I did not realize it at that time, but this was about the time that the pace of the tour started to slow down – bit by little bit.
The second day in Marrakesh was a “free” day for those who chose to hang out in the city on our own. Others of us signed up for a tour of the Ourika Valley.
This is a picture of the front of our hotel as we were preparing to leave for Ourika valley. Without realizing it, I had managed to capture the image of a security officer in the frame. I have a feeling he deliberately took action to hide his face.
There was a person selling pictures that he had taken of us the previous day. He had set himself up next to the bus we were boarding. It was not uncommon to have vendors come up to our bus as we were getting off or boarding to sell us things.
Our first stop in the valley was to visit a Berber home. We were told that the home over over 130 years old. 6 people live here. Two women were helping to take care of the tour groups wandering around their home. We had access to all areas of the home except the bedrooms.
There was a tea ceremony in the main room of the house at the end of the tour, its timing having been adjusted so that the family living in the house could manage the multiple tour groups moving through their home.
Tea ceremonies are used for occasions like meetings of tribes or meeting of families for match making. Sometimes, the outcomes of the meetings can be signaled via the process of the tea ceremony itself, for example, by the use of sugar in the tea.
This is a picture of the royal family in the area where we had the tea ceremony. A picture of the king is apparently a common sight in homes in Morocco. The picture above turns out to be a somewhat ironic commentary on the state of relationships in the royal family. Breaking with tradition, King Mohammed VI had married a commoner, Lalla Salma (top left of picture). They had met in a social setting when they were young. The princess consort turned out to be popular. She has served as a representative for the country at different international gatherings. She has also championed progressive projects in the country over the years. However, since those times, there has apparently been a falling out in the family. She has not been seen in any public role for years. The pictures still remain!
We drove to the end of the road along the Ourika river and valley, with a stop along the way for enjoying the scenery. I thought the view at that particular spot was not as spectacular as those we had already experienced. There were locals selling merchandise along the roadside.
There were a few camels in the area where we stopped, probably to give rides to the tourists. One of them had two of its legs tied together loosely with rope, perhaps to prevent it from trying to walk away. It had some difficulty moving and seemed uncomfortable. I did not enjoy seeing that.
The valley was actually quite pretty in many other locations. I took pictures from the moving bus.
We reached the end of the road where the bus had to turn around. There was a restaurant, empty at that time, on the other side of the Ourika river, with bridges across the river allow customers to reach it. The restaurant actually stretched out for a long distance along the side of the river. This is a view of one particular section.
In general, the road itself did not seem to be designed for use by tourist buses like the one we were on. It was narrow in places, with occasional overhangs where the branches of trees would scrape against the bus.
We stopped on the way back to town at a restaurant for use of the restrooms and for relaxation. I was feeling a little nervous about my innards at that point and stayed away from food and drink. Fortunately, everything turned out OK.
Here is a view from the rest area.These are other views during the ride.
The next stop on our way back was at the botanical gardens for a tour. This place specialized in herbs.
After the tour, we had a relaxed barbecue lunch of chicken and ground beef with cooked Moroccan salad, all prepared on the outdoor grill. We ate outdoors in the company of the noisy birds and the one cat begging for food.
This was the end of the tours for the day. We were going to be on our own the rest of the day. We had had a lovely and relaxed time so far. We walked back to the main road to get on the bus to head back to the hotel.
We were able to relax in our hotel room in the afternoon.
We took a walk into town in the evening. We first walked to the train station. It was located on the Boulevard Mohammed VI, the road that the hotel was close to.The opera house is next to the train station, on the other side of the traffic circle.We then walked the streets to the Jemma el-Fna square.
It was late in the evening by the time we got to the square.
We walked around looking for a place where we could eat with a good view overlooking the square. We encountered some other members of our tour group enjoying the evening from one of the cafes beside the square during our wanderings. We chatted with them and moved on.
We ended up at Zeitoun restaurant, seen in this picture taken the morning of the previous day. (The restaurant is to the right side of the picture.)
We headed up to the terrace of the restaurant. (The sides of the terrace are covered by transparent plastic sheets in the picture above, but the sheets had all been moved out of the way be the time we arrived in the evening.) We were greeted by our waiter to be, Aadnane. He was a very friendly chap who appeared to be completely at ease in dealing with tourists like us. (For some reason, I was thinking that he must have been exposed to cultures outside of his country.) The restaurant seemed to be somewhat full. We first parked ourselves on a low sofa seat next to the railing overlooking the square – facing the bright setting sun. It was a little uncomfortable. We got a promise from Aadnane that we would be seated at a more comfortable table next to the railing as soon as the couple that was currently seated in that location departed. Aadnane also passed on this message to his compatriot serving customers on the terrace. It was a promise that was kept.
I sensed that all of the customers on the terrace were tourists. Some folks were there just to chill out, having some snacks and drinks (non-alcoholic, apparently due to the proximity to a few mosques), waiting for the sun to set. (I tried the non-alcoholic beer. I should have known ahead of time that this would not be satisfying.)
One couple seated close to us just started playing cards at their table – with a promise to the waiter that they would order dinner later. The staff did not seem to mind. Consider that these were the prime seats in the restaurant, with the best view of the square and the sunset. There was no push to try to get us out of the way and maximize their income. Nobody rushed us while we were there. I was impressed.
A unique and unforgettable scene unfolded below and around us as the sun set.
The place was completely alive! The lights were being turned on for the evening for the shops that had been set up on the square. The tourists were wandering around in droves. There was another restaurant like ours on the other side of the square where tourists were also enjoying the scene. There was the one vendor of toys walking around shooting off some lighted toy high into the sky above the crowds, letting it slowly drift back down to earth, and retrieving it every time it landed on the ground. I kept looking at what he was doing, drawn to the lit-up object going up and down in the sky – in the midst of all the other random activity going on the square below it. The whole environment was completely mesmerizing.
Aadnane kept up his good spirits when serving our food, playing a joke on me when he brought out it out, leading me to believe for an instant that there was some kind of a problem with the order when there was not. The food was tasty, but there was too much of it! Between the food and the activity in the square, we were truly transported to a different place and kind of experience. What a superb and unique way to celebrate my birthday! We paid our bill downstairs, on our way out of the restaurant, after dinner. Aadnane accompanied us downstairs, offering us rosewater to clean our hands. He was, hopefully, happy with the tip that we left him!
As we started on our way back to the hotel, we passed just opened food stalls that were packed into the center of the square.Hustlers were stopping the passers-by inviting them for a meal.(We had been warned earlier by Youssef about eating at these kinds of places.)
We passed the now lit up juice stalls we had seen during the day.
These are shots taken as we departed the square.
After leaving the area we continued to walk through streets far away from the square that were still busy with activity even though it was late in the evening. We then got on some quieter streets with very few people around – trying to not look like tourists! We were alert even though the streets did seem to be safe in that part of town. The median on Mohammed VI Boulevard was a notable landmark as we neared our destination.
Soon we were back in our hotel room reliving the events of another wonderful day in Morocco!
You can read the next blog in this sequence here.