Mobbed in Marrakech
Where to begin? After leaving Madeira we set sail towards the coast of
Although we had maps of
The fishermen guided us past the break wall and into the harbor. A medieval Portuguese castle stood guard over dozens of wooden fishing boats of all sizes lashed side-by-side. All the fishermen stopped and stared at the Gryphon as she traveled through the narrow channel into the port. We were the only non-local vessel. We tied off to a large concrete wall and came ashore to clear immigration and customs. I think that we were the first visitors by sea this town had seen in weeks based on the old date that was set on the immigration officer’s stamp. After clearing customs and speaking with the local police, we hired a “guardian” to watch over the boat and to make sure that nothing “happened” to it.
With the boat in safe hands (or so we thought) we headed into town to find a place to stay. We checked into a hotel, got cleaned up, and headed downstairs for a celebratory beverage. At the bar Walid began a conversation with an older gentleman who turned out to be the Minister of French Culture in
Afterwards, he goes down to the port to check on the boat with his new found friends. Our guardian greets them plastered out of his mind. He starts yelling at one of the Minister’s friends (the local baker) and would not let him into the shipyard because he was a Muslim. After several minutes of heated debate to no avail, Walid parted company and went down to the pier by himself. He ended up staying the night on the boat instead of walking back to the hotel.
After taking some antibiotics and Pepto, I felt much better the next morning. We rented a car and planned to drive north to
Our rental was a compact, front-wheel drive Ford Fiesta. Why not go off-roading? Scattered throughout the hills were these small towns with buildings made entirely of mud bricks and thatched roofs. We headed off the “main” road into the hills on what appeared to be a donkey-cart trail. The town was something out of a movie. Chickens and goats were roaming between the houses. Eyes peered out at us behind the dark windows. They did not know quite what to make of us. The trail we were following soon ended and we saw the main road in the distance. We headed towards it through a rocky field and down a very steep embankment. With just a few scrapes we managed to get back onto the road and continued our journey south.
After exploring the countryside further and visiting several small villages, we arrived in Marrakech to find it a bustling cosmopolitan of old and new traditions. We checked into a wonderful hotel that used to be an old courtyard-style mansion. It was gorgeous! Every room in this three-story palace overlooked the courtyard and was intricately decorated with colorful tiles and mosaics. The roof deck overlooked the city’s skyline of spires and towers.
The streets of Marrakech were narrow and filled with vendors selling everything imaginable from lamps to livers. At the center of town was an enormous marketplace and bazaar. Snake charmers mesmerized cobras and vipers as they swayed to and fro. Merchants sold carpets and other wares. Smoke from grills cooking lamb, beef, and chicken filled the air. We happened to arrive during an international film festival and a giant screen and projector loomed on the far side of the square. With my blonde hair and blue eyes, more than once I was asked if I was from “ollie-wud,” here for the festival.
After eating a wonderful dinner of lamb tagine we set off to explore the city. We found a very eclectic shop selling antiques and other local goods. After a few minutes of haggling, we purchased a couple ornate rifles and some antique jewelry. We had interest in so many other items that the owner invited us back the next day to have lunch with him, claiming that his wife made the best tagine in
If we had thought the market during the day was colorful, the night-time experience proved to be much more intriguing. Upon a suggestion by the merchant we went to a very shady and seedy cabaret with belly dancing and hookah pipes. What a sight! Smoke filled the air as scantily clad dancers jiggled to exotic music encouraged by drunken hollering. Kuwaiti oil sheiks threw money into the air as the dancers gracefully seduced them. We were the only non-Arabs in the establishment. Walid’s Lebanese heritage allowed him to blend in relatively well. I, on the other hand, was a lost cause and stood out like a sore thumb. We smoked pipes while watching the dancers and listening to the enchanting music.
And then the night became very interesting. Walid had a bit too much to drink and wandered off in a drunken stupor while I was in the bathroom. I came back to our table with him nowhere to be found. As I was looking for him around the club, it became very apparent that I was no longer welcome without my Arab sponsorship. I tried to explain that my friend was still there but I was told that I was not allowed to wander around the establishment by myself. Evidently they didn’t like Americans…hmmm…I wonder why? I was escorted back to my table somewhat forcibly, asked to pay our bill, and then directed to leave. Not to cause a scene, I complied and went outside. Luckily, Walid hadn’t wandered too far away before falling asleep on a bench. I flagged down a taxi and managed to communicate to the driver (barely) where we were staying. I’ve traveled to many places in many foreign lands, and never once had I felt so unwelcome. Nevertheless, all ended well and it will make for a great story!