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Marrakesh- Part 3- The Labyrinth within

Posted by on January 1, 2008

After a quality night’s sleep in my Sheik sized and Cecchin approved room I realized the only thing missing was the whole Muslim promise of 72 virgins; but since I’m not quite ready for self sacrifice I settled for the good night’s sleep.

I sat down for breakfast at the rooftop restaurant with my new acquaintances, two American girls(Nicola and Emma) and one Aussie guy (Sam), and chatted about what we all had planned for the day. Besides the fact that I had my mind set on buying a couple fake watches, the rest of our goals for the day coincided so we decided to sight see together. We started out at 10am and began the walk towards site one- The Saadian Tombs. We realized quickly that any map in the city was borderline useless. So we essentially followed tour groups and tour buses toward places of interest. The fact about Marrakesh that you discover fast, is if you appear to be at all lost you will have several locals quickly descend upon you offering their suggestions on where your destination might be… for a nominal fee of course.

After playing human Frogger throughout the chaotic streets, dodging donkey excrement and an abundance of beggars we made it. Anti-climatic justly sums this experience. When someone mentions tombs I think of catacombs, bones, and all around creepy stuff. The Saadian Tombs were more like a mediocre garden with scattered tombstones laid throughout….borrrrring. To add insult to injury, Sam and I were forced to feign interest and listen to Nicola read aloud the history of the tombs in her Lonely Planet guide and then watch Emma take several pictures of the stray cats wandering around. Sam and I realized we needed to find a way to ditch these feet draggers before I started contemplating the benefits of homicide.

After having to stop every 15ft as the girls found another market stall to browse in, Sam and I made our escape. We left the girls to go look for some fake watches and we agreed to meet up later. And by later we meant if we just so happened to run into them at our hostel before leaving for the airport the next day. Some ties just need to be severed early.

After about 4 stalls we finally found a place with fake watches worthy of my euros. All I wanted was a Breitling and I found a beautiful one that even though was much too big for my chicken wrists, I had to buy. The clerk told me it was one of their highest quality watches and would sell only for 500 DH (50 euros). I assumed “highest quality” was a joke. After 25min of bartering, (see: arguing) and both of us fake walking away at least twice we settled on 350DH and I possibly just helped fund terrorism. Oh well.

After a long lunch Sam and I went to find the Souks. The Souks are the main markets inside the Medina(the wall city) with hundreds of different stalls all grouped into categories depending on exactly what they sold. Thirty minutes into our walk we realized we were totally and utterly lost. A local Moroccan began walking with us promising to show us to the Leather Tanneries and promised he would ask for no money for his services. Obviously we were suspect of his real motives. Each time we ditched this guy he somehow managed to find us again and pull us in the direction he wanted to go. As he hurried us through the streets I could feel other locals staring at us and perhaps I was being paranoid but I felt like I was being led into the lion’s den.

We turned down a narrow street that appeared to venture into an area barren of tourists. Sam and I looked at each other and decided it was time to cut and run. We started walking slower to allow our guide to get a little further ahead and as he turned a corner we bolted in the opposite direction into side streets and alleys until we felt we had lost him. We eventually found the Souks about two hours into our journey and after a whole ten minutes of browsing we decided to head back. Shamefully we then realized the Souks was only a five minute walk from our hostel and had just spent two hours looking for it.

When dinner called, Sammy and I were determined to return to the food markets in the middle of the square. There’s no better place to be than in the middle of the madness. The “food markets” as I’ve not so cleverly dubbed them are essentially a large cluster of restaurant stalls that are set up each and every night in the middle of the old-town square. It amazed me how fast they’re assembled and how quickly they’re dismantled at the end of the night. I believe Ripley’s should be contacted.

Most of these stalls have the same types of food, with other serving delicacies like sheep’s head, sheep brain, and snails. The main stalls can hold a maximum of roughly 30 people at a time. There must have been over 40 stalls in the square tightly knotted together, and when their lights come on its totally anarchy as each stall owner and their staff maul you for your patronage.

People jump at you and block your path while trying to quickly explain the benefits of their skewered lamb over the skewered lamb three steps away at the next stall. In the pursuit of fun and stupidity we decided that instead of fearing the chaos, we would embrace it. Our game plan was to give our business to whichever stall owner had the best jingle or pitch. Let the games begin.

The two runners up: one man literally jumped in front of us like he was Batman yelling, “Stall 88, yummy yummy good for your tummy”, and two Moroccan boys did a fantastic Borat impression for no reason but could not seal the deal with us. The champion of the night was a large quasi-toothless man smiling from ear to ear promoting his own “Hell’s Kitchen. Stall 117 Take you to Heaven”. This man was quite the gem. With his sweater that looked as if it were only washed with the changing of each season, and his hair that likely shared the same pattern he was a clear winner.

For the equivalent of ten euros each we ate like the royal family. Beef, chicken, and lamb skewers centered our table and were accompanied by calamari, eggplants, roasted peppers, couscous and some unidentifiable yet delicious seafood. After about an hour of gorging we waddled out into the night to digest. Mission completed.

To cap off a brilliant day, Sam and I found a rooftop terrace overlooking the illuminated square and enjoyed a sub-standard hot chocolate. We had a long laugh while recalling the day we shared and agreed it would not have been possible without the other.

Its funny how things work out sometimes. I had traveled to Marrakesh not having any idea what to expect but solely curious to explore a city completely different from home, and 48 hours later I find myself telling jokes and laughing with a new friend like we’d known one another since highschool.

Marrakesh will certainly live on in my mind as one of the more interesting social environments I’ve been lucky enough to experience. As it was my first trip into the Muslim world it gave me the opportunity to personally juxtapose the cultures I have seen in the western world and now Morocco. As far as muslim culture goes I think Morocco is probably muslim-light in comparison to countries like Saudi Arabia or Iran but it still left a haunting impression on me.

It boggles my mind that on this planet you have some societies that are trying to cure cancer, explore the galaxy and successfully evolve while other societies don’t allow women to show their faces. I’m aware that is a very shallow observation but when the surface offers such mind numbing realities, sometimes digging deeper is just asking for a headache.  Sometimes its better not to explore the subtext and just simply enjoy the ride.  That being said, if you ever have the chance to spend a few days in Marrakesh, I would highly recommend it. But along with an open mind be sure to bring along an empty suitcase, plenty of money and your negotiating game face.


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