After six of the roughest months of my life, I decided that on my 40th birthday, I would "take a walk" to clear my head and celebrate life. I wanted to go some place ALONE, where everything would smell, look, sound, and feel different. I found it in Morocco.
On "the day" I arrived in Marrakech, I settled into one of the three Riads I would stay in during my visit. I was amazed by the décor, materials and construction in the medina (walled city). I felt that I had gone back in time, or entered the rich colored textbook I used in a ninth grade history class. The medina was abuzz with activity in Place Jammaa El Fana where I found snake charmers, monkey tamers, oral story tellers, henna tattoo artists, Gnoua musicians, acrobats, food vendors and a host of pedestrians, motorbike riders, bikes carts, more motor bikes. Above it all was the smell of the food, sound of flutes (for the snakes), drums (from the musicians), and the call to prayer coming through the city in stereo sound.
This would seem like overload, but try to process it. I didn't. I lived in it like I was meant to be there. As a black dread locked American, I was welcomed by all, and actually at times I felt invisible, although I know I did not blend in.
I found the people of Marrakech friendly, passive and welcoming. Merchants are sorry that more American tourists have not returned. One of the reasons is that Americans buy stuff at the given price, and don't try to negotiate. One major thing I learned in Maroc is that: "The price is not the price". This translates to everything is negotiable. They also like to trade, so take copies of your CDs and tapes, clothes, electronics, watches, etc.
Nomadic people founded Marrakech. They are used to traders from Africa and Europe coming there for centuries. You'll feel welcome and you'll learn their customs and traditions that are strongly held by people in the city, mountains and seaside towns.
A short ride from Marrakech is the Ourika Valley, where you will find the Berber people who live a simple life, and are happy and proud. They settled in the fertile valley in sight of the snowcapped Atlas mountains, next to cascading waterfalls. They grind wheat, make bread, raise and eat goats and sheep. From these animals and plants, they make a number of handcrafts.
I also visited Essaouira, 2.5 hours south of Marrakech where they have a small medina, souks, fishing port and horseshoe beach. There is not a lot to do there, so you can truly relax after a day of walking around and shopping. They have some of the most beautiful Thuya wood products you will see in your life. If you bring your own designs, they will inlay them with aluminum and mother of pearl and create custom works of art.
You can walk the streets and the beach until the wee hours and feel safe. You can also play soccer, go for a quad bike ride on the dunes, ride camels or sit on the terrace of Madada Mogador and take it easy. When returning to Marrakech from Essaouira, you can tell that you are in the city. The New York Times recently published an article on Essaouira.
When asked about my "walk", I tell people it was a true cultural experience. What I got from it is that you need to take more time to have tea with friends. When you hear the price, remember, it's not the real price – everything is negotiable. Please take that with you in your walk in life.
I've realized that the universe speaks to you when you are willing to listen. Salam.