Words cannot adequately begin to describe the love affair I have with the country of Morocco. Set in the northern tip of Africa, a dream vacation awaits. In minutes, the scenery can change from lush green gardens to Arabian sand dunes to the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Nature is never far away, offering plenty to the fans of the great outdoors. This was one of the many reasons I loved Morocco’s most captivating city of Marrakesh. After spending a little under a week here with my fearless travel buddy and best friend, my only demise was the melancholy feeling that began creeping up in my subconscious as my departure time came near. It’s not hard to appreciate life in this particular city. Everything is beautiful in Marrakesh. Ev.er.y.thing. From the time I checked in at Hotel La Mamounia, I knew it was going to be hard to leave.
The Moroccan style architecture is so incredibly rich with color and textures that you find yourself planning the remodel of your own apartment within seconds. Attention to detail was never sacrificed as every surface-doors, walls, floors, and ceilings alike-is embellished with patterns and mosaics. After tearing my eyes away from lusting after the lobby’s accessories, I was greeted with a friendly “salam,” meaning “hi” in Arabic from the warm hotel staff. No offense to the people of Marrakesh, but I don’t think Arabic is going to be added to the list of romance languages. Sorry, I just can’t picture Fabio on the cover of an Arabic romance novel. It’s very harsh and almost abrasive sounding, like two people in a violent argument when conversing. I suddenly felt myself getting uneasy and just when I thought one guy was about to spit on the other…they had a good laugh and all was well in the world. Maybe that’s just my ignorance shining through. Some people seem to think the language sounds charming. I’d disagree, but if that’s the worst I must endure while I’m in the country, hell…somebody send me Rosetta Stone and quick.
I needed money and I needed it fast in order to be an active participant in this Arabian dreamworld. I exchanged dollars into the local currency of dirhams in order to
make it rain experience all it had to offer. First up was the city center square or medina of Jemaa el-Fnaa. Nothing says you’re not in Arkansas anymore upon seeing snake charmers, monkeys, and raw animal heads everywhere you look. I thought that stuff only happened in Aladdin, but here I was, living out my favorite Disney movie. I was Jasmine for Halloween one year, so it’s all coming full circle. How apropos. Our guide, Akmed, assured us everything was okay and explained that was how the locals made their living. Well I sure as hell didn’t think they were doing it for fun. Jemaa el-Fnaa square was an electric scene of sounds, smells and activity. Motorbikes rushed passed, carts pulled by donkeys weaved around the crowds, belly dancers were pulling out any move they could just to get a dirham, and spice shops were nothing short of everywhere.
What a crazy.
I remember passing the raw meat section and all the butchers behind their respective stations would say “but you look like you are starving!” Uhm, sir…no chance in hell I’m going to eat your raw sheep head, but thank you for the compliment. A wee bit apprehensive, I started down the souk to the next adventure, which included a photo op with a couple of monkeys. And there began my obsession to somehow adopt and cuddle a pet monkey until the end of time. Abu, get at me. They were beyond adorable. Marco and Coco, I’ll never forget you.
It started out with so much tenderness and love. Then moved to the cutest infestation ever. And ended with Marco copping a feel.
The next few days came with some unforgettable memories. Each morning, I had an unscheduled wake up call brought on by what’s known as early morning prayer. I was a bit confused circa 4am during the first day when I heard something that sounded straight off the Lion King soundtrack. I came to know those sounds as the different readings of the Quran reaching us from neighborhood mosques. They were the sounds of the real Marrakesh nightlife. I took it as part of the exotic experience. The same mindset led me to riding a camel. No joke, Jamile and I became great friends on our hump day journey through the sand. We connected like a man and his dog, like a mother and her child. Like Marco and Coco, Jamile will never be forgotten – perhaps I’ll return one day to run my own petting zoo.
Marrakesh has some amazing shopping markets as well. I encountered my first big girl purchase which included a stunning golden Moroccan rug. I did say I wanted to redesign my entire apartment upon seeing the rich colors and textures of the place and wow, do these people take their rugs seriously. We were seated and immediately served mint tea, a tradition in Morocco and always considered very important in its culture. We were then presented with spectacular rug after spectacular rug, all different in color, length and design. Coming from a chronically indecisive person, you can imagine the dilemma I was in upon selecting what rug I would eventually take home. After a few hours, I decided upon a beautifully hand woven golden area rug that currently greets guests upon entry to my BA apartment (mint tea awaits whoever wants to talk about it).
