Travelogue from Morocco, with love

Morocco is one the countries I’ve always wanted to visit. That interest can be attributed to two things: Morocco would be my first African country to visit and my interest in history.

My family has always been interested in going to Africa, but there were choices to be made. Would a trip to Africa focus on something cliché like visiting the pyramids and dwelling in the ruins of the ancient Egyptian Empire? In the end we chose Morocco. It was a more promising guarantee of an exotic experience and one that would be less crowded with tourists.

My knowledge of Morocco stemmed from movies like the 1942 classic “Casablanca” and documentaries made by the History Channel rather than pawn shops and aliens. I knew I was going to visit a place that has been the center of several historical moments, including the conquest of Muslims, influx of European exploration in the 15th century and the occupation by the Nazis during World War II. Truth to be told, I felt like an explorer ready to set sail to the land of spice markets and precious metals.

It was a cultural shock to realize we were in a place that has been greatly influenced by Muslim traditions rather than Christian ones. For instance, hearing the Adhan (call to prayer) over loudspeakers echoing all over the city startled me a bit at first. I needed some time to fully grasp my surroundings. Once I surrendered to the city, though, the beauty and wonder of Marrakesh swept me away.

Thousands shop at the local spice market in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Thousands shop at the local spice market in Marrakesh, Morocco.

We stayed in the center of the city near the main square in the old region of Marrakesh. The infrastructure, consisting of stone and brick, was the epitome of traditional Moroccan culture in both food and clothing. Our hotel reflected the ambience of the city in a simplistic yet luxurious style through its rich cultural influences in furnishing and architecture.

Tourists tend to do two things when coming to Marrakesh. They either rent Range Rovers to hike the stunningly imposing Atlas Mountains or they get lost walking the souks, spice market, and the Jemaa el-Fnaa marketplace in what I consider the closest thing a traveler can experience that resembles a modern interpretation of 15th century exploring.

Due to time constraints, we could only choose of the two. Given the fact that we did not pack hiking equipment, the choice was clear. With the help of an official guide, we went to see what the main square had to offer, and boy, did it deliver.

Marrakesh is a feast for the senses.

Everywhere you look are enticing works of handmade craftsmanship in textiles, wood and metals. Just watching merchants work on their wares with hand-held tools and a finesse that made each creation unique justified the value of our purchases.

The appetite and olfactory senses are overwhelmed just walking the streets. Morocco has a rich culinary tradition, thanks to the creative mixture of spices and ingredients. I enjoyed the chicken tagine accompanied with a soft and sweet-sparkling Moroccan wine. The Maghrebi mint tea is something one could become addicted to. It’s the most refreshing tea I have ever tasted.

Because Morocco has a predominant Muslim influence, mosques are a common sight with their signature architecture. While I did not have the opportunity to visit the Mosque of Ibn Yusuf, I did admire the Koutoubia located near the Jemaa el-Fnaa square. It encouraged me to contemplate the design choices religions adopt when developing their places of worship.

For those who may wonder, yes, there are snake charmers in Marrakesh and no I did not go near them. In the movies, a man playing a wind instrument while hissing reptile peeks its head from a basket can be interesting. In real life, seeing a cobra emerge from a basket with an imposing posture made me head in the opposite direction immediately. Monkeys are also available for photo opportunities. You can take a picture with one as they hang from you. There are also a lot of stray cats. If you are a cat person, Marrakesh has all the feline sightings a heart can desire.

Marrakesh won my heart and interest. It was not only the place, but the people who enchanted me. I stumbled upon many hardworking people who were humble and appeared to be of honest character. Marrakesh felt welcoming and appealed to my sense of adventure and the exotic.