A Quick Tour of Marrakesh
Immediately we stepped outside the sanctuary of the Art Place Hotel the street vendors were on us. Watch floggers wasting our time, perfume sellers leading us off the scent, and shady looking sunglass vendors trying to blind us with their spiel on the latest and greatest quality fake glasses dirhams can buy. It is relentless. In the evening, kids get in on the act by thrusting single red roses at you in a particularly unromantic way. Or trying to get you to buy novelty gifts. And despite me being more hassle-tolerant than Allen, even I started to lose my cool after a pair of teenage girls wouldn’t give up trying to sell us some particularly nondescript tat that evening.
Of course, we expected this, and the reason we booked a hotel so close to the square was to have an escape route.
Venturing out into the wild of Djemma El Fna and beyond in the afternoon served a secondary purpose. Known only to Allen who organised it, the hotel needed to decorate the room for our wedding anniversary, and Allen had to get me out of the way. So we set off on a mini-tour of the city, taking in the Koutoubia Mosque, the souks (where we bought a couple of scarfs), and the photographic museum before heading back to the hotel.
I don’t think we gave the hotel quite enough time to get things ready. The man behind the reception desk told us there is a fault with the key. Little did I know eh? After five minutes or so had passed, the key was ‘fixed’ and up we went to the room. You can see the result of their efforts in the photographs below. They did such a fantastic job – it must have taken an age.
After a few minutes there was a knock on the door and behind it two people bringing with them celebratory cocktails (non-alcoholic as this is a dry hotel) and congratulations. Such a lovely surprise.
That evening we ate at the Maison a L’Arab, dining on excellent food and wine while being entertained by Andalusian musicians playing a medley of Spanish and Lebanese tunes. The hotel must have told the restaurant that it’s a special occasion… the waiter brought us a cream pastilla after dinner and wished us a happy anniversary. Very thoughtful, and we had a brilliant time.
Walking back to the hotel brought the same hassle as soon as we reached the Djemma El Fna, which had really come to life. The square is transformed late afternoon from a focus on selling to eating. The street food vendors set up shop around the square where you can eat most things imaginable (and some things not) well and cheaply.
One of the acts the square is famous for is its snake charmers. Allen has held a long-term desire to get close to these fellas to see if they really can charm the snakes or whether it is animatronics. So, the next day we ventured back into the square past the sunglasses/watches/perfume sellers (no merci/no merci/no merci) on a search for a snake charmer. In the centre of the square, complete with requisite flute, there he was. And in that direction, much to my horror, there Allen went.
He said he knew he was going to get ‘shafted’ on the price, but said something about it being worth it to ‘feed the inner child’ so there was no stopping him. The photographs below illustrate the experience.
I thought the snakes were defanged models of their former selves, so Allen went back to check with them. One of the handlers grabbed hold of the Cobra and got it to clamp its chops around some sackcloth. There’s no defanging going on here. The same snake is responsible for a couple of missing fingers and at least one toe of the older guy sat down on the photos. One of the others has a scar the length of a vein up his arm, and the other is probably luckier than the rest.
And in answer to the question are these real and do they dance to the tune of the charmer? The answer on both counts is definitely yes!
After checking out of the hotel, we negotiated a price with the taxi drivers to get us back to the bus station (from 150 to 60 dirhams – still expensive) and hopped on the bus back to Agadir.