Back in the late '80s, when I was growing up in Philadelphia, the neighborhood around South Street was the city's avant-guard home. There were record shops (remember them?), "alternative" clothing stores, night clubs where you could hear live music, and a collection of interesting places to eat.
One of those was, and maybe still is, a small restaurant named Marrakesh that serves Moroccan food. I remember the strange experience of eating in a tent-like place with carpeted walls and ceilings and we had to eat everything without utensils. Since then, Morocco's been a bit exotic in my mind; a far-away place with people in thwabs riding camels through the desert looking for oases.
Flash forward maybe 25 years and I'm now living in Barcelona alongside people from pretty much every place in the world - a real melting pot. My best estimate is that my circle here hails from at least 20 countries, if not more. One of those friends grew up in Fes (or Fez), Morocco, and always said that we needed to come with him sometime when he went back to visit his family. Well, guess what!
Adil planned a trip for a group of friends where we'd fly from Barcelona to Marrakesh, spend a couple of days then go on by train to Fes and his home town, Sefrou. Woohoo!
We arrived at our rented apartment around 9 p.m. and immediately walked to the medina to check out the evening action like the folks playing this soda-bottle fishing game, which was exactly NOT what I'd imagined I'd find back in the day in Philadelphia!
It wasn't all like that though. The warren of shops and restaurants is reminiscent of places I've been like Jerusalem's old city and Istanbul.
Diana waiting for our friends to come out of a (very pretty) lamp shop:
Our last stop of the evening was for tea at a place on the edge of the medina. Diana and I with our co-adventurers Adil, Natalia, Martha, Eric, and Heric:
We arrived the prior evening after dark so I was pleasantly surprised in the morning when we looked out from the balcony to see the red city and the Atlas mountains beyond. Snow? In Africa? Where were the sand dunes???
We started our first day with an a great local's-style breakfast followed by a walk through some of the more modern parts of town. At one intersection we crossed, there were some guys with mini horses and camels (finally!!!) for tourists like us to take photos. While our friends were taking their photos, Diana went to see if this camel was alive (he was but I'm still not clear if he was well - maybe I'll have to ask Lena and Toni):
When it was our turn, Diana and I got a few photos but I couldn't resist taking a camel selfie. Just as I was taking the photo, the camel swung its head around towards me as to say "no selfies". Out of the maybe 650 photos I took over the course of the trip, me jumping away is definitely one of the best!
After I recovered from the camel attack, we continued on to the medina. I hadn't realized the night before that the old city was surrounded by a big fortress-like wall. It's funny but the gate where we went in looks a lot like the entrance of a southern-California shopping center maybe out near Palm Springs!
There was a lot more life in the (giant) main plaza during the day - tarot-card readers, people selling food, guys with various types of monkeys(!!!), and even a couple cobra snake charmers! That's more like it! It was as if we were back in Epcot Center's Morocco at Disney World. For some reason, it reminded me of the flamenco show in Sevilla in its ability to match the stereotype I had when imagining a Moroccan bazaar.
Natalia and Diana at Marrakesh's Jemma el-Fnaa plaza:
The winding streets are also much more alive during the day. Shops selling tourist trinkets are mixed in with locals going about their normal lives. The folks buying dried fruits and nuts below remind me of our tourist-infested bi-weekly food-shopping trip at La Boqueria.
It looked like a (local) kids' class trip over at the olive-buying plaza. Imagine! Mommy, I want some olives!!!
The farther we walked, the more actual artisans we saw. This guy was making wooden things on a home-made lathe he operated with both hands and one foot:
This guy was like something out of a living history museum. His tiny store front had maybe ten tiles and he was carving another. If you told me he's been in this same spot for 50 years, I'd believe you.
Diana and I ducked down some tourist-free side streets to explore more of the 'hood. Just like us living in Barcelona, it was refreshing to see real people living in the mix and to come across normal-life scenes like this one:
Another random market scene:
Saw a bunch of guys doing parkour at this fountain on our way back to the apartment:
Dinner that night was at Chez Ali, which is a dinner-and-show place about an hour from Marrakesh. Just like back on South Street, dinner's a multi-course meal eaten with our hands inside a what looks like a big tent...
At various times, a group of musicians would come in and everyone would get up to dance to traditional music...
After we stuffed ourselves, it was outside to watch the action-packed music, acrobatic horse riding, character, and camel show. Adil told us that the staff, costumes, dinner, and show all had parts representing the different regions of Morocco.
It was back to the old city the next morning to see some mosques, palaces, and schools.
Looking for the magic-carpet salesman...Straight Outta Aladdin, yo?
One of the places we visited was the Bahia palace, which was built in the late 19th century. It's a giant complex and the decoration and gardens are beautiful.
The courtyards are a world away from the busy streets outside. Trying to look cool with our host with the most, Adil, and his squeeze Natalia!
Back out in the streets, we stopped at a couple of farmers' markets. Fresh dates, anyone?
One of our favorite stalls of the entire medina was this old guy selling fresh mint and herbs. Rastas need not apply!
Just after lunch, we spotted one of Pepe's cousins trying to hide from the sun. There were lots of donkeys in the markets carrying all sorts of things where vehicles couldn't go. This poor guy was a refuse-removal engineer and probably would have been much happier on the shady side of the street.
Random aside. Just like when we visited Alicia and Paco in Paco's hometown of Soria, seeing the giant storks and their nests on the building tops was quite a surprise. That nest is probably three or four feet across!
Finishing out our stay in Marrakesh with some tea.
Marrakesh was both more and less exotic than I'd imagined. The snake charmers in the market and the camels on the side of the road fit right in. What I didn't expect, but really enjoyed, were the brief glimpses of the locals' lives mixed in with the backpacker-and-tourist hustle and bustle.
Next stop (or 20), the early-morning train to Fes...
Next stop (or 20), the early-morning train to Fes...