In life, I suspect there are only so many times where you’d expect to be held up by a donkey reversing a cart stacked full gas cylinders down a two meter wide alley, challenged only by two oncoming motorbikes who (seemingly), have the upper hand when it comes to speed. Until Wednesday this week, I’d only been in this situation about twice in my life.
Admittedly, over the past couple of years, I’d begun to wonder when I would next find myself in a traffic jam with a reversing donkey and two oncoming motorbikes, and found myself positively relieved when it finally took place outside a watch battery vendor in the middle of the souk.
When I arrived in Marrakech over a week ago, I was met by the night manager of my riad who immediately offered me mint tea, followed closely by a beer. ‘I’d love a mint tea,’ I enthused before enquiring if he had a glass of wine to go with my dinner.
‘We have rosie wine just for you,’ he assured me.
For those who know me well, will also understand how much I love a glass of rosé.
Therefore, each day after hours of traipsing through the souks and visiting the thousands of museums and sites that Marrakech has to offer, before getting lost on the way home and dodging motorbikes screaming down alleyways, I’d reflect on the day with a glass of rosé, pondering the joys that are travel and the inspiration that marries with exploration.
In Marrakech the souks are made up of an absolute maze of stalls, and my only advice to anyone planning a visit to this amazing city is to just dive in and lose yourself in it all.
On Tuesday, towards the end of my first week in Marrakech, I found an incredible artisan cobbler named Monsieur Ahmed sitting in his tiny little studio just within the medina walls. Here, he weaves raffia shoes, cobbles leather sandals and will repair any type of shoe that you take to him. With his linguistic offerings being both French and Arabic, I spent an hour sifting through his wares, peppering pregnant pauses with daft offerings in French – ‘it nice,’ ‘so much perfect choice,’ ‘clever you Mr,’ before paying an advance and agreeing that I’d come back the following day to pick up my order.
A couple of hours later, I arrived home for my final night in Marrakech with an empty purse and a hankering for my daily glass of rosé.
I sat for what felt like hours waiting for the clock to strike seven, and by the time I discovered that my watch had in fact stopped, it was well after 9pm.
After two years on my wrist, my ever faithful Swatch had decided to fall asleep at cocktail hour.
The following morning I returned to Monsieur Ahmed’s store only to find it completely void of any sign of him, but still full to the brim with beautiful shoes – just as it had been the day before. Taking a seat on a little stool in the corner, I panned the walls in the event that I’d missed something, while counting the minutes as I waited for the Chinese whispers of the alleyway to work their magic and for Monsieur to make an appearance from the street.
Fifteen minutes passed before my new friend squeezed out of the attic high above, before navigating his way down a ladder – his portly little body wobbling with every step. ‘Ah, Madame’ he squealed with a smile, ‘shoes, shoes, shoes’. Trotting to his desk, he produced a bag and together we went through each pair, checking the laces and the stitching for faults – ‘et voila’ he exclaimed ‘for you I make chausseurs parfait’. They were perfect, bar one pair that had a tiny little defect where my foot becomes so wide that I think I almost frightened him. ‘Saturday,’ he promised, ‘return on Saturday for the all’.
Producing my watch, I clumsily asked where I could find a new battery -‘c’est fini’ he laughed before sneaking off down the alley, returning moments later, cross that his watch battery friend had closed his store for lunch. If I left my watch with him, did I have confidence that he would have that fixed by Saturday, he wondered.
I had every confidence that he’d have it ticking with absolute vigour by the time I returned on Saturday, but in an age where smart phones rule every minute of every day, I prefer to read time the old fashioned way, and the thought of three days consulting my phone with an empty wrist left me feeling completely naked.
‘Be careful, they are many’ Monsieur warned, wishing me luck with the battery, advising that if I turned left into the souk I would find a plethora of watch batteries. He also warned that most of them are ‘not so good’. Thanking him profusely, I waved goodbye and continued on my way.
Within ten minutes I had found a watch battery shop where two boys also sold speakers, transmitters, earphones, iPhones and covers for iPhones. After a few minutes involving a set of tweezers and rapid Arabic mutterings, my watch was ticking again at 11.24 am.
After a further fifteen minutes, the time hadn’t changed.
‘I would like a new battery,’ I said to the boys running the shop, only a bit flustered when I returned from a short walk where I’d admired a thousand raffia baskets and a fresh batch of kittens sunbathing in one pile decorated with alarmingly bright pom poms. As the kittens raised their paws as if to stop me in my tracks, I noticed it was still 11.24 am.
‘Oh yes, sorry Madame, a new battery’.
While I understand that we all need to buy a flat battery from time to time, today I would love a new battery for my watch, I explained, and with, that my little black time machine was dancing deep into the souks in the hands of a little petty thief who’d left me with the promise of ‘one minute, just one minute’.
Counting the minutes and wondering if I’d ever see my nifty Swatch again, it was in this moment that the cart stacked high with gas cylinders being reversed by a donkey in competition with two oncoming motorbikes, trotted backwards through my path.
Grabbing the the glass counter of the battery vendor and with no one to catch me in the (high) likelihood that I fall, I made every attempt to keep my eyes on the street awaiting the return of my Swatch, but found myself distracted and delighted that my moment had finally come. It was blissful, made even happier when not one, but two of the boys returned with a ticking watch that hasn’t stopped ticking since.
Marrakech is a heavenly place. The rosie is always chilled, there is someone kind around each corner and there are plentiful people who will sell you anything you need – flat watch batteries included.
This is a city full of history, and as I left the riad and climbed into my waiting car on Wednesday afternoon, I had plenty to reflect on after a short week in the pinkest town I ever did see.
Berber Lodge was next on my agenda, and after navigating our way through villages where the narrow roads were lined with rammed earth houses and sweet little children running alongside our car, I knew I’d reached some sort of paradise as we arrived at dusk.
I delighted in the olive groves, the pink peaks of the Atlas Mountains, the deafening silence and an open sky that was soon littered with stars, all made more beautiful with the warm welcome I received as my bag full of bricks was unloaded from the car.
More to come.
Pictured: the King above the door, as he is every door in Morocco.