Marrakesh (also sometimes spelled Marrakech) is a hot, dusty city. Much bigger than Essaouira, it has a sultry, Arabian nights type of feel. Although Essaouira is reportedly more laid back than other cities, we found Marrakesh to almost be refreshing. (Almost, because the scooters zipping past you within inches of your body in the narrow medina streets, leaving a trail of exhaust, would tax anyone’s nerves after long). Perhaps we preferred Marrakesh because there are more people to hassle, so the focus is shifted off of you. People are hustling about the medina and villa nouvelle (outskirts of the city) doing their own thing, whereas in Essaouira one gets the sense that the tourist and fishing industries keep the city afloat. That’s not to say that there is not a lot of energy devoted to tourists in Marrakesh – you can tell from the flowers lining the road to the airport, the snake charmers in the main square, and the thousands of people wanting to sell you something.
Jem Al Fnaa is the heart of the city. It is the giant main square locals called “The Big Square” in heavily accented English, as in, “Monsieur, the Big Square is this way. Do you need help, Monsieur? Come look in my shop. I’ll give you a nice price.” It is alive at all hours of the day, but particularly at night. Hundreds of people mill about. There are fresh orange juice stalls, nut stands, grills, henna artists, snake charmers, musicians, monkeys, donkeys, and men praying in every direction. At one end of the square, there is a maze of souks selling everything under the sun, including underwear. It was also a nice change of pace to get out of the main part of the medina, where we wandered around the city’s colorful gardens and former Jewish school, and made use of the cyberpark.
Everyone says you need a calm, peaceful oasis when staying in Marrakesh, and we found that to be true. We stayed at Riad Argan, a riad run by a French couple with the most gracious hospitality. The riad centered around an open courtyard with a plunge pool, with rooms above on the balconies. At about $140 a night, the riad was a splurge for us, but well worth it.
Unfortunately, our visit to Marrakesh did not end well. Although we have been enjoying the tagines and cous cous dishes, something we ate gave us food poisoning, me in particular. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that it was a very long last night in Marrakesh. On the plus side, I think my pants are too big again, but I much prefer the Parisian diet.