It still hadn’t sunk in the we were in Morocco, but each time I remember it’s just as exciting all over again.
On our arrival on Saturday night we got a small feel for the culture as we walked to our Riad (Moulay Said), what stood out instantly were the men and the attention they gave out to us, mainly the girls. However we were pre-warned of this before we travelled. we settled in and immediately headed into the main square to grab a bite to eat. I experienced my first vegetable couscous (with a large helping a bread) of the week, and oh boy was it tasty! We headed straight back to get a good nights sleep as we knew we had a busy day ahead on the Sunday.
With a 9am departure we filled our bellies ready for the day. First of all we headed to the Marjorelle Gardens, where we saw the house in which he once lived in, now turned into a museum. The gardens were on fire with beautiful colours and breathtaking architecture, not forgetting the mass amounts of plants and trees swarming the place. It was a Haven. So many blues, yellows and Terracotta’s. We also saw the Yves Saint Laurent gardens and the memorial too, beautiful. From there we went to the Cyber Park, where I stuck my finger in the fountains and skipped in the sun. After that we headed to the Mosque and to the ruins. The sun beamed down on our shoulders with heights of 20 degrees! Lucky us! From there we went to the Saadian Tombs, where the shiny things in the market stalls began to catch my eyes, and I bought myself a set of lovely postcards to send to loved ones on my arrival home. My camera never left my hand. Already I’m being filled with mass amounts of inspiration, I almost don’t know what to do with it all; the colours here are something from a dream and I never want to wake up. The food tastes how the city looks. We then went to see a pharmacist, which wasn’t mentioned on the Itinerary for the day but it was a lovely surprise. There we were spoken to and taught about all of the spices, oils and seeds and how they affect your body and health, not forgetting the taste of your food. It was here that I learnt that natural Argon Oil is very good for Psoriasis, which is something I struggle with (a skin condition), so I left there feeling very positive about the new oil treatment I had discovered. We were then taken for a meal where we feasted over traditional Moroccan foods. We were then taken to the Souks, now they really were the deffinition of a Labrinth! You didnt want to loose sight of your friends in there, it didn’t feel like we’d see each other again if we did so! The narrow paths were laden with precious items, from cermaics, woodwork, shoes, jumpers, slippers, bags, you name it, they have it! Throughout the day we were making mental notes of thr places we would like to revisit as we only spent brief amounts of time in each place. The tour was a nice ice-breaker, almost like a crash course to get us used to what to expect from the coming week.
With croissants all over our faces we headed to ‘Clock Cafe’, where Milo had arranged beforehand to do a collaborative piece of Graffiti art on one of the walls within the building, so together we all sat and watched as he worked with his new partner. At this point in the day I was also feeling the creativity flow from the sun into my body so I began to draw my view from the roof terrace of the Cafe.
It felt very lovely to get some drawing, biting the bullet early in the week installed a confidence within me I was happy to accept. The afternoon was set to be interesting: the group ended up splitting, some staying with Milo at the Cafe, whilst Mabli, Emily and I headed back to the Riad in order to travel with the group to visit a blind school. Unfortunately the children were not there as they were on vacation (lucky for them though!) However we spoke for a while with Majoub, the headmaster of the school and his son too. What I found most interesting about this trip was that we realised that the communication barrier was not the lack of sight, but in fact the language, being unable to both speak and for them to see us, but all the same it was truly lovely to meet such an inspirational group of people.
Tuesday was wonderful, another day full of smells, spices, hello’s and haggling (and lots of it!) We grabbed breakfast and headed for the Souks. We woke up fresh and just knew this day would be a shopping day, so we got our lists at the ready and put our haggling heads on. One thing i’ve been 100% keen on buying whilst in Marakech is some wool to take home with me, and since being there I had struggled to find any. I’m currently knitting a blanket, made up of all different squares (Casting on 44 stitches) and I plan for each square to have a story, so it would be lovely to have a Marrakech square. Not Only that but i’d love to incorporate the wool into my work. So the struggle to find some continued until I walked past a lovely lady sat crocheting hats ready to sell. I lent down and asked politely to buy some of her wool, which she wound up for me and i popped it in my bag. I was overjoyed. She then handed me her crochet hook and began to show me how she makes her hats. She showed me the steps, handed it to me for myself to try, corrected me where I went wrong then encouraged me try again, it really was a lovely experience. Much like the blind school, me and this lady could only communicate through this creative process and that is something that I will treasure, and a story to follow me and my ball of wool back to England.
Another fresh start and another full day ahead. We headed to the Ben Youseff and to the Museum which was close by, which in the C12th and the C14th was used as a school, it was enormous! So many doors within doors. Spooky.
After a lovely long morning of wandering through these ancient mazes, using my pencil to take rubbing’s of tiles, text and texture, watching a wonderful calligrapher write my name in my sketchbook in Arabic, we grabbed some lunch, and of course, a mint tea (or two). After a little break and a natter, we found ourselves in the Souks once more. it was here that a young man saw me gazing over some hanging wool, which he then took us and led us into the depths of the Souks where the 2 day colour festival was being held. Here we were shown the dyes for the wool, where they are dyed and by whom. It was a very smokey and hard-hitting working environment, we struggled to breathe for the smoke and the smells, so the men that do the work there really have it cut out for them. We were then taken to the roof where we saw huge amounts of colour wool hanging to dry off ceilings across the Souks, it was so magical, like something I had never seen before! I felt very lucky to have seen this. The man that was showing us around then tied a little bit of wool around my wrist, after showing us how the colour will not run when wet. I then showed some interest in the possibility of buying some wool, and with a price in mind I began to look for the colour I wanted. It then became clear that this man wanted our money and his polite and welcoming nature began to fade. He wrapped head-dresses around mine and Emily’s head’s and took photo’s, and when we made it clear that we didn’t want to buy a scarf he had chosen for us he started to raise his voice slightly when mentioning prices! At this point we felt too uncomfortable and decided to make a run for it. He followed us for a little while but then it was soon forgotten about when we found ourselves in another beautiful little part of the Souks.
