Morocco has always been a “bucket list” destination of mine. Its culture, richly rewarded by the influence of the Berbers and Arabs, alluringly draws you in and keeps you engaged, requiring you to use all five senses to fully experience it. It is no wonder that Morocco is now one of the hottest travel destinations in the world.
Marrakech, Morocco – Through My Eyes
The following is my account of my recent trip to Marrakech, Morocco. I invite you to view the picture diary that visually documents our trip, “The Magic Of Morocco – My Picture Diary.”
As you can imagine, I was thrilled when my family had a chance to visit Morocco. We had 5 days to spend in Marrakech, and it was 5 days that changed the way I look at travel.
The moment we stepped off the plane, we got the sense that we were in for an adventure that we could not escape, so we excitedly embraced it. We succumbed the moment we took the first sip of Moroccan tea and we formed an impenetrable bond with the country and its people with every cup thereafter. We felt both familiar and foreign at the same time.
After our day of travel we were eager to get to our hotel, or riad, as it is called in Morocco. From the outside, one would never guess the luxury that awaited us. The beautiful black and white tiled courtyard, filled with lush furniture and fruit bearing trees, was our home for the next five days. Our suite, or should I say, apartment, was more beautiful than expected; three bedrooms, three floors and a private rooftop terrace with our own pool. The trip was off to a great start.
We are aware of our Muslim surroundings as we are awakened by the melodic call to prayer. The feeling of calm that the call to prayer evokes was immediately met with the hustle and bustle of the ancient walled city that was also beginning to awaken. We got dressed, keeping in mind the dress customs of the area, dressing such that we are both respectful and safe. Our objective today: tour the souk.
The souk is the most amazing marketplace you will ever see. The narrow meandering alleyways are filled with everything your heart could ever desire. The sights – of colorful shoes, intricate rugs, and rich textiles, drew us from one stall to the other, grabbing our attention at every turn. The smells – of spices, of freshly tanned leather, of baked goods and fresh fruits, all hit us one after the other, causing us to swoon in serenity. The serenity, however was quickly interrupted by the shop owners attempting to entice us into buying their products. Make any indication of interest and you would be verbally tugged, pulled and lured into their stalls for a closer look. Be prepared to haggle. A vigorous tug of war is required for every purchase. This is not for the faint of heart.
The souk’s sensory overload is the price we pay to have the amazing opportunity to experience this one-of -a-kind adventure. The exchange rate is excellent, about ten dirhams to one dollar, so things that would otherwise be out of budget can be purchased for a song. This is was our chance to shop to our heart’s content, buying, spices, rugs, textiles, silver and trinkets.
After a day at the souk, a cup of tea is in order- not just any tea – Moroccan tea. The ingredients are simple; gunpowder green tea, mint leaves and sugar, but the preparation intertwines the taste of the ingredients so that you can’t tell where one taste ends and the other begins. The result is both soothing and refreshing. This is but one of many cups of tea that we enjoyed in Morocco.
One sure way to learn the culture of a place is by learning about its foods and how they are cooked, so we decided to take a cooking class. Under a beautiful luxurious tent, located in a more beautiful and luxurious garden, our instructor fed us freshly baked Moroccan bread, with locally harvested honey and argon oil, washed down with Moroccan tea, of course. As we dined, he talked to us about the origins and customs surrounding Moroccan foods and Moroccan cooking. We then went inside to try our own hand at making chicken tagine in an aptly named tagine pot which looks a bit like teepee, Moroccan cookies and much more. It was a day immersed in culture, viewed through the prism of food.
No Moroccan trip is complete without a desert adventure and a camel ride. We decided to do both in the Agafay Desert. It is located just 45 miles from the city but it seemed worlds away. The chaos of the city melted into the quiet of the desert as we made our way. Our destination was La Pause, which is aptly named. It is the ultimate unplugged resort, no wifi and no electricity! That alone is adventure enough for my plugged in travel partners, but there was even more adventure in store.
We met our camels at the edge of the trail. We climbed onto the massive animals, who were kneeling to allow easy access. Once aloft, our view and attitude immediately changed. We imagined ourselves Berbers, on a long, slow journey across the desert, a desert with a view that never changes. It was clear that the camels were traveling a familiar route, but it was all new to us. We enjoyed our “walk on the wild side” on our “beasts of burden,” snapping silly pictures with every step.
After our adventure, we were welcomed to an incredible lunch of beef and couscous, chicken tagine, a vegetable dish and dessert – all perfectly prepared without electricity. Lunch was served under a tent – not just a regular tent, but a traditional Berber tent with red carpet, white couches and white linens. Luxury in the middle of the dessert.
When it was time to depart, we returned down the dusty road, headed toward the city. On the side of the road was an abandoned tractor. We looked for its owner, and found him kneeling in the dust, shoes off, praying. Even without hearing the call to prayer, he was called to pray. We were mesmerized by this vision.
Back in the medina, we were greeted warmly by our hosts, who have, you guessed it, a fresh pot of tea awaiting us. We settle into the riad for a restful night.
Our goal on day 4 is to wash our worries away. With a little hesitation we schedule a hammam. A hammamis a traditional ritual-like washing. In a public hammam, participants wash each other (men and women separately, of course). We opt for a private hammam. We are instructed to strip, replacing our undies with disposable undies, then we enter the room to be washed. Our uncomfortableness first turns into comfort, then into bliss as our attendant scrubs us clean while we lay on heated marble benches. We feel at peace with the world, our worries seemingly washed away.
We spend the afternoon in the garden, but not just an ordinary garden, the Jardin Majorelle. The garden is filled with specimen plants of all kinds. Particularly eye catching are the cobalt blue buildings, including the Villa Oasis, which at one point was inhabited by Yves St. Laurent. We recognize it as it is often the backdrop of many photos. We shamelessly stop and pose for a few of our own.
Later that night, we decided to visit the infamous Jamaa el Fna and what a sight it was! It had the feeling of a town square, with a bit of carnival thrown in. There are food stalls, games of chance, and the real live snake charmers that we read about in books but never thought we’d see in real life. Tourists and locals intermingle to enjoy the festive atmosphere.
Our trip ends today. We are sad to leave and spend the better part of the day rushing around getting overlooked mementos and gifts. We try to say a special thanks to those who have been particularly kind to us, which is just about everyone. We attempt to sear into our memories the sight, sounds, smells and feeling that is Morocco. We leave, but don’t say goodbye, since we hope that our travels return us there.
If Moroccan tea is currency, Moroccans are no spendthrifts. Everywhere we went, a cup of tea was offered, sometimes to entice us to buy something, other times from sheer hospitality. Moroccans give you the felling that as a visitor in their country, you are not just tolerated, but welcome.
Are you inspired to visit Morocco?