Stepping Outside (Marrakech, Morocco)

MARRAKECH, MOROCCO

After a shaky start in Marrakech, I grasped the courage to step out into the chaos and explore.

I wedged the little wooden door shut and found myself in a tall, narrow, sun-bathed alleyway. The atmosphere was completely unrecogniseable from the damp, spooky one the night before.


It was so quiet. All I could hear was frail, old men in Islamic dress dragging their flip flops along the ground. Nobody was in a rush to be anywhere. Cats slipped through doorways and lazed in the sun. It was all simple. I felt at totally at ease.


I could hear some commotion a short while away. I followed it. It was a sensible start.

I took a few narrow corners and found myself on the main souk circuit - the main road of the market - which was channel of people shuffling around each other and inspecting the market's goods. Market traders tried to lead you into their stall to fondle their textiles or finger their pomegranates (oo-er). The atmosphere was intense but not threatening in the slightest. This is exactly how I imagined Marrakech, and I was very happy with it.

I wandered my way to the main square, Jemaa-El-Fnaa - a wide open, paved space which I expected to be a gasp of fresh air after worming through stuffy souks and alleyways. It was the total opposite. As soon as I wandered into the square I was ambushed by the sunlight and it instantly felt about 10C-degrees hotter! The atmosphere was lovely however: the air was spiced with citrus zest from fresh juice vendors and heady cigars from cafes around the square. Men danced around the square wearing tambourines on every limb. Music, aroma, heat - it was an all-you-can-eat buffet for the senses.


Not to mention snake charmers, one of which plucked me from the crowd and wrapped a grass snake around my neck.


Fortunately, I love snakes...

I ordered a coffee and sat here for an hour just watching groups of tourists being led around, fanning themselves with leaflets and maps.

I then spent the rest of the afternoon making use of my own map, finding palaces truffled away among the narrow backstreets around the city. You can read about that in a separate post, HERE. It was a real treasure hunt, and there were some beautiful finds.


Later that night, I returned to Jemaa-El-Fnaa Sq., which had completely erupted with life.


The wide open stretches of pavement were covered in market pitches of every kind. Grill stands, sweet stands, orange juice stands...


Let's talk about the orange juice stands for a moment...

There are orange juice stands everywhere on Jemaa-El-Fnaa, all assigned a number. Whenever I spoke to people about them, I'd hear things like '55 is the best', '23 and 47 are joint favourites', '39 is bae.' People had their favourites.


You pay 4 Dirhams (30p in Brit money) for a tall glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, juiced right in front of your eyes. The oranges here are really something, as somehow it only takes 2 whole oranges to fill a tall glass! I never got into the whole juicing fad back home, after once juicing about 12 oranges and tempting a nervous breakdown just to fill a single glass of juice. I gave up juicing then and never looked back. I don't know if it's the oranges or the vendors' supreme juicing skills, but Morocco does juicing so much better than I ever could. So cheers to that.


I spent hours on the square that night. I drank tea, watched dolled-up foreigners have henna designs painted onto their arms and I picked out different foods to try. I tried spiced nuts, dates, mahmoul (like Arabic tea biscuits) and fried cous cous (mind-blowing!) Some treats I loved, some I loathed. Marrakech generally doesn't seem to do things by half-measures - it's either absolutely fantastic or the most disgusting thing you've experienced in your whole life. I love it.


I wandered back to my AirBnB with my scarf around my shoulders and a full stomach. I chatted to some of the other guests into the early morning, sharing recommendations, and making notes of places to visit.

One recommendation stood out - La Mamounia - an old king's palace, restored into a gorgeous, high-esteemed hotel. It peaked my interest. I decided then that this would be how I was spending my next day...

We'll be heading there in the next post, so wear something nice!

Thanks for reading!

Anthony

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