My laptop clock says 2:12am as we ease out of the train station in Marrakech. That’s what time it is back home. Here is it almost a quarter after seven in the morning and the sun is rising to our right giving the mountains out the left of our window an orange glow similar in color to the dried apricots we bought in the square last night to snack on during our seven hour trip to Fez. Occasionally I catch a glimpse of the front of our train as the track bows to the left.
Three nights was barely enough time to scratch the surface of what Marrakech had to offer. Each day we ventured a bit further into the medina’s cobblestoned alleyways where we discovered clusters of artisans practicing their trades. Wool dyers with elbow length rubber gloves dipping scarves into steaming vats of colored liquids, metal workers tap pounding, tailors in animated conversation as they push their material through sewing machines, leatherworkers lying their cut and freshly dyed hides in an open area of the street to dry and jewelers promising that this necklace is truly antique Berber.
Yesterday we had the advantage of being out in the souks early making us the initial customer for the first couple shops we stopped in. The first sale of the day is an important one since it sets the tone for the rest of the day’s commerce and the shopkeepers are especially eager to close that opening deal. Of course we have no idea what is or is not a good outlay for the items we are looking at so we settle on a simple formula. What do we think would be a fair price that would make us feel like we garnered a fair price? I decide a brass door knocker depicting a hennaed hand holding an apple would be a steal at ten dollars so I do the conversion and offer the shopkeeper seven. We haggle back and forth for a little bit but he quickly agrees to my ten buck target. The short bargaining time lets me know that I obviously could have got the item cheaper – but I am happy with the price and he is happy with the price – “Good for you, good for me!” Several hours later as we pass his place on the way back he smiles and greets us like old friends, “You need one more thing?” “Just lunch,” we answer.
I haven’t really mentioned the motorbikes yet. There are no cars within the walls of the medina so all the goods being sold at the, what I have to assume is, tens of thousands of shops are brought in by donkey or hand cart. Even the scores of outdoor restaurants – tables – massive grills – fresh food - are conveyed in each evening to the main square delivered by either man or beast. One might think that this tradition is quite quaint, almost bucolic perhaps – one would be failing to acknowledge the motorbikes. Marrakech has motorbikes, scooters, mopeds and bicycles the way those of us who live near Lake Erie have midges.
The beeping of horns and belching of two cycle exhaust is incessant. The pilots of these things slice their ways through the streets already jam packed with pedestrians like confused salmon swimming both up and downstream. Thus, it behooves of one to try and walk in as straight a line as possible allowing the riders to avoid you, or when coming face to face with an oncoming motor biker with an eight foot ladder strapped to his back just stand still and let him decide which direction to barely miss you in. I have to admit, I did not witness any accidents involving these motorized pests while we wandered the city but I’d bet two hand dyed scarves they do occur.
We find our way back to our riad to freshen up before we head out for a late lunch. I am struck with how quickly we are adapting to the pace and seeming lack of order to the convoluted streets, how easily we have adopted our little room as home. We decide to re-visit the little outdoor café near the metal worker’s souk where we had lunch the day before. A fresh sheet of newsprint is laid down in front of us at the table as a placemat and we order. The now familiar clay pot of vegetables and lamb’s meat is placed before me – this time we add a side order of spiced olives and a salad of tomatoes and purple onions, sharp and spicy.
A day earlier when we were here an old woman, her wrinkled skin framing her eyes visible through a slit between her veil and headscarf had politely approached our table after we finished eating. I gave her a small loaf of bread that we had not eaten and she thanked me, “Merci” French being the second language of choice here. Today I notice she is giving bread to the young man who seated us and he takes it to the kitchen area. I then see her take a position a little ways away where she opens a cloth sack and begins producing loaf after loaf of bread, stacking it up in a neat pile on a small table she is seated at. I don’t know now if she is a baker’s assistant, a beggar, a person who busses tables all I can really be sure of right now is that I cannot be sure of anything in Morocco. When we leave I smile at her and her eyes crinkle and I know she is smiling back behind that veil.
We decide to splurge on a fancy candlelight dinner that evening in a nice sit down restaurant that promises authentic Berber food and a spectacle. The spectacle is a couple musicians, one playing a mandolin type instrument and the other a knee high hand drum. The waiter catches me taking notes; perhaps he thinks I am some sort of travel reviewer. We end our meal with little honey infused pastries and glasses of mint tea. We then make one last circle of the main square buying almonds and dried apricots, thick and sweet before we head back to our room to stuff our backpacks getting ready for our next adventure.