In the evening we headed to a restaurant that we had previously been too earlier in the week to watch the sunset and to catch the Mosque calls. It was lovely to be so high up and watch all the people scatter on the grounds below. It was here that I spent a few hours getting a roof top drawing done of the view, with a tagine and a mint tea in the mixer too. Once again it was lovely to get some drawing done, I had a certain level of confidence and relaxation in Marrakesh, maybe that was something to do with being in another country, if so I hope it follows me home.
Time seems to be going slow but the days come around so quickly! Today we have palaces planned, the Bahai and the Badi. Both quite near to where we were staying we decided to head to the Badi Palace soon. (Rumour has it, it’s ruled by feral cats!) Before we could head to the palaces we all had to attend tutorials. Here’s how mine went:
I took with me the polaroids I had taken so far on the trip, I also took with me the wool I had purchased from the lovely little lady on the streets. I spoke of the buildings, and how my focus of drawing had been on them so far. I highlighted how much I admire how wonky the city and its buildings are, this really stood out to me and is something I wanted to capture within my drawings. They contrast with the buildings back home in Cardiff. I’ve also become aware that I am keen on working with fabric, combining this with my drawings could result in something lovely, but for now that’s all I am aware of. The typography of the Arabic language has also stood out to me, along with thoughts of dying my own wool that I have bought. At the end of the tutorials I was told that I’ve got a lot of idea that I need to narrow down otherwise I’m going to have too much work for myself.
So the Badi palace was wonderful, it was a shell of what it used to be, which left the imagination to run wild to think of what it once was. Then or now, it was still breathtaking. It was ever so tranquil, relaxing. All I could think about was wanting to be able to transport here when I write my dissertation as it was so calming. But alas no.
When we went to the Bahai palace, it was a complete contrast to the last. This one with all its tiles still in tact, we wandered around soaking up the atmosphere once more. Here, the paintings on the wooden doors really stood out to me, they seemed ancient and full of stories and secrets, yet so delicate.
In the evening we headed to Clock Cafe for the opening for Milo’s collaborative piece. The place was full, and quite a few people from our group showed up too! We sat on the roof terrace and had handfuls of different flavoured milkshakes that were all being passed around the table to share. We then headed downstairs for some storytelling. There was 2 stories read in English to start off and then an Arabic reading. Throughout I was drawing, and a little Spanish family that was sat next to me noticed, and then the little girl asked me to draw her, so I did. For the remainder of the evening she carried her little drawing with her wherever she went. Another lovely little story about connecting with strangers with a language barrier in our way.
Friday was another highly anticipated day, the adventure up the Atlas Mountains! Thankfully the majority of the group wanted to do the same thing so we managed to organise a coach to take us all up there together. We had a great team of guides once again, and on the way to the mountains they took us to a few little lovely spots before we began the trek. We got to meet the women who make things such as the argon oils which are widely sold in Marrakesh, along with stopping at the tour guides home for some henna, mint tea and bread + dips. Here we got to see how the Berber villiages are made, and how people live within them. We were taught how the houses are made from the mud of the city, explaining why the city is a beautiful terracotta shade all over. We got to explore the house, finding beautifully structured rooms, leading out onto stunning views of the mountains. It was ever so exciting when we got to the point where we had to get off the coach and begin the walk up. But little did we know what was to come… leaping over rivers, balancing on sticks that were their equivallent of bridges, pulling ourselves and others up onto the highest of rocks! Non of us were prepared for this adventure, certainly not me wearing some casual dress i picked up from a charity shop… but that didn’t stop us. As soon as we got the oppurtunity Emily and I picked up some sticks to help us climb the mountain, and they stayed with us right until the very end.
When reaching the top it was so rewarding, the waterfall was beautiful and its sounds drowned out any thoughts or worries one might have. We stopped there for lunch and once again it became another one of those places I wish I could disappear too when I needed some peace. Then we had to climb down… this was even trickier than before, and on occasion I did leap on to the tour guides’ back in an attempt to save myself from plummeting to my death. You could tell that they visit the mountains often, they just leap from stone to stone without hesitation (we decided they must be mountain goats) it was a tiring day and most of us were ready for bed, but not before we all attended a group meal at a lovely restaurant not too far out, with a 3 course meal and belly dancers also! another lovely day. A good nights sleep ready for the next and last day was very needed.
The last day came around fast! With a taste all week of what we wanted to take back with us we went into the Souks with heads held high ready to haggle for some last minute treasures for loved ones, it was a lovely last day filling our bellies with as many mint tea’s and tajines as possible. I managed to get some lovely gifts to take home, including a handmade chessboard, lots of spices and tea, a rug for myself and i even managed to grab some more wool! A lovely emerald green this time. A successful day. Time for the plane journey home, and knitting with my new wool, farewell North Africa!