Friday, April 11, 2008

Welcome to Morocco, Vol. III

April 1. 11 pm. Hotel de la Paix, Marrakech.

Marrakech is as viceral as I imagined, but different than I expected.
After 8 hours on the train, we arrived in Mkch after sundown. The arrival at any new place is always the most overwhelming, and the departure is always the most reflective. Us 3 girls were standing with our bags outside of the train station, trying to speculate the cost of a taxi downtown, when a friendly Ecuadorian backpacker named Phillipé asked us to share a cab to the main square. A really pleasant type of traveler. Alhamdou.

The heart of Mkch is the square- the Djmaa El-Fna- with all its souqs surrounding it. Out hotel was buried in the maze of tight alleys to the south of the Djmaa, so it took us a while to find it, walking in the dark with our luggage, becoming more and more tired and annoyed. The hotel we booked was a bust, so we left and found another. The proprietor at this new place was stoned pretty much the whole time we were there, but he was nice and funny. Karim-esque. This place was recommended in Lonely Planet, so it was a little pricier...but pretty crappy. But beggars cant be choosers. Poor Claire was fuming. What lesson to be learned from this? Oh well, we checked out the next morning and God sent another miracle in the form of Hotel de la Paix. This hotel is centrally located, just off the square. Clean, spacious, cheap (170 Dh- less than Hotel Souria above).
We searched for some breakfast this morning. I actually had hot chocolate for the first time in months. I have been discovering and perfecting my traveling style. I am all about choosing the cheapest option, as long as its not ridiculous. I like to use as much of my day as possible to see/do as much as possible, without burning out. I like to keep moving, but I also like to sit and talk with as many people here as possible. Living for Quality, not Quantity.

Anyway, breakfast. I finished our dates and peanuts, then walked around the city. We visited the ruins of the Palace Badji and the Saadian Tombs. Impressive and reminiscent of Jerusalem's ruins, but not worth the 20DH. Orange juice and avocado shakes and fresh strawberries in the Place Ferblantier. Shopping in the spice souq. In Morocco they harvest Saffron, the most expensive spice in the world. You can get a gram for about $1.50, whereas it costs $10-20 elsewhere. One kid selling spices took us to his ¨laboratory¨ and gave us free facials with crushed shells and rose water. My face smelled like a garden all day. I bought pure Patchouly oil for Molly's mom.
Afterwards we dressed for dinner and headed to the Djmaa El Fna. This place is a trip. I cant even describe it now, Im too exhausted.

April 2. 6:15pm. Sitting in the bay window of Hotel de la Paix. Marrakech.

The Djmaa El-Fna is the beating heart of Marrakech's medina- the largest open market in the world. The Djmaa is the giant square where it all goes down. It is always bustling, but it comes alive at night and takes on a personality of its own. Watch this...

Enter the Djmaa from the main shop-lined street. See the expanse of people- at first a heaving mass, formless in the smoke from the food vendors' grills. Smoke swirls all around, giving everything a silver haze. Come closer and you see what you imagine exotic Morocco to be. Snake charmers, monkeys, storytellers, henna artists, fortune tellers, vendors of all types of lotions and healing potions, chefs trying to intice you to sample their craft, orange juice vendors cracking jokes and asking if you know their brother who lives in Los Angeles. See the flashes of color, as if the city is lit by a giant red glass lantern. Taste the sheep's heads cooking and the mounds of snails waiting to be pulled apart and eaten with safety pins, the orderly piles of dates, apricots, nuts, and desserts balanced trepedaciously on carts. Can you smell the mint tea? Or the golden spices: cumin, ginger, saffron, wafting from mortars and pestles? Can you catch the faint whifs of hash? See the wide-eyed teenagers holding hands, as if they were on first, clandestine dates to the local mall. See the piles of tourists, with their cameras poised ready around their necks, and their socks and sandals bought new for the occasion. Hear the whispers of exotic, romanic adventures from vendors and young men looking for adventures themselves. Hear all the beautiful, broken English trying to get on your good side: ¨You are lovely-jovely!¨
A place like this plays with all of your senses at the same time, all the time. You love it for being so rich and full and sensual...but you hate it for being so cliché and exhausting. It is the place you thought Morocco would be in some way, but never actually belived existed. The haven for artists, adventurers, tourists, toureg nomads, chic young Moroccans, and those trying to make a profit off of the life that exists in the Djmaa. I guess that would include all of the above.

April 4. 6 pm. Terrace at Riad Nahkla, overlooking the sun setting on the beach. Essaouira.

Joyeux Jour d'Independance du Senegal! I cant forget this, my home country.

We have sucessfully escaped the madness of Marrakech to the peaceful sea breezes of Essaouira.
Mkch was starting to get to be a bit much. Im glad we got out when we did. We visited the ruins of palaces and the Jardin Majorelle- a giant gorgeous garden with a bright blue house-turned-Islamic-art-museum in the middle. And of course we walked around the Medina some more. I found my Africa ring (I buy a ring for every place I visit) in a tiny antique shop down a dark alley. It actually reminds me of a baobab tree. I had to sip tea with the jolly old shop keeper, and promise to marry him, but I got a great price and it is gorgeous. real silver, but Im sure the stones are fake.
Walking around the city by myself is refreshing and interesting. You can observe so much more when you are alone and not in a conspicuous group of toubab girls. I have a feeling that I travel really well alone. I really want to try it someday...maybe backpacking Morocco? Friendly, non-creepy gentlemen in the market gave me a bouquet of fresh roses because I could speak a little arabic with them...also something I want to work on.

I must note a Moroccan treat with which I have fallen in love: Avocado smoothies. I think its just avocadoes, blended with plain yogurt and almond milk. I'll re-create it chez moi.

Scenery in Mkch? Gorgeous. Stunning. This country has everything: desert, greenery, olive groves, even snow-capped mountains.
Nevertheless, we were all tiring of Mkch- it has acutally turned out to be our least favorite city. It is just so overwhelming, cliche, and touristy. We booked a bus and headed for the 4 hour trip to Eassaouira early in the morning.


Anonymous said...

When you talked about the crazy, smokey market, it made me think of Aladdin, when Jasmine is walking through the market and the vendor says, "Pretty necklace for a pretty lady!"

Well, Cath, looks like you finally found your soul mate. A Moroccan shopkeeper with a keen eye for jewelry. Do you suppose he lives in that same alley, perhaps underneath where he sells his wares? You will most certainly have a humble abode!

I love reading about you :)


Anonymous said...

you are one of the best writers I've ever encountered. thanks for all the description. I feel like i'm right there with you... and I will be in t-minus 19 days!!!


Kara Ballenger Browning said...

My husband and I are leaving for Marrakesh in less than a week. We were considering the Hotel Souria but based on your experience, we will try Hotel de la Paix. Your description of the town is amazing. You should consider travel writing as a profession, if you haven't already!