Sunday, September 6, 2015

Morocco Travelogue Part 2: Sidi Kaouki + Marrakech

Day 5: Sidi Kaouki
After a second-breakfast of delicious Moroccan yogurt (called Raib), more nous-nous coffee, and fruit, Daniel and I again rented bikes. One of my friends from Rwanda lived in Morocco for three years and suggested going to a little town south of Essouira called Sidi Kaouki.

            If you ask me, the best way to travel is by bicycle. You miss too much by car and bus and train and you can’t stop as easily when you see fascinating things, and just walking isn’t fast enough. But biking? Biking is magic. 

It’s fast enough that you can see a lot, but slow enough that you can take everything in. 

We passed a few towns on the paved road, including the town where Jimi Hendrix may or may not have visited, and then took a gravel road that was much more remote for a couple hours. It began to drizzle a bit, but I didn’t mind because it wasn’t very hot.

             A few hours later, we approached the small town of Sidi Kaouki and got stuck in a downpour. Soaking wet and hungry, Daniel and I ducked into a little pizzeria next to the beach, where we ate some very average and rather burned pizza and where they tried to overcharge us on the bill. 

After eating, we locked our bikes to a pole, and then explored the beaches. Even though it was overcast and rainy, the beaches and coastline were still magnificent, and I kicked myself for waiting until the last day we were in Essaouira to come. 

Other than a few surfers here and there, we had the beach to ourselves. If I came back to Morocco, I’d definitely go back there and spend a couple of days.

            We waded into the waves and skipped rocks and just caught up on life. It had been two years since I’d last seen Daniel, when our paths crossed in Italy while I was on a family vacation. It was interesting to see how much we’d both changed since then. I was a year deep into my Peace Corps service then, still uncertain about what I would do or how it would turn out, and Daniel was studying Italian in Perugia, about to embark on three years of law school at Georgetown. 

Now I’d spent more than three years in Rwanda, no longer an eager and fresh-faced volunteer now, and he was older and wiser after not only studying law, but also public policy and doing his internship at an organization in Morocco that works with refugee rights. 

            We realized that we’d arrived at Sidi Kaouki pretty late, and had to find a way back to Essaouira. We arranged for one of the ubiquitous old blue Mercedes taxis to take us and our bikes around 8:30 pm, but when Daniel and I went to go unlock the bikes, we found that our poor-quality key bent inside the lock instead of opening it. Both of us tried opening it with no luck. I think we both had a few minutes of panic, thinking of back-up plans of what we would do if we were stuck there or the bikes were stuck there, before I gave it an aggressive twist and the lock finally sprung open.

The driver loaded our bikes into the truck, and he drove us back to Essaouira as it was getting dark. The paved road from Sidi Kaouki was very narrow, and parts of it had eroded so that only one car could fit on it at a time. This resulted in cars travelling in the opposite direction playing a game of chicken to see which car would stay on the paved road and which car would go off the shoulder onto the gravel at the last second before both cars collided.

            When we got back to Essaouira, the taxi dropped us off at the outside gates of the medina, and the light drizzle turned in a downpour. Daniel and I rode madly through puddles forming in the streets and navigated through the crowds of people huddled together under awnings and tunnels. We returned our bikes and speed-walked through the rain, looking like we’d both been dunked in the ocean with our clothes on, and knowing that they’d never dry in time for our early bus ride to Marrakech the next day.

Day 6: Marrakech

It was still dark out when Daniel and I made our way through the winding streets of the Essaouira medina to the bus station. Other than a few men coming from the mosque and cats prowling trash heaps in alley ways, the early morning streets were abandoned. While vendors and donkey carts crowded the narrow streets during the daytime, it was quiet and peaceful as we dodged puddles from the rain the night before. 

I remember little of the bus ride to Marrakech, probably because I hadn't had any coffee at that point, but it lasted maybe three or four hours. People had warned me that Marrakech would be sweltering in August. It was sunny and pretty toasty, but not as scorching as I expected it would be. 

