I arrived in Marrakech with my two college-aged sons, the older of whom was quite ill from a bad meal in Cairo the day before. We checked into our riad (a traditional Moroccan home converted into a hotel) and made my sick son as comfortable as possible. His only request was to bring him some bread and water. Simple, right?
Not during Ramadan when the entire Muslim world fasts until after sunset. We had several hours until we’d be able to find any food. Still, my youngest son and I went to look and glean as much a sense of this city as we could in our one evening there.
The solar system of old Marrakech spins around the sun that is Djemaa el-Fnaa. From there, the city’s main square, streets and alleyways spiderweb their way through the old medina. My youngest son and I ventured toward the square with motor bikes whizzing past us every few feet, even in the narrowest of alleys. On the way, we thankfully found a small stall selling both bread and water and took these to my other son. Then we retraced our steps to the square to immerse ourselves in as much of Marrakech as one evening would allow.
Marrakech may not be a “typical” Moroccan city. Snake charmers, pet monkeys, buskers, and food vendors beyond count inhabit Jemaa el-Fnaa. It may seem all a show for tourists, but locals congregate there as well to hear the traditional storytellers or just soak in the excitement of the place. So in we waded.
If you want to shop, head to the nearby souk. Clothing, arts and crafts, dried fruit, spices — all that and more awaits. But we simply wanted to absorb the vibe. We ate at a touristy restaurant overlooking the square … mostly for the view it provided. When the chicken tagine I ordered arrived, it was covered by a traditional colorful ceramic cone. The waiter lifted the cone to reveal the stew-like Moroccan staple of chicken, potatoes, carrots, and peas flavored with turmeric, saffron, and garlic and topped by two large halved lemons. After our meal, we wandered past the lamp sellers, musicians, horse carriages, and the food stalls wafting the scent of spices and roasting meat throughout the square. Eventually, we headed back to our riad down alleys now quiet, almost desolate, dark yet without menace.
Our riad, like most in Marrakech, had its own charms with lounging areas and a small pool in the courtyard.
Morning brought more exploration, down new alleys as we watched Marrakech come to life. So too did my oldest son, who was feeling much better after a night of rest. As we left this city, I realized that the short time there afforded us only a glimpse. A taste — and a spicy one at that. One that made me realize I must one day return.
After all, there are so many alleys left unexplored.