At 4:30am on the morning of my birthday, I was jolted from a deep sleep by the call to prayer from the mosque next to the riad. A week in Morocco, and I had not yet been woken up by the adhan. But this morning, I swear it sounded as if the muezzin was performing his duty right in the center of our courtyard. Unfortunately, once I am up, I’m up for the day, so I decided to at least be productive for a few hours, and curled up on the couch under a cozy blanket to read and write.
Birthday morning picture in the Riad al Nour
We all had a much-needed lazy morning, and over a late breakfast we made our plans for the day. It was our last day together, all 4 of us. The next day, Keith and I were heading to Essaouira, and Sarah and Isa to Ouzoud Falls. By the time we return from Essaouira on Tuesday, Sarah and Isa will be on their flight home. So, it being my birthday and our last day together, we made the most of our day.
Unlike Fes, Marrakech is not nearly so labyrinthine, and it was much easier to get around on our own without a guide.
First we explored the Jardin Majorelle, a mini-oasis in the newer part of Marrakech, about a 20 minute walk from our riad. The garden was owned and designed by French painter Jacques Majorelle from 1922 until his death in 1962, but fell into disrepair after his death. The gardens were saved from developers by designer Yves Saint-Laurent, and are now one of the jewels of Marrakech. We wandered through, marveling at the sheer variety of cacti and finding a few plants that were similar to our house plants back home.
Then I harassed a cab driver into taking us all to one of the big supermarkets, so we could buy hookahs from a store nearby and explore the supermarket itself. I love going to grocery stores and supermarkets in other countries – you can learn so much about local tastes and habits. For example, there was a whole aisle – both sides – filled with yogurts, whereas in the US we usually only have a sad little section with a few types. Here we also found great bins of cous cous, pastas, and the little vermicelli noodles that go in harira. Most disturbing was the birds perched and pecking, unmolested, on the vermicelli. Here we also bought spices, at prices much cheaper than those we’d found in the tourist markets (not surprising.) We also found stainless steel coucousiers, but decided to buy them much cheaper in the souk near our riad. We also bought hookahs, 1 for each couple, and tobacco and coals. Youness, the owner of our riad, had promised to prepare the hookah for us that evening.
Which brings me to a surprising observation about Morocco. We had thought we would see hookahs everywhere, and would be smoking shisha every day. Instead, we found them nowhere, and got conflicting information on their availability and legality. One guide told us they were illegal, and we hastened to explain that we were just talking about tobacco, not kif. “Even so,” he said, “You can only find in the nouvelle ville, and they are not obvious, because they are technically illegal.” Then another guide told us that was not the case at all. At any rate, we bought some, and nobody was arrested, so it must be fine.
Back in the medina, we headed to the heart of the old city – the famous Koutoubia mosque and the manic square of Jemaa el-Fnaa. It is there that tourists see all the “wonders” you hear about in Morocco – the snake charmers, dancers, acrobats, and monkeys. We saw owls and henna artists, and even a light boxing match.
Exploring Jamaa el Fnaa… can you see the snake charmer in the photo below? (Hint: look above the front bicycle wheel)
There was an enormous press of people, like Times Square, without the flashing lights and M&M store. Sarah and I didn’t mind, but for our less-social husbands, it quickly became uncomfortable. We slipped out of the square into the colorful souks, which were less crowded but just as oppressive, with merchants calling out to us every 3 steps. There was color everywhere – blankets, leather shoes, mirrors, poufs, lamps, herbs, perfumes, crockery. Nothing we hadn’t seen elsewhere in Morocco, but there was so much MORE of it in Marrekech, the center of tourism in Morocco.
The guys were quickly losing interest, but I was determined to find the hookah seller Youness had told us about. “You must look for the chicken souk,” he explained. “Just follow your nose. If you must ask, do not ask for shisha – ask for the chicken souk, and you will see it.” And after a few twists and turns, sure enough, I did see it. Then, after a fair bit of haggling, don’t you know I bought a second hookah.
I truly don’t know how all of this is going to fit in our luggage. But, this is a problem for another day.
As a perfect end to my birthday, we wound our way through the medina back to the hotel for an early evening. Youness prepared us 2 hookahs and mint tea, and we drank and smoked and lounged in the cozy courtyard for the rest of the evening. We sent the men out for cheap take-away dinner from a café down the street, and opened our second and last bottle of wine.
We chatted with Youness and snuggled with Bon-Bon, and finally headed upstairs around 11. Even then, the 4 of us lingered over our last sips of wine, savoring our last evening together in Morocco. We were already talking about our next vacation together – vague plans for now, but I think this will not be our last adventure together.
Our picnic in Fes, what seems like ages ago. 1 of so many great evenings!
You never know how you will get along traveling with people; even the best of friends may not make good travel partners. A travel companion can make or break a trip, as I well know. I consider myself lucky to have found just 1 or 2 excellent traveling companions in my life, but to find such compatibility with another couple, who also happen to be some of our dearest friends, is a great gift indeed.
And really, what more could a girl ask for on her 30th birthday?
Good night Marrekech! Muezzin, do your worst at dawn – tonight we are prepared with earplugs and Unisom.
A note to readers
As you may have noticed, my travel blog posts are written quickly, with no small amount of typos. With days packed so full of exploring, I have very little time – if any! – at the end of the day to jot my thoughts down and edit a few photos. My hope is to revise here and there once I am back home, add in some insights from the books I’ve been reading, and share a bit more of my own thoughts and realizations. For now though, I hope you’re enjoying the ride!