We walked to the Riad where we were staying, which was tucked back in an alley and was pretty hard to find. I was sweaty and hot after walking through the mid-day sun when we finally found it, and I was glad that we spend the extra money to stay in a place with air-conditioning. 

After basking in the gloriousness of the air-conditioning for a bit, we set out to explore Marrakech. 

Even though Daniel had already visited, he was a good sport and said nothing as I took it all in (or perhaps more accurately, took a million pictures). 

We walked through the Jemaa el Fnaa, a huge square where vendors were selling everything from argan oil to fresh orange juice (which we happily drank) to dentures (which we happily didn't have a need for). 

I was slightly scared really really terrified to find groups of snake charmers in the square, complete with little flutes and cobras. If you were hoping to see a picture of the snake charmers, sorry to disappoint, but I was too busy running in the opposite direction. 

We stopped to get lunch at a place with a nice view of the square, and little water sprayers to keep us somewhat more cool. I had been hunting for some Moroccan carpets for my house in Rwanda (and I purposely brought only a carry-on to bring my purchases back to Rwanda), and I finally found a place that had a bunch that I liked. I bored Daniel to death as I asked to see rug upon rug upon rug and then negotiated the price. 

This is not a posed picture. He really was asleep like that (sorry Daniel!)
After spending my entire home stipend on some sweet carpets, the vendor agreed to drop them off at our Riad and Daniel I continued to weave our way through the maze-like market. 

After a few hours of meandering, we headed to the Jardin Majorelle.

The Jardin Majorelle is a walled garden filled with beautiful foliage, vibrantly painted cobalt blue and yellow buildings, fountains, and a memorial to the French designer Yves St. Laurent, who formerly owned the garden.

 The gardens were a peaceful oasis outside the medina, and we took time to slowly wander through and relax in the shade of its palm trees. 

We asked a young lady to take a picture of us in the gardens, and after taking one, she unexpectedly shouted, "Changez la pose!"and Daniel and I laughingly obliged as she told us to change our pose a couple more times, our poses becoming a little more ridiculous each time. 
We started off fairly normal
and it just
from there
We caught a taxi back to our Riad so Daniel could do some work, and I set out to explore by myself again. The midday sun was strong, and I wanted to catch up on journaling, so I went to a nearby hotel called La Maison Arabe. 

It was super swanky and had a stunning courtyard filled with olive trees circling a turquoise swimming pool. 

I was the only one in the calm courtyard, I could enjoy a glass of chilled wine for only $4 (or three), and I didn't need anymore convincing than that to stay there for a few hours and write. 

After a few glasses of rose and some tasty Moroccan snacks, I headed back to the Riad to rouse Daniel from his work, and we set out to get dinner at the Jemaa el Fnaa. We could hear the square and its numerous musicians before we could see its lights and smoke wafting from hundreds of grills cooking everything under the sun. The square was crowded with tourists and Moroccans alike. There were musical groups, musicians, comedians, and games to play, all for a few dirhams. 

One game was particularly enticing: bottles of soda pop were in the middle of a circle, and the organizers of the game handed out fishing poles with a little plastic bracelet in the place of a hook. If you were able to get the bracelet around the cap of the pop bottle, you'd win the bottle of soda pop. Daniel was hooked (…get it?) and paid a few dirhams for one of the poles. 

We thought it looked super easy, but it was deceptively difficult. After a lot of persistence and a few near-misses, Daniel clinched the victory and won one of the bottles. 
We strolled through the square a bit more, stopping to listen in on musicians playing and comedians that we couldn't understand, while I kept an eye out for any of the snake charmers that might still be hanging around. 

Clouds of smoke rose from the grills of what seemed like a hundred food stalls, and the smell of food filled the air. After examining the menus of several of the food stalls, we realized they were more or less all selling the same things for nearly identical prices. 

We sat down at one of them and had a filling meal, and then explored the square once more. The twinkling lights of the square and shroud of darkness beyond gave it a much different, more mysterious feel than during the day, and I think I preferred it that way. 

If you missed Part 1, catch it here

1 comment:

  1. Loved Marrakech! We spent a whole evening bargaining for a rug Alex & Laura bought.