Friday 24 November

Marrakech souk

Marrakech souk

This morning we have a guided tour of Marrakech — the souks, a bakery, museum of carpets, pots and jewellery, and finishing up at a pharmacy/spice shop. The lady owner gives a very entertaining talk. There are natural remedies for all kinds of ailments, magic lipstick that becomes redder the hotter the skin, and countless spices.

The souks are very atmospheric. Rays of light filter down between the bamboo slats of the shades strung up over the alleys.

In the afternoon, we decide to take a caleche (horse-drawn carriage) tour. It’s a bit of a disappointment as for the most part we are travelling along plain roads outside the walls of the medina. Where the streets do become narrower, we soon find we are holding up the traffic. We finish at the Jardin Majorelle — a tranquil retreat from the hectic pace of the medina. Many different varieties of cactus are laid out, some as large as trees, and a vivid blue building stands at one end. It is the perfect place just to sit and read, which I do for some time.

Traditional water sellers

Koutoubia Minaret

Finally it is beginning to get a bit chilly and I return to the Place on foot to meet up with the rest of the group for dinner. It is not too hard to find my way with the aid of a map, and I find myself walking from the Bab Doukkal down Rue Fatima, well away from the touristy area, past relatively normal day-to-day shops with everything from washing machines to satellite dishes.

Back in the Place, there is much activity as the food stalls we saw last night are being set up. Traditional water sellers in their red costumes and red wide-brimmed woollen hats try to manoeuvre themselves into tourists’ photographs in exchange for some dirham, and a fire-eater holds the attention of a crowd nearby. All the time the wail of the snake-charmers’ pipes can be heard.

We head by taxi into the Gueliz (a corruption of l’église, the church built by the French), the new town, for dinner at a French-style restaurant. The food is excellent, but it unsettles my stomach again. It must have been either that picnic in the Atlas, or the sandwich yesterday. I suspect the former, but Clare had not been impressed with the hygiene at the sandwich café. I feel a bit better after a brisk walk back along Avenue Mohammed V back to the hotel.