Mopeds, Monkeys, and Mambas of Marakech

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Africa » Morocco
June 25th 2019
Published: June 28th 2019
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A little bleary-eyed and bed-headed, we met our Idaho group in the lobby at 3:45 a.m. to wish them well on their flight back to America. But once they were all accounted for and safely on the bus bound for the airport, Sean and I were grateful to head back to sleep! Especially since he had been sick in the night. Poor Sean. Africa apparently wreaks havoc on his sensitive tummy!

This morning we took the 3-hour train to Marrakech to begin phase two of our adventure. Almost immediately, the landscape changed from the modern, urban development of Casablanca, to rolling red desert dotted with scrub brush. The city itself was so much more inviting! A quick cab ride from the train station to the Jemaa El Fna square at the heart of the city delivered us to the intoxicating chaos. Horse-drawn buggies toted passengers to and fro, bells jangling. Donkeys bore the burden of their passengers or pull-carts. Mopeds, scooters, and motorcycles cut quick corners around so many pedestrians. Bikes cruised aimlessly. And people walked by twos, threes, and groups. It was a cultural melting pot! (And hot enough to actually melt us, I'm sure.) Women wore colorful hijabs and long black burkas, spaghetti straps and patterned skirts, denim shorts and T-shirts. Men wore turbans and ball caps, robes and T-shirts, shorts, skirts, and pants. The snake charmers played their eerie music to lure cobras from their baskets, and men with monkeys on chains hollered at passersby for sneaking pics without paying. (Shhh, I may have been one of them! I only wanted to document them, not condone them. Research shows baby monkeys are taken from their mothers and taught to be street performers for the entertainment of tourists.) Fruiterers sold fresh-squeezed orange juice, and aromas of chicken tagines and veggie kebabs accosted us from all around. But we couldn't deny the pungence of horse piss underlying it all!

It was only a 5 minute walk through the hustle-bustle of the square to our riad. I'm learning about Morocco that you can never judge a place by its exterior, for although the damp alleyway leading up to it was old, musty, and uninteresting (aside from three or four mangy cats), inside the walls, our riad was a complete sanctuary. Hints of rose water wafted through the air. Green and white tiles covered the floor. And a striking young man in a bright red fez greeted us warmly with a "Salam! Welcome!" He ushered us to the salon, past the tiny but deep green soaking pool. We awaited the readiness of our room on comfy red cushions as we sipped hot mint tea and nibbled complimentary Moroccan cookies. Ahhhhh! So delightful!

In the afternoon, we explored the city. As usual for Morocco, the minarets of several mosques were the most notable parts of the skyline. We tried our haggling skills in the shops, picking up a lamp and some cooking spices. Neither of us really like the way vendors are always calling out to people on the streets: "Salam! Bonjour! Hello! Where you from? Please, come look in my shop. For you, I give very good price." Our, "La, shukran" came in handy for "No thank you." But it was mesmerizing to try to take it all in. Inverted cones made saffron orange, curry yellow, and indigo blue pyramids in a corner shop. Silks fluttered in the breeze. Leather handbags swayed high overhead. A man carried a chicken to the butcher where a goat's head already lay on the counter. Honeyed cookies attracted flies. And hand-stitched leather slippers in pink, turquoise, and gold hung invitingly. Where would one possibly begin to make sense of it all? Just by jumping in with both feet, we supposed.

We confirmed again that we had selected our riad well by the time dinner rolled around. On the lovely, carpeted roof-top terrace, Sean and I shared one dinner and had enough to spare for at least a third person. First, our server brought bread and green olives with sparkling water (how fancy!) Then assorted Moroccan salads covered our small table, each on its own little plate: spiced pumpkin, sauteed peppers, mashed eggplant (not my favorite), saffron cauliflower, diced potatoes, and herbed carrots. For our entree, we chose a lamb tagine, the name given to both the dish itself and the iconic pot in which it is cooked. Such tender, savory lamb! All this was followed by Moroccan cookies and more mint tea, poured from a startling height (to add foamy bubbles). Meanwhile, a two-man guitar duo played Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" and the Eagles' "Hotel California." OK, so they were clearly serenading tourists, but tourists we are, and as the sky turned pink and the patio lamps came on, we ate it right up!

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