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Don’t You Know We’re Riding on the Marrakech Express

My journey to Marrakech was all too short. The city itself is very beautiful, its copper- and salmon-colored walls and buildings, especially in the light of the setting sun, providing a beautiful contrast to the green trees and vibrant gardens that abound on the broad avenues. Though I didn’t see much of the city, I have fallen in love with it. Meknes is a tightly condensed city, much like a clenched fist, whereas Marrakech is much more open, more soothing to the senses.

The legendary Mamounia Hotel, inside the walls of the medinah.

As the train gains distance from Casablanca, the countryside becomes much more sere and barren as you approach Marrakech. The red, rocky soil is broken here and there by gleaming white mosques rising from the occasional village. The land doesn’t appear to be able to sustain crops, but flocks of sheep, their tan coloring matching the fields, roam in the treeless fields outside the villages.

The conference itself kept me fairly busy, so I didn’t really have that many opportunities to roam around outside the main tourist area–the fabled square of Djemaa-el-Fna, where acrobats, snake charmers, story tellers and musicians compete with the aromas of dozens of open-air food vendors, sizzling kebabs beckoning the hungry masses. I was there only during the day, which was unfortunate because I was told that nighttime is when the place really starts to dazzle.

Nearby is the Koutoubia Mosque, one of the most famous of Islam.

Surrounding the square are the labyrinthine alleyways of the medinah and the souqs, or shopping stalls. Nabila and I spent a few hours in the square the first night there, and Hakim, she and I went shopping in the souqs the next day. On Monday, John, Kathy Nyikos (an English Language Specialist and the main speaker at the conference) and I tried to lose ourselves in the medinah. Luckily, because I had to catch the train, we didn’t.

Mouth-Watering Spices For Sale in the Souq

Sunday evening, the ALC folks, who put on a marvelous conference, invited the presenters and other involved people, out to dinner at one of the local restaurants in the medinah. I don’t remember its name, but we reached its rather discreet front door after walking for about 20 minutes through the winding alleyways. You wouldn’t think that anything special lay beyond that door, but when we walked inside, we were transported into a magical world, a throwback to “1001 Nights.” What a beautiful setting to dine. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my camera, so I have no photos of this charming restaurant. There are many like this scattered throughout the medinah, apparently most of them bought and refurbished by foreigners. We were treated to a six-course feast that included numerous appetizers, a lamb-and-quinze dish, chicken baked in a crepe-like covering and a scrumptious, flaky, sweet dessert. During the meal we were serenaded by a Moroccan trio of musicians, which included an oud, a doumbec (Moroccan drum), and a young lady with a beautiful singing voice. All in all, a once-in-a-lifetime treat for a Montana steak-and-potatoes guy.

I stayed on for an extra day because Mohammed, Hakim and a few other Moroccans told me about the horrors of taking the train on the last day of Eid, when EVERYONE is trying to make their way back home. I went to the station and was able to change my ticket to Monday. The ride back was uneventful; I read, dozed off, read some more and wandered around the train car talking to Mohammed and some new teacher friends. It was a memorable trip. I plan to return to Marrakech on my own in the spring when I can take more time to explore this beautiful location.

New photos posted to the gallery. Check ’em out. More later.

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