Waking up in Marrakech in our riad (pronounced ree- awd) surrounded by the call to prayers 5:30 am or so as the melody echoes around the medina from the dozens of mosques inside the walled city. A riad is the Moroccan version of a bed and breakfast. The house is situated with a large central courtyard two stories tall with a rooftop balcony, the rooms surround this courtyard, the first floor housing the kitchen a sitting room and our room dubbed the Sultana. There are four more rooms upstairs which open up onto a balcony that overlooks the courtyard. The courtyard itself is open roofed save for a canvas stretched across to keep rain from coming in.
According to our caretaker Bajr, the singer of the call to prayer’s title is Muezzin. While chatting with Bajr I learn that he has just recently taken on his duties here, his prior employment having something to do with the circus and the high trapeze – (I’m going to find out more about this.) The flowing chants waft outside our house then dipping in from above skirting beneath the canvas and into the center of the riad. The scores of Muezzins, not quite synched with their compatriots, form a sort of round and this undercurrent bathes the still dark morning hour. One by one the call finishes and the morning is still again except for the sporadic crowing of a nearby rooster. And so begins day two in Marrakech.
Our four hour train ride down from Rabat started with a twenty five minute delay on a rain slickened platform. Once we began clacking down the tracks, the city quickly gave way to farmland and small herds of goats, sheep and cattle all attended by a shepherd or herder as the ruminants grazed sans fencing. Two hours into our trip the terrain switched from predominantly flatland to rolling hills with outcroppings of craggy rock and cultivated fields framed by prickly pear looking cacti, date and olive trees. My ears popped with the change of elevation. Closer to our destination snow covered mountains assumed control of the distant horizon the vista somewhat reminiscent of the southwest in the United States or the agave plantations I biked through in Oaxaca Mexico.
Pulling into the station we are greeted by a Frenchman Manu, who with his mother, own and operate our riad. We climb into his vehicle and make the ten minute ride to the medina. The medina is the old part of the city, the medieval walled city within the city, as the labyrinth of narrow roadways markets restaurants and open squares trafficked by pedestrians, donkey carts and agile motorbike pilots many of whom are female with flowing tunics and headscarves. Without Manu there would have been no way possible for us to have found where we are staying the winding streets and alleys are as convoluted and enmeshed as the intricate ironworks that cover many of the windows here.
We settled into our room and then we ventured into the maze of the medina, noting landmarks as we passed hoping to find our way back – a black and white checked door, a barber, a square full of carpet vendors, that café where we drank cardamom spiced coffee and ate kafta sandwiches all cataloged to be questioned later – “Okay, right or left here – was it this black and white door?...”
Eventually we begin to get our bearings and even pick up a few Arabic phrases that help us along. We have dinner in the large open square surrounded by street musicians, fruit vendors and supposedly snake charmers (who we are yet to see.) We deposit our souvenir loot from the day back at our room, splash our faces with water and head out to the main square again where the musicians and storytellers now perform for crowds circled around kerosene lamps. We avoid the man with monkey who is looking to perch his little charge on our shoulder for a picture and of course a bit of remuneration for the privilege.
We corkscrew our way back around 11pm. Not bad for our first day. I’m looking forward to see what happens next. Okay, no sooner had I written the preceding line than a bird has decided to poop onto my laptop – everybody is a critic – could have been worse, at least it wasn’t in my coffee.