The last stop on our camel caravan route through Morocco, sans camels. Marrakech embodies all the romance Americans yearn for when visiting Morocco. The sumptuous riads, the diverse streets of the medina, and the crazed atmosphere of the medina’s square at night.
Of course we had to visit La Bahia (the beautiful) Palace. Built by a sultan in the 1800s, I was floored to learn that we’d only seen a portion of the palace’s grand spaces. It’s a floor-to-ceiling extravagance of intricate marquetry, plasterwork and zouak (painted wood). It boasts an unusual amount of Carrara marble from Italy, which the Moroccans traded for with sugar cane.
The old medina, like most medinas, has the frenzied activity of merchants scrambling for business. Spices are front and center. Ras el hanout is a mixture of 10-30 spices that a merchant told us to use if you can’t cook. The ever present cumin is used so extensively that it’s served with salt and pepper. And of course, the Cadillac of spices, saffron. We were told to be careful when buying saffron because some merchants dye corn silk as an imitation!
We returned in the evening to see the square transformed into a food festival that attracts locals and tourists alike. Made to order kebabs are popular, as well as harira soup (the Moroccan soup served with hard boiled eggs and dates), peppery snails, and sheep’s heads! Unfortunately, the entertainment that’s usually a central feature of the square–snake charmers, for example–was absent due to COVID-19.
We crashed into bed because we had a 5:00 a.m. appointment with an air balloon. What an experience! The sky was hazy from sand, but watching all the preparations for an air balloon to lift off was fascinating–it’s a big deal. Whitney and I were surprised at how silent the experience was. Once we left the ground, nobody seemed to speak, and if so, in hushed voices. Only the recurring sound of the burner’s “WHOOSH” could be heard.
This day ended on a sad note, however. This was the end of our tour and we said goodbye to the friends who had shared Morocca with us. Our two Mohammeds, driver and tour guide, had been the most informed, kind, and thoughtful hosts anyone could ask for. They had fulfilled our needs without being asked! Mohammed driver had mopped my head with cold spring water on the hike. And Mohammed tour guide had facilitated negotiations, answered every probing question, and provided Kleenex to mop my sweating forehead. They even learned to play card games with us!! We will never forget them.