Walking through the souks awakens all your senses as the sights, sounds and smells are a wonder. Naturally, as a tourist we had expected a certain amount of harassment as we were in a very touristy area. However, surprisingly, most of the locals were very friendly and as we wandered in and out of the shops there was not the perpetual aggravation that I had expected and have experienced in other countries.
The souks should be taken at a leisurely pace, as there is so much to see. Whether it is the goods in the shops, the colours of the streets or the people that catch the fancy of your thoughts, there is always something unexpectedly that will avert your attention such as the stork’s nest on top of a mosque’s minaret. Therefore, as not to miss anything I had to look behind me, up at the skyline, to the left, to the right – there was just so much to see. Don’t be just be a tourist, be inquisitive, ask questions and chat to the locals as there is so much to learn.
If you are interested in photography you will have a day of unrepressed activities. It is so easy to get engrossed in the surroundings and I was glad that I was staying a week in Marrakech. I could imagine the disappointment of the tourists who travel halfway around the world to get to Morocco on a package tour and only spend one or two days in Marrakech as I discovered at the end of my week here, that they would miss out on so much.
Contrary to popular belief we did not need a guide to take us around the souks although we occasionally got lost but finding our way back lead us to unearthing new-found treasures. We also used the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque as a landmark. This was the before smartphones and google maps.
By early afternoon my stomach was telling me that it was time to eat, as we had not realised that we had been wandering around the souks for so long. One definitely loses all sense of time when wandering the souks. We headed to the Café Argana in the Jemaa el-Fna, which as one of the locals I met informed me, has the best morning view over the square. After a superb bowl of harira, a thick soup of beans, lentils and lamb and djej bil oz, chicken with spices and almonds washed down with a cup of mint tea we were ready to head back into the labyrinth of mysterious narrow streets. Each souk has its own name denoting the products that are manufactured and sold there, such as the Souk de Babouches, selling the Moroccan slippers of the same name and the noisy Blacksmiths’ Souk where coloured glass and metal lampshades and outdoor furniture are made and sold.
To photograph the evening happenings at Jemaa el-Fna I decided that the balcony of the Café de Glacier offered the best vantage points. I got the top spot on the balcony in the early afternoon as at this time of day most people had finished their lunch and were wandering the souks. It was really captivating watching the activities of the storytellers, the men with the monkeys, the women adorning the tourists with henna, the snake charmers, the colourful water sellers, the acrobats and jugglers all vying to get the attention and money from the tourists and locals.
However, my main reason for being on the balcony was to watch the food stalls come into the square, set-up and start serving. The waiter at the Glacier was starting to get a little peeved as he realised that I had virtually made this my base camp. The table had my notebooks (the antique paper types), two DSLR cameras, a compact digital and a set of five lenses. Much to the chagrin of the waiter my first cup of mint tea lasted one and a half hours and my second two hours.
It was amazing to see the square transform from the afternoon fairground-like atmosphere to a large el fresco dining area by early evening. I finished that photo project, went downstairs and Farida and I had an enjoyable dinner at the food stalls in Jemaa el-Fna.