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Published: October 10th 2016
I took a “sip” of Morocco some 10 years ago, when I crossed the Strait of Gibraltar by ferry, from Spain to decadent Tangier, for just a day. I was sick and nauseous most of the day, and walking under the scotching sun, followed by insistent sellers who glued to you for up to an hour, wasn’t pleasant, and not a way to judge the country.
One thing that fascinated me then, was watching locals coming in and out of what seemed like a hole with a little entrance, a couple steps down from the street level. That was the public “bakery”, where people came to leave their bread to bake, and them came to get it. How did they know whose bread belong to them? Each family had a symbol “stamped” on their bread, so it can be recognized easily. While waiting for the bread to be baked, young people hang around outside, and that’s where many prospective partners are met. I have always loved Moroccan bread, but now I’m in awe with the way it is made by the locals, in such a communal way.
Of course that wasn’t enough to quench my thirst for
Moroccan culture, and I have been longing to taste more of it for a very long time. NOW…
Having been mostly devoted to the treatment of LMS (Leiomyosarcoma, a tough cancer) and their side effects for the past 2.5 years, this destination seemed more and more like an intangible one. At times, I could even consider venturing out beyond my bedroom, with so much nausea, dizziness and weakness. Well, that was until some weeks ago, when I finally felt “normal”, despite treatment with an antibody every 21 days and 5 sessions of radiation. The world-nomad in me was finally able to emerge again, with vivacity and plenty of energy to fly somewhere, anywhere, even across the Atlantic. So, why not head to North Africa, to the place that has been in my bucket list for the longest time? And that’s how Morocco popped up as my destination.
A dear friend came along, but I felt confident enough that I’d take the journey alone, shall her not come. MARRAKESH
The time between treatments is short, so I picked Marrakesh to get a taste of true Morocco. It was an easy decision, since
it has fascinated me since long ago. As the plane approached the pink city, the soul of the backpacker in me arouse from the dreadful “sleep” of the past 3.5 years, since I got the diagnosis. The excitement I have felt so many times before when about to explore and discover the tastes, sounds, smells, sights, and particular costumes of a new culture, all came alive again. Pure life energy, Chi, took over my body and spirit, and I couldn’t wait to land and step on Moroccan soil.
We arrived right in the middle of the 5-day Muslin holiday, Aidepadha, which happens after Ramadan. It’s a huge celebration, bringing families together in a big way. The man of the household sacrifices a sheep that has been marked with henna on its forehead (see picture). The women cook the meat, which will be eaten part by part, during the 5 days of celebration (i.e. liver on one day, at one home; legs on the next day at another relative’s home, etc.).
As we walked on the narrow alleys of the medina leading to our riad, kids supervised by male relatives, cooked the heads of the sheep atop large metal
grills over wood fire set on the ground, burning the hair and skin to a crisp, so that they could be taken to the kitchen, where the women will cook the (supposedly) delicious brains with fragrant spices. I don’t know what they make with the sheep feet also being grilled outdoors! It was an interesting, festive, and unique sight to witness, just as I arrived. STAYING AT A RIAD
RIAD is a traditional house set around a courtyard. Nowadays, some have been converted to B&Bs. Unassuming doors on the walls of the old town open to beautiful, quaint or luxurious riads, which lately have been renovated to become B&Bs.
I picked a simple and small riad called Ariha as our place to stay, smacked right in the middle of the labyrinth-like ancient Medina. Our room was huge and spotless, and the staff was very friendly. Only the constant-smoking-French-woman, also a guest, wasn’t pleasant or friendly, but I’ve learned not to give much energy to negativity, so all went well. THE MEDINA
In the afternoon of the arrival day, my desire and curiosity to explore life within
the walls of the 10km medina,
first hand, were alive and pushing me out the door.
I came aware that the maze of narrow ways of the Medina is certain to make anyone get lost, so I had fun with it; that traditional muslin women keep their heads, arms and legs covered, and will be appeased if visitors do the same, so I wore lose long sleeve tops and pants, and had a scarf over my head. I believe that respecting and adapting to the costumes of the land you visit is the very least we visitors can do.
