Life Changes In Fifty Minutes
I recently had a life-changing experience. Shelley and I travelled to Marrakech for ten days to experience a culture that was completely new to me. Shelley had been to Egypt and Turkey in the past and had a feel for what we were to expect– myself–not a clue.
Like other trips in the past, we always arrive with no expectations for the experiences that we will have on the trip. Upon landing in Marrakech, we lined up in the customs line-up and proceeded into the country of Morocco with a loud bang of the stamp on the passport. We had made arrangements for accommodations at the Riad Sharmance in the Medina. The Medina is the old wall medieval city in Marrakech dating back to the 12th century.
The roads and alleyways were so tight that we were dropped off as close as possible to the riad. The caretaker then walked us through a maze of small roads and alleys against a sea of humanity until we finally arrived at Riad Sharmance. Once through the doorway, we entered an oasis of calm and tranquillity which was a much needed respite after twenty hours of travel. For us, it was time to settle in, charge the batteries, and prepare for the new day.
After a sound sleep, we awoke to the sounds of the caretaker preparing breakfast. This morning ritual was the signal for us to get up and see what Marrakech was all about. After a wonderful breakfast of fresh local pastries covered in prickly pear cactus jam and superb Arabic coffee with warm cream (a first for me ), we decided it was time to get our bearings up on the roof top lounge. The view of the city was amazing. There were minarets and roof top gardens as far as the eye could see. Far into the distance, the snow capped Atlas mountains were dominating the arid flat lands in front.
The first adventure of the day was to take a light walk through the streets to the famous Jemaa el Fnaa. This is a large bustling square that has a carnival-like atmosphere to it with acrobats, snake charmers and every other type of busker know to man kind. People everywhere set up their own wares on a rug calling anyone and everyone to look at what they had to sell, all swearing that their products are hand made and the very best price in town. In one area, all we could see was a large crowd gathering. We pushed closer to see what the attraction was and realized that it was a storyteller siting in the middle of the crowd of dozens of people entertaining them with tales of the past. We learned that the square was always moving and there was a constant tribal rhythm of drums that never seemed to stop . There were people from every corner of the earth in attendance, and I found it to be a truly moving experience. (I offer a word to the wise: You don’t need to see the tanneries and don’t be afraid to say no to anyone who offers to show you them. This could save you an hour out of your day.)
Shelley and I like to explore on our own terms. This is an easy thing to do if you stay in the Medina. All you need is a good map and a strong sense of adventure and you will do fine. Everything is within walking distance. Admission to museums and other is very cheap. This was the first time for me in a Islamic culture, and so the architecture was new to me. I must have stopped a thousand times to take pictures. I have always been one to take pictures of nature. Instead, I found myself taking many of the buildings and the tilework.
There are many gardens to see in Marrakech. The one that we would recommend the most is at the La Mamounia Hotel. It is a very beautiful hotel with gardens that include a olive grove and citrus grove. It offers free admission, but you will need to meet the dress code requirements. I recommend for you to get a drink or coffee in the lounge before your walk through the gardens. The gardens are much older then the hotel as they originated in twelve century.
After a few days wondering through the streets of Marrakech, we found ourselves becoming more relaxed and starting to notice the daily rhythms of the local people. I enjoyed seeing the young school boys dropping of the freshly made loaves of bread to the local wood-fueled oven on their way to school; shopkeepers sweeping the front of their shops; bakeries delivering fresh bread to the market. Later on in the day, we would see the boys picking up the bread on their way home for lunch with the family. The shopkeeper would be calling out to any and all people passing by to come into the shop and buy something else. We started to buy fruit and pastries in the shops off the main streets where we saw the locals doing the same (much better prices ). We also learned to pick a cafe where the locals seemed to congregate because the food and prices were great and it had a real authentic feeling to it. We avoided cafes dressed up to look like they should be on the streets of Paris.
I have started to realize that when we travel, it takes us four or five days to really start to get a feel for the people, city and culture. I find that any time that I spend in a place after that and I start to see and be looked at differently by the locals as we see each other in a different light. I started to become familiar with the smells and sounds, and really relaxed into the flow of the city.
Like all great adventures, they all come to an end. For me this is the hardest part of travel. I just pour my heart into experiencing a culture and city and then it is time to pack up and leave. We left on a sunny day and had an incredible view of the Atlas Mountains from the airport. It was a three and a half hour flight to Amsterdam where we stayed close to the Amsterdam airport overnight before heading to Vancouver.
The next day, we flew non-stop to Vancouver. It was a nine hour flight leaving at 1:00pm on the 22nd of December, and landing at 1:50 pm on the same day. This meant it took fifty minutes of time change as we chased the sun halfway across the world. It was only fifty minutes, but things are really a world apart. This concept was simply amazing to me!