Enjoy part II of Nadine’s Morocco adventure. Catch part I here!
The destination was set. The accommodations, after much research, were booked. All that was left for Tone Loc & I to do was to arrive and let the Moroccan onslaught begin. We were excited & terrified at the unknown journey we were about to embark on. Arriving on the same day but at different times, we figured the simplest meeting spot would be the guest house. Little did we know that we should take NOTHING for granted – even the “simplest things” – and that this trip would open our eyes to many things about Morocco and our own lives.
Now, not only is Morocco steeped in dense culture it is a multilingual country and English, although spoken, is not a dominant language. On arrival in Marrakech, I chose to organize a car transfer to the guesthouse—admittedly a more expensive option than a taxi but more reassuring: I did not have a clue about the city’s geography.
I wanted a smooth transition – just pick up my bag, find my driver and relax on my way to the riad. Yeah, that was the dream scenario. The reality was: pick up my bag in an arrivals hall amidst a gazillion people who all seemed to have booked car services. Navigating a terminal that was full of drivers with signs was challenging to say the least. Finding my driver then communicating with him took close to 40 minutes; he spoke only Arabic. The guesthouse receptionist whom I called for help spoke only French. It was an experience in communicating like nothing I have ever had to explore. Relief hit as I sat in the back of the taxi and we left the confusion of the airport in the rear view mirror.
That was my baptism to life in Morocco and it set the stage for most of the trip. The city is divided into two parts – the old medina versus the new gueliz. Cars, motorcycles, mopeds, small trucks, and carts pulled by mules, make up the traffic on the roads outside the medina. Traffic rules seemed to be only suggestions and the environment was bombarded by a sense of chaos. I always had to be aware of what was coming from every which way, be it a mule or a moped! On reflection, that chaos was charming but it definitely isn’t for everyone. If you can appreciate the dichotomy of chaos & tranquility that Marrakech offers then you will fall in love. If you can’t accept it, then I suggest you may want to look for another destination.
Tone Loc & I opted to hire a guide to show us around the major points of interest for a day. We discovered the Jemaa El Fna Square by day, a mix of spice, juice stands and wily snake charmers. By night, it transformed into rows upon rows of food stalls.
We explored glorious palaces hidden behind nondescript doors and the winding pathways of the souks where a person could become lost for days within its labyrinth. We learned about the many mosques within the medina walls and a simple history of the Berber people who are indigenous to the land. There is a quiet beauty to Marrakach’s medina with the narrow roads navigated by pedestrians and drivers alike.
We felt the history ooze out every piece of stone as we walked where generations of Berber people had walked before. There is little vegetation due to the arid climate so we learned to appreciate the green mint tealeaves that we saw dotted about. Make sure to visit a dentist before you go as the traditional Moroccan tea will redefine the term “sweet” for you and it is offered everywhere you go.
The souks – a shoppers paradise – are a dense network of market stalls offering whatever you may want: clothing, ornaments, jewelry, furniture – all for a price to be bartered down or up between shop owner & customer. It is a process that is time honored and time consuming and sometimes done over a cup of tea. Everyone has a friend who can help and most help comes with a price. It is a fascinating and sometimes frustrating way of life, especially those who like to keep things moving briskly.
A lasting memory for me was of the traditional hamam experience, which can be sampled in the simplest or most opulent of surroundings in Morocco. Either way, it is something not to be missed and much better than any massage or steam bath I have ever taken. These women scrub you down within an inch of your life then slather you in restorative Argan oil that rejuvenates your body so that you are glowing when you are finished. Transcendent I tell you.
After a few days in Marrakech, we had become intoxicated with the contrasting life it offered to our own. Intoxicated I tell you and not a drop of alcohol had touched our lips.
TO BE CONTINUED…