The Marrakech not such an express and a visit to the kasbah
16 December 2012
Alison; warm and sunny
Pic shows snake charmer and cobra in Marrakech's Jemaa el Fna square
We boarded the Fez to Marrakech express at Mohammedia's posh gare and discovered that a fair percentage of Morocco's population was already on the train or had decided to visit Marrakech with us. Nevertheless with a bit of pseudo French negotiation we got two comfortable seats and watched Morocco roll by over the next four hours. The express was a little slow, as it seemed to stop in a number of towns on the way. Casablanca was first up on the coastal plain and then we made our way across increasingly undulating bare hills - green and grassy, with the occasional olive grove and wandering sheep herd.
Marrakech's beautiful new railway station was in the middle of the new town,which was easy to negotiate along wide boulevards, parks and fountains.
Then came the medina and the souks. We had booked the cheapest hotel in Marrakech online as is our normal custom - a place called Riad Dar Nael. This appeared to be on the other side of the medina from the large, chaotic and lively square called Jemaa el Fna- a fatal mistake!. We dived into the warren of labyrinthine alleyways in pursuit of the cheapest guesthouse in Marrakech - this place made Kathmandu's maze of alleyways seem positively ordered and simple to navigate. We soon learned that honey tongued "helpers" who went out of their way to lead us through the alleyways or derbs, were keen to earn a dirham or two.
We eventually arrived at an ornate door down a dark alleyway which opened to reveal our hostess clothed in full burkha with a pair of glasses peering out from her veil, ready with a welcome glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.
It was a comfortabke retreat and we did finally manage to get to and from Jemaa el Fna twice more in our brief stay, eat couscous and watch the entertainment and activity all around us. The snowy peaks of the High Atlas, including 4000 odd metres high Jebel Toukbal (North Africa's highest peak) were etched against the blue sky in the distance. If we had been in Morocco a month or two earlier then we would probably have made a beeline for the open spaces of the mountains, but time is getting on this year.
With a stroll through Marrakech's kasbah this morning and past Royal Palaces, the mellah - the Jewish quarter- we are now on our way back to Mohammedia to get the boat ready for the next leg of our Atlantic journey.