…is a name of a song from my childhood. A nine letter word that existed only as melodies of an ATB track from the days of high school. Not until now could I attribute it to an actual place on Earth, in a sliver of land named Morocco. And not until recently could I connect a nine letter word from my childhood song into the reality of traveling to its eponymous city.
Marrakesh is where all the images you probably have of Morocco come alive before you.
From Fez, we took a 2am train into Marrakesh, arriving 8 hours later. I slept decently well, save for 3 trips to 3 bathrooms on the train, all of which didn’t work (think: lights didn’t turn on, sink didn’t have water, toilets didn’t flush…I’ll save you the rest of the details).
From the train station we headed immediately into the Medina to Marrakesh’s main attraction and one of the oldest haqlas (street theaters) in the world: Djemaa El Fna Square (La Place).
Formerly a public site for executions (hence its former nickname “Assembly of the Dead”), Marrakesh’s main square is now constantly found in the “Top [insert random double or triple digit # here] Most Beautiful Places” lists and is one of rarely designated ‘Masterpiece of Heritage’ of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
So we quickly dropped off our bags at our hostel within the Souks north of the square, and headed out for exploration. We decided to save ‘La Place’ for last.
We first stumbled upon the Ali Ben Youssef Medersa in the north, which welcome inscription bears “You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded” for all those who study the Koran here.
After 30 minutes there, we headed south back into the souks.
…before saving Djemaa El Fna square for night. There we watched scores of street performers, snake charmers, monkey handlers, and endless rows of grilling stands trying to outdo each other. Gather your bearings here, because the people here (as they are also in Fez, we learned) are extremely aggressive for your business; they don’t mind shoving you into their stalls to make you buy something or eat their food.
I hate to say this, but after traveling to over 30 countries in the last 2 years, this has been the first time I experienced touts who were so insistent they weren’t afraid to physically push us around and I had no choice but to respond with equal physical force to fend them off. C’mon, Morocco, do you really want me to leave your country with a bad taste? Not halal at all.
As it crept a little closer to the later part of the night into the mere hours of a New Year’s Eve, we returned to our hostel to get changed. So after all this traveling, wearing the same clothes on days and showers seeming like a relative luxury, we dressed a little less than a backpacker and more of something classier:
And so we headed out to Marrakesh’s premier “#1” nightclub, Theatro, for the New Year’s festivities.
The nightlife experience in Marrakesh still leaves a lot to be desired: Not until an hour before midnight did the club start setting up and creating formal queues for entry. Even then, however, when the club opened, the idea of a “queue” was never really respected; the line meant for bottle service ended up turning into general admission and the line meant for general admission simply was an amorphous blob of bouncers trying to control an amorphous blob of patrons not knowing where to go. In other words, everything seemed highly last minute and disorganized.
And don’t get me started how they were okay with the male to female ratio being about 5 to 1 (the guys being mostly sleazy, touching all my friends as if it was a free buffet) and that coat check was so chaotic about a hundred people who had arrived early still ended up waiting an hour getting their coats checked and as a result, missing the New Year’s countdown. Awful awful awful.
We still did our best.
– At time of posting in Marrakech, it was 46.4 °F – Humidity: 65% | Wind Speed: 3km/hr | Cloud Cover: n/a