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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Marrakech Express

Yes, I have been humming this Crosby, Stills and Nash song since we arrived in Marrakech last Saturday evening. True, we flew in rather than arriving by train but the sentiment of the song remains...Marrakech is filled with sights, sounds, and smells unlike most cities I've been in. We smartly hired a guide for our first day there and we were so happy we did. Abdul did a fantastic job of taking us on a hidden treasures of Marrakech tour. He found alley ways and passages that we would never have found on our own and he opened up doors to a private bakery where we sampled fresh from the wood burning oven bread that was so delicious we bought more the next day! We found our way to a man whose job it is to heat the hammam, the Moroccan spa. Notice the pots behind the man. In addition to fueling the spa, people can bring in clay pots filled with meat and spices. They are thrown on the fire and cook all day, kind of like a crockpot, Moroccan style! He also played some music for us and invited us to some mint tea. It was a delightful stop in a completely unsuspecting environment. We saw the beautiful old university building of Ben Youssef Madrasa which sported some of the most beautiful and amazing architecture we've seen. And he gave us a tip on where to get lunch...a local joint that served up basic fare at a cheap price. It was truly a delightful way to get used to the Medina and visit the various souks which make up the incredible web of market stalls. So much color and culture! Loved the entire vibe. While the vendors were chatty, I didn't find them harassing at all. Maybe it was because Abdul was with us, but all in all it was a delight to wander through this warren of commerce. The main square, Jemaa al Fnaa, was not as crazy as we expected it to be, perhaps because it was daylight and also a holiday. We knew we would return at dusk the following day so made our way back to our hotel before dark.
Knowing that we weren't going to go into the city until evening, we decided to visit the hammam at the hotel. We've been to a hammam before, in Turkey, and it was quite the experience. They roast and scrub you until you aren't sure you have any skin left so I was a little dubious. But then I thought, well, it'll be good for me one way or another! I am glad we did it! The treatment was nice...more oriented for the tender tourist and was mostly just a really pleasant experience. We were then treated to mint tea and biscotti and told to languish by the pool for as long as wanted to. It was a gorgeous morning and we thoroughly enjoyed the quiet, warm sunshine on our freshly scrubbed bodies! We made our way to the square at about 5.30, just as the sun was beginning to set. It was clearly a totally different scene than the previous afternoon had been. Mobs of people were swarming around. The food tents had gone up and there was tons of noise and activity. We grabbed a glass of, what else, mint tea!, and made our way up to one of the balconies overlooking the square. It was a great vantage point to take it all in. It was such a great mixture of local and tourist traffic. Clearly the place to be if you want to interact with society. I was mesmerized and a little terrified of the snake see these huge snakes just lounging on the carpets all around you was a little weird. When they began to slither in our direction, I felt it was time to go. What a weird thing. I did not like the monkeys on chains. Very cruel to treat them like that, but it sells so they do it. We wandered the stalls, said no to every food vendor on the square, bought some fresh squeezed orange juice, and took it all in. It was quite the spectacle! We managed to find our way through the souks once again, admiring the goods and thinking about what we might try to barter for. You really have to be in the right frame of mind if you want to buy something and even looking will gain you a windy sales pitch. Overall however I found the people incredibly friendly and good-natured however.

Marrakech is every bit as exotic as you think it might be. People work very hard and the mixture of ancient and modern sitting right beside one another never ceases to amaze me. Donkeys pulling carts, horses pulling carriages, scooters zipping through the town, cars and busses creating's all there. And of course, mobile phone use is culture can escape the lure of being connected! I definitely enjoyed riding the Marrakech express for the last couple of days!