Unsteadily, we headed down the mountain to catch the train to the metro that would take us to our flight. It was almost midnight when we landed on the new continent.
An African stamp lay inked in our navy and maroon passports as we shuffled through customs between the yelling Spanish, the whispering Arabic, the unmistakable pride of the English speakers and the French language that bridged us all.
We saw our name on the porter’s sign. Mohamed asked, “first time here?’ as if the aw splattered across my face didn’t scream it. Even in the dark of night, the Moroccan tiles welcomed us. We sped through the roadways as if the lines were only guides to think about. So much honking. But, unlike the bitter honking from home, these were polite and informative taps. Vehicles moved out of the way. Outside the windows, we watched as masses of cars and mopeds and bicycles passed. This was midnight. Families of four squished onto one, a little boy holding on with one hand while the other clutched a laundry sack about his size.
We were dropped off at one of the many entrances to the Medina. Mohamed points to a boy standing in a group, “that’s your guy.” He comes over. Timid, but friendly. Very little English and unsure how to respond to me. Abdul is his name, but we wouldn’t catch it til later, when we had been around the accent long enough. Abdul scoops our luggage as we bid adieu to Mohamed, at least until we departed Marrakech. We followed him through the tiny winding alleyways. Admittedly not paying attention to where we were going and failing at not looking like complete tourists as our luggage pattered on the cobblestone, followed by our Polo and chambray shirts. He could have led us anywhere. I thought about how we put a lot of trust in a riad that we found online. Nothing about our surroundings was intuitive to us. Dodging, nay leaping, from mopeds coming and going. We passed holes in walls made into shops of items we couldn’t break our necks enough to see beyond the groups blocking each one. So lively. Nothing was labeled and when it was it was in Arabic.
We stopped in the middle of a walkway at an unmarked door. Abdul unlocked it and disappeared with our luggage. A woman, decked out in linen and pearls, greets us with a British accent. Beryl and her twin sister renovated the once ruin into the current riad. “It’s like you’ve stepped back in time,” she says of Marrakech. The words that I was trying to find about the past hour, and as we’d soon find out – the next seven days, of our lives.
A tour of the courtyard, which riads are traditionally centered around, showed us a wading pool and personal hammam. We were served mint tea and homemade cakes while she laid out the area on a map, which was more generalizations and essentially a, ‘good luck, you’ll need it.’ She explained quickly that the way to the riad is through the way you just came, stay on the main road. Nervous laughs, hoping the other paid any attention along the way. Thankfully, we were given a cell phone, if for just peace of mind reasons. “If all else fails, just give the phone to a nice local and we’ll come find you.” The tour ended at our bedroom, beautifully furnished and overlooking the courtyard.
It was two a.m. before our eyes closed for the night.
The next morning, we had a wake up call for our camel trek up to the High Atlas Mountains.
That was after the first wake up call at four in the morning. The Call to Prayer is a hauntingly beautiful sound. But in the middle of the night, in a foreign country, it is rather spooky until you gather your thoughts enough and reach for your phone to see that it was the first of the five daily prayer hours. Maybe we should have researched what we were listening for beforehand.
Within the city of Marrakech lies the medina, its own fortified city. The medina walls are made of the most beautiful shades of red clay, clearly giving way to its nickname, the red city.
Bordering the medina is the new town, Gueliz. It holds typical shopping centers, eateries, and the train station. We ventured out to purchase our train tickets to Fes in person, the only way to get them.
On the way back, we stopped in at Jardin Majorelle. The garden is touted for Yves Saint Laurent, when all he did was co-purchase it at some point along the way. We had our hopes higher than they should have been for the tourist locale, but the shade was a welcome break. We took our time between the cacti and palm trees as we watched them touch up the electric colored paint job before our eyes.
It was around this point the city started weighing heavy on us. We took a cab from the tourist spot back to our riad, or as close as cars can go. We had been warned about the many scams drivers try to pull and were told the highest amount we should ever pay (30 dirham, ‘but 20 is more than enough’), on the longest route around the city. He wanted more than double that for the quick ride and got angry when we held our ground. It wasn’t much, but it was taking advantage. We decided we couldn’t take any more cab rides. Because of the cabby network, probably.
We needed a rest and a shower. This is Africa. It’s hot. Plus, out of respect, we’re in pants and sleeves, just for reference.
Refreshed, we were ready to hit up Jemaa El Fna, the bustling market square. More dodging of the mopeds as we wound through the red walls. The towering Koutoubia Mosque, the largest in the city, marks the entrance to the square.
Immediately upon entering the square, we were approached by a monkey on a leash, snakes, and henna tattoo artists galore. Justin went close to catch a photo of the snake charmers in action, to which they took as an invitation to put one around his neck. I, supportively, stood way far back yelling, “non! non! Il ne pas like!” as my French flowed out so eloquently in the moment. He wrapped up his ultimate Moroccan moment by touching the snake to J’s forehead “for good luck!” I wish I had photos of this, but I was too busy having my own paranoia party twitching looks from left shoulder to right to make sure the other snake holders weren’t circling me too closely. I’m glad that part of my life is over.
And then, we headed into the souks and supported the Moroccan economy, as we’ll call it, and practically furnished our next home. We’ve been dreaming up what our next chapter will look like and apparently it looks very Moroccan. As the night went on, we got more brave about going into the back inventory areas of the shops. I’m glad we did. We laughed and made friends in this amazing Moroccan atmosphere.
We haggled and didn’t haggle and then paid extra for the elderly women’s hand-woven beach bag. I got the yellow one (because it fits nicely with the vision I have of the backseat of our new car as it waves in the wind along the beach. this is real life.), so it stands out. I swear that bag gave me street cred with the Arabic ladies. I finally felt welcomed on our last night in Marrakech.
Marrakech, man. Every sense you own is bombarded and tested. It’s colorful and exhilarating. It’s overbearing and frustrating. It was hard. In all honesty, we’re not interested in going back to Marrakech, but I’m glad we experienced it. Marrakech is the tourist capital and they work the tourists for every cent and every gimmick. We landed here first and built a tough skin rather immediately. After we left, we had to learn to let that guard down, which was higher than we realized. That’s only Marrakech, though. The rest of Morocco, I’d go back to visit again and discover further in a heart beat because, next, Fes stole our hearts.