Rock the Kasbah

Oh Morocco. Where do I even begin? One-legged taxi drivers, mint gas masks, haggling heaven… It was complete sensory overload.

  • Exhaust, incense, urine, cinnamon, cigarette smoke, mint, citrus…
  • Walls and houses a thousand shades of red and pink (coral, salmon, rust), a rainbow of leather, beads & spices, sun-saturated brightness, green palm trees arching upward…
  • Hot and refreshing mint tea, cumin and ginger tangines, chewy coconutty macaroons, licorice sticks (the real deal)…
  • Horns blasting, “Bonjour!”, “Hola mi amigos!”, engines revving, birds chirping, “Come my friend, looking is free”, the Muslim call to prayer, and my favourite: “No money, no honey!”

All happening simultaneously…

img_0965small.jpg I was quite struck by how non-Western Marrakesh is. The majority of the adults here wear traditional robes and most of the women wear head coverings. So, with our western attire, light skin and my blond hair we screamed TOURISTS. After our first few hours there, having already been given advice and (wrong) directions by a handful of little boys (who then demanded money) and having been accosted by numerous shopkeepers in multiple languages, we were determined to buy robes and head coverings for ourselves in the desperate attempt to blend in. But unfortunately our limited cash and intimidation at haggling with the souk merchants prevented this.

So we blended in just like a punk rocker at a black tie ball.

the never-ending souks

Still, we managed to have a great time exploring souks, palaces, gardens and the maze-like streets. We got a bit better at haggling (after being ripped off grandly) and managed to do most of our Christmas shopping. All of the handicrafts on sale are unique, gorgeous and cheap… if not for our strict baggage restrictions and lack of funds, I think I would have bought enough to furnish a house.

The weather was amazing – cool in the mornings and evenings, filled with intense sunshine and a cool breeze during the day. If only that breeze wasn’t blended in with so much exhaust smoke! By day 3 my whole respiratory system felt on the verge of collapse. I’m sure visiting the tanneries, where they process leather in traditional methods, didn’t help. Among the (sometimes carcinogenic) concoctions that men are working waist-deep in: bleach flour and pigeon poo. The smells were awful! Thankfully we were given sprigs of fresh mint leaves to put in front of our noses during our visit.

Jemaa el Fna is the main plaza packed with fresh juice stalls, carts packed with robust piles of dried fruit delicacies, fortune tellers, snake charmers, henna artists, story tellers, musicians and people. At night it fills with food stalls with aggressive waiters and the smell of bubbling tangines. It’s like carnival without a tent.

Jemaa el Fna at dusk

By the fourth day we were completely city’d-out and decided to take a day trip to the Atlas Mountains. There was no public transport so the only way to get there was by taxi, which by western standards was dirt cheap. Determined to make it even cheaper, however, we set about on a hunt for others to share the ride with. After over an hour of searching, and having walked all over the city, Mohamed came like a vision of an oasis in the desert!

And thus we gave up the idea of a shared taxi and hopped into his old, light yellow Mercedes. Just accelerating to 20mph the car made enough scratching and grinding noses to make us pray it wouldn’t burst into flames at the next intersection. But soon the car’s disconcerting sounds were drowned out by loud Berber music playing on a cassette tape.

Our friendly taxi driver had only one leg. It turns out when he was a teenager he was riding a moped and got in a accident that cost him his leg. But he wasn’t even close to searching for self-pity: “It was my destiny,” he explained, “but I’m happy, I have a good job, a wife and two children.” Still, you would think loosing his leg in an auto accident would make him somewhat cautious while on the road. But no… he was quite daring in his passing exploits. Nevertheless we arrived in Setti Fatma safely.

Looking down on Setti FatmaThe minute we got out of the car we had about 10 Moroccans offer to be our guide and take us to a waterfall. We kindly refused and began our hike. We’d hiked for a while on a crowded trail that went to a waterfall and then began blazing a bit of our own trail up the mountainside. Then we found a nice trail and continued our climb passing more waterfalls until the trail really ended. Nevertheless, we knew both snow & great views were above us so we scrambled/rock climbed for almost 2 hours up the steep pink rock until we arrived at a splendid lunch spot overlooking the whole valley. We ventured until we saw a herd of goats and then we spied a shepherd coming up a trail on the opposite side of the mountain. So we tried to follow the shepherd’s “path” home but mainly succeeded in slipping and sliding down the loose rocky mountainside. But at last we made it back to the village (with bloody hands from falls) to enjoy some delicious mint tea!

The next day we returned to England, our lungs overjoyed with the pristine country air once more but our whole bodies longing for the warmth of the sunshine of Morocco.