I got the CTM bus from Ouarzazate to Marrakech, a four-hour ride. The scenery was quite splendid—the Atlas Mountains here were very rocky and dry. There was a bit of farming—wheat, I believe, but I’m sure that was irrigated. Going through one small town, I saw a young man carrying a newly butchered goat.
After arriving, I got a taxi to the Djemma el Fna, the main plaza of Marrakech. This is the first town that I am visiting on this trip that I also visited in 1987—yes, I think there are a lot of changes. I had reserved a hostel in this neighborhood and had complicated instructions to find it, but I did! It’s nice to be back in a hostel with much more interaction with other travelers.
The Djemma el Fna is an ancient world-renowned central plaza like no other. It began in 1050 AD as a site of public executions. Ever since, it has functioned as an entertainment and trading center with jillions of people still watching (and giving coins to) gymnasts, snake charmers, story tellers, and musicians. The good part is that it is truly exotic and unique; the bad part is that it does have a ‘state fair’ atmosphere of attempting to empty visitors’ pockets by any means—they get mad and yell “F—U“ if you don’t give them enough coins. It also has the usual ‘animal cruelty’ specimens of screaming monkeys, captive pigeons, and turtles piled up in cages. It has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site; I think it has been enlarged since I first saw it in 1987. The exotic goods for sale are dentures and teeth, hennaing, and ostrich eggs. The more mundane things for sale are fresh-squeezed orange juice from many stands and then at about 5:00 PM, a whole bunch of food stands appear. They serve the usual Moroccan food, but there are also some interesting things such as snails and lambs heads. The whole place rocks with music and dancing with competing musical groups playing, dancing and singing.
The following evening I waited to eat my main meal until the food stands got going in the Djemma el Fna about 6:00. First I had a small bowl of snails; then I had some haria—bean soup; then my main course was half a lamb’s head, French fries and bread. A pretty intense meal, you’ll agree. These courses were all from different food stands, each having their specialty.
The weather is very hot, but not so hot that it interferes with sight seeing; however, I don’t last as long as I usually do, before taking a tea break or going back to rest. I did visit the Musee Marrakech and the Ali ben Youssef Medersa, established in the 14th C. as a world- class place of learning. And getting to these places involved long walks through the souqs, which is always interesting.
I walked a long way to the bus station and bought a ticket for Monday to go to Casablanca. Then I taxied to see the Saadian Tombs, the legacy of one el-Mansour who died in 1603 after preparing a suitable resting place for himself. They are pretty impressive with lots of carving, mosaics, and beautiful columns.
I consulted my old 1987 blog to look at the pictures to see if it looked like the Djemma el Fna was larger now, as it seemed to me. Actually, it looked the same in the pictures. I also reviewed having hired a tour guide named Sami. I did remember that we had lunch together after touring the sights in a calache. I noticed that I had recorded that we ate at the Tazi Hotel. I remember having the pastilla and his having the kababs, which we shared. I asked Abdul, the proprietor of the hostel where I’m staying if he knew the Tazi Hotel, and he did, and directed me to find it. I had lunch there—pastilla, and asked at the reception of the hotel if they knew a guide from 1987 named Sami. The clerk said that they remembered him well. I asked if he were available now, and he replied, “He’s old now, and lives in the mountains.” This may all have been BS, but it was fun to think that they really did remember him and that he was living in the mountains. You can see his picture in my 1987 blog. I, again, had the pastilla and enjoyed it a lot.