We arrived in Marrakech, in the morning, as the city was just beginning to wake up. Morocco is my 5th country in Africa, so I expected on some semblance of familiarity. I had little expectations, but imagined perhaps a confluence of Sub-Saharan and North Africa. It was immediately obvious, Morocco was unlike any other country in Africa I’d visited thus far. Throughout our time in the country it would become clear, Morocco is an equal blend of Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.
Our driver collected us and whisked us off the Les Villages Des Orangers. The outside of which, in the old part of city, sits next to an auto repair shop, and you might just miss it walking by. The heat, the noise, the hectic nature of the street astonishingly disappears once you enter the Riad. A respite in the middle of a bustling city, it was incredibly tranquil. We were shown our room, clearly not what we booked. They upgraded us from our basic double to a two-level suit, with sitting room and full terrace overlooking the city; a phenomenal way to start our honeymoon to be sure. The whole place was ornately decorated, with high ceilings and thick walls to keep it cool in the summer. We absolutely love unique hotels, and this place was certainly a favorite.
Normally, we’d head out immediately to explore the city. But we had a guide scheduled to meet us later in the evening, so instead we meandered about the hotel, ate lunch and took a nap. We didn’t begin to explore Marrakech until around 5pm when we met our guide Amine in the lobby.
We set out to explore near the hotel, which happened to be the Jeemaa el Fna, Marrakech’s largest market. Our guide gave us a quick historical rundown of the country, as well as Islam. I’m not sure if it was because we were Americans, or simply non-Muslims, but he immediately wanted to dispel myths and inform us that Morocco, though Islamic, was the most liberal country. We nodded along, and tried to let him know we were very interested in learning more, and didn’t have pre-conceived notions, which was of course, not entirely true. But since I’ve began traveling I’ve had a great interest in Islam, which like Judaism is an ancient religion, and while many of the practices, particularly regarding Women’s rights don’t sit well with me, there is a logical aspect about it that I find fascinating. Plus, mosques are my all time favorite religious building, I think mostly, because the use of symmetry. I greatly enjoy symmetry. Though the mosques in Morocco are far more simple, generally, than those in say, Istanbul where ostentatious design rules. Here, rather, they are humble and functional, and rarely exhibit minarets.
We explored the winding alleyways of the souks near the market, though did not venture too deep, saving that for the next day. Souks and markets are in general, of little interest to us unless food is involved. It tends to be a multitude of hawkers selling the same reproduced knock-off items and shop-owners pressuring us to come in to buy things we don’t want. But what was interesting about this market was hidden in its depths were legitimate antique shops selling $20,000 vintage doors and hundreds of years old wares. We perused, but of course, didn’t buy. Though it was our honeymoon and we vaguely considered making an exception to our general tendency to forgo souvenirs we opted instead to pick up Saffron, something we rarely buy in the states or Europe. In Marrakech though, it ran a mere €2/gram. A fraction of what it costs at home.
Later, we watched the sunset at a roof-top café, drinking our first of many sweet-mint teas. The square below, which had previously been rather desolate began to come to life, with performers, snake-charmers, henna artists and food stalls. Amine walked us through the performers and cautioned us about the scams and to watch our belongings. Initially, I assumed this was all for tourists, but in fact many of the performers are enjoyed by locals, as they’re constantly rotating and in some cases, actually quite good.
Instead of eating at our hotel, or out at a restaurant, we opted to eat at the stalls (#32, as recommended). We ate merguez sausages, a lentil dish, bread, and salsa type dip that is essentially pico de gallo without the spice. It was fantastic, and cost nothing, a great introduction to food in Morocco. Amine took us around to the other stalls, and jokingly suggested we ate sheep’s head- ubiquitous around Morocco. We of course, had too. It was a chop of indiscriminate parts of the head, likely cheek and tongue. It was good, though nothing amazing. We simply had never tried it and felt it was important to try, given it’s popularity in the country. Thoroughly stuffed, we retired for the night at an hour most people were just sitting down for dinner.