I was partial to my first Moroccan experience when I was incredibly young and it would be perhaps unfair of me to claim that I wholly enjoyed the time I spent there. I am hesitant to rely upon the statement ‘an assault to your senses’, appreciating the cliché it inspires. Yet, I am confident in concluding that this is the most accurate depiction of my encounters. Navigating my way through the bustling alleyways of Moroccan souks at my impressive 4ft height was a challenge to say the least, and the presence of monkeys and brightly dressed dancers only encouraged my overactive heartbeat.
Since this first expedition, I have returned to the country on two separate occasions, and Marrakech has slowly succeeded in swaying my opinions. I have come to realise that my initial reluctance to embrace the hectic day-to-day should be attributed to my youth, rather than any kind of shortcomings on Africa’s part. In light of this, I am keen to reflect upon my experiences in a more positive manner, in the hope of rectifying my failure to do so at the time. Regardless of how intense (and indeed overwhelming for both the introverted and short among us) Morocco may be, there is simply no denying the utterly irrepressible life the country boasts.
When the majority overhear mention of this North African city in conversation, their minds are almost immediately drawn to the fairly infamous Jemaa el-Fnaa, and with good reason. This square of impracticalities and impossibilities lies at the very epicentre of Marrakech and is a hubbub of culture and excitement. Needless to say, the first hurdle one must overcome is mastering the pronunciation of the location itself, a hurdle that I must admit had me stumbling from the offset.
Despite this, regardless of how far you choose to adopt the ‘mumble quickly and don’t make eye contact’ method, you can rest assured that you’re highly unlikely to actually end up in the square itself anyway. Almost without exception, it is far more probable that you will be treated to an ‘exclusive’ jaunt to your taxi driver’s cousin’s brother’s shop, a truth that is as irritating as it is amusing. The frequency of these detours should not be underestimated, however it is important that you do not allow the cheek of some transport professionals to hinder your enjoyment to any great extent. Such delays can be unfortunate, particularly when you must then attempt to locate the Jemaa on foot, demonstrating an unhealthy knack for sweat production. However, I have concluded that one must simply accept that when in Morocco, it is far more sensible to adopt a go-with-the-flow philosophy and save yourself a whole lot of exhaustion (and perspiration).
That is not to say that the stress is alleviated upon arrival. Loud confrontations with eager vendors honing in on your western apparel and gleefully resorting to exclamations of ‘Gavin and Stacey’, and touch-and-go moments with henna syringe wielding children, are just a few examples of the intense encounters one can expect. Now, whilst it is possible to pass a good few humid hours in the square itself, watching snake charmers work their magic or sampling the numerous grilled meats on offer, the real attraction lies in the web of souks that stretch out in every direction. The ease with which you can find yourself entirely disorientated amongst the identical looking rows of hand crafted knick-knacks is only slightly outweighed by the stressful experience that is bartering. I should possibly clarify that I wasn’t exactly hunting for the best bargain at the ripe old age of seven, but I have been privy to enough examples of being chased down by the many sellers my mother manages to whittle down, to understand that shopping in Morocco is no simple task.
In shocking contrast to the hustle and bustle of the souks, the Mosques of Marrakech offer a serene moment of quiet in a place infamous for its noise. Even more impressive is the call to prayer that floats across the city each and every morning, providing tourists and locals alike with an exquisitely unique wake up call. It’s quite a difficult sound to describe but I have no doubt that those who do encounter it on their travels, will find it incredibly difficult to forget. The deep and foreign voice ringing in my ears, drawing out words I could not decipher into a string of melodious greetings, resonates in my mind to this very day.
I must admit that my experience of the African continent, and even Morocco specifically, is limited and thus it is difficult for me to comment on the country as a whole. Despite this, I feel it is worth pointing out that Marrakech is city that is too often subject to misconceptions. It’s increasing popularity as a tourist destination has led to an unfortunate preconceived notion among many; it is a city with little culture to offer, instead baring resemblance to the abundance of sunny resorts that scatter much of the Northern Hemisphere.
In fact, I can assure you that this is not the case at all. Though it is true that a dusty, desert day is greatly improved by a dip in a hotel pool, there is simply no disputing the fact that Marrakech is a city that promotes an individuality that I have yet to see rivalled. Whether you’re admiring the impressive architecture that lines the busy roads, holding onto a camel for dear life or desperately seeking the next square of shade in the hope of escaping the oppressive heat, the city has something for everyone.