Maroc le Kasbah, pt. 3

On a clear day, Morocco is easily visible from Spain. Only about 15 kilometers separate the African and European continents, a choppy pass where the Atlantic and Mediterranean waters swirl together known as the Straight of Gibraltar. I do not claim to know how fast a crow can fly, but I would bet maybe a 6-pack that a crow could fly from Arcos to Tangier, the northernmost Moroccan city, in under two hours. Nevertheless, our final destination of Marrakech [sic…this is the French spelling] – is a significant train ride into the heart of the country (I know because we took this 10 hour ride back out of the city), and it actually made more sense to fly from Jerez to Madrid to Marrakech than to work our way slowly and steadily south. (Spain is not a large country, smaller than Texas if I am not mistaken, and so the flight from Jerez to Madrid is about 55 minutes, with another 2 hours back down to Marrakech.) In an uncharacteristic move, I did hardly any research at all about Marrakech, or Morocco in general for that matter. Here in Spain, I have developed a keen sensitivity to cultural norms and social organization – not to mention geographic characteristics – and can therefore quickly assess my impressions of a new Spanish place based on extensive personal points of reference. Morocco, on the other hand, represented a departure from what my travel experiences hitherto could elucidate. In this sense, arriving without having researched my destination allowed me to be a wide-eyed traveler, lacking preconceptions – a refreshing and exhilarating approach to any experience. Although had I researched the average temperatures in Marrakech at the end February, I would have certainly packed lighter.



Miles and I, having touched down in Morocco slightly after 7:30pm on Tuesday night, had initially planned on taking a city bus from the airport to the city center. We quickly realized upon exiting into the transportation area, though, that the supposed bus stop was nowhere to be found. We were going to have to cut our bartering teeth negotiating a ride with one of the countless cabbies who all seemed to possess a superhuman ability for spotting and approaching tourists from incredible distances, undoubtedly so attuned to our foreign mannerisms that even a shadowy profile of our American gait arouses their attention, not unlike how a T-Rex hunts based the motion of its victims. Needless to say, we arbitrarily gave in to one of the drivers, did a mediocre job getting the fare down from 200 dirham (a little less than 20 euros) to 130, and were on our way in one of the city’s many miniature tan, outdated “petit taxis.” We endered the médina, or old section, of Marrakech shortly after our driver stopped in the middle of the road for 3 minutes to pick up some guy who was walking on the sidewalk. Stepping out of the cab at the pedestrian way leading to the main plaza, the sprawling Djeema el Fna, made me realize that only then had I truly arrived in Morocco. The two minutes it takes to pass the line of idling handsome cabs running along the side of the road to the “Big Square,” as it is referred to anybody who does not speak French or Arabic, is the perfect amount of time to forget wherever it is you have just come from. By the time the Big Square has fully absorbed you, your memory of life outside the médina‘s walls might have already evaporated into the distant sky with the collective steam of the plaza’s hundred tireless food stalls.

Everything about the Big Square is hyperbolic, and it seemed fitting that our first steps into the plaza were met with strobes of lightning that were accompanied only by the polyrhythmic thunder of scores of Berber drummers dispersed throughout the masses. However, what seemed like a distant, unmoving storm, existent only for its aesthetic values and a fixture of the Marrakech sky, soon showed its teeth and washed all but the most senile of street performers out of the square or into the network of covered food stands. We were luckily already enjoying our first Moroccan meal at the time of the deluge – some very satisfying couscous and kebabs. As much as we wanted to stay and soak up the beautiful scene of the placid rain-slicked plaza after the storm had blown over, an adventure out to the Sahara Desert was on tap for the next two days, and our van was scheduled to leave the city at 7:00am the next morning. Leaving the Big Square is an experience sure to be easily understood by anybody who has ever been to a hippie music festival – you can walk away from the drum circles, fried food and natural juice stands, massive amounts of burning incense, and poncho hawkers, but the curious scents low rumble of the affair never really leave your body until you are well into your journey home.



~ by lincolnbrody on March 12, 2008.

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