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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.

Marrakech Bound

I’m off to Marrakech tomorrow morning, catching the 7:55 train. It’s also the first day of Eid in Morocco. Since believers are supposed to go to early morning prayers at the beginning of the festival, I’m hoping the noise will settle down early tonight so I can catch some sleep before getting up at 6 a.m. I’ll probably be out of touch with the blog for the next three days, but I should have a lot to report about the trip and Marrakech, hopefully with some photos to put in the gallery.

It looks like Friday and Saturday will be devoted to sightseeing and whatnot, with a welcome dinner to the conference on Saturday evening. Nabila and I give our workshop at 9 a.m. on Sunday, then I’m supposed to catch a 2 p.m. train that afternoon. I might, though, see if I can change my ticket, maybe coming back on Monday instead. More later.

Here’s another mosque photo.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Oops, because of an egregious oversight for whatever reason (lack of sleep?), I forgot to wish my mother a happy birthday back in October. So, for what it’s worth

HAPPY ??TH BIRTHDAY, MOM, WITH MANY MORE TO COME!!!!!!

Ok, that doesn’t absolve me of guilt, but it does make me feel somewhat better.

It’s still warm in Meknes, not at all like the beginning of November in, say, Montana or Korea. I guess we’ll enjoy it as long as we can. More later.

Marrakech Hotel

John sent me email yesterday informing about our stay in Marrakech next week. We’ve been booked rooms at the 5-star Royal Mirage Hotel, the former Sheraton of Marrakech. Very posh hangout. Since Marrakech is Hakim’s hometown, he’s promised to show us around. I believe we’re going up on Friday and coming back Sunday. Nabila and I give our workshop on Sunday morning. Should be a fun trip.

Finally, I started jogging again. I went out this evening at 6 when no one is on the streets and did about 20 minutes.

White Sox up 2 games to 0. I’d like to say bye-bye Houston, but I remember, try as I might to forget, what happened between the Yankees and Red Sox last year.

And yet another sunset photo. Ok, maybe a couple.