||To our utter and complete surprise, after weaving around donkeys
pulling carts of garbage, narrowly avoiding being run over by several
motorbikes, and navigating our way through the solid wall of human
congestion the wheelbarrow pushing man delivered us directly to our
riad. You could not have shocked me more. Dazed and confused, we
stepped inside to find the most tranquil oasis of calm you can imagine-a
drastic departure from the scene outside. The riad is three stories tall,
built around an interior courtyard and open to the bright blue Marrakesh
sky. There is a small pool at the bottom, surrounded by tropical plants,
large pottery in vivid colors, and several inviting divans and lounge
chairs covered in vibrant fabric. We were greeted with what was soon
to become our favorite treat-mint tea.
We spent the majority of our time in Marrakesh in Djemaa el-Fna Square
and the souqs of the medina. The souqs are a labyrinth of narrow alleys
woven throughout the northern part of the city center where local
artisans sell their pottery, jewelry, tea sets, spices, leather goods, and
other crafts. The souqs are dark, as the alleys are covered by woven
bamboo-like leaves to protect them from the heat in the summer.
||Central Courtyard at Riad Chouia Chouia
||Dried Fruit and Nuts Stall in Djemaa el-Fna square
||Mint Tea at Riad Chouia Chouia
Surprisingly, sheep head seemed to be a common meal option for locals. I didn’t see any adventurous tourists
trying it though! For the less gutsy, there are also stalls offering kebabs, snail soup, fish, and salads. As we walked
through the stalls and bantered with the workers, we kept our eyes open for a stall filled with locals. This was
going to be our sign of which stall to try (as long as they were not consuming brain or eyeballs, everything else is
fair game). As we turned a corner we saw stall #17 packed with locals. This was it. We squeezed our way to two
seats at a picnic table set up behind the grill. Stall #17 featured fried fish, eggplant, frites (french fries!), bread, and
tomato salad. We dug into our fish. The bones of my fish came right out, as it appeared I was served the side of
the fish. Unfortunately for Jarrod, his job was going to be much tougher as he ended up with the head. It had
bones sticking out in every direction, and very little meat. Luckily, there are also stalls selling fresh squeezed
orange juice for a dollar, dried fruit, nuts, and ice cream, so he did not go hungry!
In addition to the food stalls Djemaa el-Fna also
presents a variety of entertainment options.
Snake-charmers dot the square, and the sound
of their flutes can be heard throughout the area.
Thanks to the zoom lens on our camera, we got
a picture of the snake charmers in action. We
dared not get too close, as they also carry
around smaller snakes and like to surprise
gawking tourists by placing these little snakes
on their shoulder. The lively atmosphere of the
square is completed with storytellers, henna
artists, and apothecary stalls featuring
everything from chameleons to crystals to cure
what ails you.
When we are done sampling as many of the
treats as we possibly can, we make the now
familiar stroll down the dark alley to return to
Riad Chouia Chouia. Somehow we find room for
one more glass of mint tea before bed.
|Snake Charmers in Djemaa el-Fna
|We boarded Royal Air Maroc to fly from Paris-Orly to Marrakech this morning. The flight was nice-very full, as
Marrakech is a trendy little getaway for the French right now. After making our way through customs, we emerged
from the terminal in search of our ride to Riad Chouia Chouia. We read on TripAdvisor that the riad where we are
staying is next to impossible to find on your own, and that most taxi drivers can’t even find it. So when the riad
offered to send a driver to pick us up from the airport for 12 euros, we agreed wholeheartedly. So wholeheartedly,
in fact, that we did not even write down the address or phone number of Riad Chouia Chouia. Who needs it? We
have a driver waiting for us, right? As you probably guessed, there was no one there to meet us. Without an
address, we could not even ask a taxi for a ride. And without a phone number, we could not get an address. Keep
in mind Arabic is the main language here, followed by French, so asking for directions was not likely to produce
useful results. After much discussion, we decided our only option was to write down the name of the riad, show it
to a taxi driver, and gauge his reaction to see if he was one of the few who knew how to get there. The first taxi
driver we approached not only spoke a bit of English (enough that we could bargain with him) but assured us that
he absolutely knew where Riad Chouia Chouia was. We asked him multiple times to make sure he really, really
knew where he was going, and each time he replied with a confident “Yes, yes-don’t worry.” After he put our
luggage in the trunk and had us secure in the backseat, he promptly flagged over the next taxi driver and asked
him how to get to Riad Chouia Chouia. Ladies and gentlemen, the adventure has begun.
For the next ten minutes the two taxi drivers debate back and forth in Arabic and even make a cell phone call in
search of directions (at least this is what we think is going on). Our driver then hops in the front seat and takes off.
Jarrod and I begin to make bets on where we will end up, whether we will pay our driver or not, and what our next
option is for finding our riad. About this time, Mr. “I know where I am going” pulls up to a blockaded street on the
edge of the medina filled with people, donkeys, and motorbikes and proceeds to tell us that our riad is just a few
minutes walk away. “Head 400 meters down this road, turn left at the little road, follow that a short while and it
will be right there”. After what we read on the internet we were not about to let him abandon us. In very friendly
terms, we told him we would not pay him until he actually got us to the riad. Funny, he did not like this strategy of
ours. In an effort to outwit us (not too hard considering we are in Marrakech, don’t speak the language, and are
completely overwhelmed by the sensory overload happening all around us), he grabbed a man pushing a
wheelbarrow, gave him a few dirhams, and asked him to show us the way to the riad. Without a glimmer of hope
that we would end up at Riad Chouia Chouia, we dejectedly shuffled off after the man and his wheelbarrow. There
are simply no words to describe our walk from the taxi to the riad. You just have to see for yourself to understand
why we were certain our taxi driver had no idea where the riad was, and that we were being led to a dark alley
never to be seen again.
As you walk through the maze of shops, the shop
owners entice you to enter their store. They often
beckon first in French, and then if you don’t respond,
they follow in either English or Spanish. For the most
part, Moroccans seem to speak Arabic as a first
language, followed by French, as Morocco was a
colony of France at one time. It is almost impossible
to avoid getting lost in the souqs, but getting lost is
half of the fun. Each turn brings you to a new area,
as the souq is divided into different sections for spice
sellers, leather workers, tanneries, carpet sellers, etc.
In addition to the throngs of people (both locals and
tourists) crowding the alleys, you learn to keep your
eyes and ears open for approaching donkeys. The
alleys are too narrow for cars, so donkeys are used
for everything from deliveries, transportation, to
hauling away trash. If you get really, really lost there
is always a kid nearby willing to lead you to a familiar
landmark for a dirham or two.
Djemaa el-Fna Square is an experience that defines Marrakesh and
is not to be missed! Each evening at 5pm, the square fills with
dozens of food stalls and vendors offering Morrocan specialties. A
stroll through these stalls will bring a smile to your face, as the
workers from each stall compete for your business with promises of
how good and how cheap their food is. They seem to each know
the same catch phrases in English. If you pass by their stall with the
promise of returning later, you will be met with a cheery “Later
Alligator!” and a smile from the employees. These stalls offer some
rare Moroccan delicacies. The craziest thing we saw was sheep
head. The hair is singed off in a fire and then the head is stewed in
hot water. It still looks exactly like a sheep’s head though.
According to our guidebook, everything except the eyeballs is
eaten. We even noticed the brain sitting beside the head.