If you did not read the BBC News link about the Marrakech tanneries in the earlier post, please do so now.
If neither link works, let me know in a comment.
After a relaxing morning coffee, the best I have had so far on walkabout, I did some web searching on dangers, cautions, prices and the top sights in town.
I focused on the tanneries.
Searching the web, looking at Fodor’s, wiki, and other sources, I set out with my maps and GPS tracking apps all turned on so I could find the way back to the hotel.
The medina section, or old town, is surrounded by a big fortification wall, so if you stay inside the wall you know that you are within a mile of your hotel. Finding your hotel may be a different story.
I walked about 1/2 mile, making mental notes of key landmarks I passed. There were few foreigners and many motorcycles. Most shops were closed, as Friday in Muslim countries is like Sunday in the U.S.
A man walking a moped excused himself as he walked around me on my left. I kept walking. Once ahead of me he turned and asked if I was looking for the garden square. I nodded yes. He spoke understandable english and said he would walk me to the square. After walking 100 yards he said most places were closed but the tannery was open with leathergoods for sale. He said he was not a guide, but he ended up guiding me. He said money was not important, but it was, eventually. I knew the dance.
I crawled on the back of the moped and he fired up the engine. It was my first ride on the back of a motor bike since racing all over the back streets of Kathmandu, 16 months ago. Winding through the narrow alleys, around blind 90 degree turns without honking and potholes where I could feel the rear tire needed 30 pounds more air, past donkey carts full of veggies – we made our way. I knew not where.
We exited the wall surrounding the medina, picked up speed and I became a little worried. Where the hell are we going? I felt like an animal that jumped the fence and was in the open range for the first time.
Luckily, we soon reentered the city wall and came to a stop near a man outside a narrow doorway. He was holding a handful of green herb. I got off the bike and the man crushed the herb in his hand and then handed me the herb. He instructed me to smell it. It was mint.
I was at the entrance to the tannery.
I quickly figured out why he gave me the handful of mint. We walked around several corners, down an alley and I was standing in the midday sun amid the hundreds of concrete vats full of pidgeon fececes used for tanning, vats with different colors of dyes and the putrid, foul smelling animal skins – horse, sheep, goat, camel.
Men waded in the vats wearing only rubber boots. They handled the skins, scraped off hair, stacked and sorted the hides, some without rubber gloves, aprons or other protective gear. Several young boys chased each other as they played a game amid the vats of hides. I continued to hold the crushed mint in my hand, but breathed only through my mouth.
Feeling adventerous, I let a small amount of air through my nose as I took a photo. I immediately asked “Do tourists get sick often?” The man nodded.
We went to a store next door where after mint tea, lots of haggling, leaving then reentering, I bought three real nice camel skin leather bags and a really nice hand made rug.
He then took me to a store unlike any I have ever seen in person, in photos or on TV. It was f’ing amazing. Photos do not do it justice and it was more eye popping than the Egyptian Musuem in Cairo. It was jam packed with the most amazing handicrafts I have ever seen in my life. I wished I was high.
After half an hour of browsing, and hagling, I bought an old Saharan leather bag that will be a great piece of wall art. I could go on an on, but will let my pics tell the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say.
Upon returning to my room, I stripped and washed my shirt, pants and shoes. I then thoroughly showered.
But the tannery smell remains……indelibly imprinted in my brain.