I’ve become pretty accustomed to some hot temperatures these last few weeks here in Ifrane but I don’t think anything could have quite prepared me for the 115 degree that assaulted me in Marrakech last weekend. The moment we realized that the air conditioning wasn’t actually going to work in our van during an 8 hour bus ride, I knew some torrential sweating was in store.
Marrakech feels like a mirage within a desert. After driving for hours on 2 lane roads with more than a few stops for tea, occasional site seeing and even some errant donkey crossings, Marrakech came alive in front of us full of New York style traffic, Western shopping malls and of course, McDonalds. I was completely unprepared for this clash of West meets East especially after having seen much of Morocco that is still very much a third world country.
Our first stop was our hotel, which blissfully had a pool that we quickly dunked our feet into to cool our body temps down. (It’s possible I sweated out by body weight during our bus ride). A few of us decided to take a walk around our neighborhood before dinner just to get an idea of the area. We walked through some beautiful gardens and started to do some price comparing, noticing that prices are much higher in Marrakech then in other Moroccan cities.
Saturday morning started with a tour of a resevoir whose use I don’t really remember but I’m hoping it’s not how the city gets their water because it certainly didn’t seem like a lot of water! We then made our way to the famous Koutoubia mosque where it became clear that Marrakech is a tourist city. I think I saw more American and Western tourists over this past weekend then I have seen in the past two months during all my travels in Europe and Morocco. Pretty amazing! The guide said that in the coming week as Ramadan begins the mosque will be filled with worshippers, some even spilling out into the courtyard surrounding the main building.
Our next stop brought us to a traditional pharmacist who tried to sell us everything from dried gingko (the natural viagra!) to agram oil and goats milk lotion. I walked away with my fair share of spices and tea that are sure to stink up my suitcase on the way back home but I can’t wait to start cooking with them!
Now the suuk in Marrakech is seriously like nothing else. It’s HUGE!!! I’ve been to my fair share of outdoors markets and similar suuk style shopping plazas but this was by far the biggest one I have ever been in. It was no surprise then that we quickly lost our guide who was taking us back to the bus and we spent the next 25 minutes trying to find our way out of the maze of shops and back alleys.
The suuk is centered around the famed Jemaa el-Fnaa, a large square that is home to entertainers, orange juice sellers, dancing monkeys, snake charmers, etc… Our first experience with Jemaa el-Fnaa happened relatively early in the day when it’s still fairly quite and unpopulated. The atmosphere changes completely by night fall, when hundreds of food vendors come out offering meats straight off the grill and mounds of couscous and escargot. There are so many people that it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. Henna artists and artisans try to hawk their wears to every passing tourists and I was persuaded into getting a tattoo from a very mean women who almost made me pay double what I asked for!
Unfortunately for us, it was back onto the hot and steamy bus early Sunday morning. While the weekend was short, it was packed full of many things. I definitely want to go back to Marrakech soon!