I love Marrakesh. I absolutely LOVE Marrakesh.
After my busy week and weekend, I spent last Monday feverishly running around the house preparing for my trip. Threw a hodgepodge of summer weight clothing into my bag, selected two pairs of shoes for walking and one pair of nonsensical fashion shoes for evenings, and added all of my Entrepreneurship books so I could do homework while I was there. Had a fitful night's sleep, as I had to be up by 4AM to make the drive to Heathrow for my 8AM flight.
Made it in plenty of time, and left England in the chilly mist...it was probably about 4C that morning, with intermittently heavy rain pelting down. (Not quite squally downpours, but close.) The flight wasn't full so I had a row to myself, which was great. Stretched out and took a snooze, and three hours later I was deplaning in the warm sun of Africa.
Marrakesh has one of those tiny airports...no jet ways, just stairs to the tarmac and you walk to the double doors, where you stand in a short customs line and head straight out to one of the two baggage carousels. Hicham, my host, met me outside, and took me to my lovely hotel.
I had a fabulous one bedroom suite, with luxurious marble bath, huge bed with luscious white sheets, an open fireplace surrounded by low-slung and cushioned furniture, and giant windows and patio doors that opened onto a beautiful garden.
I'd not been to Morocco before, and I didn't quite know what to expect. It is a fascinating mix of modern and old, of European and Arab. It was surprising and strange and exotic and interesting. Streets don't have lanes...you drive on the right, but beyond that you find whatever space you can in the stream of movement. Cars, trucks, scooters, bicycles, and donkey carts weave in and out of each other as they make their way across the city. You'll pass some toothless old man in a caftan, sitting sideways on a donkey whose packs are laden with merchandise for the souq, and then you'll stop next to a Land Rover with a sat nav and a booming stereo. The modern city has tons of sidewalk cafes and stylish restaurants and hotels, with wide boulevarded streets and high rise apartments. And then you get into the Medina, and you are weaving on foot through the labyrinthine streets, past little shops, and plain doorways that open into luxurious riads with elaborately tiled foyers and peaceful courtyards. The souqs are fantastic. Twisty little corridors (much of it is covered with slat metal that lets a bit of light peak in, but shades you from the midday sun) brimming with stalls carrying spices and olives and jewelry and tapestries and carpets and silver and metal and slippers and leather bags and caftans (and even trainers or baby clothes in some parts of the market.) The city square is home to snake charmers and story tellers and palm readers and musicians, all offering their talents in exchange for a few dirham. I even saw TWO (yes TWO) feral dachshunds wandering the market, looking for scraps and a bit of kindness. Feral cats (and there were many) you see every day...feral dachshunds seem like magic.
The food was phenomenal. Fresh, delicious vegetables, succulent lamb and moist chicken, spicy sweet sauces infused with saffron and cinnamon. And crusty, delicious breads in abundance. The coffee is strong, deliciously so. And at least five times a day you're offered a delicious-refreshing glass of peppermint tea, sweetened to varying degrees, depending upon the tastes of your host.
Morocco is a Muslim country, and the calls to prayer echo through the city from loudspeakers in La Koutoubia, the main mosque in the Medina. Yet many Moroccans are more liberal, with less restrictive dress (often women wear western dress and no hijab) and even a taste for wine and beer at the cafes and restaurants. French and Arabic are both widely spoken in Marrakesh, as is English in the main parts of the city. Marrakesh feels exotic and familiar at the same time, and the people are friendly and courteous, making it great fun to wander their home.
We even managed a little trip into the snow-capped Atlas mountains, which loom in the distance like some fake movie set. Seriously, there is nothing I like more than palm trees and arid landscape against a backdrop of craggy snowy peaks. We made our way out of the city in our 4x4, towards the horizon dotted with kasbahs, through Berber villages and olive groves and around hairpin turns through sheer redrock cliffs, taking a detour for some offroad driving that put us in places where donkey carts are the ONLY transportation for the locals. Just incredible. We stopped for lunch at a quaint little hotel in a mountain village, and had a scrumptious meal alongside a rushing stream, overlooking the most beautiful rose garden I've ever seen. (This hotel rocked, by the way, as it was populated by retirees and gay men, and the gardens were full of people reading and drawing and drowsing under straw sunhats to protect them from the sun.)
We made a beeline to the airport, and about 62 hours after I'd left the UK I was back in my car, driving through the drizzle in the dark, on my way to a fitful night's sleep before heading to uni for a weekend of classes. It hardly seems real.
I'll have to go back to believe it.