12 October 2008 | Morocco
Moroccans can fit a heck of a lot of people in a taxicab. On the morning of the departure for our excursion in-land to Marrakech every taxi going by was full to the brim. With the help of our friend in security we got a taxi to take us to the "centre ville", or, in other words, the city center. Our train was 45 minutes from arriving at the station so dad and I ventured to get bread. Though some Moroccans I met were not fond of the French and their influence, bread-wise, there are no complaints. We booked first class for the train to guaranty us a spot and to ensure comfort on our 4-hour passage.
The train was 10 minutes late and we scurried on at the closest car to avoid being left behind. We settled in the first empty compartment where we hunkered down. When the conductor came by to check our tickets he began to ask us to move to our correct compartment but reconsidered after seeing our luggage already placed on the racks. This kind gesture by the conductor lead to a group of people pointing to our seats and waving their tickets. Finally a man living in the Middle East joined us and took up the final seat in the compartment. The compartment was air-conditioned and was equipped with seats that could fold down into a bed. The train ride passed with the help of an ipod, a cribbage board, playing cards, a book, a pink Nintendo D.S., a camera, a laptop computer and a stack of DVD's. After 2 hours we got into the desert, with sand dunes and little huts as far as the eye could see.
Once in Marrakech, we got a taxi to take us to our riad. Unfortunately for us the riad was a hefty walk from the spot the taxi left us. However, every body knows everybody and if you want, the taxi driver can and did arrange for a tiny thin man with a cart to take our luggage. The man ventured into the Jemaa El Fna Square, a square famous for it's snake charmers, henna tattoo artists, and nighttime food stalls. The man with our luggage walked up a side street, stopping to ask his friends for directions. After a long discussion including four or five people, none being us, we turned around and headed the opposite way. Across Jemaa El Fna we trekked in the opposite direction on our way to the Dar Hanane, our riad. We ventured through the souks, up and down winding passages until we got to the Dar Hanane. We knocked on the nondescript door and were greeted with open arms, and as promised, cold drinks. In the courtyard of the riad we sat in the shade of the trees and spoke with the manager, Chris. Chris supplied us with maps and keys to the riad. We ventured to one of six rooms entitled the Grande Suite. The Grande Suite was a beautifully lit room with three door-sized windows. There was a single bed along the wall closest to the door. In the middle was a double bed and at the far end was a smoky blue wood set of stairs leading up to a loft with another double bed. Under the wood enclosure was a stone bathroom. The high ceiling was also smoky blue and was neatly designed. Across the hall was a library with a fireplace, WIFI, and an honor bar. Up the stairs was a roof terrace that overlooked the medina. Most of the floors were stone and all around the riad were the famed keyhole arches. The staff at the riad made us breakfast every morning and it could be eaten on the roof terrace or in the courtyard. There would be coffee, hot chocolate and as Mom would say, freshly "squozen" orange juice waiting for us. The riad was a 20-minute walk to the Jemaa El Fna Square. The air conditioning was essential for sleeping and the fitted sheet, which Jenny and I never use, was also needed because the blanket was warm but itchy.
Uncle Mark convinced my sister and I to allow my Parents to have some adult time walking around the souks by themselves. I am a do everything, experience junkie so letting Mom and Dad go by themselves was a feat but it turned out to be in the best interest for everyone. Mom and Dad returned with two, leather rimmed, straw grocery bags mom had searched the Mediterranean coast for. With a map in hand we set out for a Moroccan restaurant entitled Topsil. We walked through the souks that were in the process of closing down, some remembering Dad from his bargaining earlier, through the Jemaa El Fna Square we tried to resist the aroma of the market vendors stalls and the calls of vendors after us "Canada, Oh, Hello John Candy" or " High Five, stall 85". We left the square and headed up the street to the Topsil. Unable to find the restaurant in the maze of alleys, and feeling tired and hungry, we returned to the Jemaa El Fna Square and sat at number 123 for dinner. We did have a good meal after all, the food was greasy but was quick and kept coming, olives then bread then couscous then kebabs, it filled us to the brim like a parched desert dweller filling their canteen with fresh ice water.
Returning to Dar Hanane in the dark we passed the closed stalls, stepping over garbage and street kitties. Following the markers we had identified for ourselves, we passed the Spice Market with the hanging boa skins, the vegetable stand, past the crooked tree, in front of Salon Jihad, in front of the water fountain, past 'our personal garbage (the closest to our riad), stopped at the next fountain, took a right at the daycare, fast right and then a left before landing in front of the welcome keyhole arch doorway of Riad Dar Hanane. For the first time in 122 days we slept on dry land and all fell exhausted into our beds.