Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Express Marrakesh

Unable to find a direct flight to Marrakesh, we were forced to change planes in Casablanca. Without the foresight to have withdrawn Moroccan dirhams from an ATM before leaving Fes, we were forced to starve as Casablanca Airport’s transfer terminal did not boast a single ATM or eating establishment accepting credit cards. Adding insult to injury, our Marrakech-bound flight was tardy getting in from London, leaving us to wallow in our low blood sugar levels for an extra hour. We finally arrived in Marrakech at eleven at night. Desperate for sustenance, we coaxed the hotel driver picking us up to make a brief pitstop at McDonalds. If not for her growling stomach, Kaberi would have been aghast at this development.

Our introduction to Marrakesh marked a dramatic contrast to the old medina we had just left in Fes. When we arrived at Riah 72, we were struck by numerous examples of its contemporary take on the traditional riad. Its courtyard featured a sleek, slate-gray water feature adorned with red rose petals and our small, upstairs bedroom boasted stunningly-detailed original wood ceilings.

The next morning, the insistent chirping of neighborhood birds and multiple eardrum-piercing morning calls to prayer from nearby mosques roused us against our will. We resigned ourselves to an early breakfast consisting of assorted freshly-baked breads and pastries served with fresh honey and jams. Reading that the medina of Marrakesh was much easier to navigate than its counterpart in Fes, we felt comfortable venturing out of the riad and into the adjacent streets.

After walking to Marrakech’s distinctive, centrally-positioned Koutoubia Tower without incident, we continued on to Djemma Square, renowned as an atmospheric quadrant filled with snake charmers, musicians, henna painters and food stalls. Unfortunately, upon arriving at high noon, we discovered a sparsely-populated district with little sign of its reputed activities. We were left no choice but to return in the evening to see if things livened up.

From Djemma, we made our way into the medina and began wandering. After some concentrated scrutiny of our hotel-provided streetmap and several stops to ask and clarify directions, we arrived at the Ben Youssaf Medersa. Upon entering the school to admire its architecture, we caught glimpses of not only the courtyard, but also the impossibly-small student quarters (that apparently once housed a total of nearly 800 students).

From the medersa, we wandered the nearby souks purveying items ranging from spices, fruits, silver, mosaics, carpets and slippers to live turtles and porcupines. After soaking in the ambiance until the Moroccan sun proved overbearing, we escaped to one of the city’s beautiful gardens, Jardin Marjorelle, owned and maintained by Yves St. Laurent. Jardin Marjorelle turned out to be a stunning oasis that with its accent walls painted in the same blue shade as French workmen’s uniforms and diverse flora made quite an impression on Kaberi in particular.

Exhausted after our full day, we returned to Riad 72 to watch the sun set behind the city’s dual minaret towers. At dusk, we returned to Djemma Square to enjoy the pageantry over dinner. We found the square full of life with white overhead lights casting a warm glow on the bustling scene. After commencing upon a loop to consider our dining options, we settled on a stall with friendly, animated staff. After assuming seats at a makeshift picnic bench, we feasted on several freshly-grilled options.

The next morning, we explored Marrakech’s Ville Nouvelle on foot. Having steadfastly ignored the tourist hawkers all week, we succumbed to Morocco’s retail persistence and headed to the city’s upscale shopping district. Kaberi indulged herself on uber-fashionable rue de la Liberte with the purchase of designer leather slippers and bottles of local perfume. As a reward for not complaining about the financial magnitude of Kaberi’s high-end shopping detour, a culinarily-homesick Vik was obliged with a snack at Pizza Hut. Despite wrinkling her nose during the process, Kaberi appeared to finish her allotted portion of pan pizza expeditiously.

Our short visit to Morocco came to a close all too quickly and we reluctantly bid the friendly country farewell. Unlike one of its north African counterparts, Morocco is a destination that both of us have on our return agendas.

1 comment:

lande_ajose said...

Hey Vik and Kaberi...
I spent the evening (after putting the kids down) catching up with the highlights of your trip. It sounds amazing, esp. your time in Bali which is where we honeymooned (I can just picture it!). You've inspired me to take such a trip at some point in my life. Probably cant swing it til I am 64 (gotta get those kids thru college) but I'll do it. Cant wait for your next post!
Lande