There is nothing quite like walking through the alleyways and souks of Marrakech for the first time and emerging into Jemaa el Fna square. Through tunnels and narrow passage ways, the further you go into the mousetrap the more the chaos creeps: souks fill with people, donkeys and carts; motorcycles weave impossibly fast parting seas of people where no path exists; clutches of sunlight stream down in columns casting a surreal glow; berber men float in and out of the shadows in their pointed-hooded cloaks, and you half expect them to turn to you and say, with a wave of the hand, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”
But Marrakech’s medina is nothing if not a city of sounds.
Carpet sellers try to cajole you into looking, “Come, come, have some mint tea.” Men selling cigarettes announce their presence with a rhythmic shake of a stack of coins. Guttural Arabic mixes with mellifluous French. Fingers snap to get Pru’s attention, while stoic young school girls march straight up to her in the baby bjorn, kiss her on the cheek, and leave.
Still, the alleyways are just the fuse to the powder keg. The cacophony grows as you are disgorged from the souks into the chaos of the square. A ring of juice vendors beckon, “Oui Monsieur, jus d’orange?” To the right, a throng of people elbow around pulsating, hypnotic drums to get a closer look at transvestite dancers. Makeshift restaurateurs each try to outdo the other in selling exactly the same menu.
Veering away to avoid them only lands you staring down a water snake luring you to come to watch snake charmers beguile cobras with their blaring pungi. A monkey screeches in your other ear, it’s keeper smiling, “Photo? Photo?” Women, fully-clad devout, sit on small plastic stools, waving henna’d hands as a sample of their work. Others tend to their clients, quietly telling their fortunes.
Pushing through the melee to cross the “road”, motorcycles dart erratically from behind horse-drawn carriages (just keep moving, walk slowly, predictably). On the other side you settle into a chair at a restaurant patio, and circus acrobats in bare feet begin performing cartwheels and flips, two claps of the hand and a “hup!” before each and every maneuver. In Jemaa el Fna, it never stops. A ten minute walk — from riad to restaurant — unlike any other.
Morgan Freeman will also let you pet his chameleon.
Learning about all the spices and trying some tea was fun.
The Ben Youssef Madersa provided ample running space as we explored its columned archways and gallery windows.
….and we visited the museum.
Yves St. Laurent’s house, Le Jardin Majorelle, was a striking green oasis in the desert, that is Marrakech.
We went to see the waterfalls in the Ourika Valley at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. We couldn’t climb high enough to see them, but the cherry blossoms were in full bloom.
Bonne nuit Marrakech.