Morocco: A walk through Marrakesh
Stepping out of the hostel door and straight into the maze of narrow alleys is like stepping into another world. Strange smells come up from the cobblestone street and out of open doors, some pleasant and some unbelievably offensive. Six memorized turns lead to one of the "main streets" that head towards the big common plaza. Being carried away in the sea of traffic on this street feels like another world still, appealing to every sense...
There are the smells of mountainous spice stalls, surprisingly tidy piles of garbage, meats hanging raw in the open air or cooking and turning on a spit. People, horses, donkeys and motorbikes relentlessly push by but never collide in the two-way traffic. Lively music and alien singing spills from ancient speaker boxes proudly displayed outside stores no bigger than a closet...
For taste, the choices are endless - there are sticky sweet date and nut pastries from bakeries and holes in the wall, fresh ripe fruit carts, the ever-present kebab shops, a stand with popcorn pouring out of a huge old popcorn-maker made of tin, and juice shops that sell smoothies made from avocados.
After what seems like years the little street suddenly widens and twists open into the main square. Tourists quickly learn to say "non, merci!" The buskers and beggars working the crowds are a smorgasbord of human life - tries of talented young boys flipping themselves and each other into the air, a wildly bizarre-clothed group of stationary old men decked out just to take pictures with, a blind beggar boldly walking straight into the crowd singing his requests, a little girl sniffling, shuffling, and selling tissues as dirty as herself, teenage boys selling wooden snakes and hashish if you get close enough.
Little brown boys and girls carry around sawed off cardboard boxes filled with rows of what look like tiny loaves of old bread, but turn out to be the most deliciously addicting coconut macaroons for only 1 dirham each. There are stalls and rungs spread on the dirt everywhere. Knitted caps are exclusively sold by the most traditionally covered Muslim women, and the motherly looking women demanding to henna your hands are the only sign of aggression anywhere in a society that survives, somehow, without alcohol.
An impossibly huge cart loaded with bags of rice goes by, pulled by a single donkey. In the center of the square, six towering stands on wheels serve fresh orange and pomegranate juice, the fruit neatly lined up and ready. In between are smaller stands selling mountains of dates and nuts, the lone man or boy nearly hidden in the valleys of goods. Snake charmers are scattered throughout, turbaned men constantly antagonizing tired cobras to encourage picture-taking tourists. If you smile too closely at these friendly men they will attempt to charge you $5.
A smokey, dusty haze envelopes everything; by night adding to the beauty of the sunsets and by day filtering through sunlight hot enough to make every Western woman wish there weren't obligated to dress so modestly. Every evening, dozens of free-standing restaurants are set up in the middle of it all, serving dinner, mint tea, desserts, snails, and very possibly food poisoning to those eaters adventurous enough to stray from a vegetarian diet.
On our train into Marrakesh, a kind young girl gave me her silver chain necklace with a crystal pendant and invited us to visit her home in Fez. Walking through the streets of Marrakesh, a young boy stole a different necklace from my backpack, which I was ignorantly and vulnerably wearing on my back. As I turned to confront him, all I caught was a glimpse of eye contact as he melted back into the dusty crowds.