Since I started my blog, I have been wanting to share my last trip to the Kingdom of Morocco. But with me driving the procrastinator bus, it fell by the wayside. But that all changes today! So, by way of photos, here are a few memories which will surely stay with me a lifetime.
Our first day in Marrakech started off with the walking tour courtesy of Riad Kniza. This is often a great way to get to know your surroundings. Especially after last night, when the hotel shuttle bus dropped us off at what seemed to be a night market and not in front of a hotel entrance. We were quickly reassured when staff turned up to help us with our bags. Like most converted homes, Riad Kniza is actually not accessible by car. We had to walk a short distance and then into an alleyway before we arrived at the Riad.
THE SOUKS (OR MARKETS)
Wikipedia will tell you that the Souks are actually made up of 18 souks employing over 40,000 people. I found this hard to believe at first but after what Mustaffa our guide showed us, it’s not that far-fetched after all. The place is filled with small shops that are often no larger than a room. I sometimes worried that I’ll knock something over with my backpack when I turned around or even sneezed. Then there are side paths going every which way and in all different directions. Together with shops that look alike selling the same wares, trying to find markers to navigate yourself through a souk can easily be a nightmare.
It was already past lunchtime when our walk ended up Jemaa el-Fnaa square. Now, if you thought the souks were amazing, the square is the cherry on top. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985, the square is where all the entertainment is. Here you will find monkey trainers, snake charmers, story-tellers, musicians, henna artists and yes, MORE stalls! Again, it is helpful to have practiced your “no” in the souks as it is too easy to find a snake draped over your shoulder if you show the least bit of interest.
The next day after a scrumptious breakfast on the rooftop of Riad Kniza, we headed off on our own towards the Saadian Tombs. This was not too hard to find although we were waylaid by more shopping. They belong to the Saadian Sultan Ahmed al Mansour who died and was buried here in 1603. However, Alawite Sultan Moulay Ismail, several decades later went berserk and started destroying monuments all over. But he stopped short at the tombs. (Probably for fear it will bring bad luck.)
Instead, he walled it up completely and the place faded from memory until 1917 when it was rediscovered again by accident when some aerial photography revealed this enclosure. As a result, although Sultan Moulay Ismail attempted to erase any trace of Saadian legacy, ironically, he preserved it immaculately.
There are over 160 Saadian graves here. Some are prettier than others whilst the ones outdoors are just plain boring! We found out that some of his (less favourite) wives and sons were the boring ones, buried in the garden outdoors. They were in lower priority to other trusted advisors who were buried in the mausoleum with him.
I had read a bit about Argan oil prior to Morocco. With the Argan tree being endemic only to Morocco and the oils laboriously produced by hand, it is arguably one of the rarest oils in the world. Another unique feature with the Argan tree are that the nuts that produce the oil are a favourite with goats. So, you can find goats climbing (yes you read that right), climbing these Argan trees to reach the nuts!
So, we stopped by a co-operative one day and got a good introduction to the processing of these Argan nuts (employing only women). Although a lot of it can be automated, no one have worked out how to extract the kernels from the nuts. As such, this part of the process is done by hand. Hence why it is expensive!
Being quite curious, we asked endless questions to which the lady was quite patient in answering all of them. The only time we saw her exasperated was when one of our companions asked her more than once if you could actually eat the nuts. She said no a few times and when he asked again, she finally blurted out. “What do you mean eat the nuts? Are you a goat!!” to which we all laughed at his expense.
More to come