My apologies up front. This may read like a PBS special on Morocco, but so be it.
There is probably no better way to ensure culture shock (first cliché) than spending a day in the air conditioning, shopping, napping, getting hair cuts, watching Spanish television, taking multiple showers, and staying up all night, then flying at 400 AM to a bustling, crazy, hot, desert Muslim country. But, we made it through customs, sleepily payed too many Dirhams for a taxi to town, and were pawned off without realizing the consequences to a guy who took us through the winding, covered roads of souks to our hostel. We regrouped, napped, then hit the streets.
The medina, or walled old town, of Marrakesh centers around a square, the Djeema el Fna. From there, stalls of covered souks (small markets) extend in all directions. Most of our days in Marakesh were spent repeatedly getting lost in the souks. Somehow we would find ourselves back to the square, then promptly get lost again.
The souks are dream-worthy, constantly dancing with your senses. Usually the smells or the sounds give away what is around the next corner. There are tanneries where you can buy your leather slippers or bags. There herbal markets with piles of brightly colored spices, mystery eye drops for your eye problems, siwak sticks for cleaning your teeth, goopy, brown olive oil based soap.
There are meat markets where they will butcher the animal in front of your eyes. There are dried fruit stands where you can taste several different types of dates and figs before you decide on the right ones. There are mint carts where you buy your mint fresh daily for the ubiquitous Moroccan "whiskey" - sweetened mint tea. You can watch the tile guys carve intricate patterns, watch the woodworkers cut and fit pieces of a door, watch the dyers hang up their yarn to dry in the wind and sun. There are orange juice stands where you can enjoy fresh squeezed OJ any time of the day. There is a market for any desire. To a newbie, the crowded stalls can be a bit overwhelming, but the locals have a daily walk where they gather all of their needs.
stalls of dried fruits and nuts
Then there's the Djeema el Fna. The Djeema is always a happening place, but at night the general population of tourists and Moroccans alike descend upon the square for night time display. In late afternoon carts pulled by mules bring in men dressed in white coats who set up covered tents, makeshift displays, tables, chairs, and fire up the grill. Then begins the strange courting ritual of words, prices, foods.
"Madame, Monsieur. Scottish? English? Francais? Take a look, see if you like. Only freshest. Stall one-seven, send you to heaven."
Kebabs, snails, lamb soup, type-I spice cake (ask sometime about type-II spice cake), cous cous, spice tea can be sampled as you walk from tent to tent. At some point it becomes dark enough to need lights, and the gas lamps flicker on.
after dinner at the Djeema
delicious type-I spice cake and spice tea for dessert
Further out around the periphery people pander the crowds for donations. Cross dressing belly dancers shake their stuff with their palms out. Snake charmers spend time pissing off their cobras, then playing tunes for a few dirham per picture. Nightly concerts start up on the stage, and kids scramble to the top of trees to get the best view. Old men crowd around tents where stories are told in the Berber tongue. Women try their hardest to make sure that no tourist leaves without their hands covered with henna tattoos. Demonstrations occur, music is everywhere, and there is still orange juice.
the Djeema el Fna at night
Needless to say, most of our time was spent exploring these sights, tastes, sounds, and smells. We also spent time trying to sneakily feed the kittens that would gather around our feet. A medina kitten would definitely make a well adjusted cat...if only bringing one home wasn't so hard.