Today has been a perfect day; the gods have been smiling upon me. My timing has been spot on allowing me to maximise my time, my shopping for souvenirs and gifts has been enjoyable - I found everything I wanted to, buying from people I liked, and paying prices that were acceptable to me. I probably paid over the odds for a few items, but, oh, the joy of not having a strict budget to stick to! I usually barter so hard - maybe too hard - to get the best price; but now I am working, I have a wage to go back to - who cares if I pay a pound or two more than is necessary here and there? It's not such a big deal. The higher prices I pay now even out the times I am so very frugal and beat the locals down to prices that leave them little profit; swings and roundabouts. This time I am a holidaymaker, not a budget traveller. (I am not one of the Suitcase Brigade though - my bulging backpack is smiling at me from the corner of the room.)
My day began with breakfast - I made it today! I wanted to make the most of my hop-on-hop-off bus ticket, so made my way to the embarkation point. I had thought I may miss the 0900 departure, the first bus of the day, but I jumped on board just moments before the vehicle pulled away. This being my last day, I wanted to get as much out of it as possible. I was happy with the results from my 70-300mm lens yesterday, so used the same today; my spy lens, as I think of it. The combination of the long lens and the open topped bus allowed me to get some candid street shots of everyday life in Marrakech - just people going about their business, not the sort of thing that most people would bother taking...but then I am not most people.
Part of the joy of travelling to foreign lands for me is witnessing the differences of other cultures: the man on the motorbike with huge baskets for panniers that bulged with palm leaves; the altercation between the man on a bicycle and another pulling a large metal cart behind him; a horse pulling a cart laden with massive sacks of corn. Nothing earth-shattering, but all the more interesting to me for their ordinariness in this context. What would be bizarre at home is commonplace elsewhere - that was the big draw of India, everything was so very exceptional. Incidentally, if you feel this is an invasion of privacy, that I am wrong to photograph people without them being aware of it, that you would not like it yourself, I would remind you of just how often it happens to you everyday - particularly in Britain, where we have more CCTV cameras than any other nation on earth. I know that doesn't necessarily make it right, but I just wanted to make the point.
I got off at the Menera Gardens, photographing the camels that congregated outside the gates, and the olive pickers at work in the groves that line the main path. Just a short visit, then I returned to the bus stop a couple of minutes before the second bus of the day arrived. I stayed aboard for the rest of the route, listening to the commentary as I snapped my way around town, capturing a close up of the oranges on the trees that spring from the pavement, and storks nesting on the city walls. When the tour finished I returned to my room to change lenses - cringing at the amount of dust on the CCD - I'll have to give it a good clean when I get home.
Having ticked all the top spots off my sightseeing itinerary today was mostly reserved for shopping - and being so close to Christmas I had an excuse to go mad. Another advantage to a short trip is that I don't have to lug my goodies around with me, or worry about posting them home. I returned to the Ensemble Artisanal, where the prices are more or less fixed and you are free to browse without too much of the hard sell. However I found that the quality of the merchandise was not as good as I had seen in the souks, so only made a few small purchases there.
I left the main road and entered the narrow streets, soon finding a shop selling shoes - or babouches, as the leather slippers are known here. The vendor was a nice young man, and I warmed to him immediately. We discussed the differences and similarities in our cultures, and he was interested to hear where I had travelled to and what I thought of the various countries. He was university educated, but his father had sold shoes and he preferred to do the same rather put his Spanish degree to practical use. An American came by the shop, and I asked that he serve her first - worried that her presence would effect my price. While I waited I took the opportunity to snap a few shots (naturally!), then we did our business.
Around the corner I found a little shop selling boxes and other wooden wares that, unusually, had prices displayed - and quite reasonable ones at that. I selected a number of items, and the blue-eyed shopkeeper allowed me a discount for my bulk purchase. I had to visit the ATM before I could complete the sale, but I successfully negotiated my way to the main square and back again. It seems that, on my last day in Marrakech, I have finally got my bearings. My shopping spree was in full swing now, and I bought until my bag neared bursting point. I even managed to find a shop I had visited two days ago, where I had seen an exquisite mirror that my heart desired, and had a pleasant conversation with the personable owner. We drank mint tea and struck a deal, and I went off as happy as a sand boy. I was carrying too much to walk home comfortably, but finally figured out where the buses leave from (up until now I've only caught buses into the centre as I was unable to find the stop for those heading out).
I emptied my bag, put my long lens back on, and jumped aboard another bus back into town. As nice as the quiet rooftop cafe that I had visited last night had been, I wanted a different perspective tonight, so I went to Cafe du Grand Balcon and surveyed the proceedings below. Fortuitously - not five minutes after I had arrived - the people at the table next to where I stood, left. I looked down upon the square and all its activity, watching the watersellers tempt tourists to photograph them, the snake charmers wrapping their serpents around onlookers' necks, tapped my feet to the acrobats' drums - I only realised how loud these guys were when they stopped. Once the call to prayer begins - starting up from one mosque, soon followed by approximate echoes from the rest - the melee in the square is replaced by a reverent hush, allowing the faithful to concentrate on Allah.
I ignored the sunset tonight, concentrating instead on the excitement in Jemaa el Fna. The light softened, then faded; shadows grew long, then disappeared. The silver sliver of the new moon became evident in the evening sky, as the smoke from the foodstalls curled up into the night. As the natural light left, so the artificial lights came on - electric lights over the stalls selling orange juice and fruit and nuts, small gas lamps for the Blue Men with their unusual selection of products spread out on the ground, bright bulbs over the foodstalls, and the occasional flash of fire from their pans. My shutter speed slowed, and I rested my camera on the balcony, selecting stationary figures in the sea of movement to produce a mixture of sharp focus and blurred shapes.
It had been dark a long while by the time I left. I was going to return to the souks, but as I walked across the square I realised I was hungry. I popped into my favourite cafe for some more yummy pasta and a pot of mint tea. The premium tables on the first floor, those next to the balcony, were all taken when I arrived, but just after I ordered one became free so I switched, enabling me to take more photographs - what joy! I was tempted, after my main course, by a chocolate mousse - but it was not as light as I had expected, and very rich. It goes to show what a fantastic time I have had, when the only thing I can complain about all day is a mousse that was too thick and chocolattey.
I spoke to two Norweigens - they recognised me from the rooftop cafe the previous night. They asked me if there was much to do in Marrakech, said that they had walked around the old city & visited the Marjorelle Gardens and were now at a loss. It was their first full day in Morocco and they seemed disappointed. I think my surprise was evident, and I gave them a few suggestions - things that I had done and some that I had not, such as a trip to the Atlas Mountains. Personally I found more than enough in the city to keep me occupied. Someone had told them that the museums were not worth visiting, so I assured them that they were - especially as they were both into photography. I hope they manage to turn things around and enjoy the rest of their trip.
It has been a truly wonderful week, I'm so glad I came. Emotionally and spiritually I am refreshed and renewed - although physically I am in a fair bit of discomfort. I had an accident at work last month, a head on collision in my van, and when the airbag activated I think I may have cracked a rib. The pain in my side - especially when I cough or sneeze (both of which I have been doing a lot, thanks to the pollution) - is getting worse rather than better, so I think I'll get it checked out when I return home. Still, as my father - than man whom I admire most in all the world - says, you've got to have a little pain to know that you're alive.
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