Marrakesh, Morocco

Marrakesh blew my mind, and not just because of the heat. On the way to Marrakesh, I met a really great Moroccan woman on the plane. We chatted the entire flight, while her young son amused himself with video and music. She gave me tips on things to see and provided her phone number in case I needed help or wanted a place to stay on a subsequent visit. I prefer to be lost in new cities, so I didn’t take her up on the assistance, but it might be nice to have a home cooked meal if I ever visit again.

After making my way to Riad Massine II, my hostel in the heart of the Medina, I dropped my bags and set out to explore the old town. In many ways, the hawkers, touts, congestion and heat reminded me of my trip to India a few years ago. While the feel was the same, the food was much different. India is a vegetarian’s paradise, whereas Morocco is not. Vegetarian options weren’t exactly terrible – lots of the food was tasty and it was always inexpensive – but many used a rather uninspired complement of spices to add flavour to the rice, carrots and zucchini that constituted most of the fare.

While walking through the Medina and stewing in my sweat, I rubbed my head and noted that it had been some time since I’d trimmed my hair. I skipped into the next barber, watched as he scraped a straight razor across the neck of another man, and made arrangements to have my hair cut. Moments later, a buzzing trimmer was removing most of my hair. It seems that the trimmer could use some TLC, for it left a few random tufts of hair that I had to remove later – with a nail clipper (the sharpest thing I could then locate). All in all, though, not bad for 2 Euros. The rest of the day was spent checking out mosques, various souks and other points of interest, such as the synagogue with its multi-coloured chicks. Along the way, I picked up my fair share of guides, many of whom were young boys who liked to point out the most meaningless details – tomato stand, peaches, cemetery, etc. – that were plainly visible in hopes that quantity would trump quantity and inspire me to lose my purse strings and offer them some money. They were wrong.

After a day wandering around, I went back to the hostel and met a German couple, another Canadian and a pair of Australian women (from Perth!). Together, the six of us decided to hire a van and guide and make a trip to southern Morocco and the Sahara. Before leaving Marrakesh, I wanted to spend one evening exploring more of the Medina by night. Let me tell you, it’s an entirely different animal after 10 PM. When the sun sets and the temperature drops, the city springs to life.

When the blistering sun falls below the horizon, charcoal is lit and the Medina turns (almost as if my magic) into a boiling, chaotic stew of food, music and people all ensconced in fragrant smoke from various sources. The night unfolded like a rave in the middle of a forest fire, where smoke from the inferno obscured views, made eyes water and inveigled one deeper into the chaos. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen, especially in light of the fact that the next morning, the entire scene had vanished as though it were merely a figment of my imagination.

After a terrific few days in Marrakesh, it was time to set out with my motley crew for the edge of the Sahara.