The sweet aroma of spices, fruit and flowers mix to deliver an experience like no other.The senses soar, the energy surges and a love affair begins.
As I pulled into Marrakech, I knew that I would not be disappointed, it just felt so right. The trip from Portugal had been long. We’d been on the road for two days. Passing through Lisbon and Seville on our way from Porto, the drive had been slower than expected. I guess it wasn’t too bad considering we were actually driving to another continent. After a few hours of sleep, we were up ready to explore. Armed with a map that was close to impossible to read and given the names of streets that weren’t marked, I started an affair that I know will never end.
Driving in Marrakech is not for the faint hearted. A dare devil feat requiring minute focus, immediate reaction, pinpoint accuracy and nerves of steel. One needs to have the skill of a NASCAR champion, the tranquility of Deepak Chopra and Houdini’s ability to escape. Having learned to drive in the Dominican Republic in the 70’s and years spent dodging Manhattan traffic on a bike; nothing fazes me. I must find excitement in near death experiences.
Organized tours or petit taxis before making the decision to test your skill driving in Marrakech are my solid recommendation. The city is purposefully confusing, road signs are virtually non-existent, getting and remaining lost is very real possibility. A large and active police force is very strict about traffic laws, yet another good reason to hire a driver.
First stop was the fabulous Majorelle Gardens. Once the home of Yves Saint Laurent, the French fashion designer’s ashes were scattered there after his death in 2008. An oasis of magical delight in a city of bustling activity, silence is requested in the area of Saint
Laurent’s memorial. Images of lavish parties attended by international celebrities flashed in my mind as I wandered through the palms. This garden is so amazing there’s even been a color named after it, Majorelle Blue.
People watching is an absolute must. Whether from a cafe, a park bench or strolling through the souk (open air market) you’re sure to be entertained. Expect a bit of a shock as the eye moves from scantily clad tourists to heavily grabbed women, covered from head to toe. Fashionably dressed divas and suave looking men grace the tables of sidewalk cafes, the French influence is still very much alive here. Toss in a few Moroccans in traditional robes, some farmers, complete with produce straight from the fields and a couple of Berber water sellers. Anywhere else the multi-colored outfits on the water sellers be the center of attention, but not here. In Marrakech it’s all a vibrant and colorful array of tastes, cultures and beliefs.
Music is everywhere. Get ready for sounds that transport you to places you know you’ve often dreamed of but never actually been. A beat and rhythm that’s soothing and invigorating at the same time. It seems to be hot and wild one stanza and soft and caressing the next. You can’t resist the invitation to sway to the ancient melodies.
My new friend, Hicham, born and raised inside the ramparts (walled city), was the perfect guide. He took me to places I would never even have known about or let alone visited. With him, I moved around with the ease of an expert, alone I was totally lost. After a week I still couldn’t find a shop I had been to several times. When I asked him why the souk was so confusing he explained that the walls were built first and foremost for protection. It had deliberately been designed to be confusing. An enemy would be immediately lost upon entering, too confused to do much actual damage and be easily captured. I must say that the design proved to be bad news for my shopping efforts but good news for my bank account.
No trip to Marrakech is complete without a visit to the traditional leather tanneries.
Moving through a series of narrow passageways, dim stairwells and long corridors with numerous twists and turns we emerged into the blaring sunlight. We had been handed
sprigs of mint at the entrance. The stench of ammonia mixed with other foul odors stung our nostrils. I wrapped my mint in a tissue to further combat the smell.
While the stink was bad, the sights were amazing. Below us there was a sea of activity. Men standing in pits of dyes soaked hides. Others moved slightly tinted skins from vat to vat. The pits were covered with blankets, carpets or fabric, I’m assuming to hold in the heat. Some pieces were hung along the walls to dry. I found it fascinating to watch knowing that this scene hadn’t changed much for centuries.
The market is alive with unbelievable sights almost 24 hours a day. During the day I watched snake charmers coaxing cobras out of their baskets, listened to musicians, using ancient instruments, playing tribal music and people from all over meeting, greeting and posing for pictures.
Dinner at a typical restaurant on the square went from 9 pm till 12:30 am. No one is in a hurry here. While most of the diners watched the show as it moved between the tables, I studied the design of the walls and floor. Each individual tile was cut and painstakingly hand placed to create an intricate mosaic. It was beautiful and played perfectly off the deep red carved wooden ceiling. My attention was brought back to the show with a jolt as a dancer tried in vain to get the man sitting behind me up to dance. I suppressed a scream as she provocatively swayed above me balancing a plate of lit candles on her head. Visions of a flaming “ME” were luckily unfounded as she eventually moved to a more eager partner.
I had a front row seat as I sat at a window a few stories above the square watching the night market coming alive with the setting sun. Peering down from the restaurant, I noticed business was good as the tooth pullers; fortunetellers and dancers went about their nightly tasks. Glancing from the craziness of crowd below to the candle light room
in which I sat, I witnessed a collision of two worlds that meshed together peacefully. I was enchanted.
Leaving the peace and tranquility of the restaurant, the square seemed to assault my senses. We quickly crossed and headed for Avenue Mohammed VI. Lined with roses, flowers and benches, this proved the perfect spot to continue our chat. After a few hours, we decided to move along. Back to the market at 3 am, things were just winding down. The crowds had dwindled as the lights dimmed in the square and the cleaners were preparing for the crowds that would soon be there. At 7 am the square was awake with people rushing to work. I left when I saw the musicians starting their day.
Just like your first true love, it’s a big part of who you are and a feeling you never forget. Marrakech is exactly like that for me. It has me hooked. All I can think about is running back. It’s a place that I feel whole, warm and loved.
I’ve always been drawn to Morocco. From the time I was young, the dessert lands seem to call me. Never really understanding why, I’ve repeatedly been pulled in that direction. I’ve often wondered if it would be one of those “fantasy being better than reality” situations. It was not!
Author, Speaker and world traveler, Lauri Flaquer is Founder of Saltar Solutions, a company focused on guiding international business owners to excel as entrepreneurs. Formally in TV production at NBC, CNBC and Bloomberg LP, Lauri produces/ hosts Focus Forward, a show dedicated to helping entrepreneurs SOAR! Kicking off her first international retreat experience, Business on the Beach 2014 will be held in Cabarete, Dominican Republic. www.BusinessOnTheBeach.com. Lauri uses her difference to make a difference by showing entrepreneurs, leading authorities and authors worldwide how they get their messages to a wider audience.