By the time we get to our final destination, I am burnt out. Toast. Both ends of my candle snuffed at the nubby wick.
Happily, I’ve been to Marrakech before. I’ve even been to our hotel, an over the top posh palace called la Mamounia where I dined one evening on my previous trip in their fancy restaurant.
So I have no guilt or regret about skipping the morning tour of mosques and monuments, certain that if one more well-meaning guide explains when or why or how or by whom an edifice was built, I will jump from the ledge of said edifice. It is enough. So many dates and places and extinct civilizations jumbled in my brain with Moai and Masai and Moghuls.
The evening we arrive, we have a quick dinner in the hotel’s Italian restaurant (knowing we will have 2 large Moroccan meals the following day). Aside from the breakfast pastries, which are a marvel, most of the food we eat at la Mamounia is fancy but tourist bland, which is fine since my tummy is STILL a bit delicate, and I am actually quite fond of the sweet, smoky flavors of a good Moroccan tagine. If the hotel food were better, I might get myself into trouble again.
Then we decide to go rogue. A guide has been arranged to take us to the Djemaa el-Fna square, and feeling confident we can navigate our own way, we break away from the pack and are soon AWOL. It sounds ridiculous, but after days of rigorous structure, I just want to get a little bit lost. Also, you cannot actually get lost going from the hotel to the square, as the beautiful well-lit tower of the central mosque operates as an easy landmark. In fact the only hazard we face is crossing the street; traffic is madness and there are no stop lights. You just wait on a corner until joined by enough people that the cars and scooters and buses and horse carriages will be forced to go around you. Safety in numbers.
It’s a warm, drizzly night, the recent rain raising an eye-watering stench from the horse carts as we pass them on the way in, but despite the dampness, the square is packed with dancers and musicians and vendors and food carts and fortune tellers and artists. We’ve each been given a small bag of coins by our NatGeo handlers, because if you so much as pause to listen or watch a performance, or snap a photo of local character, someone will appear at your elbow and aggressively pass the hat.
I am pulled into a dance with these guys.
Soon we drift back to the hotel, and our cozy room, and a long night’s sleep on excellent sheets. We awaken to the sound of birdsong, as opposed to an alarm, and sloth about, ordering room service coffee and pastries. Kevin’s back has been troubling him, so we venture out to the nearest pharmacy, where after some broken French (mine) and broken English (pharmacists) we purchase some Moroccan-style ibuprofen.
Then we make a long, lazy tour of the hotel property, which has an art exhibit going on of whimsical animal statues (incl a lot of French Bulldogs) an opulent spa and hamman, and extensive gardens, before parking ourselves at one of the pools.
After our (Big Moroccan Buffet!) lunch, Kev decides to skip the afternoon tour options in favor of a trip back to the spa for a long massage.
But I join some tour friends in a horse drawn caleche to the Majorelle gardens, a twenty minute ride located in Gueliz, The modern part of Marrakech. Here you see more people in western dress, and fewer women wearing the hijab. The gardens were famously first created by the artist Jacque Majorelle in the 1920’s. After his passing they fell into disrepair, but were later purchased and restored to their current glory by Yve St Laurent in the 80’s, who maintained a home on the grounds with his partner until his death (and has his ashes scattered here). Now they are open to the public, alongside a small Berber museum featuring elaborate jewelry and handicrafts and also creepy cloaks and headdresses and daggers which you are not allowed to photograph (just as well).
When I return, Kevin is happily splashing about in the pool, but realizing we have just over an hour left before the evening farewell festivities begin, and we have not yet even entered the souk (which would be a crime, as it is the coolest thing in this city) we make a quick turnaround and head out.
In front of the hotel we are greeted by a tall, gangly kid who says he remembers us from the hotel, as he works there, but his shift just ended and he is on his way to the souk to buy some argan oil for his mother. Neither of us remember this kid from the hotel, and his story smells like bullshit, but we are in a hurry are pretty sure his entire scam amounts to nothing more than picking up tourists from the nice hotel and leading them to shops in the souk from which he receives a cut of what they purchase.
This actually completely works for us, as the souk is a labyrinth of crooked, narrow nameless alleyways, branching into even narrower corridors, with literally hundreds of stalls, some of which are identical to other stalls, the path between them teaming with chaotic humanity.
It is nearly impossible to keep your bearings and we don’t have time to wander about for hours until we find our way out. So we go along with his story, willing pigeons, and we are rewarded with being led beyond the junkier souvenir stalls near the entrance to a tiny four story house in a tucked away corner that functions as an antique shop dealing in Berber furniture and jewelry and crafts. It is a charming jewel box of a store, and we’d never have stumbled upon it on our own. We buy a few small things and our young guide then escorts us back to a point from which we can find our own way (guided by the mosque tower) before he heads back in to buy his mother that argan oil, which maybe he wasn’t bullshitting about after all.
That evening we gather for our farewell dinner. Everyone has been told to wear something they picked up during our travels, and I have on the pretty lapis and silver necklace and turquoise and coral bracelet that we purchased moments earlier in the souk. We are entertained with a slide show (put together by the staff photographer) of the places we’ve been and things we have done, followed by a lavish feast of good (but not great) Moroccan fare. Then some not entirely convincing belly dancers (dead-eyed, bleached, hipless) perform, after which we call it a night. It is time to pack for our final flight. It is time to go home.
That night I dream I am walking through my door. My sweet, old dog is there to greet me, wagging his tail so hard–the way he does when he is excited–that he can’t walk straight. And I am overjoyed.