide book, and was advertised in a ‘Marrakesh’ magazine we obtained. The other was an evening of folklore and entertainment at an all-inclusive price, with collection and return to the hotel included. We reserved both, though we had serious doubts about the evening of folklore, at a place called ‘Chez Ali’. The staff were insistent that it was a great evening, with unlimited food and drink, and lots to see and do. I imagined a large restaurant, with dancers and musicians.
We went to the nice small restaurant first, having negotiated a return taxi fee with a Mercedes driver who constantly parked outside the hotel, and who was recommended by the staff. (Undoubtedly on a commission) The place did not let us down. After a high-speed journey across most of the city, the taxi dropped us off, arranging to collect us later. He said the staff would call him on a mobile when we were ready.
The restaurant was excellent. We had drinks in the courtyard before going in for our meal, the interior set off by an indoor pool, and beautiful lighting. With superb service, and first-rate food, it was the ideal romantic evening for a honeymoon night out. The higher prices there were about the same as they would have been in London, as was the taxi fare. We got back to the hotel in time for a late drink around the pool, and reflected on a marvellous night out.
Two nights later, we were collected by minibus, to be taken to Chez Ali. We were the only passengers, and discovered that the driver would also serve as a guide, wait for us during the evening, and collect us after the entertainment. Another long drive began, this time into the desert away from all built-up areas. After some time, we asked the driver how much longer it would be, and were surprised to hear that it was still at least fifteen minutes away. We soon spotted what could only be our destination, lit by rows of coloured lights, a good five minutes before we arrived. The size of a small town, Chez Ali was actually a huge complex, surrounded by old walls, and entered by a long driveway.
As we got to the car park, our hearts sank as we saw dozens of coaches and umpteen minibuses, all jostling for space to drop off hundreds of people. It was like going to a football match, to have dinner. The driver told us not to worry, that it would be very nice, and that he would guarantee that we got a very good place. He was obviously in the know, as he was soon chatting to the door staff, and whisking us along -via a ‘photo opportunity’- to our tent where we would be served the meal. What followed, was a far from pleasurable experience, only saved by our sense of humour.
Inside the place, there were dozens of tents, all lined up along something resembling a ‘main street’. There were literally hundreds of harassed staff, suitably dressed in various versions of traditional clothing. Musicians played to welcome us, and our guide took us into a well-lit tent, the size of a circus big top. The first problem was that we were not part of a group. It appeared that it was very rare for couples to book this trip, and all the other tourists, from every country in the world seemingly, were in large groups of twenty or more. As the only couple, we were taken to a table at the head of the tent, and seated separately from the others.
Everyone looked at us, with that look that is a cross between ‘are they celebrities?’, and ‘who do they think they are?’. The food and drink arrived. It was an enormous bowl, containing meat that we thought might be chicken, vegetables roasted to extinction, and piles of rice and potatoes. It was pretty repulsive, and we felt the need to record it on video. We had to eat some at least, and some bread, as we had saved our appetite all day for the anticipated feast. The fruit, brought as a dessert, looked like what was left after the market had closed, and packed away for the night.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the entertainment began. Groups of musicians, dancers, and singers, did the rounds of all the tents, repeating their party piece for each one in turn. By the time it got to us, we had already heard it from the tent next door. It was also all so loud, it was impossible to hear yourself think. This was not a terribly expensive excursion, so it may sound churlish to complain. It was just that it had been built up to us as something very different, so we were disappointed. But at least we were laughing!
After the food was cleared away, we followed the crowds towards a large open area, with tiered seating. It was completely dark by now, so the dramatic son-et-lumiere that followed was surprisingly effective. There were various tableaux of historical re-enactments and parades, culminating in a display by riders dressed as Berber tribesmen, firing guns as they rode their ponies around the arena at breakneck speed. It might have been worth the trip, just to see the historical events in the arena. Might have been, but not really. We were pleased to be making our way back to the hotel soon after, happy to put the whole evening down to experience. One we would not be repeating. Here is a link, if it sounds like something you might enjoy.
The last couple of days in Marrakesh were spent peacefully relaxing around the hotel, which had returned to its former state of calm after the weekend invasion by the trippers from Europe. That had not turned out to be at all bad, as there were still not enough guests to make the hotel feel crowded.
The evening before we were due to leave, we went to the market to engage the services of a horse and carriage for a gentle tour of the old city. We had been advised to haggle, but I took just one banknote, worth slightly less than £18, and said to the driver (in French) “This is all we have left, we go home to England tomorrow.” He accepted this tactic, and we set off for almost an hour of gentle driving around the area. This was definitely the way to see the place in comfort, and far better than the bus, or walking. It was also the perfect romantic ending to a memorable honeymoon.
I have no connection with the hotel where we stayed, but I will add this link to their website, so you can see for yourselves just how nice it is. If you are ever considering a trip to Marrakesh, it is one to put on your list.