Marrakech was one of the first places that really incited my wanderlust. Halfway around the world on a study abroad semester, I was like most young wide-eyed backpackers, soaking it all up and taking it all in, expecting the best time of my life with each budget airline I boarded. The floodgates of curiosity opened, and I couldn’t believe how for the first time I truly felt foreign overseas. Amidst the hustle and bustle of this ancient city are amazingly vibrant colors, a maze of souks, dust, fragrant Moroccan food and blazing pink-purple sunsets.
Walking the streets was unlike anything I had ever done before and the surge of adventure hit me hard. Narrow, dusty, chaotic streets filled with motorcycles buzzing by; The hustle and bustle of the main streets invigorated me and opened my eyes to a completely different world, a world far different than Texas. I can still feel that excitement four years later.
The buzzing plaza with its persistent vendors, fortune tellers, tooth pullers, street theatre performers, monkeys, and snake charmers captivated me on the days I explored. My only complaint is that there were so few women out and about, and at times the staring from men became a major annoyance and made me quite uncomfortable.
How exhaustingly great it all was. From bazar souvenir shopping to camel riding, mint tea indulgence, and hammam spa treatment, Marrakech lived up to all my exotic, novel expectations. I wasn’t ready for what it would be, but diving in was the only way to take it all in. These are my photos from the colorful, loud, hectic city. What a dream! I was bombarded by beautiful colors, gritty sights, interesting subjects and animals at every corner. It was in Marrakech that I realized street photography and travel photography were my passions. At the time, I shot with my Canon IXUS and was pleased with what it took – mostly because it was discreet and easy to use.
Need to relax? This is the place.
A visit to Morocco wouldn’t be complete without a traditional hammam visit. Tucked away in a small dusty street, isolated from the chaotic city center, my first hammam experience (something I knew next to nothing about) was about to greet me with a very rough hand. See, during the day as I walked around I hardly saw women, and if I did they were fully covered. For those who don’t know, a real hammam can be a surprise for the reserved Westerner and the gommage part isn’t really for the shy. A slew of female attendants scrub and clean your body like their life depends on it, but before that, you have to get practically naked. So, after climbing narrow stairs up onto a roof overlooking the city, I walked up into a white tiled bathing room and was asked to disrobe completely and lay flat on the tile. The two women stared at me, wondering why I was taking so long and what that sheepish look on my face was. There weren’t going to turn around or walk away. Once I got on with it, they proceeded to scrub me intensely, arm by arm, leg by leg, and covered me with special olive oil black soap that spread like butter and left my skin feeling silky. I later came to find out that this black soap is part of many a Moroccan’s beauty regimen to keep the skin looking young. At first, I was quite self-conscious in the bathhouse, not expecting the experience to be so hands on, but after a few uncomfortable minutes, I was sure I’d never been cleaned so well in my life. Once I let go and relaxed, it was really a rejuvenating experience. The scrub left me glowing and half awake the rest of the day, and I made sure to buy the black soap to bring back to Texas.
Tastes and tongues
As for food? There’s no shortage of delightful grub in Marrakech. Wow, wow, wow. So hearty, so fragrant. Tajine couscous was a revelation and I don’t think I ate anything else besides that and mint tea every meal. With my vegetarian inclinations, I loved the fresh, plentiful vegetables in a hot stew broth. Moroccan spices like saffron, cumin, and turmeric made every dish unforgettable. Back in the souks vendors itched to sell their goods, utilizing several languages, changing on a dime to appeal to each tourist. Moroccans speak Arabic, Berber and French in their day to day, but the vendors are amazingly skilled at several languages. Some thought I was Spanish, Italian, but never American. Besides that, they were spot on about nationalities and their fluency impressed me considering many of these vendors have never left Morocco.
Honestly, my favorite part of the trip was simply walking around the streets, seeing the bright-colored spices and fruits for sale, exploring the small corridors and the brightly painted doors, and just standing still while the city zoomed by. From fire dancers at dinner to riding camels in a real oasis, I still can’t believe I ever visited Morocco at such an early stage of my traveling.
(Four months after I left the city, a restaurant next to the one above was attacked by a suicide bomber, killing 16.)
JEMAA EL FNA:
Ali ben Youssef Medersa and Mosque:
CAMEL RIDING AT PALMERIE:
HOTEL RIAD LES HIBISCUS:
A beautiful and stark contrast to the outside world, the calm to be had inside the Riad Les Hibiscus hotel was a real oasis inside of a hectic, historic 1,000 year old city, and offered true respite after navigating a weaving maze of intricately connected alleyways.
17/18 Derb Sidi Ben Aissa, Marrakesh 40000, Morocco