Jackson Bentley: “What attracts you personally to the desert?” T.E Lawrence: “It’s clean.” After watching the sweeping epic, Lawrence Of Arabia in 2009 at the young age of 19 I had always wanted to travel toward Africa to experience the country the people and the culture for myself. Luckily I had the opportunity to be able to fly over to North Africa to Marrakesh courtesy of my hosts at the Riad Cinnamon, to get an insight into the country personally. From the instant I arrived in Marrakesh I truly felt as if I had landed in a scene from a “David Lean” film. From the expanding views of the Sahara Desert, Atlas Mountains and the famous Red city itself on route to touchdown, to getting off the plane and feeling the windy desert heat on your skin. After the relatively short business of paperwork at the airport, including filling out a form explaining how long you will be a guest of the country and the purpose of your visit. (“I have recently seen Lawrence of Arabia.” not being an acceptable answer.) Once outside Marrakesh airport i was promptly met by the friendly driver, who introduced himself to me as Rachid, he quickly proceeded to take it upon himself to be my personal guide and historian for my first venture into North Africa and my stay at the incredible Riad Cinnamon. Whilst on the eventful journey Rachid (in better English than my Arabic) informed me that the dates of the walls surrounding the road leading into the Old City were from the 9th Century. The drive through the incredibly noisy streets into the Old City was an experience in itself from seeing three young men loaded onto a small moped with the rear passenger carrying a chicken under each arm to seeing an elderly man on a bicycle with a large television strapped to his back I had arrived in the Medina of Marrakesh, If you have never had the experience of going to Marrakesh and the Old City in particular personally, the only way to put an image of the stunning place in your head is to think of a scene from the Bible. Then add a load of whizzing motorbikes. No sooner had I arrived at my final destination at The Riad Cinnamon, I was met at the door by the bright smile of Abduh. My first sight upon entering Riad Cinnamon was that of the amazing courtyard filled with the natural sunlight of the African summer afternoon, and the small pool used to cool down when the mornings and the evenings got a little too hot (The afternoons being left to explore!). I was soon shown to the room that I would be staying in (The Fez suite, a large room with a grand view of the central courtyard, a luxurious en-suite and all the amenities one could ask for, including the amazingly personal and friendly staff who were there to supply me with everything I needed and drown me in the traditional brew of Morroco the hot sweet mint tea (Ber-Ber Whisky to the locals.) Soon after dragging myself away from my room and attentive hosts I
met a mother and daughter from Melbourne who were also staying at Riad Cinnamon. They were more than happy to take me into the Jamaa El Fna for my first night in the famous square!The Worlds’ Biggest Restaurant.
Although I had not experienced the Jamaa El Fna (Translated roughly to “Assembly Of the Dead” as during the 15th century it was used to hold public executions.) in daytime myself, I knew that it was dramatically different in the evening. The evening being left solely to the business of food, drink and entertainment. Huge billows of steam come off the food stands lit by the lights of the mobile restaurants partially hiding the view of the distant new city where the night clubs of Marrakesh are hidden for the revelers amongst us. Although there are other places to eat within cafes and restaurants with balconies, which offer stunning views of the rush of the square. I personally enjoyed eating al fresco in what was described to me as the “worlds largest restaurant” this is the place where the average Marrakshi ate to have a meal out, and if they don’t know where the good food is in there country who does? The choice of food on offer is staggering, from seafood caught fresh from Essaouira to chips to whole roasted lamb (Free range, naturally.) and all of it delicious! I decided to head over to the number 24 (Names of the food stalls being in numbers because a lot of the stalls look very much alike and it would only confuse people if every place had a Arabic title or an English one for that matter.) on the recommendation of Ali, a friendly man I had met earlier through my ramblings through the square. I managed to pick up one of Ali’s favorite (soon to become one of my favorites also.) dishes, half a freshly baked roll stuffed inside with a boiled egg, fried potatoes and goats cheese on top seasoned with a little salt. Although quite simple it was truly delicious and at a price of around 80 pence unbeaten for value! After eating my fill I left on the search of another recommendation to find the spiced tea vender to finish off my evening meal in the square in true Arabic style. Once I arrived back at Riad Cinnamon with a full belly and the helpful directions of the locals I decided to sit on the amazing roof terrace of the Riad which offered me comfortable seating and amazing views of the Ben Youssef Mosque and Atlas Mountains in the distance. As I relaxed in the cool Morrocan evening breeze I thought about my day ahead