Tag Archives: marrakech

morocco, pt. 2: a stroll through the medina, a drive to the sahara

 

the koutoubia minaret stretches high above marrakech
the koutoubia minaret stretches high above marrakech

we spent another day in marrakech exploring the city.  we visited the koutubia mosque, the famous 800+ year old minaret that towers above the rest of the city and the gardens around it, and listened to the call to prayer as we walked through the gardens surrounding the holy center. it was my first time really hearing a call to prayer that wasn’t on youtube or something, and i remember being curiously struck by it.  i really didn’t know what to think of it.  i wondered what they were saying.  i wanted to go to the source and watch, but i knew this wasn’t really a thing for tourists inside. it was a place for worship.  zuzu steered us toward djemaa el fna.

located at the south of the medina (medina just means it’s the ancient part of the city), djemaa el fna is one of the most famous areas of morocco.  a heavily populated market and town square, it is difficult to make sense of it when first approaching.  the wide-open space at the mouth of the entrance immediately introduces chaos as pedestrians aimlessly wander in all directions while cars and motorcycles zoom in and out indiscriminately and unconcerned about the foot traffic all around them.  unlike the US, the
pedestrian does not have the right of way.  if you’re dumb enough to get hit by a car here, it’s your fault.  it was a little disconcerting at first, but the longer i spent in the country, the more i liked it that way.

evening in the square
evening in the square

as we approached the central part of the crowded square, we began to hear the squawking instruments of the snakecharmers and the calls of the stall owners trying to attempt shoppers and tourists to their stalls and shops.  as i drew near, i began to prepare myself mentally for the madness.  before i was ready, an old man with a huge grin on his face walked right into the middle of our group with a black cobra snake on his arm, trying to get someone to take a picture with it.  the group immediately and comically scattered, leaving everyone but surjit and myself, just staring curiously and somewhat fearfully at the massive snake less than a foot in front of my face.  with his other hand, the man stroked his own cheeks and chin and said “alibaba!” aloud.  surjit and i quickly deduced he was referring to our beards, as we had noticed we were the only ones around who had them (i had foolishly assumed everyone would have beards down here, so i had been hoping my travel beard would hide my baby face and make me look at least a little less conspicuous, even if it was bright red.  no dice).  we laughed as the old man reached out to shake my hand.  i reached back, and as i politely shook, he quickly threw the snake around my neck. Continue reading morocco, pt. 2: a stroll through the medina, a drive to the sahara

morocco, pt 1. marrakech: as-salām ‘alaykum

as my plane approached low over the desert city landscape of marrakech, i was a confusion of thoughts and feelings.  i was really excited, and ready for adventure in the unknown, but i also had never been to a third world country on my own without any help before, or africa for that matter.  i had no idea what to expect, and this also would be my first time to travel to a country with such a significant muslim presence, and that also made me a little nervous.  it’s one thing to be open-minded and religiously tolerant in the USA, but things shift dramatically when you leave home and suddenly you’re the minority, especially in these times we live in.  you begin to realize how little you know about the world, no matter how “aware” and “informed” you consider yourself back home.

zuzu expertly educated us on details of moroccan culture i never would have known
zuzu expertly educated us on details of moroccan culture i never would have known

which is why i hired a guide for my first week in morocco.  when i landed, i still hadn’t booked an exiting flight yet, but i had an idea that i would be in the country for more than two weeks and less than three, so i figured the best way to get my bearings about me was to hop in with a guided tour until i felt comfortable to strike out on my own.  i know some adventurers would view this as cheating, but this turned out to be one of the best decisions i made on my entire trip.

the wheels hit the ground with a harsh bump, and the plane bounced high back into the air, frightening passengers and waking me from one of my usual daydreams, Continue reading morocco, pt 1. marrakech: as-salām ‘alaykum