It takes at least one or two days to get rid of the confused and scared look of the European tourist and start feeling the vibes of this city. It is such an intense city that you’ll need to dive in really slowly, sip it like an oversweet mint tea.
The moped rush
The first shock was to see on average three people on scooters and mopeds, without helmets, obviously, and not necessarily turned towards the head of the vehicle. Okay, if you accept that security isn't an obsession for some of these people, you may also accept that on the narrow alleys of the city, mopeds bustle in all the directions, leaving behind them a pungent sillage of badly maintained engines, which happen to still work, by miracle, despite the advanced state of neglect or improvisation. Alternative forms of transportation include bony, ill-treated donkey carts and bikes.
The word "labyrinth" is not enough to describe the souk. This Souk is a living polymorphic monster. Don't even try to find an address with a map. Even Google Maps has its limits. Follow your hunch and consider that you won't be punctual wherever you need to get. Don't even bother to ask help for directions. You'll probably be guided in the wrong direction and then asked for money. Pray for good hasard and serendipity.
If you generally appreciate having a personal vital space, maybe Marrakech isn't for you. Wherever you are, people will just try to sell you something, ask for money, offer you unasked-for advice, show you their boutique, take you into their dyeing or pottery shop or whatever they do for living. Most of them are friendly and good-willed, but they just won't let you go.
Animals of Marrakech
In case you are sensitive to animal rights, you may also want to avoid the street entertainers from the Jemaa el Fna square. From monkeys to cobras and donkeys, they are treated like disposable "factors of production" and cruelly humiliated in front of the dazzled tourists. Monkeys with diapers and tight leashes around the neck, forced to do silly jumps for not being strangled, under the merciless sun. Sad, sad sight. Even the cobras seemed to sadly curse their fate between their missing fangs, “dancing” to a music that they can’t even hear. It broke my heart. It still breaks it when I think about it.
But besides the abolition of the vital space and the swarm of things and people, I somehow enjoyed Marrakech. There's something about this city that titillates your senses. For a highly sensorial creature, Marrakech is pure joy: the sound of distant percussion music instruments, the vivid colors, lights and odors, the roaring of the streets, the ominous call of the muezzin... Someone should draw the olfactory map of the city or, at least, of the souk: the spices pyramids, the fresh meat, the fish market, the mountains of solid amber, the essential oils, the street barbecues, the fresh juice stalls. In some areas, the sewage stench is so strong that you know instantly where you are. It has a surprising charm.
Even Marrakech sleeps
I appreciated the Majorelle gardens and their shadow, the view from Café des Epices and meeting nice strangers at the riads where I’ve been. But maybe what I enjoyed the most was the Jemaa el Fna square at 5 A.M., when the lamps' yellowish lights melt with the dawn, when the stalls are closed, when the feral cats make friends with the feral seagulls squatting the market, just moments before the city slowly wakes up and starts it all over again.
Marrakech - Morocco - Medina - Souk - Jemaa el Fna