Another Side of Marrakech – 3 April

In Morocco, Photo, Travel 2011 on April 5, 2011 at 1:54 am

Another day and another Marrakech.

Traveling can be a bit like the medina, when you think you’re going one way, you often find yourself somewhere else entirely, and usually, if you’re open to the new opportunity, you find something more beautiful and more exciting than what you searched for in the first place.

I started this morning by brushing up yesterday’s blog – intending to go straight to the park with wireless to hit publish, send a couple of emails, and then get back to the market and the souks, but going over my plans for the next week, I realized I also needed to sort out my bus ticket for tomorrow. So when my new American friends from last night mentioned that they needed to get train tickets, we decided to split the taxi fare and venture to le Gare de Tren together.

After successfully managing the chaotic transport hub, we had a quick look at the map. There aren’t two many things outside of then old town that were high on my list for visiting, but we weren’t too far from Le Jardin Majorelle. So we decided a quick detour on the way back toward the old town was in order, despite the original plan to just head back to the medina and start bargaining.

It was completely worth it.

Le Jardin Majorelle is a sort of botanical gardens, originally funded by Yves Saint Laurent – yes as in YSL – and it is stunning. Walking along the winding walkways, constantly in the shade of bamboo and palms, the eye is simply bombarded by the most unusual trees, cacti and flowers – so vibrant and . . . twisted. It expertly walks the line between artfully chaotic and unkempt, perhaps as a bit of a tribute to the nature of Marrakech itself. I couldn’t help but think of the Winter family in Portugal. Vonny would love it, truly a Mecca of nature’s own installation art.

We wandered past the fountains and lily ponds, taking pictures of everything we saw, and each other. For the first time in a while, I had someone to turn to and say, “that is incredible,” and someone to take a picture of me – the comfort of a bit of companionship and someone to share stories with,

After leaving our little oasis, we headed back toward old town and the main square. We decided to risk an attempt at a photo with some of the trained monkeys or snake charmers. All Moroccans will tell you to be wary of the shrewd men who will try anything to squeeze as many dirham out of your wallet for just looking their way. We skirted around one exhibitionist, merely nodding his way, only to find moments later that s monkey was sitting on my arm.

Though prepared for that to happen, it was a still a bit shocking having the little human like animal suddenly perched on my arm. We quickly negotiated a price for a quick photo and took turns, each smiling awkwardly at the admittedly sad little creature. We paid the man his fee, and despite his protests and demands for more, stood our ground and walked away.

After unsuccessfully searching the square for a particular food that one of the staff at the hostel had recommended, his favorite, we decided to go back to the hostel quickly to have a bit of tea and get specific directions from him. We entertained him with our monkey story, and then headed back out in search of this Pastilla he loves so much. He walked with us to the edge of Djemaa el-Fna and pointed across at a Coca-Cola awning. With rain clouds threatening, we hurried in the right direction and took our seats just as it started to pour. Raining in Marrakech – not what i expected.

We scanned the menu, and I smiled to myself. If it hadn’t been for the iconic presence at Djemaa el-Fna just outside the awning, I could have been back in Niger ordering bruschettes and pomme frites. I scanned past the familiar dishes and found the Pastilla, we each ordered one as well as a drink – banana milk, almond milk and apple milk. All delicious.

The Pastilla has a flaky pastry crust dusted with icing sugar and spicy cinnamon, but inside is the juiciest shredded chicken with almonds, a perfect combination of spicy and sweet. Paired with the flavored milks, they are the perfect late lunch, and well worth pestering the hostel staff for pointing us in the right direction.

After the rain stopped, we headed through old town, past the mosque toward the Jewish quarter and the Souk Épices.

We wandered through the narrow alleys, wondering how it is that you give directions to a new friend you’ve invited to dinner:

“I’m at the fourth wooden door on the right. Just take the 15th alley on your left, make a u-turn and you’re there.”

With no hope of following a map, we followed our noses to the souk – cumin, paprika, mustard filling the air. On a tip from some others at the hostel, we had heard that the merchants here were more subdued, welcoming you into their shops to demonstrate what all the strange objects and powders were for. Have a look at my pictures at the end of the post, and see if you can guess before reading the captions.

The shop owner showed us mixes of spices to be ground down for cooking, remedies for headaches, and blocks of jasmine, musk, and amber to be used as perfume on the skin and on the clothes. He demonstrated how to burn a block of incense, which really looked a bit like a geode, and then showed us Berber lipstick and mascara. When asked to sniff a mixture of black powder and what looked like rock salt that he had combined in a little sachet, we each tentatively took a whiff and then laughed at our own nervousness. The smell was refreshing and something that would knock the socks off of any Vick’s Vapor Rub product.

Delighted with the things he showed us and how willing he was to share, we each selected a few items. I myself fell in love with the blocks of Jasmine and Amber and selected a few. With a few final pictures, we were back on our way, marveling at the man who must be the best salesman we’ve met thus far.

Turning a few corners here and there, we stopped for a peek in the synagogue and then headed back toward the medina. Wandering through as it started to rain again, I thought about how quickly this city can change. Yesterday, I saw a part of Marrakech, sunny and hot, packed with merchants and potential buyers and chaos. Today, away from the main square and the Medina, Marrakech showed me something unexpected where things move at a slower pace and great care is taken to display the beauty of this country.

Tomorrow I leave Marrakech, on a 12 hour bus ride, to see a different side of Morocco entirely.

I spent my evening, kept inside by the rain, with a friend of the hostel staff. He is Berber and works for another Riad and rafting tourism company. We shared a sheesha and talked about our own cultures, each of us hoping to experience the other’s first hand. I have my chance over the next few days. He enters the green card lottery, hoping his number will get picked, and crosses his finger that his boss will buy a rafting company in Colorado so that he can have the chance to work there.

We talk about westerners who travel to Morocco and why they struggle to embrace this culture. In the company of Ismail, though I know it’s true, it’s hard to imagine anyone not feeling at home here.

Some pictures. I will upload loads more in my gallery:

In Le Jardin Majorelles. Check out the gallery for some seriously cool plants.

One of the awesome doors in the walk that surrounds the old town.

Yep that’s a toothbrush.


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