Saturday, December 3, 2011

Chaotic but Entertaining Marrakesh!

I have only spent 5 days in Morocco which was enough time to get a taste of it. But I wouldn't mind going back for a deeper exploring at least into the countryside.

Marrakesh, former imperial city of Morocco's history, is located at the foot of the Atlas Mountains and is a must! First of all, I would recommend it even only for feeling the frenetic confusion of its remarkable human jungle. There, is where you get a unique sensation of constant total chaos but with a hint of enchantment.
The real experience starts in the endless labyrinthine back streets of the old fortified city, the so called medina, through which are literally flying cars, bicycles (sometimes carrying more than three kids), dogs, minivan, pick-ups, donkey carriers and loads of people. But the scariest vehicle are the mopeds seating up to four people (always without helmets) driving at full speed with no precaution at all... unbelievable!!
The old center, built around 1070, doesn't have an architectonic planning so it is very easy to get completely lost and to have no clue of where you eventually can end up. But this is actually most of the fun as you can find tight paths and interesting hidden corners unexpectedly. Apart of this very lively spirit, Marrakesh is unique for its endless Souks (markets) and its large variety of flavors, fragrances and colors.

Apart of cruising through the wall labyrinth of medina, there are some few sightseeing which I strongly recommend to visit:
  • The Main square Jaamal El Fna gets very crowded in the late afternoon with locals and tourists and it converts into a lively center of food stalls, snake charmers, story tellers and dancers. Don't miss out the freshly squeezed orange juice for 2 Dirham (the Moroccan currency; 10 € = 1 MAD)... it's divine!

  • The Koranic school Madrasa Ben Youssef: a 14th century religion school settled deep in the heart of the old center which main building is an astonishing piece of rich decoration made out of carved wood and stone engravings.
  • The El Badi Palace: remnants of an ancient palace. Climbing up the wall you can have a great view over the city.
  • The Saadian Tombs which I did not see but I have been told are worth a visit.
  • The stinky tanneries in the Tanners Quarter: where tanners treads and rinses the skin in large pool of dye and pigeon excrement and other artisans scrap and stretch it to let it dry.
From Marrakesh is a 3-hrs drive by coach to Essaouira, a walled small town settled on the Atlantic coast and also been known as Modagor during the Portuguese colonialism. Essaouira is also quite a touristic destination but the locals are much more relaxed and have an interest to get to know you as a foreigner with a different culture and background and not only as a money font. The town it self is quite dirty (especially after has rained) but the intriguing part of it are again the souks which in here I felt were much more frequented by the locals. I got to know a very cool and nice local guy called Anoire and his aunty Hamila. Thank to them, my boyfriend and I ended up having an amazing dinner! We first bought the ingredients we wanted to eat in a souk: 1 kg of fresh shrimps, various vegetables, eggs and olives.

Then we brought all our goodies to a restaurant which cook prepared us in 30 minutes a huge succulent Tajin! And all this was for a total of 100 Dirham within 4 of us... WOW!

If you aren't a hygiene freak and you are keen to experience an amazing local ritual, let yourself be rigorously scrubbed in a local public hammam (the Arabic steam bath)!
They are usually placed near to mosques and are often separate for women and men. Forget about background music, incenses and rose petals (typical from the Western). For instance, the public bath in Marrakesh is a huge room with high ceiling, quite dark and tales and walls are almost falling a part. I was shocked to get scrubbed by the doorman!.. but once I laid down on the warm pavement (with a slight extra uneven layer on the tales - which could have been but old dead skin!) I let my self relax away from the downpour of warm water thrown all over my body with a big bucket through a whole process of black soap rubbing, scrubbing and washing. I came out minimum 1 kg lighter and never felt so clean in my whole life! For some of you this could have partly sounded growth, but I can admit you that it was FANTASTIC!

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