Friday, August 19, 2016

THE MARRAKESH EXPRESS

Our next and final main stop on our Grand Moroccan Tour was the fabulous city of Marrakech (the French spelling that we saw more often in the country than the alternate spelling "Marrakesh").  With a population of just under one million, Marrakech is the 4th-largest city in Morocco and perhaps its most important. Its main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, is the busiest in all of Africa.

During our long drive from Skoura to Marrakech through the Atlas Mountains, we had a lot of time to chat with our driver Aziz. Bob and I do our best to absorb the culture of the places we visit, but we also feel a responsibility to spread the best of American culture. Our driver Aziz shared all his favorite American pop music with us--Rihanna, Celine Dion, and Adele, and we asked him if he had ever heard of Crosby, Stills and Nash or the song "Marrakesh Express."  When he said NO, well, we knew we had a mission. After all, Marrakech was our next destination! He pulled up the song on YouTube on his phone (yes, even in Morocco in the middle of nowhere you can do that), and he was quite taken by it. 
Yes! Success!

If I could go back to any place in the world we have been, Marrakech (and Fes) would definitely be on the list. Marrakech is the Rio version of Sao Paulo-like Fes. It is full of energy, crowded with people, and bursting with color. It's a party city, and we loved it.

I'm going to start my series of Marrakech posts with a photo overview of the city itself. I'll insert some commentary here and there, but the photos can mostly speak for themselves.

Let's begin by opening a few doors of Marrakech:





 






I was especially intrigued by this one, hoping I had stumbled on a Banksy painting, as I think we did in Basel, Switzerland:

It had the hallmarks of a Banksy: quick, graffiti-esque quality; a political statement about poverty; a figure that fits into a scene and creates a story; haunting eyes/facial expression:
But when I did a little research at home, I discovered it is the work of a French street artist who calls himself "C125" and is otherwise known as Christian Guemy. Apparently, he is often compared to Banksy, so I wasn't too far off.

Besides the doorways, there was plenty to see in the streets and souks as we walked around. Our riad was down an alley that we accessed from what I think will eventually be a roundabout in a heavily trafficked area, but when we were there it was under construction and driving was a mess:

Pedestrians and carts and buses and vans and cars and even laden donkeys mixed freely in the square:


Meanwhile, men pushing wheelbarrows and hauling dirt and palm trees were hard at work:

This spice shop was right at the spot where our alley ended and we turned onto the square. At first I wondered, "How do they get those spices to form such flawless cone shapes?"

Upon closer examination, I realized those cones aren't spices at all but styrofoam with some kind of sprayed on coating. It's just a gimmick to get dumb tourists wondering how they get their spices to form such flawless cone shapes.

There are many kinds of transportation available for tourists, but our riad had a great location, so we were able to walk pretty much everywhere we went in Marrakech:

This two-wheeled donkey carriage looks pretty fun, however. I would have tried that given the opportunity:

You never know what you'll find on the walls in Marrakech:


Hey! I recognize those heaven-scented blossoms!



Our favorite beverage in Morocco (and Israel, Egypt, and Jordan) was fresh-squeezed orange juice, which could be had for about 40¢ a cup in the square. Divine deliciousness.

There is plenty to see in Marrakech that isn't on the Top Ten of any list. Just window shopping and people watching could fill up a day:




You'll never know what you might find in the shops. Take, for example, this turtle in a cage in a jewelry store:

I wish I understood this graffiti. I think I can at least translate the "I {heart} Kech at the bottom:

. . . and I recognize some of the design elements in this graffiti--the Hand of Fatima and the all-seeing eye:

We passed this underground furnace used to heat Marrakech's very popular hammams (spas):

The hammam entrance is a lot nicer than the furnace. The gap between the worker and the patron is especially wide in the hammam business:

On our first morning, we walked through an elegant covered market that was not yet open. I can't get over the ceilings in Morocco. My plain white ceilings at home feel so incredibly mundane:

Most of the shop doors were still locked, but some shops were opening:


Eventually, the alleys picked up speed:

. . . and so did we! There was so much to see!

3 comments:

  1. Your incredible eye for detail - the graffiti, doors, etc., never ceases to amaze me. Always fun to see the place again through your eyes. Yes, Marrakech is a larger than life city that just explodes with sights and sounds and activity. I'd forgotten about our driver playing the song Marrakesh. That was a very fun moment to introduce something about his city to him.

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  2. What a fun city--looks like a bucket list destination. I love those beautiful doors.
    I think I'd feel pretty guilty going into a spa with working conditions like that.

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  3. I love the doors! So much visual texture in this place--beautiful!

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