Yesterday afternoon my friend The Actress and I touched down in Marrakech. I am on another adventure this time an Arabian one. I hope it will involve a mountain trek, camel riding through the stunning Saharan dunes, souks, medinas, bellydancers and storytellers.
Our digs are off the famous Jemaa El Fna square which is absolutely bonkers. The centre piece is a strip which is filled with stalls of all types of street food. You can get everything from hard boiled eggs, whole roasted lamb on a spit to snails and boiled sheep head. It is cited by some as the biggest open air eatery in the world with some 100 stalls every night. The scene is bedlam and the smells are insane.
The square itself offers absolutely everything. For a few dirham you can not only engage in snake charming at close range, you can have one placed on your shoulders and for a few more dirham they’ll remove it! When wandering around you should take care where you step, the reptiles are placed all over the floor like spare tyres, curled up motionless, probably drugged up to the hilt. There are herbalists, henna tattooists; you can buy jewellery; pretty lanterns, tat, and there are even men who’ll do on the spot dentistry. Yes you can get your teeth pulled out for the right price. I should have come here for my dental work last week. I would have saved 800 quid after having emergency treatment for a cracked tooth. I was conned into having a porcelain crown made to cover it mainly due to the pain. It was excruciating and that was just the cost!!
Jemaa El Fna is surrounded by pretty pink building set against a vivid clear blue sky. Performers from musicians, to acrobatics and storytellers all manage to pull a crowd. There is growing concern that the art of storytelling is dying because young Moroccans are not interested in carrying on the tradition. The younger generation is more interested in television and the internet and these famous old stories are being lost forever. They say when a storyteller dies it is like a library burning.
The Medina is divided into two zones – the commercial area of the main square and then the maze of tiny streets that make up the chaotic souks (bazaars). Everything from scarves, shoes, bags, clothes, jewellery can be haggled for. Lord knows how they make any money, everyone is selling the same thing.
New Year’s Eve kicked off by yours truly stopping en route to dinner for a bite of street food – a delicious stuffed crepe – straight off a hot plate. I was starving and I had to eat something quickly to stave off any potential grumpiness from emerging. The crepe was like a parata only tastier because it was stuffed with chillies and olive paste.
The Actress found a gem of a place called Riad Noire d’Ivoire run by a charming French couple, who have just moved to Morocco from Florida. Yup I know, you couldn’t get any different. It is so off the beaten track we were told to get to the hotel – La Maison Arab – get them to call and they would send a member of staff to collect us.
I have never been collected on foot before and done the whole walking “mini bus”. It made for an interesting start to the night. We were taken down a labyrinth of narrow streets flanked by high walls. There was no way on earth we would have found the riad it was so well hidden. Right then left, then left again and right once more, the building itself didn’t have a sign or a number outside it either. Inside it is a beautiful oasis which has been decorated by British designer called Jill Fetchtmann. She has done an amazing job. It is filled with African art and the result is simple, tasteful and very elegant. We sat in the atrium and took in the palace-like surroundings. The decor was spectacular, the food not so much. But after two bottles of Cab Sav it made little difference. We saw in 2015 squiffy, full and staggered back through the maze of roads to our guest house shortly after midnight.