Day 18: Monday, 29 April 2019 – Marrakesh, Morocco (31.6295° N, 7.9811° W)
Monday in Marrakech….
“.…the lost in search of camels, castles, palm-trees, Foreign Legionnaires, brass trays and bandits…” wrote George Orwell
It is good to be back in the intoxicating, contradictory city of Marrakesh (aka Red City) for the first time since 1985…30+ years has passed since I once spent a Christmas here after being picked up hitch hiking at the Spanish Ceuta enclave-Moroccan border (that I had to bribe my way in, because Americans were persona non grata here days after the Reagan bombing of Gaddafi’s Tripoli tent) by three Germans hell-bent on getting to Marrakesh by sundown…it was a high fast ride through the twisting mountain passes and dirt valley roads through the even Higher Atlas Mountains.
The city evokes: mystery, glamour, romance, wannabe French elegance, wanderlust, Cold War intrigue, Arabian, African, and European influences; and captivates: moody literary-types, hippies, jet-setting partying celebrities, closeted social life personalities, and Indian Jones-types. And always, the snow-capped High Atlas Mountains are there on a clear day—which in 1985 was everyday! Founded in 1062, Marrakech was once the capital of a vast trading empire that stretched from Toledo to Senegal—Timbuktu was it’s rival; of which ancient Berber dialects report two contradictory meanings. It either means to “pass by quickly”—an old warning about desert bandits and wild animals; or, “murr akush” as in “the land of God.” Schizoid Morocco…part-Arabic, part-Gallic, part-Africa, part-ancient and part-modern, it still revels in its old cross roads ways though, as Nomadic tribes from Mauritania, Niger, Algeria & Mali, still ply their trade here to scantily-clad European housewives, paramours and college coeds tourists. Dueling chants of “balak” (get the hell out of my way) and the ritual call to prayers “Al’lah al Akbar” (God is Great) resonates throughout Morocco. Pick em.
Sites are many here: the classically Moroccan architecture of 14th-century Ben Youssef Madrasa, the splendid towering Koutoubia Mosque, the exquisitely-carved Bahia Palace…but the piece de resistance here is the adjoining Jemaa el Fna (aka Assembly of the Dead) and labyrinth-like souk. This is where the action is as the day turns into night.
Question of day? Why is King Abdul square a roundabout?
First the ancient funky cold North African medina…a maze-like area full of shoe salesmen, faux-antique sellers, juice makers, derivative art dealers, leather goods extraordinaire in every color imaginable, endless spice cones: henna (green), chili (orange), paprika (red), turmeric (yellow), etc…nowadays more motorcycles than donkeys warning you with cries of “Balak!” (watch out!) lurking through the clogged arteries of the walled old city…here you survive on luck, charm, a good sense of direction, wits and baraka (divine grace)…caveat emptor indeed as our cabinet of curiosities expands.
Sydney Sisters missed…overlooking the circus.
Then as the sunset call to prayer wails, the main stage of Moroccan halqa (street theatre) begins taking shape in Marrakesh’s Jemaa el Fna. Once a medieval trading square where public executions took place (hence the Assembly of the Dead), nowadays it begins filling with honest workers plying their tourist trade: jellaba-clad Moroccan Berbers, Tuareg nomads, West African traders, veiled women, henna artists, donkeys, camels, tooth pullers, magicians, henna artists, storytellers, conjurers, acrobats, snake-charmers, fire-eaters, Gnaoua musicians, hashish salesmen, clang castanets, metal qarqaba (castanets), duff (hand drums) and twanging three-stringed ginbri (bass)…all surrounded by scores of chefs firing up makeshift grills with billowing exotically toxic smells and impromptu picnic areas…stirring vats of steaming snails, goats head soup, and sizzling kebobs…there is nowhere quite like Djemma el-Fnaa. Nowhere. The circus performs nightly….
We will let the days photos take it from here…
The things people do for points…love the camel butt crack!
Think of the smells…since 1562!
Hmmm: Interesting!? Marrakech is one the least re-visited cities by tourists—which proves one of my iron law of travel truism: Every place is worth at least one visit, even if it’s just to remind yourself that you never need to go back. Check Bucket List Box here…
Okay, off to…see you tomorrow from somewhere else.