Wednesday, May 23, 2012

a whole new world

Our final stop in our journey around the Mediterranean was to Marrakech in Morocco.  We had saved this place for last and for good reason.  Both Alexis and I knew that this city would be completely unique from our other travel experiences throughout the last four months.  Our flight from Barcelona departed late on Thursday evening, but we arrived at the airport at least four hours early because our anticipation got the best of us.  We were going to Africa.

When our flight was finally ready to board, we queued alongside the other passengers who were dressed in their adventurer/trekker/gypsy garb.  As we watched the European continent disappear through the small window of the Vueling jet, I knew that I was in for the adventure of a lifetime.

When we arrived in Marrakech, Alexis and I were both tired and eager to get to our Moroccan riad where we would be staying for the duration of the trip.  As walked outside the airport looking to hail a cab, but we did not have to search for long.  Before we knew it, we were surrounded by a swarm of taxi drivers with their petits taxis offering us a ride into town.  We had read in our guidebooks to bargain with them, but we quickly learned that, at midnight, this was probably not the best idea.  I finally negotiated with a driver in French, and, before we knew it, we were speeding through the streets of Marrakech.  Our riad was located in the medina, the old part of town.  From what we had read as well, the streets here were nearly impossible to navigate with the knowledge of a local so, when our cab driver dropped us off, we followed a man who offered to guide us to the hostel.  As we meandered through the narrow streets, it became very clear that we were no longer in Europe from the dirt road, crumbling building walls, and hoards of men speaking Arabic.  We began to quicken our pace, wishing at the very least that we had made this journey during daylight hours.

Eventually, we arrived at the door of our riad, and our guide looked at us expectantly.  We each dropped him a euro so that he would go away, and we entered inside.  If I had not been so tired, I probably would have taken the time to marvel at the quintessential Islamic architecture that surrounded me, but, instead, I drifted quickly off to sleep, knowing that this was only the beginning of a great adventure.

Day 1 - As usual, Alexis and I awoke early to start our day.  After dressing ourselves in our matching skirts from Barcelona, we headed to the rooftop terrace to enjoy a traditional Moroccan breakfast and mint tea.
We then headed back out into the street, which seemed much less daunting now that the sun was out.  We walked down our narrow passageway of a street and eventually emerged in the Djema el-Fna, the main square in Marrakech.  It was early now so vendors were only just beginning to set up, but we knew that, at night, this place was a bevy of sights, scents, and sounds.

After taking in the square, we walked toward the minaret of the Koutoubia mosque.  It was from this tower that the people of Marrakech were called to prayer five times a day.
We then headed to the Tombs of the Saadian Kings, the gravesite of Moroccan kings that dated to the sixteenth century.

After visiting some tourist sites, we wandered back to the main square to explore the legendary souks, the markets that sold a wealth of Moroccan treasures and trinkets.  I wanted to buy everything - from Aladdin-like lamps to purses that any Free People girl would be jealous of - but I managed to pull myself away with only a pair of parachute pants.  We then spent the remainder of the afternoon interacting with the locals.  Alexis and I managed to escape with henna tattoos for a bargain price, and we also were welcomed into a souk to enjoy some fresh - if overly sweetened - mint tea.

When we finally returned out into the square, the sun was setting, and the vendors were clearly almost ready for their nightly extravaganza to begin.  To sample what they had to offer, we sat down under one of the tents where we were treated like queens by the young men who operated the stand.

By the end of our first day, I had already fallen in love with the magic of Marrakech.  We were already beginning to feel like locals.