and what people back home would be doing whilst I was on a roof terrace enjoying views of the atlas mountains and the stunning Arabic architecture. It is amazing how a little 3000 miles away from home can relax and take away your troubles! George Bush, Sex, Snakes and Monkeys.I had woken up from a deep slumber in what should be lauded as possibly the most comfortable bed in Africa, (and I have slept in many beds.) to have a quick shower and to go downstairs to bask in the heat of the courtyard. Once I had arrived downstairs I was greeted by the sight and smell of a breakfast that was prepared for me by one the female staff members who are always on hand, Jamille had made for me a steaming pot of sweet mint tea, with some fresh bread rolls with fig jam, butter,local honey and orange marmalade, she had also prepared a deliciously refreshing fruit salad for my awaiting adventures of the day. After tearing myself away from the homely comforts of the Riad I decided to venture once again into the Souks. After negotiating my way through the narrow dusty paths of the city (once again with the directions given to me by the locals whom strangely always seem to know where you want to go.) I came face to face with the daytime side of the famous square. Arriving for the first time the square for me was a mind boggling experience and a feast for all the senses, motorbikes rushing to attend to business, traditionally dressed water salesman selling water from leather pouches to thirsty travelers, dancers, market traders, tribesman arriving in from the Sahara desert to sell antiques, musicians and a whole host of other interesting things which would fill up another article; as with all things it is best to see for yourself! My first order of business for the day was to get a glass of orange juice from one of the many stalls around the square, made from freshly grown and squeezed oranges it is an insanely tasty treat for a hot day and glasses can purchased from any of these stalls for around 5 dirhams a glass, a real recommendation to anyone visiting the city.Anyone who looks like a tourist in the Jem Al Fna can expect one of the snake charmers, (what I thought to be a fiction of Loony Toons cartoons turned an amazing reality) to take you to one side and wrap a snake around your neck for a photo opportunity, and of course a photo cannot capture these peoples colourful personalities and the blessings they will be sure to give you, “Good luck, Good business, Good sex, Good life.” Thank you Marrakesh.
I soon wondered back into the souks to see what the fortunes of the day ahead would bring my way. I bought myself a lot attention from all the stall holders who I passed by wanting me to personally go in and inspect the goods on offer, I firmly declined most offers as I only wanted to explore my new surroundings further without making any purchases straight away, a handy tip in this situation would be to know that ALL Morrocan businessmen are also Oscar worthy actors able to act anger and feign shock in a moments notice depending on prices you offer in the definite haggling war that will ensue when you are to purchase anything. It is worth to note that haggling is a part of Morrocon and Arabic culture spanning back centuries and a expected and accepted part of buying anything in the Old City the act of shock or anger at small prices offered in the haggle are not meant to offend but a traditional part of the process! I found the market in the daytime to be an amazing and surreal experience and I have never then and up until now experienced anything like it in the world. Some of the surreal events unfolding around me being when a teenage boy in the efforts of selling me some “Dolce&Banana” jeans told me that it was better quality than Primark, and proceeded to tell me that his goods are much better than anything found in “Pri-marni”! incredible, or when I went into one shop after another in the search of a good pipe for a friend and got shown the same photo-shopped picture of George W. Bush shaking hands with the shop owners. All four of them having photo-shopped themselves in to a photo with George Bush, to show me how important the rugs and pipes they were selling are! Long Live Morroco! Onwards Home. With great sadness the time had come for me to finally head back to the U.K. had dawned upon me, my time in the amazingly welcoming and friendly country of Morroco, a paradise for peace, culture, entertainment and photography, will not be forgotten and the things that i have seen and experienced within the city were most definatly unique once in a lifetime opportunities. There is much to see and do in Morroco a lot of which can never be written down into one article. The only real way to see the beautiful “Red City” is to hop onto a plane and experience the place,the people and the culture for yourself. I am indebted to my hosts at the Riad Cinnamon for having me and for the customs of Morroco for allowing me to bumble around the city for a week. I urge anybody who is thinking of heading for a holiday to visit this truly wonderful and unique part of the world for themselves, and staying at the heart of the Medina in the luxurious and peaceful oasis of the Riad Cinnamon wont hurt either! If you enjoyed Deniz’s article you might want to check out ‘Portrait of a Man and two Women’ a short story by Anita Flowers.