As-salaam ‘alaykum from Marrakech

The sun casting shadows over the Djeema el Fna square, with the ever-present Koutoubia Mosque visible to the left

As soon as one arrives in Morocco, you’ll realize that even though you’ve only travelled a small distance from Europe, the cultural contrasts makes it seem as though you’ve been transported across the world.  The city of Marrakesh is a fast-paced, crowded, chaotic, full-on-assault that can lead to a serious case of sensory overload.  Between the touts shouting about their wares, the smokey smell of various meats being cooked on open grills, the explosions of color that burst out of the usually-beige dessert environment, the motorbikes driving recklessly with horns blaring, the periodic broadcasts of the Muslim “Call to Prayer,” or the delicious smell of the sweet mint tea that seems to be served everywhere, the cacophany was both overwhelming and incredibly exciting for me, being a first time visitor.

Honestly, Marrakesh never even hit my radar when planning out places to visit.  But while you’re on the road, you end up meeting many other travelers from all over the planet, all of which have stories and recommendations to pass along.  After receiving a extermely positive review of Marrakesh from a new friend, I knew that I couldn’t continue with my trip throughout Europe without at least swinging down to check out Morocco for a few days (thanks for the tip, Lauren from London!).  And I’m certainly glad that I did, as this was the first place in which I felt that the environment and culture were completely at odds with what I have grown accustomed to — which is ultimately the experience that keeps travelers traveling, always searching for that new experience to add to their repetoire.

Whereas to get the full Marrakesh experience, one really has to visit the city itself; however, below is my best attempt at giving a clear picture as to some of the images and scenes that you’ll find across the city:

A typically chaotic street scene

The Koutoubia Mosque, which acts as a beacon across the skyline, as it can be seen from almost anywhere in the city

A view from inside the now-crumbling Palais Badi

Architecture inside the Palais Bahia

The Djeema el Fna square first thing in the morning

The colorful interior of my hostel, actually

The city of Marrakesh itself was originally founded as a stop along the camel caravan trade routes through wove through Northern Africa.  And as such, the remnants of a former trading post can still be seem through the various vendors, touts, and markets spread across the city.  The most prevalent of which is an area of town called “The Souks,” which is essentially a maze of shops, sellers, stands, and vendors hawking everything from tagines and spices to burqas and tea-ware.

When speaking with others about what one should do, they always figuratively say, “just go get lost in the souks for a while.”  While this sounds like a clever thing to say, I’ll have to admit that I really did get lost in the labrythine souks for the better part of 2 hours before regaining my bearings (and finally emerging back to a place where I was no longer the only non-Morrocan on the street).  That being said, this area is still the best place in the city to haggle with vendors and receive a great price on whatever specific item you may be looking for.

One entrance to the Souks

Saying the Souks reminds you of a maze is a mild understatement, to say the least

Outbursts of improbably vivid colors seems to appear around every corner

Dried Fruits and Nuts

Beyond the general chaos of the streets and the aggresive sales pitches of the touts in the souks, my favorite aspect of Marrakesh was the food — and it was everywhere.  A few examples of the tagine-and-couscous-heavy cuisine can be seen below:

Tagines in action

Lamb tagine served with bread and mint tea (dubbed “Morracan Whisky”)

Goat and Lamb meat for sale

A typical breakfast, heavy in bread and carbs, served with honey, jam, and butter

Given that Morocco is primarily a Muslim country, alcohol is hard to come by. To fill the void, however, juice vendors have sprung up everywhere. It became part of my normal routine to swing by and grab a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice everytime I walked by these guys (it only cost about 45 cents, afterall)

The highlight of any culinarian’s tour of Marrakesh is easily the night market at Djeema el Fna, the main square — where at dusk each night, dozens of food vendors open up shop and provide a variety of dishes and delights for those adventurous eaters out there.  Between the pushy touts, the constant smoke, the glare of the lights, and the smells of everything you can imagine being cooked, this nightly scene takes on a magical aire that I’ve never seen reproduced elsewhere.

