Why, oh why, did I only leave us with 2 full days in Marrakech? I tricked myself, because we do have 4 nights here, but really only 2 days in which to explore this massive city. If we weren’t spending Thursday and Friday in Rabat, I think I could have a much more leisurely exploration of Marrakech. But, I am looking forward to spending time with my colleagues in Rabat, and this just means I will have to come back someday and see Marrakech properly.
This morning, Keith and I set out from the riad to find the beautiful Medersa Ben Youssef, about a 20 minute walk from our riad. We start off by following the little blue dot in our Google map, but then decide we know better and go off-trail – and it turns out, we were right! We wandered through some fancier tourist streets with shops with fixed prices (no haggling there), happened upon a beautiful mosque, and eventually ended up at our destination.
The Medersa Ben Youssef is the largest religious colleg ein Morocco, founded in the 15th century. Unlike the medersa we saw in Fes, in this one we could explore the upper chambers, which is where the students actually lived. It was all tile and carved cedar, truly beautiful.
From there we meandered through the souks, bought some spices and some tassels for our new bedroom window curtains, and sat down for an early lunch at Café des Epices, a prime spot for people watching.
Our last stop was the Saadian tombs, in the southern part of the city. These tombs escaped the plundering other great buildings suffered at the hands of Moulay Ismail, and instead were bricked up and forgotten. Then, in 1917, aerial footage showed their existence, and the tombs were uncovered and found to be in wonderful condition.
Our final activity in Marrakech was the age-old tradition of visiting a hammam. If we were locals, we would have gone to a local hammam, with specific hours for men and women. A traditional hammam has 3 rooms of varying temperatures, and bathers bring all their own equipment – products, scrubbers, towels, and, of course, friends to make the process more fun. We have often passed stalls selling globs of green-black goo, which, as it turns out, is hammam soap made of oil and block olives soaked in salt and potash.
Not being locals, we of course have none of these things, and so many hammams now cater to tourists. Keith and I went to one – Les Bains d’Azahara – right around the corner from our riad, and paid $15 each to be sweated, lathered, and scrubbed of all our dead skin particles for 45 minutes. But before the cleansing could begin, we had to change into hammam attire – thick orange robes, black sandals, and… ahem… “underwear.” “White for madame, black for sir,” as the hammam lady explained to us with a smile.
I had worn my bathing suit, but I thought, “When in Marrakech…” As it turns out, the white and black “underwear” were the barest wisps of sheer cloth, held together by equally wispy elastic. For women, this is not so terribly different from regular underwear, but when poor Keith held up his black wisps of cloth… we could barely contain our laughter. Then he tried to put on the black sandals provided to us, and those, too, proved laughably small. I went to ask the woman for a larger size; those, too, were too small. I finally came back with 1 of Keith’s normal size 14 sandals and showed it to the woman, and she burst out laughing, much like our cooking course instructor when we told her how we make cous cous in America. She laughed and laughed, and agreed those would not do at all, and started looking for other sizes. She kept holding up shoes, and I would shake my head, and we would giggle. Finally we located their largest size, and finished outfitting Keith appropriately.
Then we were led to a private room with two hot stone beds where we laid down, and a different hammam lady lathered us both with the green-black soap, front and back. Then she left us to schvitz and soak in the soap for 10 minutes. Just when I thought I could bear the heat no longer, she came back in, and commenced the scrubbing. Using a rough glove, she scrubbed at leasr a year’s worth of dead skin off my body, and made me feel the gray lumps of flesh that formed as she scrubbed. Then she set my feet to soak in rose water, and it was Keith’s turn. She washed our faces, ears, and hair, and sloshed us all over with more water than I ever thought possible. Finally, we dressed again, and ended with a brief foot massage and a glass of mint tea. I left feeling about 5lbs lighter, and with a resolve to scrub my dead skin cells off more regularly.
And now for the final leg of our trip – Rabat! We’re off to the train, and will be back in Marrakech on Friday before flying out Saturday morning. A bientot!