magical mystery memories of marrakesh

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africa / morocco / on the road

1. I think I’ll start and end this post with a clay pot of tender, steaming Moroccan tagine. Soft slow-cooked lamb, tarty olives, creamy potatoes. Between the two of us, the Hubby and I must have had this dish at least 6x over our three-day trip to Marrakesh.

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2. Ubiquitous mint tea, made simply from mint leaves steeped in hot water (no tea bags here!). Served with generous amounts of sugar cubes.

DSC060163. The Koutoubia Mosque, which we used as a (very visible) landmark to make our way to the Jemaa El Fna square. The map on our guidebook’s back cover had plenty of white wormy lines which represented streets–except there weren’t any street signs so the map wasn’t particularly helpful. The mosque was a more useful compass.

DSC058334. The hustle and bustle of Jemaa El Fna, which at night magically transforms to an open-air food market. For our first dinner in Marrakesh, we opted to try our luck there. Don’t be intimidated by the very forward food hustlers–we took our time investigating what each stall had to offer and politely just shook our heads each time a plastic-laminated menu was shoved in our faces. Funnily enough we were greeted with endless ‘Konichiwas’ and ‘Ni Haos.’ Maybe to them all Asians looked alike, heh.

There is a lot of food on offer: grilled meats, snails in spicy broth, hard-boiled eggs. We picked stalls that were packed with patrons. Our first meal was at Chez Ali. The grilled lamb and couscous were unremarkable but the staff were very friendly.

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I love ox tongue–naturally we just had to try the stalls that served sheep face and tongue boiled in a delicious brown sauce (in what looked like Oscar the Grouch’s can, heh). Delicious, but not for everyone.

DSC058595. I remember Le Musée de Marrakech suffused with a warm, gold light. There were plenty of artists, all women, sketching the paintings.

DSC059256. We eventually found the Medersa Ben Youssef after several false trails into the souk streets. The color of the glazed tiles and the intricate carvings on the walls were a strangely calming sight. We took our time peeping in the small rooms, which used to be student cells back when the Medersa was an Islamic theological college.

DSC058877. We wandered down narrow, sun-dappled lanes in the souks where we promptly got lost. There were the tanneries–streets covered with animal hides drying to make leather, heavy with the smell of cow.

DSC05942Vivid colors from baskets of saffron and cumin, the heady scent of lavender, verbena, and sticks of cinnamon. A strange, sticky mound that looked like the sundot kulangot one finds in Baguio. Chameleons in cages, blending with the rust. Fanous lamps made of colored glass and rusty metal; small silver lamps shaped like Aladdin’s; small camels carved of sweet-scented cedar wood.

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DSC059498. We stayed at the Riad Altairwalking distance from the Jemaa El Fna. The walk is a bit tricky, but once we got the route down pat it was easy to walk to and fro. Inside the riad it’s quiet and peaceful. They serve great breakfast: we had soft cinnamon bread and yogurt with fresh fruit and honey. The little spreads included fig, which was seed-y like kiwi, but sweet.

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A pot-holder shaped like a man wearing a djellaba, the national dress.

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DSC058269. Cross the street at your own risk. Go slow and you might see live peacocks on a bicycle. I didn’t want to think about where it was headed.

DSC0598710. The Saadian Tombs were a bit underwhelming. I did love the intricate carvings carved in cedar wood and stuccowork.

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DSC0600411. Badii Palace was already closed by the time we got there. A lot of storks made their nests on the palace walls. An old Berber belief is that the storks are holy and are actually transformed humans.

DSC0601012. We always came back to Jemaa El Fna. While their food is so-so, the best views of the square can be had from the terraces of Chez  Chegrouni and Cafe de France.

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Freshly-squeezed orange juice. Make sure to ask for yours in plastic cups.

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We saw young acrobats performing in the street–cheerdancers making pyramids with no safe, soft rubber mats to fall on.

DSC05984It was a medieval market of sorts: tooth-pullers with small piles of teeth hawking their trade; sleepy-looking snakes under large cloth hats; murmurs of rapid French and Arabic; pink clay rooftops all dotted with satellite dishes; tired horses pulling caleches for the tourists; stray cats having sex in the corners; the faint sounds of prayer punctuating the times in between snacks.

DSC0604413. A day trip to Ourika Valley, booked through Riad Altair. We stopped at a Berber market, a weekly event. I had my first glimpse of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains.

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DSC06117They do not like having their photos taken, so be careful when snapping away. Having my tooth “pulled” by the dentist/barber/medicine man at the market.

DSC06118The parking lot.

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One tip: do respect their traditions by minding what you wear. We saw a family with three young girly tweens who thought it would be great to wear short shorts to a Berber market. I’ll spare you the details of the ‘tsk-tsking’ and uncomfortable ogling from some youths.

14. Drank mint tea in a dimly-lit Berber house. There were photos of the king everywhere and large rooms filled with nothing but soft sofas. Told by our guide that all we needed to get married the Berber way was silver and a new bed.

DSC06176Preparation of the mint tea: cracking the huge rocks of sugar.

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DSC0618615. An Argan oil all-female cooperative. I bought two pots of lip balm for 100 dirham. I was observing these two ladies shelling the nuts when they called me to sit in between them for a photo.

DSC0621316. There are seven waterfalls in Ourika Valley. Hubby and I only managed to reach one. It took us about an hour. I could feel the heat and cold on my face the higher we went up the mountains.

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The way we came:

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There were eateries on either side of the river. According to our guide, Mohammed, he guides tourists to the waterfalls thrice a week for 200 dirhams each.

The rocks were slippery–at one point Mohammed held out his hand on the pretext of helping me over a tricky incline, instead he swung me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and carried me over. I think I had a mini-heart attack just then.

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DSC0630717. And what used to be a clay pot of tender, steaming Moroccan tagine.

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The Author

I am 100% Filipina. I've lived in Manila, Jakarta, and London. Right now, I'm firmly planted in the tiny island of Singapore! I caught the travel bug early on. I also love reading, dark chocolate, spur-of-the-moment food trips, Fridays, dachshunds, and lazy weekends with my family or the Hubby.

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