After successfully slithering away from crazy snake men I had no time to sit on my laurels, my hostel was somewhere in the center of the Medina and I had to find it. The only guides I had were a completely illegible map -it may as well have been of a different city – and directions that could possibly be from the upcoming Indiana Jones movie.
I started down a dark covered street filled with market stalls selling anything from knock-off t-shirts, watches, and Nike runners, to Moroccan spices and other items that have worse market appeal than Britney Spears. After wandering through the back alleys and lifting my suitcase over puddles of donkey…stuff, I realized that I had no choice but to enlist the help of a local. I scanned the small intersection where I stood for any signs of help; which I considered to be anyone with a full set of teeth and a grasp of english.
A kid approached me that must have been no older than 13 years old – my brother’s age – and asked me in passable english if I needed help finding my hostel. I made a small joke and laughed so he knew to laugh with me, a full set of teeth, you’re hired.
I told my new guide the name of where I was staying and away we went. On our 15 minute journey threading ourselves through the inner labyrinth of the Medina the boy spoke to me in French, English, and Italian, I was thoroughly impressed. I know many people, myself included, that took more than 5 years of french in school and lucky if we can remember the word biblioteque (and that’s likely spelt wrong). But here is this new teenager conversing with a stranger in 3 of his 4 known languages trying to impress me while he lead me to a fancy hostel. When we finally arrived to a dark door with the name Equity Point hostel faintly visible on the dark metallic sign our time together had come to an end and it was time for me to ante up. I pulled out 50 DH (5 euros) and put it in his hands with a smile. Being the Canadian that I am I thought that was generous, this kid looked at me like I just raped his sister and he began demanding 100 DH. I countered with the Italian “You talkin’ to me?” stare (wide eyed, nostrils flaring), and there we stood just looking at one another. After a few moments I came to several conclusions; no chance would I have found my hostel by myself, who does the 50 DH mean more to, and I’ll be honest, I was really blown away that he could understand Italian. Fine. 100 DH. Thanks for the help…you little bastard.
I rang the bell and walked through the door into a palace. A diamond in the midst of giant turd. This was no hostel, this was a Moroccan oasis. With the plush common gathering areas, a restaurant and rooftop terrace and a 5* room things finally started to look interesting. It was already well past noon so I dropped my bags, had a quick chat about Barcelona with Rob the hostel manager and headed out to meet the rest of Marrakesh.
What could I do with the day? I could tour the palaces, visit a Mosque, take a stroll through the Saadian Tombs, or I’m sure I could’ve checked prices on buying a Moroccan child. I’m sure the resale value in California these days is through the roof. With all these options I decided to take the classy route and take a walk through the markets looking for good, cheap, fake junk to spend my money on.
Though I ventured out with the dreams of a 2 euro Rolex I found myself spending an hour in what I like to call Blockbuster Marrakesh. A small market stall with 14 foot ceilings all lined with pirated movies in every different language, primarily French and English. For thirty minutes I played Roeper to the Ebert mind of a nice French girl who seemed to be showing the wonders of Marrakesh to her mother. She managed to convince me to purchase The Last Samurai, and I had to put on quite the song and dance to get her to invest in A Bronx Tale. Those French don’t part with their 2 euros very easily.
Upon returning to my palace I took a trip to the rooftop terrace to check out the view. Coincidentally as I made it to the roof the 5:30 prayer service started. And by ‘started’ I mean multiple loud speakers throughout the city began blaring Muslim prayers for all to hear. I was speechless. As the anti-religion guy I found this whole experience fascinating. For at least 5 or 10 minutes these prayers were all you could hear from all corners of the walled city of Marrakesh. I immediately began having terrible flashbacks of home room during my highschool years.
As Allah-palooza ended I return to the common area to find a group of travelers gathered in the common area exchanging backpacking anecdotes. One person suggested we order an extra large pot of Mint Tea, which is supposedly a trademark drink of the city. As the pot arrived and I took my first sip I was surprised to find out how delicious it was. After about 40min I had put back a fair amount of tea and I was loving life. The room seemed more alive, conversations seemed more vibrant, and surprisingly I had stopped blinking altogether. I looked around at my nomadic friends and finally asked the question I should have asked at the start, “Ummm…so, what exactly is in this tea to make it taste so good?” Jon, a quirky and hilarious guy from Utah was more than happy to diagnose my current state of mania. “Well, there’s mint. And a fuckin’ shitload of sugar. I’m surprised your heart hasn’t exploded.”
The remainder of the evening provided a proper feast at the food markets in the town square (to be detailed in Part 3), and another story telling session back at our hostel that lasted late into the evening. A tame first day in Morocco, but little did I know what lied ahead for me…