Well we're on the home stretch now; five days left in Morocco. We've had a pretty busy time since we left Taroudant, where we spent a day trying to kill time before our night bus to Marrakech. It was a sweet but pretty quiet little town - our best discovery were a series of little stalls selling Moroccan donuts; enourmous (the size of two hands side by side) and available for the high price of 1 dirham, about 14 cents!! They were fantastic!
We made it to Marrakech after a ride in the night bus and an early morning stay in a pretty divey hotel not too far from the bus station. In the light of day we hightailed it to the medina; the centre of all the action in any Moroccan city. Luckily we happened upon a ridiculously beautiful, insanely cheap hotel in a quiet back street quite close to the medina. Tiled, with detailed coloured paintwork everywhere and open-air terraces on every level, we were ecstatic to find such a prefect base for our Marrakech explorations.
We took a day to settle in and then began to explore in earnest. Marrakech features miles of souks, interspersed with hammams (communal sauna-like bathing houses to which Pip and I have become somewhat addicted!), mosques and traditional workshops making everything from curly-toed slippers to painted handcarved mirrors. Its very humbling to watch the ancient, wizened craftsmen at work and made buying things from the shops or workshops themselves very satisfying! Pip and I were mostly present shopping; its like a second Christmas finding things that you know everyone at home will love. One of the funniest requests was from our 4 year old niece, Olive, who repeatedly requested 'colourful big girl shoes' when asked what she would like us to bring her from Morocco. Her request never wavered over the course of several months so we took great pleasure in locating the perfect shoes for her, as we thought she might have envisioned them when making the request. One of the most pleasant suprises about Marrakech was how much it differed from other peoples descriptions. We can happilly report that we suffered very little harrasment, just the usual shopkeepers trying to get us into their shops. Luckily, we've perfected our uber-friendly brush off and noone seems to take offense. That plus the grudging acknowledgment by the shopkeepers of my supposed 'Berber likeness', which apparently means a tough bargainer, made our time in the souks pretty hassle free. We have drunk copious amounts of tea, pretended expertise on a ridiculously wide range of merchandise and haggled our little hearts out. We also visited the incredible ensemble artisinal, a series of artisan workshops where some of the best examples of traditional and contemporary crafts can be found. And there we met Nordi!
Nordi was our new Moroccan friend, who worked in the jewellery store in the ensemble. He was very sweet ad invited us for dinner a few times when we visited so in the spirit of adventure, we accepted. En route to his house, we stopped in to visit his mother in the hospital and ,et all the family, none of whom spoke english. Nordi's english was pretty good so he translated back and forth. We then headded to his house on the outskirts of town where his sisters and sisters-in-law had prepared an incredible feast for us. It felt a little odd being such honoured guests for no better reason than that we were westerners, but we brought some flowers ans treats with us to help (partly) redress the balance. Unfortunately we didnt get to spend as much time with the women of the house as we would have liked (as western guests, we ate with the men). But we had great chats to Nordi's cousin from the mountains and played with his little niece and nephew, who were almost unbearably cute! The food was amazing and I wished I had spent some time int he kitchen to observe the preparation, as I'm not sure I could replicate it. But I'm going to give it a try when I get home!!
Sadly, it seemed Nordi was trying a little to woo us (a fact we didn't cotton onto until quite late) and he had a little tantrum when he realised we were going to catch a taxi back to our hotel and not spend the night (and our remaining days) with him in Marrakech!! But it was still a wonderful experience, that we're laughing about now.
The rest of our time was spent in the numerous parks and gardens - such a nice change of pace from dusty squares and the summer heat. We ate a lot of great street food, watched the crazy entertainments in the main square, the Djemma el Fna, and lazed on the terrace. To recover from the heat and mayhem of Marrakech, we stopped off at the Cascades de Ouzoud, about three hours from Marrakech. Huge mountain waterfalls, in lush forest, with wild monkeys hopping about! We went swimming, listened to a little band on the terrace of our hotel and delighted in the almost complete absence of tourists. The town had a quite hippyish vibe and it was so good to be out of the tourist trap for a night.
Now we're in Meknes after a couple of fairly forgettable days in Fez. We head back to Essaouira later in the week for the Gnaoua music festival and then Pip goes to Spain and I to London, both of us via Madrid....the end is nigh!