Part 3: Do I Know You
Morocco attracts a rare breed of traveler, no doubt. A wild weekend in North Africa is our idea of a fun getaway. Part romantic, part explorer and as some uninformed cynics would venture to say, part lunatic. Those of us here find pleasure in adventures off the beaten path. And if Morocco was off the radar of your typical excursion, then the backstreets of Marrakech was like trekking on the dark side of the moon. A mysterious place rarely ventured to or, better yet, seeked out. This is where I wanted to go.
We began our walking tour of the old part of town with lunch near the city center. I surveyed Jemaa el-Fnaa square from a second floor restaurant window. Its presence in the midday sun faintly resembled the spooky nocturnal form I crept through the night before. The small islands of illuminated food stands and heaving masses of people milling around have all vanished in the daylight. There are countless routes jutting off from the square. Each passage whisking you away into another world, down precarious roads and under tattered canopies. And if you don’t know where you’re going, you will get lost. That’s one thing I know for sure.
Luckily Marcie knows this town, the real town, as well as anyone. She has friends in all corners of the city, from the owners of swanky, white tablecloth dinner clubs to the little known shopkeepers. Originally from South Africa, she is naturally charismatic, with an intellect and sense of humor that are both razor sharp. I enjoyed several long conversations with her in the riad at the end of each day.
I followed Marcie, along with Brigid, down a cobblestone alley, but something seemed different. The brightly colored tapestries and leather handbags weren’t cluttering the flanks of the streets. There weren’t gaudy displays of silver jewelry and brass trinkets twinkling in the sun. This was not the dressed up, touristy part of town; not that there ever was one. We were in Souk El Haddadine, generally referred to as the Blacksmith Market. Taking its name from the dominant trade in this burrough, this district is where they make all that stuff being sold back up in the square to wide-eyed visitors. Shops manufacturing leather goods, iron lanterns and handsewn garments were all crammed in next to one another. The tink-tink-tink of a hammer striking an anvil pierces my eardrum as I pass by a cramped, dingy metal shop. The metallic blasts ring out, laying down a rhythm for the claustrophobic chaos in the street. It was a hectic, kind of sketchy and ominously beautiful place. This definitely wasn’t a narrated bus tour with an annoyingly gitty local guide cracking cheesy one-liners on the intercom. This was an unfiltered insight into the everyday life of some very hard working people and I was again humbled and grateful for the privilege to see it.
We carried on through the tangled web of streets, each turn revealing a theater of interaction that I could watch all day. Our next stop was the University of al-Karaouine, which was established in 859 as a cultural center for the Muslim faithful. Still functional today, it is the oldest existing educational institute in the world. Walking the grounds here, as countless souls have for over 100 decades, all I could really do was shake my head in awe. This country, this society, is drenched in history.
Strolling through the streets for the afternoon, we passed by small piazzas where a confluence of back alleys met and men idly awaited for a signal to load up their trollies for a quick errand. We ended our day at the hammam with the timeless, self-indulgent treat of a full body massage. The scent of argan oil drifted through the tranquil, dark inner chambers of this retreat. I could faintly hear the evening calls to prayers radiate from the minarets as I lay in a semi-conscious state of relaxation on the massage table. This was the calm, the stillness I was in need of.
I emerged from the pitch-black room and sat with Brigid on a cozy velvet couch. She is another one from the wanderlust tribe; an American expat living abroad, always on the lookout for the next adventure. She is a true hearted, outgoing person with a radiant smile. And she rocks a killer pair of cowboy boots; something I’ve always been a sucker for! I watched her, in my blissed-out, post-massage buzz, as she fanned her hands, drying the red nailpolish from her manicure. It was a moment I won’t soon forget. I don’t think I can leave here. Call my family, sell the car, I’m out.
It’s fitting for this town, which has pretty much shattered my sophomoric sense of any worldly understanding I have acquired up to this point, to poignantly offer me such serene moments within its incomparably frenzied atmosphere. Marrakech has brilliantly blown my mind, exceeded all my expectations, humbled me beyond words and unabashedly shot down all the paranoid remarks from the skeptics who raised an eyebrow at me when I said I was coming here.
Being in Marrakech was a soul stirring experience. I am still mesmerized by the entire place. I have traveled abroad several times but everything seems new to me after this one. I was given a new perspective on things, a broader vision of life. Living here amongst the bizarre, and previously abnormal, had enlightened me. It made the world seem smaller, more accessible, more real. Far off places like Marrakech can be touched; seen with your own eyes and felt deep inside if you just go there. The more I travel and see, the more I realize how little I know of the world, and how much I desire to learn.
Brenden and I sat at a sidewalk cafe just outside the same archway where I was deposited when I first arrived in town. This journey had come full circle for me, and we took a moment to reflect on our time here before our paths diverged into the future. I told him my thoughts on traveling as a way to make the world more familiar. He replied with observations on the true uniqueness that can be found in every person. It was a simple time, two people just talking about life. That may be the essence of why we travel, why we put ourselves through the labors involved, why we go to the ends of the earth on vaguely defined missions. Maybe we just want to get to know people, the world and ourselves a little bit better. Without people, this trip would have been a fickle endeavour. I would have just wandering around an empty town in the desert. An indescribably gorgeous town in the desert.