Some of my friends refer to me as the rainmaker: wherever I go it always seems to rain. In 2005 I spent the whole year travelling – shooting a book on Islands around the World. In all but one of these places I saw some rain. Sometimes just a few minutes – other times a few days. I have been to supposedly drought-struck Ethiopia three times, and been rained on each time! Sod Bob Geldoff, what Ethiopia really needs is me. I might not be able to feed the world, but I can certainly make sure that it is watered!
I mention this because I am currently in Marrakech, and after four clear and sunny days, it has just coded over and delivered a short sharp shower, which has sent everyone running for cover.
Marrakech is a cool place – just three hours from London, and still steeped with the mysticism of North Africa. It also has a good sprinkling of spas and decent restaurants to help the style-conscious traveller recover from a day pounding the unbelievably sprawling souk desperate to discover something that they actually want. As well as the miles of tourist tat, there are spice markets, selling all manner of medicinal herbs and spices (and even tortoises and chameleons as pets as well as worryingly a number of leopard skins)
The main square in Marrakech is the Jemaa el Fna which loosely translated means ‘the place where tourists come to watch Moroccans in funny hats mistreating animals and small boys’. Actually in means assembly of the dead, which sounds tremendously nihilistic.
All manner of crazy north African entertainment is on show here: snake charmers torment reptiles, including stuffing them in glasses of water, and shoving eggs in their mouths – then introduce them to captured chipmonks presumably to prove they are still poisonous (I didn’t wait around to find out). Caleche drivers whip aged horses to a gallop, and enterprising fellows walk around with barbary apes on chains and force them to pose with tourists. Later in the evening, young boys are encouraged to box to the delight of the locals who crowd around like they are watching a playground fight. On a non-animal theme, old water sellers dressed up in pom-pom hats and African drummers with hat tassels charge for photos. At night, scores al fresco foodstalls spring up, selling freshly cooked seafood and grilled meats.
Update: I have just got back from a particularly damp evening stroll and a selection of food from these stalls and it is still raining. But I am not worried. Luckily I invested in the Time Out Guide to Marrakech for this trip. They started off as the London weekly listings magazine and have no diversified. into guidebooks with a particular emphasis on funky lively places that people go to for long weekend breaks. Now someone I was speaking to yesterday who made the mistake of buying the (Australian) Lonely Planet guide told me that there were no bars in the ancient and holy Medina, which makes up the centre of Marrakech. My Time Out guide lists five – six if you count the Kosybar, which is mainly a restaurant. Let that be a lesson to you: buy British. We always know where to get a drink, and what to do when it rains!
Words and pictures © Steve Davey 2008