After packing up my life, sending too much home and saying goodbye to all that was Belfast, I was on my way to Morocco.
Yup. This is happening.
On the bus I was sad to see Ireland slipping away. The sun was shining and the sheep were casting shadows in the green fields, surrounded by symmetrical hedges and the quaint little houses I almost could imagine myself in. I was going to miss it.
But there was Morocco.
We landed. The air outside was humid and tropical but light, breezy. The airport was big and empty, underwhelming which was good for someone who had just landed on a new continent without much of a plan to land on. Money exchange. Baggage claim to rescue my rucksack. Customs. Taxi.
I felt kind of bad. I was supposed to start my journey off with a couchsurfer, but didn’t know if he had actually shown up at the airport or not. Communication had been stilted and ceased altogether when he asked me to send him a photo of my passport page. Not my passport photo, but all the information contained in that silly little document.
Yeah… not gonna happen. Stranger danger and all that.
So I booked a little hostel and followed my directions, and surprised myself with how easily some of my Arabic came back and was understood by my taxi driver. He was very nice during the short ride and deposited me precisely where I needed to be.
Out comes the notebook. Follow the path past the mosque, left on the narrow street with the vegetable stands and the butchers, take your next right, then go left.
Thankfully there was a bed for me and I was happy to explore the city by myself, just to get acclimated. A hostel-night’s sleep later (I need earplugs) and a lovely breakfast I was on my way through the city, exploring happily. It was hot, the sky was blue, and it was warm. This is my happy place!
Stepping out the door of my hostel nearly got me impaled by a moped and a donkey cart trucking in from opposite directions. This set the tone for the day and for Marrakech as a whole! Walking in the streets both narrow and wide you are faced with a series of obstacles and impediments that you must avoid and adjust to at a moment’s notice. Donkeys, people, mopeds, more people, carts, moving souvenir stands, oh my!
I was a bit overwhelmed, to be honest. Marrakech was a lot like Jordan in terms of people and the amount of commentary women face when walking in the streets. Le sigh… bitch face on, ignore meter turned waaaay up. I’m glad I don’t have a job where I have to accost random strangers in order to coerce them into my shop/restaurant/home.
All in all Marrakech is an amazing city. There are green gardens with orange trees and big, old, red houses with cracked paint and beautiful tiles adorning the arches over the doorways. There are tiny alleys and wide open highways, cracked footpaths and decorated rooftops. There is the smell of donkeys, wailing garbage cats, incense and diesel fumes in the air.
Since it was Friday there were fewer people in the streets than usual, as many were at the mosque for Friday prayers. At a certain point in the afternoon the call to prayer lashed across the city, accosting one and all with the somewhat melodic tunes and the loud berating of a neighbourhood imam’s sermon.
I love the call to prayer- I think it is beautiful when done well, and the call to prayer echoing around the hills of Amman was one of my favorite things I experienced when I lived there. This first Friday call to prayer in Marrakech, however, made me cringe a little. It was grainy, stilted, and grating- but, it got better throughout the day as I heard it from various parts of the city. My enchantment, if dampened a bit, is still there.
Today I meandered down to a place called Jemma el Fna, which is a large square surrounded by shops and restaurants. During the afternoon it was fairly quiet, but going back this evening revealed a whole new perspective. As the sun set the square came to life- food stalls popped up, musicians came out to play and circles of people watching dancers and magicians began to form. The steady drumbeat of the musicians provided the backdrop to the calling of restaurant men desperately attempting to coerce passers-by onto their stalls. Pungent smoke filled the air and the smells of delicious things cooking added to the already spicy air.
In the market there were guys ‘charming’ snakes and some with little monkeys on leashes, who were also wearing diapers. As cute as the monkeys were, I felt pretty bad for them. The snakes I felt slightly less bad for, but… snakes.
I was eventually drawn into one of the stalls as my stomach was getting the better of me. Popular dishes in Morocco are tangine and couscous, but their tangine wasn’t ready yet. Usually I’m not a fan of couscous as it seems kind of like a silly food, but I had a small dish with veggies and chicken and was a changed woman. My evening’s entertainment was provided by the six or so gentlemen who seemed to be working in this particular area of the souk (market) who were desperately intent on getting as close to tourists as they possibly could and shoving their particular menu in their faces. Here, let me MAKE you come eat my food! It worked on me, eventually, obviously, but still.
My stomach was happy and the sun was rapidly departing. As much as Marrakech is lovely at night, I’m set to sit on the roof of my hostel and enjoy the warm evening surrounded by hostel people and, with any luck, some shisha J. Oh wait, I have work to do, too… but maybe it can wait a bit!
The rest of Marrakech was spent avoiding annoying people, hanging out on the sunny hostel roof, and trying not to punch people who snore.
I apologize for the off-kilter nature of my photographs. I have no sense of up and down, apparently.