Sunday, 10 February 2013

A camel called Ray

I really wish I had a photo of the funniest Berber we've met but I haven't so I'll just set the scene...
We'd been hanging out, lounging around and drinking mint tea on the beach about a mile south of Essaouira.
We were heading back to the Medina, weaving and dodging the beach sellers offering us genuine Rolex watches and rayban sunglasses at knock down prices when we met Mr Berber. We'd developed a good dodge. Whenever a seller approached us, we'd part and walk either side of him. He didn't know if he should persuade Himself to buy for me or chase me as the likely decision maker on purchases and by the time he'd worked it out we'd gone and the next tourist/ victim was coming along.
So we did the swerve on Mr Berber who immediately spun round and called "Heyyyy, where you go?!" His reaction was so surprised I started laughing and turned back to say we weren't buying today. That was all he needed to start a conversation. Pointing to some distant palms he told us that was his Berber village where he lived with his 2 wives and 9 sons. Of course we looked sympathetically at him about the two wives and he looked sad too. "Yes, I marry the first one and she very pretty, very slim. Then too much cous cous and..." He puffed out his cheeks and made a fat gesture. "So, I get another wife. She very nice, very pretty but then the cous cous..." By now we were laughing and he asked us if we were English, we said we were and he looked surprised. "You English? But you laugh, English not laugh, English are miserable!" Then talking to Himself, Mr Berber asked "Your lady, she very pretty, she your secretary or your wife?" Then he pulled out a raggedy wallet, "Look, look here, is a picture of my camel." I blinked and asked why he carried a picture of his camel and he explained he worked for the local hotel and they made him carry a camel passport to show he was official, not just a street hawker. "My camel is beautiful, he is called Ray and he has big blue eyes." By now I was more than happy to sit back and enjoy the show. "See how he smiles? I give him chewing gum and it makes him smile, he loves chewing gum." Then he very gently tried to persuade us to buy some jewellery but we moved off thanking him for his time and he waved cheerily to show his pic of his camel to the next tourists....

Saturday, 9 February 2013

The Windy City

We escaped the heat, dust and crush of Marrakech to fetch up on the shore of west Africa at the small fishing town of Essaouira, a former hippy heaven visited by Jimi Hendrix among others. Life is more relaxed here. There are still the crowded narrow streets but there is less pressure to "Look, yes? English yes? Is free just to look!"
We were told to do our touristy shopping here as it would be cheaper and easier than back in Marrakech.
Everywhere you look is a photo opportunity and so far we've spent more time doing that than we have shopping. When you tire of the souks and port area, there is a long beach to walk along. The powerful wind belting straight off the sea makes this a popular place for wind surfers and surfer dudes. You can't escape the sales patter for long though, this time you will be encouraged to ride on a camel for 100 dirhams for one hour. That's probably a good price but neither of us are fond of camels!
There are men in horseback too and these are the tourist police patrolling the beach and streets. I took a very sneaky photo of this one because I'm not sure they'd appreciate being seen as a tourist attraction....

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Marrakech moments

Marrakech is a crazy place. It took us 24 hours to begin to get to grips with how to handle it. The stall holders in the souks are not pushy and accept your "non merci" with good grace and move onto the next tourist. (An easy species to spot with Northern European sun-denied skins and floppy rucksacks ready to be filled with leather slippers, kaftans and wooden camels.) We quickly learned to walk on the right and keep close to the walls of the narrow streets filled with donkeys, carts, motorbikes, bikes and people.
We also learned to be wary of the "guides" who pounce as soon as you stop walking and look around to get your bearings. Theirs is a cynical skill to get you as lost as completely as possible so you are reliant on them to get you back to the main square and give them "money present". We got ourselves lost several times but managed to get ourselves out of it again without giving in to these unofficial guides and without paying for the privilege. At one point we hooked up with a lost German family and a couple of French girls and by combining our maps and newly acquired street wisdom made it back to the main square.

You can't stop to take in everything around you or not from street level anyway so you either take pics while on the move (see above example!) or find a cafe with a terrace panaromique where the mint tea is hot and sweet and get your pics from there.
The people we've met have been warm, friendly and welcoming. They want you to enjoy their town and are delighted when they learn it's your first trip. "Enjoy, enjoy!"

Riad Haven

When you've walked around all day in the heat and dust it's good to have a cool, quiet place to go and for our trip that's a small riad a few minutes from the main square of Jemaa el Fna.
Our hosts here are attentive, friendly and sensitive to exactly what is needed after a long day out in the souks. Whenever you return you are offered a mint tea and some calm time up on the terrace far above the street noises. The riad is tastefully decorated and the sound of running water and scent of orange blossom fill the air. There are huge bowls of local oranges and tangerines placed on low tables surrounded by comfy seats to flop into.
And in the cool of the evenings, we've been to visit the storks who make their nests high on top of the main city walls and anywhere else they fancy.