Lessons from Morocco
We were so excited to finally be in Marrakesh and the sights and sounds as we hurried after the barrow man were just as I'd imagined! As we made our way through Place Jemaa el-Fnaa to find our accommodation, I realised that in our sleep deprived & shattered state (thanks to 36 hours up with a mere 2 hours sleep thrown in!), we would likely NOT have found it on our own… a fact that would be proven correct a lot sooner than we anticipated!! But as soon as we entered our Riad, a calm enveloped us.
Authentic, rustic & quaint, Riad Basma became our sanctuary – even just the process of opening the door into the tiny alley and closing it behind us brought a sense of peace. Our room had a separate bathroom, stained glass window shutters over wrought iron frames, Moroccan lamps and carved woodwork. Our balcony overlooked a lovely little courtyard with beautiful furniture and tile work. Up on the roof area where we had our breakfast under a tented area to avoid the sun, we enjoyed even more blue Moroccan pots with olive & lemon trees - I was in heaven! :)
After unpacking, we thought we’d just pop out to get some food and water before getting some sleep. It was about 3pm and we'd only got as far as the end of the alley when a man stopped us and suggested that we go with him to the tannery. He told us it would only be open today and it was lucky we were there on this day!! He said to follow him and for no money he would take us...
'Not far...' he said.
We told him that we had no camera and had only wanted food and water but gullibly followed him anyway. OMG! We walked through a labyrinth of tiny streets that got less and less populated as we went, following a guy who though was speaking English, we had no idea what he was saying! Then the smell hit us and got stronger and stronger the further we walked.
Finally, we were handed over to another Muslim tanner (old, scar-faced, toothless). He straight away gave us a handful of mint leaves to crush and hold to our noses while again telling us how lucky we were to see the tannery on the only day it was open. We noted there were no other tourists there at all (a moment of eekkkkk!) while he explained in his, well, pigeon English that they used pigeon shit for ammonia to soften and bleach the hides. There was another guy nearby scrapping them and animal hair was lying around in clumps on the ground along with all sorts of heaven knows what amongst the concrete tanning baths.
We were simply in no state to be doing this and we made to leave when he ushered us up some stairs to another area. There we were introduced to another guy who took us into his shop. Admittedly, there were some beautiful poofs, shoes, bags, belts etc but we were just too exhausted to look around. This guy seemed very nice but we really just wanted to go. On our way out, we were accosted again by the old scar-faced man who demanded payment of 200 dirhams for the co-operative ($45nzd). We ended up only giving him 50, which he was not happy about, and of course, there was no one to take us back to where we came from…. we were on our own!!
Luckily, the Riad receptionist had made it very clear that if we got lost to not panic and simply embrace the experience… which we tried as best we could in the heart of the souk with simply no idea where we were and surrounded by strangers who all wanted to and tried to give us directions (mostly wrong) – for a price!
Our short mission of a few minutes to get food and water had lasted THREE hours!!! We did get water for 6 dirhams (yay to not getting ripped off!) and a tasteless (and expensive) pizza at the French hotel on the square. On the upside, we bought some delicious mandarins before making it back to Riad Basma to fall exhausted into bed by 7.30pm.
What a crazy adventure for our first day in Morocco!