One month in Morocco

My first time in Morocco happened in 2000 and, since that occasion, I have visited it again several times. I hope to go there many more. I love having the chance to get to know new places where I’ve never been before, but also being back to those that got me enthralled.

The idea that I initially had of Marrakesh was that it would turn out to be an enchanting and fascinating city. The perfect plateau for a 1001 night’s tale… As I got there for the first time I realised that it was everything I had pictured beforehand and even much more. It’s so close to Portugal and, nonetheless, is a totally different world. A whole other culture, landscape, language and ways of life.

One month of travel

My first visit to Morocco lasted almost a whole month. I think one needs some proper time to explore the main locations (if you can, you should stay longer, of course!).

Casablanca and the north

I landed in Casablanca and headed towards the north. I had the chance to explore Tangier, Tétouan and Chefchaouen, the gorgeous blue city. The latter was my favorite. Strolling through it is a borderline-mythical experience, given how close it resembles walking on the sky blue.

Rabat, Meknes and Fez

Then I headed south (taking a train as well) and visited Rabat, Meknés and Fez. The latter is the country’s oldest imperial city and where you can also find the famous tanner’s quarter. I kept going south, reaching Marrakesh, the pink city. Responsible for having baptized the country, this city is found in the northern part of the Atlas, the African continent’s largest mountain range.

Marrakech

In Marrakesh (and the same is valid for most of the cities), the most important thing is to visit the medina. It is the city’s historic center and also the most interesting part of it. The medina of Marrakesh happens to be encircled by a wall whose perimeter extends itself for a total of 19 km, with a length of approximately 2 meters and a height that can reach 9 meters. Its color is a reddish one, just like the rest of city. The wall has more than a dozen doors, with Bab Agnou being one of the most gorgeous. Its name derives from the Berber, meaning “hornless black sheep” and the facade is just immense.

Souks

Inside the medina itself, you can get to know the Koutoubia and the Kasbah mosques, the several souks (markets) and the mellah (Jewish quarter).  The souks are organised according to the sort of products they happen to sell. There are those with instruments and strings, jars, those that sell brass and copper, metal, those dedicated to wickerwork and wood, the ones with slippers and belts, jewels, not to mention the souks with leather goods, mats, goatskin and those reserved for dyers.

Jemaa el-Fna

Nonetheless, the Jemaa el-Fna square is the medina’s heart and its most absorbing part, having been chosen by UNESCO, in 2008, as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

This is the place where one can see its people and their ancestral customs. The constant back-and-forth of Moroccan, carriages, bikes and wheelbarrows which take place at any given time. And the frenzy just gets bigger as the day moves on.

After the city’s awakening, stands displaying delicious tamarinds and juicy oranges appear, snake charmers and monkey trainers, fortune-telling women or those who perform henna tattoos. The famous water carriers also come to life, with their super photogenic and typical vests. Tasting a tamarind and orange juice is imperative.

As the sun sets, the Jemaa el-Fna square changes its features, amplifying the rhythm of everything that happens there. The restaurant stands start to arrive and the fumes of the cooking gradually being to be seen and, by the end of the night, it is solely a single smoke screen. The odors coming come from the spices can be felt far away… Here you can taste a nice tajine along with some mint tea.

In addition to those stands, you will also find Moroccan who, sing, draw, dance or even assemble games. Even without being familiar with the Arabic language, it’s deeply interesting to attend all these events that keep popping out and, perhaps, participate in some of them.

There are several interesting spots to have a meal, scattered throughout the medina, specifically if you are closer to its center. And they suit all sorts of tastes. From the most elegant ones, capable of matching anything that is found in a European city, to those more typical of Morocco. What I truly recommend, nevertheless, is getting a snack in one of those stands, spread all over the square. This is where you can have quality and inexpensive food, sharing the moment with local people.

Drinking a traditional mint tea in one of the cafes that have a direct view to Jemaa el-Fna is also an unmissable opportunity.  The spectacle of Jemaa el-Fna is different every single day. “It hosts a rich and unattainable oral tradition”, as put by Juan Goytisolo. Be part of this unique spectacle in the world at least once. It’s pure magic.

Desert

During my first time in Morocco, I decided to walk through to desert after leaving Marrakech. That distance of more than 500 km, between Marrakesh and the Berber village of Merzouga, is gorgeous and full of surprises, so I recommend doing it. For this route, I actually rented a car, instead of taking a train.

Visiting the desert, the Erg Chebbi dunes, was one of my life’s best experiences. I played djembe with the Tuareg, had a really interesting conversation about religion with one of them under a vast and starry sky. I climbed a rather tall dune, in order to be a little bit closer to the stars, watched the sunrise on it and listened to the silence. I had never truly heard the silence before.

It was memorable.

All my other times in Morocco were shorter and I focused on very specific areas. I visited Marrakesh every single time… From the world I’m acquainted with, this is the city that I enjoy the most.

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