Every Day Is a Carnival in the Djemaa el Fna

Our train to Marrakesh left at 2 am, an inconvenient and cold time of morning. Our hotel proprietor invited us to while away the hours in the lobby and, although it was somehow 5 degrees colder than outside, we accepted. Upon saying our goodbyes at 1 am our new friend cheerfully yet apologetically informed us that we now owed him half the price of a night’s stay. I can’t say we were surprised.

The train to Marrakesh may have been scenic but, as it was night, I was asleep. When the sun came up we took a bus from the outskirts of the city to the medina. Disorienting, oasis-like and pretty scenic.

There are several major points of contrast between Fes and Marrakesh. The first and most obvious is that Marrakesh can fit motorized vehicles down it’s broad palm-lined streets. Known as the red city, Marrakesh’s buildings are a distinct clay color and, as opposed to Fes’s endless putty hallways, many are freestanding; separated by green hedgerows and gardens. Now don’t allow yourself to conjur a relaxed tropical paradise from this description. Marrakesh is still dirty, loud and disorganized.

The center of the madness is the Djemaa el Fna, by day a large mostly empty slab of concrete and by night a raging, smokey carnival filled with food stalls, storytellers, musicians and snake charmers. The highlight for us (surprise, surprise) was the food. We tried it all and we recommend the grilled aubergine and lamb brouchettes but skip the pigeon pie.

The souks of Marrakesh are every bit as confusing as in Fes, but the people, perhaps more used to a constant flow of tourists, don’t accost you with the same desperation. In this more relaxed atmosphere, Radek felt free to demand the hard bargains and surely insulted more than one shopkeeper in his quest for the lowest price. His intensity paid off and now our apartment is looking rather like a souk itself.

We were very much enjoying eating and shopping our way through Marrakesh but the vigilance and energy required of touring a Moroccan city was wearing us down mentally. We thought, why not wear down our backsides as well? Yes, a camel trip was surely in order…


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