December 30, 2008

Under the Moroccan Sun

Morocco. It has been said that the rich heritage of Europe, Africa, and Arabia come together in this place. As a fusion of the cultures of the East and the West, I was intrigued by this crossroad to civilizations. On my flight into Marrakech I met with another solo traveler from Canada - Abby. After arriving at the airport and exchanging our dollars for dirhams, the Moroccan currency, we shared a taxi to her hotel in the new part of the city. I had booked no room in advance, so she joined me in my quest for a hotel. I wanted to be situated in the heart of the old city within the walled medina. We were told that it was a short walk from where we were. My target was Hotel Ali, as a friend had suggested it for its great location.

Forty five minutes later we walked through the gates into the old city. An intricate network of narrow lanes with even narrower alleys awaited us. Apart from foot traffic, scooters whizzed past us with only inches of separation between pedestrian and driver. Cars were rare as the roads were not wide enough to accommodate them. Small stalls lined the streets with spices, carpets, jewelry, crafts, and every day items on sale. Abby tried to take a photograph of a mountain of spices, but the shopkeeper frowned and wagged his finger, so she refrained.

I was tiring from carrying around my luggage under the Moroccan sun, so we stopped at Cafe Arabe for lunch. Reclining on a couch in the open air rooftop terrace, I sipped some iced mint tea (the national drink) and then ate a chicken tagine (the national dish) for rejuvenation. I determined my current position on a map and estimated the direction that I would have to walk to reach Hotel Ali. The minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque was my landmark. Towering over the other structures inside the old city, it could be seen from most points inside the medina. I could see that some distance yet remained.