Morocco the Enigma

Streets of MarrakechWe’ve been in Morocco for close to a week now. So far we’ve been in two larger cities: Tangier and Marrakech. Naturally, people have asked me what my thoughts are on such an exotic place. Normally, asking my thoughts on any given topic could end up with the inquirer getting a lot more information than they hoped. This time. . . my thoughts just aren’t so clear. Morocco is an enigma.

The official languages of Morocco are Arabic and Berber. While French isn’t an official language (I thought it was), it is quite prevalent. Unless you’re in Tangier. Spanish is much more common in this port city. Not surprising given their proximity to Spain.

I speak limited French. Thanks to my fluency with Spanish, though, I can read much more French than I speak. Needless to say, I was quite relieved when I found out Spanish was a strong language in Tangier. Though, it took three languages to buy our train tickets to Marrakech. I’ve nicknamed the process “speaking Franglish” (French, Arabic, Spanish, English).

Tangier was an interesting introduction to Morocco. It’s a city that doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with itself. The people are quite friendly, though. Due to a delay caused by someone not being where they needed to be (not us), we were significantly delayed getting off the boat. By the time we made it out of the station, we either had a very long wait for a bus, or we needed to grab a taxi. The port of Tangier Med (if coming by ferry from Algeciras, Spain) is quite a distance from the city center. Thanks to the kindness of some of the other drivers, we were able to get a taxi for 27€ (all I had on me and no ATMs in sight) instead of the 40 he wanted.

The next day we headed for the train station for our first overnight train journey.  We were headed to Marrakech.  Tangier you can skip, but Marrakech?  You can’t come to Morocco and not visit this city!  Even though it is a major tourism area, you can find affordable and budget friendly hotels quite easily.

Marrakech Express overnight train

I thought Tangier was an enigma.  And then we arrived in Marrakech.  How do you best describe this town?  I’ll give it a try.

It’s challenging, easy, enlightening, confusing, amusing, strange, funny, predictable, surprising, frustrating, grounding, chaotic, calming, exotic, noisy, peaceful & so many other things.

And apparently I’m not alone in that assessment.  When I posted something similar on Facebook and Twitter, I immediately got several responses from people who wholeheartedly agreed with that description.

Mosque in Marrakech, Morocco

Very few places make you feel like you’re traveling in time, but this city will often keep you guessing.  We stayed in a place in the medina (old, walled part of Marrakech).  The souks (markets) and square were much as you might imagine them.  Your senses are immediately  assaulted by the smells from all sorts of foods, multiple languages being spoken, and your eyes dart in so many directions at once you have to concentrate to keep from making yourself dizzy.  The old, traditional, and modern all come together almost seamlessly.  Cats rules the streets.  You will seldom see a dog, especially not a stray one.

Leave the medina, and you find yourself in a fairly modern city.  How modern?  Well, it hosts the first “cyber park” I’ve ever seen.  Free Internet kiosks are found throughout the park.  There is also free WiFi and a nice cyber cafe near the middle of the lush park.

Just when you think it can’t get any louder inside the ancient square from all the people talking; the scooters, mopeds, and cars honking their horns; the donkeys braying; and the “music” from the snake charmers filling your ears, the calls to prayer threaten to shatter your eardrums as they blast from loudspeakers located in at least four mosques surrounding the square.  Each imam seems to be trying to outdo the other as they sing/chant.  It is a jarring sound that quickly becomes one of your most favorite.  Except, perhaps for the volume.  And it is a little less appreciated at 5:10 AM.

Cats rule the streets in Marrakech, Morocco

As we sat at an outdoor restaurant waiting for dinner last night, I could hear the snake charmers playing.  I sipped mint tea while I watched smoke billow from the tents where a variety of traditional fare is prepared and sold.  Tigger played with the ever-present cats while the call to prayer rang out.  I watched the sun slowly sinking behind the red walls of the city, and I had one of those moments where you feel like your life is just a dream.

Was I really in northern Africa?  In mysterious Marrakech? I had wanted to visit this place for years and years.

Despite the pungent aromas and loud Arabic words praising the greatness of Allah infiltrating my nose and ears, I still wondered if this was all real.

If this life of mine, this life I’ve created for myself, is truly just a dream, I’m not interested in waking.

Have you ever been to a place that affected you this way? Where was it, and what was it like?

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  1. I am so bummed, I was in Tangier about 50% of the time for two years on business trips but I never made it to Marrakech! Although, after all the time I spent in Tangier I did grow to like it.

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    • That is such a shame! Well, you’ll just have to come back. 🙂 Marrakech is definitely one of those places that everyone should see.

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  2. If you think Marrakesh is enigmatic – wait til you land in Fes. That, and idyllic Chefchaouen (both, not to be missed). Indeed, the sheer DIVERSITY of Morocco is what makes it one of my favorite countries in all the world.

    And oh my, I can so relate to your comment:

    “If this life of mine, this life I’ve created for myself, is truly just a dream, I’m not interested in waking.”

    Yes, yes, since I sold every blessed thing I owned and moved to Vietnam a more than a year ago – I too, swear I have to PINCH myself on a daily basis – just to believe this is really my (wondrous and amazing) life now!

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    • We won’t be going to Fes or Chefchaouen this trip. We found a great fare to France, so we’ll be jumping ship mid January for France.

      Yes, Morocco is one of the most diverse countries I’ve been to. It isn’t just diverse as compared to other countries, it is hugely diverse within itself. That’s most unusual.

      Isn’t it great to feel that way? 🙂

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  3. Talon! Glad you are enjoying your trip so far and “enigma” is a great word for it. Another traveler we met called it “elusive” (two good “e” words). It definitely makes you think and one thing I always noticed is the culture isn’t different just because of the food or the clothes, but the culture is different at it’s core. It’s ALL different.

    Anyway, enjoying reading your updates!

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    • It’s been quite interesting so far for sure. Essaouira has been much calmer. The 2 areas definitely have their own cultures.

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  4. Wow – what a wonderful city! This is exactly what I had hoped/dreamed Marrakech was like. It totally makes my day to learn that there are still magical places out there that have not succumbed to the homogenization that comes with globalization.

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    • They have a little of that outside of the medina, but it’s so nice to see that it has kept its uniqueness despite some of its modernization.

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  5. I lived in both Egypt and Morocco, and know exactly what you mean. Both countries are so enigmatic, so unique, so loud, so obnoxious, yet…SO beautiful. Up to this day, I can’t accurately describe what living in those Arab countries is like. I simply tell friends “you have to go and find out yourself”

    – Maria Alexandra

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    • That’s for sure. I haven’t been to Egypt yet, but I imagine there are a lot of similarities in their enigmatic status from everything I’ve read.

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  6. Oh Marrakech! I agree, Talon – it’s one of the most mystical cities of the world. Have to say it’s got a very special place in my heart and I was glad to read that you enjoyed the visit… can’t wait for the breakdown of Essaouira!

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    • Thanks, Brandy! Essaouira is quite fascinating, but it lacks Marrakech’s mystique and enigmatic feel. Definitely a different side of Morroco.

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