Days 9-10: The Ochre City


A potpourri of SubSaharan Africa, Arabia and Europe, Marrakesh is a city splashed in ochre and teaming with a carnival of vendors and entertainers in a dazzling display of treasures and fabrics, creating a chaos of colors that is difficult to decipher at first. The Jemma el Fena is the the city’s pounding pericardium with drums beating from every direction, snake charmers hypnotizing cobras with their piercing flutes, dried fruit vendors trying to catch your attention and other shop keepers such as tooth extractors and soothsayers all setting up shop. It is devastatingly busy and the souks just off the square continue to bustle as motorbike after motorbike zip through the endless wave of clueless tourists. When darkness covers the square, the colors only get brighter as hundreds of food vendors set up shop at night in the Jemma selling goat heads, typical Moroccan dishes, fish and chips and other not so gourmet meals that taste so delicious. For desert, chocolate pastries and ginseng spice tea with a side of your choice of music performance on the square. It was Atlantic City’s boardwalk on acid with enough hashish mongers to fuel a rocket ship.

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After going through the souks, and Missy buying her tenth scarf (oh please shoot me), we celebrated the last night together with Kristof and Melody at Narawama, an elegant thai fusion restaurant in a UNESCO world heritage building that was decorated in a way that was fit for a sultan.

marrakesh2The next day, we visited the Marjorelle gardens (kept up by the late Yves Saint Laurent), spent time with an herboriste learning about traditional Berber medicines, visited the Bahia palace- a splendid structure designed to pacify the sultan’s many wives and concubines 200 years ago and had another trip through the souks. In the evening, we visited the Mellah, where rows of brightly colored spice cones stood where Jewish salt sellers and other businessmen used lived harmoniously in the Muslim culture, enriching history and culture of Morocco’s spirit. Well, really the harmony depended on the attitude of the sultan at that time period.

narwamaAs we walked home during the evening, passing the sultan’s kasbah, we saw storks resting on the castle walls clacking their beaks together as the setting sun mystified the red-orange buildings. It seemed as if these birds, proudly perched on their throne, were claiming the city as their home that would never be stolen by famine, French occupation, in the face of the current tourist colonization.

Continue: to Essaouira


-Be prepared to be harassed! Everywhere you walk, people will be selling you goods, offer to help you out (with the future intent of getting a tip), misguide you away from an intended destination and entertain you with music or a snake for a fee. How to fight fatigue? Either don’t spend too much time here (our mistake) or just take a deep breath and enjoy. We did not sense that there were many thieves, mainly because they have derived more honest means of stealing your money by making you pay for unnecessary junk and services.

-New Years in Marrakesh requires advanced planning if you want to do it up (we did not). It is a trendy jet set destination and many “hot spots” offer pricey (like 300 euros a person!) events. We did not know it would be so extreme and ended up just walking around the square all night which was painfully and soberly boring. To Moroccans, New Years is not a big deal.

-Lodging- Hotel Atlas- a cheap, dirty hotel in a small alley way just off the Jemma el Fena. When we first arrived, our room reeked like ciggarettes, but the extremly nice owner moved us into another room. Their is a chronic problem with the smelly shared bathrooms not having toilet paper. The only reason to stay here is that it is super cheap-170 dh a night- and conveniently located.


Narwama– very expensive, the food is good to great but not mind blowing but the decor and the eating experience is one of a kind. There are these acrobat entertainers that is rather cheesy but all in all if you have money to spare you need to go there.

-Restaurants – Cafe du Livre-located outside of the medina in the French section, this place was awesome. A relaxing break in the day with superb food in a coffee shop, where you can pick up English books both used and new. This place is highly recommended if you are nearby.

Continue: to Essaouira

Days 8-9: Road Trip!

Merzouga -> Ourzazzate/Ait Ben Hadou -> High Atlas Mountains
We returned to the Auberge with our camels that morning and after breakfast, Missy and I piled into the backseat of our Belgian friends’ small rented car and drove to Ouarzazate to break up our intended destination of Marrakesh into a two day trip. In Rissani just outside Merzouga, we took a wrong turn and ended up in a bustling Moroccan market street where we had to compete with a traffic jam of donkey carts, rusty bicycles, diesel cars and vendors vying to inch through the chaotic storm of people. Melody’s heroic driving navigated us back on track and then through the Anti-Atlas mountains, the Dades valley and finally embarking past Ourzazate (famed for its many movie studies where Star Wars, Babel, Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia was shot) to Ait Ben Haddou.

After an entire days worth of driving (both camel and car) we checked into a cheap hotel and I tried to rally against fatigue and rush over to the ancient kasbah of Ait Ben Haddiou, crossing a stream on a donkey, to enter the enchanting relic of the past. This kasbah hugs the hillside and overlooks the Ouarzazate river. I felt it was reminiscent of a smaller version of Machu Picchu with centuries old ruins suspended in animation allow your imagination to reconstruct what ancient life was like behind the old stone walls, except here it was easier to do that because 10 families continue to reside behind the old stone walls. It was a tourist trap, but a marvelous one and as we climbed to the highest point of the kasbah, the same sun that passed here 700 years ago drew light away from the striped rock formations, craggy mountains and fertile land along the river and set into the valley.
The next morning we left our hotel while it was still dark and head through the High Atlas mountains. As the sun roe, the road began to wind, treacherously, through the rocky, treeless mountainside. At every turn, we passed another mountain village with buildings made of rock that blended seamlessly and simply into the landscape rather than a rude interruption as is accustomed in the West. After driving through the seemingly uninhabitable terrain, suddenly a cypress forest appeared in a brilliant and sudden change of ecosystem.
In the end, Melody’s brilliant display of driving brought us to the hustle and bustle of the industrial hodgepodge that is Marrakesh.

Continue: to the Ochre City


-Lodging- Hotel Baraka (?)- it is on the main road as you come to Ait Ben Haddou. It was cheap, had a restaurant, we had our own bathrooms, it was clean. Nothing too special, but not a bad place to stay.

Continue: to the Ochre City