Only once I felt I was intruding by being in the Medina, and surprisingly, it came by comments from a teenager. I was walking slowly, admiring and taking pictures of the beautiful wooden doors and of the cloudless magnetic blue skies as seen from the narrow alleys. A boy on a green shirt started to shout: “Go take pictures at the square, not here. These are the houses of my mother, my grandmother.” Later I encountered him again, and there he went again, saying something to the same effect, although I wasn’t even taking pictures. I realized that even
trying to dress respectfully and having my heart in the right place, I was still infringing on the lives of the inhabitants of this ancient place. So, I tried not to point my lenses when locals were around, but I so wish I could talk to him and say how much I appreciate and value his place, and understand how he feels. JEMAA EL-FNA
On our first outing, we walked a little out of the riad, took a cab to the center of the Medina, and headed to the lively Jemaa el-Fna
, a huge square in the heart of Marrakesh, which attracts locals and tourists alike.
Several street performers gather huge crowds of locals, just as they did in medieval times: storytellers, musicians, and acrobats bring joyful cheering. There are herbalists on sight as well, prescribing herbal remedies. Curiously, I did not see any snake charmers, as I saw on the streets of Tangier years ago.
As the daylight started to dim, the square became even livelier. We chose the rooftop of a restaurant on the square to watch our first dazzling Moroccan sunset and have another perspective of the multitude of
locals enjoying the activities down on the square. You must order a drink for the privileged viewpoint, which is worth.
As the sun went down, our stomachs were making a spectacle of their own, growling for food. Tents had already been set for open air cooking and dinning on the square, some catering mainly to tourists, with kebabs, tagines and couscous, while others to locals, serving more exotic food, like steaming snails, soup concoctions in large pots, and sheep heads. Young men tried insistently to lure you to their stalls.
Eating under a tent at the square for our first meal wasn’t very smart. I had been bragging about the Moroccan cuisine to my friend, but our first Moroccan meal, a tagine, was very bland, and definitely cooked specifically for tourists. The taste and fragrance of spices couldn’t be sensed, to our dismay. Oh well, at least we had the ever being poured delicious mint tea.
(A local later told me to go to tent number 22, but that was too late for us) THE SOUQS
By the second day my sense of direction is improving, and we head to the maze of
the souqs (markets), aware that some shops will be closed because of the holiday. Actually, I saw that as a winning point, as I am not fond at all of the aggressive vendors and the expected bargaining war that was sure to flare up.
It was very pleasant to stroll the various interconnected colorful souqs. On display, beautiful Berber rugs, colorful slippers, leather, metal and textile goods of good quality and priced to entice negotiations. The herb souq was delightful as well, and I was happily impressed by the fact that I did not feel the pushy persuasion of vendors, as I have felt in the markets of Istanbul and Tangier.
As usual, I bought very little, as I travel light, but if one unlike me, who has been shedding, instead of accumulating belongings, I’d say this is a great location to acquire good quality crafts. ALI BEN YOUSSEF MEDERSA
To be dazzled by the beauty of Moroccan architecture, we visited the 12th
century ALI BEN YOUSSEF MEDERSA
, with its intricate stucco designs, crowned by beautifully carved cedar, and simpler, yet beautiful, tile floors. All the walls, doors, pillar, and arches of the common
areas are of exquisite beauty, contrasting with the small, bare and simple sleeping quarters.
This now closed theological college once housed 900 students. All the working medersas in the city are closed to non-muslins, as are the mosques. THE KOUTOUBIA
No one can miss the Koutoubia monument, as its minaret reaches 70 meters tall on the landscape of the city. We walked around its grounds and heard the call for prayer emanating from it.
Only muslins can enter the mosques in Marrakesh, so we only passed by them and heard their calls to prayers several times per day. I really enjoy the melodic calls. IF YOU ENJOY LOOKING AT THE PICTURES, CLICK ON THEM FROM THE BOTTOM OF THE BLOG, SO YOU CAN SEE DETAILS FROM THE LARGER VIEW.
See next entries more of Marrakesh and Sahara Desert
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