I touched down in Marrakech last Friday after a trek down the coast from Fes to Casablanca. When I walked into the main terminal through Customs, there were at least 100 men with signs for Riad’s and Hotels. Chaos is the word best suited to describe it. I found the driver from Les Jardins de la Medina and bolted for the front door. I watched a van run over a motorcycle before we even got out of the airport parking lot and it appeared to be rush hour…Yikes! <insert need beer>
In Marrakech, the roads are actually wide enough for cars to squeeze down in some areas of the Medina. It’s flat here and from my perspective, a lot more crowded. How the driver navigated the Land Rover down the street is still a mystery to me. The car brought me right to the front door of Les Jardins de la Medina and unlike Fes, the door to the Riad was stunning. At one time this property was a large private estate. I believe it was a relative of the Royal family. After the front reception area there is a huge garden with swimming pool, lounge chairs and a fabulous bar and restaurant with outdoor seating. The staff incredibly gracious as expected and the room stunning. I’ll be doing a separate post on the hotel so stay tuned.
The most famous part of Marrakech, Djemaa el Fna Square, is a must-see! It’s impossible to describe. Comparable to something between a small-town carnival and the Indianapolis 500, there is a sea of people shouting, singing, selling and panhandling. It’s a bit overwhelming at first but as the initial shock subsided, I was able to absorb the individual scenes.
Beginning around 4PM the bigger food carts start to move into the square. By 5PM the entire place is set up and crowds begin pouring in. You can find all the favorite Moroccan dishes for sale in the square at night. They have fresh Escargot, skewers of beef, lamb and chicken, couscous, dates and nuts to name just a few. Morocco grows a tremendous amount of citrus and you can get a delicious glass of fresh squeezed orange juice for just 50 cents at one of dozens of orange carts throughout the square. The smell of Moroccan spices fills the air and there is a festive feeling here. The crowd is not just tourists. On the contrary, Djemaa el Fna Square is the place locals congregate at night to eat, socialize and to be entertained by music, acting and other acts that I could honestly not understand.
Behind the square, little alleyways branch into the Souk, which is an open air market and a part of life in Morocco and the Middle East. A Souk also refers to the individual stalls within the market so the term can be used both ways. You can buy almost anything in the Souk; clothing, shoes, food, household goods, and artisanal items like wood carvings, rugs, and jewelry.
There are no prices marked on the items. Part of the experience is haggling over the prices. The first price given is usually more than double what the item should really sell for. Some of the vendors are pretty shrewd negotiators! The first thing they want to know is “how many” of an item you want to buy. Then they will tell you a price for a few more than what you asked for. I think I could learn a few selling tactics from them for sure.
It appears that most of the things are actually made in Morocco but you do need to be careful. I saw a few “Made in India” stickers on things.
A lot of the clothing they sell are knockoff’s of brand name Western labels like Adidas, Converse and Guess. The traditional Djallaba, which comes from the Arabic word jallaba meaning attractive, is a standard, casual outer garment worn by both men and women in Morocco. The Kaftan is the more formal and elegant dress. Depending on the fabric, they can be very expensive to have made but they are so exquisite. In some of the expensive restaurants you can see men and women wearing some spectacular outfits!
I’ll finish up with a short video of my first walk through the souks in Marrakech. The video quality is not good but it will give you a better sense of what its like to walk there. I kept seeing these leather things that I thought were pet beds and I finally realized they were meant to be stuffed with filling to make foot stools. I was just seeing them folded for storage. I have pets on the brain!
Marrakech is a vibrant city with a lot to see and experience. It certainly pushes some comfort boundaries for Americans but I highly recommend visiting if you have the opportunity. I will never forget wandering the streets and alleyways of the city…
Happy New Year!