Marrakech express and local

Yesterday we set our alarms for 4:15 a.m. The wheels of our Airbus lifted off the runway shortly after 6, and the Moroccan immigration official stamped our passports about 4 hours later. Because Morocco is one hour earlier than France, we were installed in our guesthouse (aka riad) in the old city (aka medina) by not much after 10 a.m. — not much later than we had originally expected to be here.

We’d arranged to be picked up by a driver from the riad, so that left us free to take in the sights, which evolved pretty dramatically along the way. Near the airport, the highway is wide and well-paved and lined with pleasant looking shops and familiar Mediterranean plants. I noted little trash or graffiti or ruination of the sort so common in Africa. We soon reached the walled inner city, and the wall looked to be in good shape too. Approaching the huge and famous central plaza, the Jemaa el Fna, the motorscooter traffic got crazier and crazier, and the ambient noise level cranked up. Larger motorized vehicles can’t travel in the innermost streets of the walled city, so we climbed out of the van and loaded our few bags into a hand-cart pulled by a half-toothless but friendly old guy. He led us through a Marrakech that felt 1000 years old (the approximate age of the city). It reminded us of Venice, but the passageways are filled with beautiful doorways that seem quintessentially Moorish.

Some are humble


Some are grand...


We checked into the riad, which is great (one of the dozens upon dozens of old homes that Europeans (mostly) have bought and converted into guesthouses over the past 20 years.) We spent most of the rest of the day and evening exploring the center city on foot, except for the hour-long break I took in the mid-afternoon. That proved to be both interesting and restorative.
...with a bit of everything in between.

Hammams — Turkish-style baths — are a prominent feature of life in Marrakesh, and most guidebooks urge a visit. But being scrubbed and massaged by strangers holds little interest for Steve. Normally I’m not much of a spa patron either. But when I heard that our riad had its own little hammam offering spa services, the idea of a scrub and a rub for some reason called to me.

At 3 p.m. I showed up wearing only the flip-flops and thick white robe that had been deposited in our room. A sturdy woman wearing a long black tunic and a headband directed me to the room to the right. She pour a bucket of hot water over the plastic mat on the concrete table within it, then she had me take off the robe and lay down. For the next half hour or so, she poured cupfuls of warm water over me then went through an elaborate cleaning ritual that started with applying soft aromatic liquid soap and worked its way up to a vigorous whole-body scrub with an abrasive mitt and something she said was black soap. By the time she was done, she’d peeled off at least one (and maybe several) layers of my skin. She applied a facial mask too and she shampooed my hair and finished me off with more rinsing. I re-donned the robe, moved into the central sitting area for a cup of sweet mint tea then went on to be massaged by another young Moroccan women (deeply relaxing but much less weird.)

After our frenetic week in Paris, it felt great, and it reinvigorated me for venturing into the Jemaa el F’na at night. Marrakech’s central square is something else again — different from anything we’ve experienced anywhere. It deserves a separate post of its own.
My scrubber (left) and masseuse (right)