I eased out into the street, peering around the corner of the heavy wooden door with one hand tightly clutching my crossbody bag. Having claimed my bed in the hostel, I had quickly hidden my valuables under my mattress, tucked my cash and water bottle into my bag, and, after getting directions to the town center from Charlsey, set off into the city that thrummed with life.
Traveling alone, I found myself very suspicious of the people around me, nervous of any pickpockets who might attempt to steal my cash and identity. My hostel was situated just outside of the city center, in what must have been a residential area, as there were no shops to be found, and very little foot traffic. My antennae went up, the heckles on my neck raised.
I consulted Charlsey’s directions that I’d typed into my Notes app, trying to adopt an air of confidence as I ventured deeper into the city. One thing that I had learned about solo traveling, is that you absolutely must not let anyone know that you are lost. Confidence discourages heckling, and so I swallowed my fears, letting the road lead me while subtly referring to Charlsey’s guidance.
My relief was palpable as I stumbled onto a bustling street echoing with the clops of donkey hooves, the roars of motorcycle engines, and the stench of exhaust. I felt like I had been sucked into a game of Frogger, attempting to cross the street while avoiding barreling carts stacked high with mandarin oranges, dusty cars with daredevil drivers, and motorcycles hauling loads of dirt, vegetables, and rugs.
Having successfully crossed the busy road, I found myself in the outskirts of what I later discovered was a complicated labyrinth of bazaars called Jemaa el-Fna, or what the locals called the ‘souks’. The deeper I ventured into the souks, the more it teemed with shopkeepers, foot traffic, and wares that spilled out of the stalls onto rugs in the street.
In the souks, you have to keep your wits about you, between avoiding the motorcycles and donkeys that plowed down the middle of the covered bazaars, avoiding other pedestrians, and stepping over babouches (traditional heel-less leather slippers, often with designs etched into the leather), hand-woven rugs, and spices piled in baskets and large drums. My adrenaline began pumping through my veins; the bazaars of Marrakech were thrilling and otherworldly.
The golden light spilling out of the wrought brass lanterns dazzled my eyes as the lanterns swung in the breeze, scattering lightbeams like a discoball made of fireflies. The wind swept the scent of exotic spices past my nose while the bakeries tempted passing patrons with the delectable smell of fresh baklava, pastillas, m’hanncha, briouats. My ears rang with the sounds of the souk, where French, Arabic, English, Japanese, Mandarin, and Spanish all co-mingled into a linguistic orchestra of life reminiscent of the Tower of Babel.
Never had my senses been so assaulted. Never had I felt such a rush of adrenaline and excitement. To explore Marrakech is to experience another world, another way of life beyond our comprehension, to discover sights and smells that you never knew existed. Marrakech is a land of screaming color, a symphony of sound, a dreamlike utopia that you never want to wake up from.
I quickly forgot that I was alone, mesmerized as I was by the wares that screamed for my attention with their vibrant colors and insistent shop keepers. Never hesitate to take a closer look at something unless you’re truly interested, however; the stall owners will quickly pounce and begin haggling prices with you, and before you know it, you’ve walked away with a pair of black babouche slippers that you have no intention of ever wearing (and yes, I’m afraid I’m speaking from experience here, although they are beautiful!).
Even if you do find yourself making an unanticipated purchase or two, the prices are such a steal that the lapse in judgement is forgivable. A pair of babouches can cost as little as €10. An airy scarf woven on a loom by hand will set you back €15. A pastry will often cost you only a few cents. Rugs cost a bit more, but when you consider that you only pay €50 for a rug made from camel hair and hand dyed using ancient dying styles and traditional processes, it seems more stupid to pass on the opportunity.
I’m like Phoebe Buffay: I like everything in my house to have a story, and what better story is there than the tchotchkes you can purchase in a Moroccan bazaar?
As I followed the throng deeper into the city center, checking my phone every now and then to make sure that I had made all the correct turns, I came to realize that my blonde hair was like a beacon that screamed “tourist!!” to all the locals. Most amusingly, in order to catch my attention and draw me to their shop, many stall owners would call out the names of various blonde American celebrities; as I walked, calls of “Shakira! Shakira!”, “Britney!”, and “Gaga! Lady Gaga!” trailed behind me.
It turns out that some Moroccans have a fantasy of marrying a blonde (American/foreign) woman; I only found this out after the shouts turned from the names of blonde celebrities to pleas for me to marry them, with one man even patting my stomach as I walked past his stall and imploring me “have [his] babies”! This little factoid leads to give you this little tip; if you’re blonde and single, bring a fake ring with you and have a picture of a man on your phone.
Finally, after following the winding souks for half an hour, the pedestrian throng spilled out into Jamaa Lafna Square.
Next week: Jamaa Lafna Square and Jardin Majorelle! Subscribe to receive notifications on new blog posts, and be sure to follow me on Instagram at @lifeofbusynothings! À la prochaine!