24 Hours in Marrakech

So this weekend I went to Marrakech, the “Capital of Tourism of Morocco” as one of my Moroccan friends calls it, and had quite the interesting time. I took a 2:30 am train from Fez on Saturday to get to Marrakech, as I didn’t want to miss any of my class, and the last train leaves at 4:50 pm everyday to arrive at Marrakesh at midnight. I much prefer having 7 hours to sleep on the train and get to Marrakech in the morning. Yep, 7 hours (with delay it turned into 8 hours, which is the same amount of time you need to fly from the Twin Cities to Amsterdam), since the train actually goes west through Rabat and Casablanca before heading south for Marrakech. Not much a fan of sitting through 7 hours without air conditioning, I bought a first-class ticket this time. Even though it did cost more, it was worth it at least for the first couple hours of the journey. I had the entire compartment, which seats 6 people, all to myself and was able to lay across 3 seats comfortably. As the sun began to rise and we passed through more stations, people began to get on. It was at 11 am that I arrived in Marrakech, the temperature of which at the time was 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).

Standing under the burning sun, I called a taxi and got to Djemaa el Fna without getting overcharged. I met my roommate (he and a couple people were already here for 2 days) at one of the orange juice stands and went to the hotel, which was built in riad style, with rooms surrounding a central open space. Djemaa el Fna inspired and was among the first UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. At daytime, few stands except the orange juice stands could be found in the square. At night, the place turns into this massive crowded area full of food stands and other exhibitions.

After checking in the hotel, a couple of us went to walk through the souks (traditional markets) of the medina, which is actually the largest in Morocco. Compared to the souks of Fez, Marrakech’s shop owners are a lot more aggressive at selling things. Quite a few people stood by their shops to pull us in, and I heard so many people said “Japan” to me, which did not at the least increase the appeal of going into their shops. Different parts of the souk sell different items, ranging from clothes, leather goods, scarves, carpets, species, wooden boxes, silverwares, and more. It was really a huge maze, and after walking through the souk, it took us a while to find our way back to the hotel. Really wasn’t that ideal with the sun and no shades outside of the souk, even thought we did see parts of the city outside of the markets.

After the walk, we returned to the hotel with semi-heatstroke to rest until the day cools down. I fell asleep reading, and woke up to find rain pouring down from the sky, which didn’t last that long, but made the day a little more bearable. Two other people and I decided to walk through the souk again to find some souvenirs. As it is my mom’s birthday, I bought a scarf (bargain from 150 Dh down to 100 Dh, probably still got ripped off, as later I walked past quite a few stands selling the what I think is same thing for 60 Dh) as a present. I also got to see how they put buttons on a leather jacket after one of the girls made the purchase.

Close to nightfall, we walked back to the hotel to meet up with other people to head out for dinner. The square was full of people and smoke from the food stalls. It was hard to walk through the crowd without getting separated from the group. We stopped to get a few glasses of orange juice. It may be because of the hot weather, or the fact that it’s fresh-squeezed right in front of us, orange juice tasted so good in Marrakech. And with one glass costing only 3 dirhams, I would have finish 5 glasses straight had I not been saving my stomach for food.

We ate at one of the food stands in the center of the square. I ordered a plate of “Fish mix”, which consisted of fried fish, fried calamari, and fried shrimps, successfully fulfilling my crave for seafood, even though it was quite greasy. After seafood, I was up for some more unusual food. First stop: snail stand. I have eaten snails before, and they didn’t taste bad, so I didn’t really thought it was a big deal to eat snails. Here they put snails in a huge pot of broth, cook them, and serve right from the pot. The small bowl full of snails we got tasted a little chewy and salty (you eat them using a toothpick to fish the snail out of the shell). The broth tasted a little peppery, but was delicious overall. Continue with the spirit of Andrew Zimmermand, I walked up to one of the stands that displayed goat heads by myself, and ordered a quarter of a head (at least that was what I thought I ordered). To be honest, it was just a plate of meat, tongue (I had eaten similar thing before), and maybe a little brain, nothing more exciting. It did taste really good with bread, and I was happy that I tried it.

After ending the night with a couple more glasses of orange juice, it was time for bed. Because my roommate, who went back to Fez after I arrived, somehow has gotten sick in Marrakech and managed to puke over the bed which I was going to sleep on (long Hangover-type story…), I opted to sleep on the terrace/roof of the hotel. It was quite nice, as it wasn’t as hot as the room (AC was broken), and I was tired enough that I didn’t even mind the hard floor.

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