Having a spare night between hotels booked in Fes and Marrakesh, we though we’d stop over halfway in the hills. However after a windy bus journey sat next to a boy being sick, arriving in Beni Melal to find it was much bigger, busier and stressful than the small mountain town we were expecting, not finding any guides to accompany us to the mountains and exhausted by the heat, we jumped in a grand taxi all the way to Marrakesh. We were frustrated to find the road was completely straight all the way after we had wasted money on booking a bus ticket for the next day, and a hotel checking in.
Time in Marrakesh was spent wandering aimlessly yet again round the Medina, visiting the artisan ensemble which sold very similar wares to those in the souks, but at a cheaper fixed price and in the piece of a courtyarded hideaway, visiting the tropical Jardin Majorelle, being forced to buy leather goods after a visit to the tanneries, which we did not even plan on doing, but after getting lost thought a kind man was helping us out, but was actually trying to make money, like many others in this city.
The djeema al fna was what made Marrakesh stand out from the other cities because I had never experienced anything like it. A vast open square, that is dead in the daytime but gradually comes to life at night, with water sellers, entertainers of all sorts, a mass outdoor restaurant, and stall upon stall of orange juice, cake sellers, dried fruit and henna painters. I was fascinated. As soon as you step into the depths of the musicians and magicians and the crowds watching in the depths of the dark un-lit square, it’s like you are carried away into another world.
At the same time the mass, dark open space opens opportunity for hashish dealers, sleazy men seeking to relieve their sexual needs through hassling the hoards of western female tourists, and of course the opportunity for pick pockets is endless. I clutched onto my bag, warned off any dodgy looking men, and was ready with an aggressive Arabic phrase should any of them try anything, and immersed myself into the repetitive sound of drums and singing.
The whole time I was searching for storytellers after reading Tahir Shah’s In Arabian Nights and becoming fascinated with the Moroccan and Arabic tradition of symbolic stories that have been passed down through the centuries. I thought there must be few if no story tellers left after only coming across musicians and conjurers, (the musicians might also have been telling stories but it was too difficult to grasp what they were singing about). However we finally discovered a large group surrounding one man who seemed to be part telling, part acting out a tale. Having an Arabic speaking companion was useful for this, (as it was during many other occasions on the trip). Although we couldn’t stay long enough to catch the full story, as we were right at the back of a lot of people, strangely all who were men, which gave me more reason not to hang around!