The market springing into action as the sun sets

Though there are a few tourists wandering through, it is still great to see that the crowd is largely made up of locals

The mix of various languages, the constant beat of drums, various aromas and smells, and the haze of smoke creates an electric atmosphere

Mixed Shish meal (pork, minced goat, and chicken) served with olives, bread, a spicy salsa, and some type of veggie dish that I couldn’t quite determine

Watching these guys perfectly peel harboiled egg — one after the other, each in under a second — was quite hypnotic

…but they did serve up a great little snack of said hard-boiled egg, cumin-spiced potatoes, and cheese stuffed into a pita-like bread

Pastille (a sweet and savory meat pocket) and Chicken Couscous

A vendor selling clams cooked in a lightly-spiced sauce

Each bowl of clams cost only 10 dirham, or a little over one dollar

For those more ambitious eaters, you can purchase an entire lamb’s head for your own culinary enjoyment

Naturally, I found myself to be one of those amibitious eaters who was willing to try the lamb’s head. After cooking the entire head in a tagine-like pot, the would cut it in half, remove as much of the skull as they could, then apply a few horizontal and a few vertical chops with a clever, and serve it up on a plate (cheeks, tongue, brain, cartlidge, and all), complete with a saffron-infused au jus sauce made from the drippings. Though it doesn’t look too appealing, this was, in fact, my favorite dish the entire time I was in the city

A spot of Ginseng tea and a spicy pastry are a great way to wash down any meal

And when the hectic pace of the city becomes a bit too overwhelming (as it eventually will for just about everyone), there are three great options that I found to unwind.  First, you can find an open, roof-top terrace such as this where you can lay down and not move for several days:

Secondly, you can pay a few dirham to visit a hamam, or public bath for lack of a better term.  Luckily, one of the Morracan staff at my hostel took a few of us to one of the normally-locals-only hamams, where we were eached washed down in a sauna-like steam room, then viscously scrubbed all over, streched out like a Turkish massage, and then washed down several more times with progressively colder water.  I don’t have any pictures, but this experience was both incredibly relaxing and cleansing (which was needed, as I’ve built up a month and a half of travel grime).

Thirdly, you can always elect to get out of the city and see a bit of the Moraccan countryside.  Personally, I decided to take a tour of the Ourika valley in the nearby Atlas Mountains:

A village rising out in the distance

Scene from a mountain village

After a 45-minute hike into the mountains…

…and over a few rustic footbridges…

…you’ll come to a beautiful waterfall…

…and you’ll realize that life is good.

Well that’s about all I’ve got for Marrakesh, but I will say that my back-log of posts is getting out of control at the moment.  For example, I’ve already several days out of Marrakesh and am currently on my second day in Lyon, France — which has been described as the gastronomic captial of France (so needless to say, my next post will have a few more foodie pictures).  I’ll try to get caught up soon, but until then, Saha wa’afiab from Marrakech!

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About andrewamiet

I'm a 29 (now 31) year-old former desk jockey who is now making my way around the world, experiencing all of the sights, sounds, tastes, people, and culture that the world has to offer.

13 Responses to “As-salaam ‘alaykum from Marrakech”

  1. AWESOME post! Folks are really loving your commentary, Rew. Keep up the excellent
    pictures – we all feel like we are traveling with you. Be safe.

  2. Unbelievable man! I think those were the most interesting pics to date. And I cannot BELIEVE you saw the lamb head, THEN ate it.

  3. Kevin and I miss you so much!! Have fun with your brother!!!

    Love you!

    Kathryn & Kevin

  4. YES! That was a VERY interesting post, I might say. So glad you opted for the lamb head. That is what it’s all about for me. New and exotic and/or bizarre food and drink. Just take care of yourself and every step you take. Awesome.

  5. The blonde chick you were walking behind looks hot. Good work!

  6. I love the way you’ve captured Place Djmaa el-Fna first thing in the morning and also at night with the steam billowing above the food stands. Marrakech is one of my favourite places on earth. I have also blogged about Morocco: http://mikanqueen.wordpress.com/category/travel/morocco/
    Keep travellin’!

  7. Gotta admit this would never be a ‘target’ for me, since I don’t really like crowds and places lthat are too exotic for me, but you really do it justice with your pics and stories and almost convince me to go there 🙂

  8. Just looking at all this food made me crave Marrakech. More than awesome post!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. An Earthenware Army, a Holy Mountain, and More Street Eats in Xi’an | Temporarily Lost - December 22, 2012

    […] The closest place that I can compare it to is the Djeema el Fna Square that I visited back in Marrakesh over a year ago now.  Have a […]

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