March 24, 2011

First Trip to Morocco

Arriving in Marrakech, Morocco for the first time was exciting. I had never really considered Morocco as a vacation destination and really didn’t know much about it. So I didn't know what to expect.  Taking the bus from the airport to the center of town we drove down palm tree lined roads and passed people riding bicycles, motor bikes, and donkey pulled carts.  On street corners were saddled camels and horse drawn carriages waiting for tourists to take advantage. 
It was exciting to be somewhere so new to me.  During this trip I was prepared to take as many pictures as I could but I soon found out that would be harder than I thought. As soon as you pull out your camera the locals want money from you.  Walking into the main square of Marrakech's old town we saw snake charmers, men with monkeys, women offering henna tattoos, and carts selling fresh orange juice.  All of them shouting hello and trying to get get you to buy things or give them money. The henna tattoo ladies were the most aggressive by shoving a book of pictures in my face and trying to pull my hand, which was clasped around my camera, out of my pocket. Marrakech never felt unsafe to me but was definitely a place that, if not careful, someone could be cheated out of their money.
The old town of Marrakech, called the Medina, is filled with winding maze like streets and alleyway.  Most of them so small that only a few people can walk down them. However this doesn’t stop motorbikes  and donkey pulled carts. In the center of the Medina are the Souks. A group of market stalls and stores where they sell all types of goods. You can find thinks like lanterns, spices, rugs, leather goods, traditional clothing, shoes, fruits and vegetables, and freshly butchered animals. Some of my favorite things were the lanterns. Out of all the things sold in the souks, the souvenir I would have been most likely to buy would have been one of these bright colored candle holders.
 Taking pictures in this area was difficult because I kept getting told "no pictures" by the shop keepers.   Here are some of the pictures I got anyway.  
 
 
One of the most overwhelming thing that I couldn’t photograph were the smells in Marrakech. Most are not very pleasant and all of them are overpowering.  In the souks it was the smell of spices, incense, mint tea, leather, rotting food, and live and dead animals. In the hotel is was the soap and lotion. Everywhere else it was the smell of pollution and car exhaust.  The air quality was so bad that it really made the whole place seem more dirty when actually there were some really nice places in the city. 
 The city was so full of life, color, and sound. The only exception to this was when the Islamic call to prayer would echo over the city several times a day. Then without any obvious scramble, the streets would thin out and a hush would fall over the city. This seemed to happen so naturally that you almost didn’t notice it was happening.
The best part about the visit was that the weather was almost warm. At one point I didn’t even have to wear a jacket! And even though it rained the weather was still better than Rome.
 After my visit I was asked if Marrakech is a place worth visiting. The answer is yes but it's not for everyone.  Marrakech was a fun and exciting but not very relaxing. Atleast not this trip. We just focused on visiting the city. Three days was prefect to see just about all there was to see.  I was also asked if I would go again. Definitely, but I wouldn’t do that same stuff. I've heard there are some really great day trips into the Atlas mountain that I would love to do.

In my next post I'll tell you about the sightseeing we did and post some more pictures. There is a lot more color to come!

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