The day actually started on Friday when we gathered Polly and our bags into the car and drove down to NY in the morning, and having a birthday lunch with Liz’ mom, before being driven through rush hour to JFK. Then we got on Royal Air Maroc, flight 201 and flew across the Atlantic to land in Casablanca around 9:30a. With our packs on our backs, we exchanged what cash I had on hand into dirhams, and caught the 10a train from the airport into downtown Casablanca.
The adventure began as the train broke down at one point, and we waited for over an hour for the 11a train to arrive and for everyone to crowd onto it. I remember getting off to walk around a couple of times, and the first “you’re not in Kansas anymore” moment I had was watching the crowded cross street, packed with cars, bicycles, mopeds, and donkey-drawn carts. We got to the main train station, and took a cab to a restaurant recommended in the Lonely Planet, Cafe Moura. Our first of many price negotiations was the cab ride. Everything in Morocco is negotiated. haggled. bargained. It would take us until the end of our trip to get get even passable at this new skill. We had an appetizer of olives, bread, relish tray, and an amazing fish dish.
Due to a bit of a snafu (never split up when traveling in a foreign country. rule #1), we missed one train, but caught the next to Marrakech around 3p. It was a pleasant ride, watching the red terrain pass by, scattered with rocks. A deeper red than the american southwest, it was more martian in color, and its cacti were nothing like we have here; they were large and floppy. We finally arrive in Marrakech after dark, and the adventure continues as we walk down the street trying to hail a cab to our final destination. We zip through crowds and down narrow streets until we get dropped off on what appears to be a random street corner. While we try to get our bearings, we’re approached by someone who asks us where we’re going and did we need a guide? With no other real options open to us, we followed him down even narrower darker streets, soon followed by a second gentleman. Needless to say, we were wary. But we were delivered to our front door, we paid the man some dirhams, and then had tea in the courtyard of our riad, Dar Soukaina. It had been a very long trip.
We check into the “Muscade” (Nutgmeg) room, drop our packs, and relax for a few minutes before deciding to head out to have some dinner. Our hosts gave us a map, and we winded our way towards the famed Djemaa el-Fna. As one gets deeper into the old cities, the streets are truly a maze. Even with our carefully-drawn map, we made sure that we identified landmarks as we walked such as a tall lamp post, a crenelated awning, or a sign for La Vache Qui Rit. At one corner we stopped, and we had another offer for someone to be our guide. Saying no was difficult; we didn’t need a guide, we didn’t ask for the directions he gave us, and they are tenacious when they follow you, pointing out sights along the way, and get huffy when you refuse to pay them. In addition to the guides, the labyrinthe of the souqs had the distractions of shopkeepers inviting us in to look at their store “just for two minutes!” After a couple of stops, we finally found our way into the square, and it was a flurry of activity and a cascade of color. Appreciating the craziness but really just wanting to take it all in over a meal, we dined at Chegrouni with a third floor terrace view of the square, and had one of the best meals of our trip; an onion, beef, and prune tagine, and beef with olive-flavored couscous.
After dinner we went into the night market, and walked along the shops selling lanterns, handbags, and carts offering spices, nuts, soups, and tea. A monkey-handler put a monkey on our shoulders, and we stopped at one of the tea stalls for “Hunja”, a ginseng tea with cloves and cinnamon and “Sellou”, a sesame seed cake similiar to halvah. We then decided to head back to the riad for the night. We walked back down the maze of streets, now eerily quiet, but we remembered our landmarks and made our way back safe and sound. Finally lying in bed, we held each other and smiled. We were in Morocco.
And that was Day 1.