Akmed helped me barter, and we were off to the next adventure. Even after seeing some of the world’s most crafty cities, Marrakesh is unmatched and has some of the most unique jewelry I have ever laid eyes on. I couldn’t leave without purchasing some statement pieces that were again, accented with vibrant colors and patterns. Now I was beginning to worry about my overweight baggage charge. It was inevitable.
Girls can only shop so much until they drop, and that’s what soon happened. Almost out of dirhams and begging Akmed for some activities that were off-the-beaten-path, we got exactly what we wished for. After about a two hour drive through the Atlas Mountains, we came upon the Moroccan retreat of Kasbah Tamadot. In short, the location is stunning, the views magnificent, and the décor breathtaking. It was a sin to only spend lunchtime at such a place, so I’ll have to bear the nauseating car ride again in order to adequately allow myself to take this place in. It’s a must see and a sharp contrast from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech’s city center.
Our ride back into the bustling metropolis manifested a lovely medicine shop that could’ve easily passed for a chemistry lab. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. Walls were lined with bottles and bottles of different inhabitants. Of course, upon being seated in the lab as if a show was about to start, we were served mint tea while other competing scents filled our nostrils. We were offered perfumes, lotions, creams, gels, natural make-up and even natural enhancement aids we were told would work wonders for our men back home…err, that’s okay. We passed on the natural viagra but came out with so many lotions and potions to last us close to forever, just in case this was a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Hopefully this is not the case.
Our last day in Marrakesh came with even more take-homes. You can shop til you drop, but you’ll almost always land on your feet to do it all over again. A tutorial I will always remember for
Halloween purposes various reasons is how to make a turban. We ventured into a boutique known as La Maison du Kaftan and were taken to the basement (I swear this doesn’t get weird) to a private, luxurious selection of the shop’s finest Moroccan dresses. There, I must have played dress up for at least an hour. It was a girl’s dream! Adorned with reds, oranges, and golden hues, I looked in the mirror and was reverted back to when I was Jasmine as a teenager for Halloween, except this felt so much more authentic. I was then instructed on how to tie a turban on my head. It’s actually a very simple task so if anyone needs a lesson, I’m your girl. Disclaimer: The sound has been turned off in the video below because I was singing “Arabian Nights” from Aladdin, and noone wants to hear that.
It was nearing the end of our trip and even after the turbans, the perfumes, the spices, the jewelry, the rugs, the monkeys and the camels, we still were missing something that would truly commemorate our trip to northern Africa. What other than branding ourselves and bringing the tradition of tattooing home with us? These temporary henna tattoos are traditionally placed all over the hands for good luck, protection against illness and the evil eye, as well as to bring joy to the individual. I wonder if all those things last when the dye begins to fade and eventually washes off? One can only hope.
On my flight home accompanied by overweight bags, I began looking at all of my old passport stamps I’ve been able to collect throughout the years. Memories came flooding back from all corners of the earth, and I was suddenly lost in a daydream while strapped into 43F. In short, that’s back middle for those who are uneducated on their Boeing 777s. It was a long ride back to the States, but it allowed me to reminisce on some of the fondest adventures I’ve had the pleasure of taking. I was almost to the end of the booklet when I came across this scribbled, illegible stamp. Of course, it was Arabic, and Rosetta Stone would soon help me recognize that. The little stamp symbolized so many precious experiences I will never forget. It was so much more than just dried ink on paper issued by the stoic, robotic people that make up Customs and Immigration. It represented the friendly locals, Akmed, Marco, Coco, and Jamile. It was the culture of serving mint tea and selling hand crafted rugs. It was the overwhelming fragrances around the energetic medina. It was the proud sounds of Islam being offered to Allah. That stamp taught me so much about the most unique culture I’ve had the privilege of knowing. It also taught me that I should bring a spare suitcase upon my return. Africa, I’ll see you again, dear friend, to bask in all your greatness. I’ve got a safari to get to, and I’m craving a double dose of a Moroccan retreat.