We’re sitting at the Marrakesh airport. Our departure time for Madrid has come and gone, and yet the board isn’t even showing how much delay we can expect. We could be boarding in 30 minutes or it could be 3 hours from now. While I have some time here to kill, I thought I’d write a bit about Marrakesh.
I had heard and read numerous stories about how difficult it is to find your way around the medina in Marrakesh so I arranged in advance for our riad to send us a car and a driver to the airport to pick us up. But as it was with all of our other Marrakesh arrangements (cooking class reservation, spa reservation, riad reservation, etc) it was all a bit sketchy. I had sent my flight information to the contact person at the riad at least 5 times and yet the night before our arrival when I wrote to them again to re-confirm (which included my flight info), the woman asked me again to tell her when I was arriving. So I was fully expecting to hail a cab and struggle to find our way to the riad. But when we walked out of the airport, we were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by Abdul, our driver. So far so good.
After driving for about 15 minutes and pointing out a few places (and asking whether we’d like to go to Essaouira or to the Altas mountains because he can arrange for that), Abdul simply stopped the car and told us to get out. That’s as far as he would go. There on the side of some street with no name, a skinny young man was standing there to meet us. Without asking or saying anything, he just put our backpacks into a little rickshaw and started to lead us into a maze. We made this turn and that, through cobble stone streets and tall walls, and noticed the road get narrower and narrower. I would look at Paula every now and then with my eyes widened, as if we would telepathically agree as to who would remember which turn led to what. I wasn’t even sure whether this kid was taking us to the right riad… I can only imagine the anxiety and terror this would have caused me if we had arrived at night or if it were pouring rain.
After what seemed like another 15 minutes and 20 turns, we arrived in front of something. A door. It was located next to an empty lot with some garbage and weeds, and the door just seem to exist there without anything that looked like a house. All you saw was a tall wall, at least 2 stories high, without any windows or divisions. The wall extended out for the entire length of the alleyway and I could make out another door or two… And then without missing a beat, the door in front of us opened and we walked through a narrow entry way to find ourselves in a small square courtyard. The tall walls blocked out any street noise you heard on the way in and now you were in a tranquil and gorgeous home. We were standing in our riad, Riad Reves D’Orient and our hostess Samira welcomed us with Moroccan cookies and mint tea. She gave us a tour of the property including a gorgeous rooftop and our room which was called Opaline. Our door swung open and we could see all of the intricate tile work and colorful Moroccan touches it had. The wall was chiseled to reveal a beautiful design and the curtains and cushions were all in shades of lavender and dark amethyst. But it had the modern touches we were looking for- wi-fi, a safe, wall mounted-remote controlled heater, a giant flat screen TV (actually, we didn’t like the TV much as it felt so out of place).
We decided that we should explore the medina and see if we can find our way out of the maze to get ourselves to Jemaa El Fna, the main square. We tried to googlemap the path but online, the entire medina just appeared as a big grey blob and our physical map didn’t help either. The only thing that we could follow was a small drawing our riad provided for us. And with that in hand we made our way to a café for lunch (Café Arabe which is written up in every magazine and guidebook; we thought it overrated). Jemaa El Fna, on the other hand, lived up to my expectations. It was just as I had seen and read about; a collection of food and orange juice vendors, acrobats, snake charmers, monkey handlers (one of the monkeys touched my shoulder and I jumped!), shoe shiners, herb sellers, dancers, bands, so on and on. All the noise, smoke, smell, along with horses, donkeys, bikes, cars, men in long cloaks, and women in veils… It was amazing. I didn’t know where to look or what to focus on.
We were too tired to stay out too late so we promised ourselves that before we leave Marrakech, we’d watch the square come alive and see the sun go down from one of the rooftop cafes that overlook Jemaa El Fna.
Riad Reves D’Orient: 44 derd abib allah | Medina – quartier mouassine, Marrakech 44008
Riad is a traditional Moroccan house with an interior garden and no exterior windows. The word “riad” means garden in Arabic. Riads’ focus is internal, with their the tall walls providing protection from the weather as well as privacy for the family.