Marrakech | getting our bearings

We awoke excited and ready to go and explore Marrakech.

As we bounded out to the upstairs patio for breakfast in the sun we were promptly told that the food would instead be served downstairs.

It was raining. 

NOoooo!!!

We sat and absorbed this information whilst our table was heavily laden with bread, cakes, pancakes and a whole host of conidments. 

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By the time we got outside the rain had cleared, leaving uncrowded and fresh streets for us to roam. Even through slight cloud the streets were bursting with colour and it was beautiful!

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Our first stop of the day was, by recommendation, the tannery. This is of course nothing to do with my usual Saturday night preparations with a bottle of St Tropez, but is where all the leather that we could see surrounding us in the form of shoes and bags is made. Finding it, though, presented a whole challenge of its own. The maps in Marrakech are terrible and there are next-to-no street signs – I don’t think this an oversight on their part, though. Instead, it means that, try as you might, you will eventually have to ask someone for directions, and consequently will have to pay them for their knowledge. We were quick to learn that you can do very little in morocco without paying someone for something. 

We held our heads high and pretended to know exactly what we were doing and where we were going, but it wasn’t too long before a kind-looking man managed to persuade us to follow him. He said he didn’t want money, and we could just follow (yeh right…) and with no other option but to get even more lost in the very similar-looking streets, we let ourselves be lead.

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We would have found it on our own if we’d have had wifi but at this point we were still living in the dark ages and had absolutely no means of pinpointing our own location, let alone where we had to get to. The tannery turned out to be well-tucked away within a less-touristy area, which made for a beautiful walk, surrounded by far truer Marrakech life than the tourist hot-spots such as the souks and medina. The man we followed kept farting really loudly but did not seem fazed by it! We later heard other locals doing similar so it seems it’s not quite as embarrassing there as we consider it here!

NB: Photos are taken at funny angles as I was being VERY sly about taking them. Not only do directions mean money, but being subject of a photograph usually equates to some expectation of payment. 

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The tanneries are genuine and there to serve the purpose of leather-making, not as an informative museum or gallery. Therefore they are rustic, slippery and smell a bit (reviews online suggested a real stench, but it’s actually ok – it’s no worse than you’d expect from dead animal skins and you’ll be given mint leaves to waft around your nose!) BUT do be prepared to be charged for the trip. We weren’t able to agree a fee before the trip as everyone kept trying to tell us it would be free (which we knew it wouldn’t be but couldn’t get them to commit to a price). Then, once we’d been through the tannery we were taken to a small shop where they got very cross when we said we didn’t want to buy anything, and then they demanded 200DH/£16 for showing us around. We managed to settle on 50DH (£4) between us, which we were happy to pay in exchange for directions, a brief tour, photos and of course to prevent a huge argument as they were very pushy. It’s good to know in advance how much you’ll pay because when they’re shouting numbers at you it’s not particularly pleasant and can be hard to think straight! We held up well as we knew we’d have to pay so were ready for it when the barrage of abuse came!

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So a little about the tannery – it’s an open roofed ‘factory’ with loads of concrete ‘pools’ in all different colours, which the leather will make its way through over the course of a few weeks as it is prepared for use.

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The place is awash with men at work. First the leather is left for a few days in a mix of pigeon poo and tannery waste, as a sort of primer. Next the skin is soaked for a few days in a lime wash which removes remaining hair and skin. The next step is another pigeon poo dip to soften the fibres as the chemicals in it break various parts down. Next the skins are dyed and finally stretched out as they dry.

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Reviews online warned of a stench and of scamming, but it’s really just people trying to make money. You should definitely expect to pay, so just make sure you ask plenty of questions and get some nice piccies to make your money worthwhile!

When we managed to relieve ourselves from the tannery men we realised we had no idea where we were.

There’s such a beauty and calmness in being totally lost but with no real need to get anywhere in particular.

So, off we strolled.

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I love picking up tasters of things I like the look of in random little shop windows. Usually the places that just offer a morsel of one or two things along the streets are the cheapest, as they’re not used to tourists buying from them (apparently we prefer somewhere we can sit and read the english menu first) so they’re cheap and cheerful! I had the most divine fried, salted aubergine from a street stall that I could have eaten BAGS more of!

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We decided to follow a Trip Advisor recommendation and tried to hunt down the Henna Café. Unsure who to trust without having to pay them to point, we turned to two policemen who shrugged their shoulders and pointed us in a direction that felt completely wrong! Fortunately a local man minding his stall corrected them and sent us the opposite way with really clear directions. And didn’t ask for a penny!

You just never know who you can trust in this place!

Unfortunately, like many things recommended on Trip Advisor, we quickly discovered that Henna Cafe was overly touristy, with every guest being a European traveller. My advice (in hindsight) if you’ve more of an adventurous nature, is to try and read up on travel blogs by those similar to you. That way you’ll know their tips and advice will suit your style.  Trip Advisor in Mocorro seems to be overrun with nervous and unadventurous tourists who can’t bear to be too far outside their comfort zone so it took us a while to really feel thrown into Moroccan culture.

That said, they did serve good, piping hot food to warm us up from the rain that had just started to drop through the bamboo roof.

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And, I got to have my first ever Henna tattoo. What a tourist!!

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The rain got heavier after this so we had to hot-foot it back to our riad for a change of clothes. More about this very soon! Xx

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One thought on “Marrakech | getting our bearings

  1. Lovely account of an exotic excursion – bravo to 2 young Brits! Gave me a great flavour of ‘how it was’. I reckon it took a bit of courage, when all is said and done xxx

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