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Marrakech, Day Five

11th November 2007, Remembrance Day

Woke up at 0230 this morning after having a strange dream involving vampire children - most odd! Got back to sleep, but awoke feeling a little tired. Still, I had breakfasted and caught the bus into town soon after nine, and made my way to the Bahia Palace. Morrocans build wonderful houses, and this one is no exception. Built in the 1860s for the Grand Vizier (the equivalent to a prime minister), and extended thirty years later by his son, the palace contains room after room of opulence. There are elegantly tiled floors throughout, delicately carved walls, and exquisitely painted woodwork, including doorways and fireplaces - the ceilings in particular are breathtaking. The place is huge, but was overrun with tour groups (bloody tourists!); it was tricky getting a foreigner-free shot.

Bahia Palace, Marrakech, MoroccoBahia Palace, Marrakech, MoroccoBahia Palace, Marrakech, Morocco

On leaving the palace I visited Maison Tiskiwin which contains a number of items from Morocco and the Sahara collected by a Dutch anthropologist. Were I able to read French, I could tell you a lot more about them, but I can't. I toured the building quickly and proceeded to my next destination. Me in Abdul's Shop, Marrakech, Morocco

The Dar Si Said museum was closed due to an exhibition, but this proved fortunate in a way, as I got to make a new friend. Abdul runs a small shop next to the museum, selling all manner of things from jewellery to carpets and even locks salvaged from ancient doors. I told him that I had very little money (this was true, as I'd tried to withdraw some cash from an ATM the previous night, but the transaction was refused; luckily my card was returned), but he said not to worry and invited me to stay for some tea - Berber hospitality, he explained. He said that his shop, which has been in his family for over seventy years, was like a small museum anyway, and he could give me explanation of the things therein. I must admit that I was expecting a hard sell at some point, but it never came.

Abdul's Shop, Marrakech, Morocco

I remarked to Abdul that I found Morocco to be very laid back, more so than somewhere such as Egypt. He reasoned that this was because Morocco was home to three different races: the Berbers, the original inhabitants of Morocco, hailing from the mountains; Tuaregs, the desert nomads known as the Blue Men due to their dazzling robes dyed with indigo; and the Arabs. Abdul is Berber, and Tashelheit is his first language - three distinct Berber languages exist, one from those from the northern mountains, another for the central region and a third from the southern peaks. Arabic is taught at Koranic school, and then French once the children attend state school at the age of six. Abdul also speaks English, German and Spanish, due to his dealings with tourists.

He showed me some of his wares, explaining where the colours that decorated some of the plates had come from, and pointing out which ones used modern chemicals rather than natural methods. Mostly we simply sat and drank tea. I looked at pictures of his Californian friends - he recently helped them to buy a house in the mountains nearby. I spotted a silver pendant I liked, a traditional design. We negotiated Berber style, each writing our price on either side of a line, and found one that we both felt comfortable with. Before we began I had reminded him that I had little money on me, but said I would come back with it, so once we had agreed a price Abdul showed me how to make a Berber promise - a complicated handshake that would have confused a New York rapper. I asked for directions to Jemaa el Fna, found a co-operative ATM, and returned to put my money where my mouth was.

Isis Spa, Marrakech, Morocco

I fancied visiting a hammam, a communal steam bath. I'd been to a proper one in Turkey (it is a Turkish Bath, after all) and, as wonderful as the experience was, I felt slightly apprehensive about visiting on my own - in Turkey I had been with my fellow travellers from the Overland truck, and I thought I may feel inhibited were I to go solo. There are other options in Marrakech though; I decided instead to visit the Isis Spa, which combines modern treatments with more authentic ones. I attempted to find the place on my own and failed, so approached one of the touts in the square and got him to lead me there. I supped on a mint tea whilst perusing the extensive menu, and plumped for a treatment consisting of a steam room, mud mask, full body scrub followed by an hour long massage. It cost 25, but I figured I was worth it...and I'm sure something like that would cost much more at home, so in fact I was saving money!

After changing into bikini bottoms and the robe provided I was ushered into a small, warm room where bowls of scorching hot water were poured over me by a cheerful girl. She slathered on thick goo, which smelt of eucalyptus, and left me for a few minutes before returning to rinse it off. Next I was thoroughly scrubbed with a rough mitt - I imagined it was a similar sensation to that a tiger cub would feel while being licked by her mother's rasping tongue. She pointed out the dead skin that was being removed, and assured me that it was quite normal. I was covered in mud mixed with henna, which was left on for a short while before the hot water sloshed it away, leaving my skin soft and glowing. She handed me my robe and led me to the terrace where I awaited my masseuse. We went downstairs into a sweetly scented room where I was treated to a wonderfully relaxing massage that left me floating on air. A great way to spend a couple of hours.

I managed to find my way back to the square where I dined on a delicious three-cheese pasta. Feeling refreshed and restored I explored the souks, shopping and browsing in equal measures. One item of clothing that delights me here are the jellabahs - which are worn by women as well as men. The long-sleeved garments are ankle length and, curiously, have pointed hoods; it is quite the norm to be a hoodie in Morocco. I noticed yesterday that the hoods can have an extra purpose, other than the obvious. I saw a man with a newspaper sticking out of his - I should point out that he wasn't wearing it over his head at the time - handy to have the space if you run out of room in your pockets. I am now the proud owner of a white and grey striped one, along with a couple of tunics (like the jellabahs but shorter) and a woolly hat which I will wear to work, no matter how much stick I get! As the light faded I returned to Jemaa el Fna to observe the evenings festivities, then made my way back to the hotel. What a fulfilling day.

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