During our last dinner in Marrakech, one of my tour-mates asked me what my favourite country so far is, but instead of a country or even a city what came to mind was a favourite travel quote: I’m in love with places I’ve never seen and people I haven’t met. It’s incredibly apt. I feel like there are places that I am already in love with, even though I have never been there. And there are places I will fall in love with, that I haven’t even imagined yet. Ireland is the former. Morocco, and more specifically Marrakech, is the latter.
I have fallen hopelessly in love with Marrakech. It’s the most amazing city but I don’t know if I can really explain exactly why, unless you’ve felt it too. It’s just so vibrant and full of life, some parts so polished and others so raw. There are mazes to get lost in, and long dusty boulevards of palm trees leading to spectacular mountain frescos. There are people wandering around in jilabas, hijabs, fes’, also skinny jeans and fashion that you would expect to see in New York or Paris. The cross-sections of life are stark and stunning. You can hear Arabic, Berber, French, English, German, any language as you wander the streets and especially in the medina.
I felt like there were more tourists in Marrakech than the rest of Morocco combined, especially those with dreadlocks and Birkenstock (it kind of seems like a hippie-haven) but somehow still felt like it retained it’s identity and was not over-run. It’s so different from anything I know, yet within a few minutes of walking in the streets I felt like I had been there my whole life. (forgive me family) I could definitely see myself living in Marrakech.
We arrived on the last day of our tour, after driving through the High Atlas mountains, a very windy trek, like driving the Hope-Princeton in BC, with similar but completely different and absolutely breath-taking views.
My first impression of Marrakesh was a little disappointing. I loved the grittiness of Casablanca, and the chaos of Fez, I loved the ancient history that seeps into every part of every city I had seen so far. Our first view of Marrakesh was big boulevards with 5 star hotels and namebrand stores. Not exactly things that pull me. But the minute Aziz took us out into the street heading towards a cafe, it all changed. That moment when you really breath a city in, the sights, the sounds, the feel of it; that’s when you know it’s the place for you. And I knew.
Marrakech combines all the chaos of Casablanca and Fes with something more. An energy I absolutely loved. One of the guys on our tour was told that Marrakech is full of Berber magic, and I can absolutely believe that. We had a quick guided tour of the medina and the riad in the centre of Marrakech, then we were left to our own devices. A group of us decided to wander, we spent over 3 hours walking through the medina, looking, haggling, buying (surprisingly, the person who bought the most was the guy from Calgary, blowing the female-shopaholic stereotype out of the water). It was just like the medina in Fes, the same type of maze of shops and people and motorbikes. Except in Marrakech there are many, many exits to the main square, which was a bit of a
relief. Until you got into the main square and ran into a snake charmer…it’s cool on tv, kinda terrifying when you almost accidentally kick a live cobra. Or one of the guys chases you trying to toss an adder around your neck for money. Picture five terrified tourists running terrified from one tiny snake through a crowded square (and the one person in our group who loves snakes laughing at us). After that we needed to calm down, so we wound our way through the twisting alleys to the Earth Cafe, a juice bar! Beet, orange and ginger never tasted so good after a steady diet of white breaded goods, and chicken cooked in oil. Don’t get me wrong, the food in Morocco has been absolutely amazing, way less spicy than I imagined, just as flavourful and delicious as I hoped. And I was still pretty grateful for some fresh raw beets.
I basically wandered through the medina in a state of bliss and awe. I didn’t even mind when motorbikes tried to run me over, when a donkey loaded up with aluminum siding almost ran into me and took my head off. Or when a brawl between two 10 year old boys broke out, and we had to hide in a store until the group of old men were able to tear them apart. It was all just part of the atmosphere, the reality of living and working in such closely contained quarters. I could have walked through those alleys and pathways all day, I think you could wander around the medina for months and still not discover all its treasures.
Finally leaving the medina to go for our last group dinner was so bittersweet. The square was even more beautiful at night than it had been awe-some during the day. I wanted to enjoy each minute, but all I could think of was that I only had these last few moments in Morocco, and I was leaving the next day. I wanted to stay – I didn’t feel like I had seen nearly enough of Marrakech, of Morocco, and I was sad that our group was now splitting up. We had had such fun together. We had laughed so hard I cried more times than I can count, and once I think I almost peed my pants. I was lucky to have met such good people in my group. It was hard to say goodbye to every part of this trip, and especially this city.
Marrakech wouldn’t have been a place I would imagine I would fall in love with. As a whole I am a bit intimidated by Morocco, by Islamic countries in generally. Mostly because of the status of women but also from ignorance about Islam. We hear a very particular slant about Islam and Muslims in North America, and I know that I just don’t know enough. I am also fascinated by the depth of faith. I loved hearing the call to prayer echoing from minaret to minaret throughout which ever city we were in. I am envious of being called into that kind of spiritual space 5 times a day. I love the ritual ablutions before prayer, washing away the dirt and grime on the body and in the mind so you can come to prayer clean in body, mind soul. I love the ritual of prostration. It is good to remember that we are not the be-all end-all, to imagine there is something greater than us in this world that we can bow to in humility if only for a few moments. I have a lot of respect for spiritual beliefs that run that deep, even while I fear the strictures and oppression that often exist in religion, any religion. That is part of the reason why I chose to go to Morocco in the first place, to broaden my horizons and my understanding. The other part was camels in the desert. I’m kinda shallow like that.
I am now finished my time in Morocco and I don’t know that much more than when I started. In fact I feel like I have more questions than answers. But that’s probably not a bad thing – the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know? It’s kind of the best thing about traveling and really about living life as an adventure: you are never done. There are always more questions, more things to see, more things to experience, more ways to realise how little you actually know. Who wouldn’t fall in love with that kind of life?