The magic of Marrakech

Day 4
Marrakech, Morocco

We arrived in Marrakech yesterday by train at around 4 p.m. Unfortunately, the transfer to our riad (guesthouse) in the heart of the old city was nowhere to be found. After some haggling with a cab driver, we were on our way to Dar el Bacha, one of the entrances to the medina (marketplace). We met Ahmed, a young Moroccan man, who guided us through the labyrinth of streets to Dar Saria.

Behind a set of steel doors off an alleyway, this is a recently converted house of a former ciad, with three guest rooms surrounding a traditional courtyard. There’s a sprawling bougainvillea plant that occasionally drops its red petals to the tiled floor below.

Stepping into the peaceful sanctuary of the riad, it’s easy to forget the chaos just outside. The medina’s narrow streets are a maze — one filled with donkey-drawn carts, speeding mopeds, butchers selling their freshly slaughtered meat in the open and vendors selling everything from artisan crafts to spices to knock-off Tommy Hilfiger jeans.

At the center of this all is Djemma el-Fna, a huge and spectacular square that one has to see in order to truly believe. It brims with orange juice vendors, smoky food stands, dancers, musicians, acrobats and storytellers. The smells, sounds and sights overwhelm the senses.

It didn’t take long for us to shell out a couple of dirhams for a glass of freshly squeezed, pulpy orange juice:

And then, the sounds of a flute drew us to a group of snake charmers, who quickly grabbed me.

Sensing a tourist, and a tip, others wanted to get in on the action. It was, well, interesting.

One vendor we were able to quickly turn down was the square’s “dentist” — a middle-aged man, pliers in hand, standing behind a table that demonstrated his past work.

The foods being hawked ranged from sheep’s head stew (a delicacy) to snails. For me, it was the dried fruits that looked most appealing though.

This morning, we will visit the Ali ben Youssef Mosque and Medersa, a koran teaching school, and then see the ruins of the Palais de la Bahia. After lunch, we’re planning on walking around the mellah, home to this city’s remaining 238 Jews, as well as the Jardin Majorelle, a beautiful park owned by Yves Saint Laurent. And, given our experience yesterday, I’m sure we’ll be returning, at least once, to the square.

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