Upon arrival for the first time in a new continent, a new county and a new culture…my first 10 hours of Morocco have been very inspiring. After an easy 2 hour flight from Barcelona that had me amazed at the truly short distance from Spain to North Africa (I could see both from the plane while over the Mediterranean) we landed at the airport and there was already a different vibration. A trouble-free passport check led me to the baggage claim where my bag was already waiting me and after exiting I found my driver already waiting for me! it was arranged through the tour company that is helping with the retreat and I must admit, it was nice to see my name on the paper coming out of the airport! The taxi ride into the Kasbah where my hotel is was straight out of a movie (not sure which one/kind though!) and I was welcomed to Les Borj de La Kasbah feeling very special. Although the next thing I know Miriam the front desk agent tells me I can leave my bags at the desk, which I feel is safe and I do and then follow her to the tea room where she sits me down and asks for my passport. I gave it to her as she ordered me my first Mint Tea and off she went…and there I was without my passport or my bags sitting in a nice hotel lobby looking like a Yoga teacher hippy! But really, it was all good and I felt very trusting of the place and my experience there and sure enough she was back in 5 minutes taking me on a tour of this very nice hotel and finally to my room where my bags were waiting for me.
There were rose petals on the bed, bathrobe, toilet, bathroom sink and tub. Yes! Finally!!!
I spent the next little while unpacking and enjoying the luxury of a long hot shower and then went out for a walk to Place Jamaa El Fna, the main square of old Marrakech. WOW….just walking through the streets was a complete new experience of human living (and I thought I have seen a lot!). Mopeds running every which way…pedestrians of all shapes and sizes and many of them wearing cold weather robes with pointy hoods, cars plowing through when and where they need and the occaisional horse carriage and bike for good measure. This all combined with shop lined streets selling anything and everything.
With my Mediterranean looks, many spoke to me in Arabic immediately, and then they come with ‘Hola Amigo’….then in French. When I finally let on that I am American the initial shock sets in and then I see the look of ‘my friend’ come into their eyes. I had some nice Harira soup and dates and cashews on the street and the Plaza might as well have been Burning Man! There were snake charmers, 5 piece string bands in traditional clothes, drummers supporting amateur acrobats and a few other spectaulares all vying for the tourist change. They were all surrounded by little carts selling dried fruits, fresh orange juice, Harira, tea and some were getting ready for full on shish-kebab style service.
After about 45 minutes of this, I had enough and wandered back to my hotel. it was there I met Harish, the neighborhood helpful Moroccan to every tourist who walks by. I knew about ‘him’ and what he was up to from the onset, but he has a nice vibe and is charming despite the underlying desire to get something out of me . We talked a bit and he was excited to know that I was ‘El Missri’ (Egyptian blood). I told him I wanted a suggestion for dinner and that opened up a wild ride! He told me of a restaurant that was expensive but has a nice show…we went and it was like 50Euros for a meal and belly dance show and I was literally the only one at the restaurant. I said thanks but no thanks and we went out again.. I had told Harish I was a vegetarian and he said that makes it a little harder in the Kasbah to find something and suggested that we make Tagine at his little shop a few doors down from my hotel. Well…I’m up for adventure and seemed like a safe one so we set off through the Kasbah to get some vegetables. We picked up a 45 year old man named Abdellatif on route to the veggie stand. He would be our hired chef for the night. Harish told me it is better if I give him money in advance so to get a better deal. I realized we were just buying vegetables and that I was feeling trusting of him so I gave him 50 Dhirams (about 5 Euros). We found a great veggie stand and chose a nice assortment to make tagine. He paid and kept the change, which I realized and was keeping a tab! After a nice brisk walk back to his shop through a maze of the Kasbah, Abdellatif started to work prepaing veggies while Harish and 3 – 5 other men between 25 – 40 were having a loud and good time. They would speak to me in French which I can understand enough and Harish was making sure that I was well taken care of. We got a bottle of cheap Moroccan red wine to share while the dinner was prepared and people kept dropping by…the little carpet shop was an action center for the street…and it was only men that came in or stopped by. Abdellatif had learned to cook in the Army and literally prepared the veggies with one simple knife on the floor of this shop. We bought a bag of spices and olive oil and it was a treat to watch this meal take form.
I have a nice photo expo of the tagine process posted below and the eating of it with hands ad bread was truly an amazing first meal in this country. I figured I should come home and spend the 10 minutes to write it out before sleep because tomorrow I am scheduled for a Hammam and Massage at 4 after I make a walking tour of the old town. And I am certain that every day here will be full of positive adventures so long as I keep my sixth, seventh and eighth senses all tuned in!