My senses awake as I enter the North of Africa. Arriving in the hot morning with no plan or reservations I hop on the local bus (L19) and take it to the center of Marrakech’s medina, the Place Djemaâ el Fna. Using one of the plaza cafes to get my bearings I drop my bag, sit down and order a Berber whiskey more commonly known as mint tea. Trying to appear less bewildered than I am, I see monkeys being dragged around on chain leashes and groups of snake charmers blaring away on Pungi’s with their black Egyptian cobras and puff adders coiled in front.
Marrakech’s red medina walls reverberate with the sounds of Afro-Arab culture as old-world donkey carts roll among the traffic of daily life. Snake charmers, storytellers, and musicians of all variety captivate Moroccans and foreigners alike. After stumbling around some narrow streets, I find a riad that I like. With a pocket full of dirham (DH) and my bag stashed, I head back out for the streets.
I am not a shopper, in fact despise having a lot of shit. However, the souks of Marrakech captivate me.
In the circus of stores aggressive salesmen were surprisingly kind, hock handmade crafts of every variety. I actually enjoy this shopping. I feel good about getting a good deal and giving these people some hard-earned cash.
The place comes alive at night with food stalls that magically appear. The music, already intense becomes more layered with varieties of texture. Like a loosely woven blanket the thread of one group weaves with another. It is overwhelming as the sounds surround you. There is no escape. It seems best to sit close to one group and let their music entrance you. It’s very clear how one could be influenced and controlled like a charmed snake by this place.
“Almost” beautiful dancers draw a crowd. They wear veils, only showing the skin of their hands and ankles. But, they have no curves?! These are the she-boys… they can move with best of any belly dancers. Across from them the marketing department of a food stall yells, “Tastes like chicken.” Then, “Hey, Ricky Martin and Jessica Simpson, come sit here.” His food looks good and the stall is up wind from the greasy steam of 100 other stalls blazing away.
I sit, ordering some stuff, not too sure what it is, but definitely consisting of vegetables, couscous and some seafood. Perhaps seafood next to the largest desert in the world is a bad idea. I eat with my clean hand and share my table with a longhaired Japanese guy who has a tongue ring (I mention the tongue ring as it makes for one of those awkward moments that is completely due to my own stereotyping that I will mention further on).
A British couple sitting across from me asks to settle their bill, throws a fit, “We didn’t ask for that. I’m not paying for something you just brought to me.”
I think, seriously? This lady is upset over 50 DH… less than 8 dollars. Not to mention she did eat what they brought her. Embarrassed by my occidental peer, I decide that I will be gratefully generous when it is my turn to pay. Talking to my Japanese table guest I find out he is extremely well-traveled. Although this is nearly always the case with Japanese people I meet on the road. He explains that this will be his last big trip as his marriage is planned for the following year. This is the awkward cultural moment as the Chris Rock spoof song No Sex in the Champagne Room plays in my head, “if a guy has a tongue ring he’ll probably…” Because we are communicating rather poorly and I have this Chris Rock song in my head I decide to play it safe and say, “Oh, your spouse (gender neutral) doesn’t like to travel as much… that’s too bad.” The conversation peters off, as I no longer know what to say. I feel ridiculous.
The night rushes on, children boxers, more music and another mint tea overlooking the plaza. What a scene. The people are grateful for every Durham you share and Arabic word you attempt. They make this circus a comfortable spectacle that I will not soon forget.
Frankfurt Hahn (HHN) to Marrakesh (RAK) via Ryanair 177€ round trip with extra bag
Marrakesh Airport to Place Jemaa El Fna via local bus 19 (L19) ~2€ one way (20 Dirhams)
The local bus system is easy to use, safe and inexpensive
Hotel Atlas, on the left down Rue pietonne (through the arch and down the ghetto alley right of Cafe Glacier) ~8€ per night (90 Dirhams)
There is no black market for money so you don’t have to worry about getting a bad exchange rate. Any booth or bank will give you Dirhams at a fair value.
- Marrakech City Sightseeing by Hop on Hop off Tourist Bus (morocco-travel.suite101.com)