Monday, February 13, 2012


Location: Marrakech, Morocco

Rundown: Spent a week reeling in the chaotic, spinning world of middle-eastern souks, snake charmers, and mosques.

Flew into Marrakech and took a bus into the busting city. The day was pleasantly warm and dry. Unloaded in a tiny, crowded back plaza and walked through the twisting, turning, narrow streets to our riad.

Riads are calm oases in the uproar of the city. There are generally few windows to the outside, but instead have a central courtyard with a water fountain in tile. Like many other building interiors they are lavishly decorated.

The town was a mess of brick rooftops, mosque towers, and satellite dishes. From above not one straight road could be picked out below.

Diving into the souks takes a leap of faith. People are hoping to separate you from your money in the souks, but generally it is by price gouging and not actual gouging.

This shot makes the souks look tame... calm almost. Not so. Souk goers are constantly bombarded by the goods and bads of the markets. The whine of the motos zipping dangerously past in close quarters...

...the glint of silver teapots and lanterns...

...the sweet and savory smell of the tajines cooking slowly over rough charcoal...

Everything is over the top. So bright, so flavorful, so colorful, so loud, so crass, so rich, and so poor. It's so overwhelming!

I found it fascinating to wander through the souks. I could likely spend a week lost in the labyrinth and never be satiated. Exhausted yes, satiated no.

Some things are so new. Everyone has cell phones. Gents in long robes and great beards chattering with waving hands. Other things haven't changed for millennia...

Met many friendly cats. Lots of friendly cats. Not all were this well maintained however.

Rubber-necked our way through several stunning palaces.

...with wide arches and decorated wood doors...

...intricate ceilings and tiled floors...

I feel I have gotten complacent living in South America and being fairly fluent in Spanish. I forget that when I travel other places I have to actually work to understand things. A few pleasantries in Arabic, a little French that is still spoken extensively, some basic hand gestures, and an understanding of geometry gets most messages across.

Everywhere you walked orange trees sprouted from the dry earth. The low branches were always picked clean and peels littered the ground under them. How could a population go hungry with so much fresh fruit for the picking. (I know how they can still go hungry, please don't email me.)

Found out what they do with all those oranges!

Copious stalls in the plaza. Some sold candied fruits. Dates, oranges, figs, nuts, wrapped in a newspaper cone for the munching on a jaunt through the plaza.

Several times a day the loudspeakers on the modest mosque towers wound up in long, monotone entreaties to worship. (Invitations for Muslims only. Non-muslims are not allowed in the mosques.) All over the city different mosques, some only a few blocks away appealed to the masses, "Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar".....

The main plaza, Jemaa el-Fnaa, lit up like a circus every night. Locals came to meet, eat, barter, and gawk. The drums pounded into the night...

Moroccans sat around food stalls like this vendor who was cooking a massive pot of boiled snails. He'd scoop you a bowl, and refill it when you were done!

Some nights the smoke from the cooking fires obscured the other side of the glowing market.

Excellent, inexpensive restaurants ringed the plaza. Had some wonderful meals while we watched the swirl from above.

Harira. A bean and lentil soup with veggies. Fantastic.

A Moroccan tradition. Mint tea, served in bright silver pots with lots of sugar and poured from great highs into tiny shot glasses to mix the sugar. The nights were cool and the hot tea always welcoming.

The food was one of the many highlights of our trip! We tried as many things as we dared. Never had a hungry night!

Couldn't resist. Back into the souks! The darkness and shadows in the tight corners deepens the colors... and the suspense.

Essaouira, Morocco

Just a few hours drive by bus from Marrakech is the fairy-tale town of Essaouira. Along the straight, flat road the desert stretched out for miles and miles unbroken. The Atlas mountains (not pictured here) looming in the distance.

Along the drive we encountered camels waiting out the sun's heat...

...and goats looking for a better view across the sand.

Arriving in Essaouira we were greeted with the smell of the sea and the squawk of the gulls. The great fortified walls of the city stretch out along the ocean, looking out over sea and broken, craggy rock.

The corroded cannons still pointing out to sea, reminiscent of Cartagena, Colombia. Sitting in the huecos brought back good memories (although there were no cooler-carrying vendors selling frosty libations here as drinking is prohibited!)

The city somehow reminded me of a book, I Had Seen Castles, that I read in Mrs. Schapperkotter's class in high school. The whole place was whitewashed, and the blazing white of the paint and tan of the walls stuck out in stark contrast to the azure sea and sky.

The town also held a small port, sheltered by an island that with Roman ruins. The history upon history in this area of the world astounds me. The little blue boats with their high prows to brave the Atlantic waves bobbed happily in the murky water.

Right next to the port small seafood shacks were grilling up fresh fish, calamari, shrimp, crab, and mussels. We plunked ourselves in the sun at a table and smeared seafood all over our faces.

With full bellies we walked around the blue and white city and soaked up the rough details of the place.

So fun to explore Morocco with my Mom and Denny!

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