Moroccan Around the Christmas Tree, Pt. IV: Marrakesh

My goodness gracious! 2010 ended and I still haven’t finished telling you about Morocco. Considering Marrakech was kind of a bust, though, I’m almost finished.

After five days in Fez with Nina, Bouz, et al, I took the train all by myself to Marrakech. It was an eight-hour ride, which sounded awful but turned out to be kind of nice. The changing scenery provided plenty of entertainment and I kept myself busy trying to avoid the frowns of the older women across the aisle. (Apparently stretching three empty seats is frowned upon in Moroccan trains. Who knew.)

I was both nervous and excited to be all alone. I wasn’t worried about being mugged or anything; I was worried that I would be lonely and depressed on Christmas Day (or rather, since I was in a Muslim country, the lack thereof). So I embraced the Eat, Pray, Love-ness of it, and as it turned out, loneliness wasn’t the problem.

Marrakesh was immediately less awesome than Fez. Something I must admit I liked about Fez was that it looked almost exactly how I had imagined it…as if it willingly confirmed nearly every Orientalist fantasy Westerners have of Morocco… And so, compared to the chaotic streets of Fez that look like they’ve hardly changed in centuries, Marrakech looked like Florida.

Despite feeling a bit like the Disney World take on Morocco, I couldn’t resist the Djemaa al Fnaa, the big main square that is the tourist and commercial center of Marrakech. It’s loud and nutty and exciting, full of drumming and “traditional” dancing (i.e., people who make a living doing “traditional” dances for change from tourists). I couldn’t help but enjoy it…until I got sick.

I woke up early the next morning with that a feeling in my bones that I was coming down with something, but after some ibuprofen, I felt well enough to wander around the market. Being a dutiful tourist and all, I bought some dirt-cheap earrings and then stopped at an herbalist for tea and spices and a cup of tea. May I take a moment to say how much I love that offering tea is a standard part of a business transaction in Morocco?

After tea and few minutes of conversation with my new friend the herbalist, I said that I’d come back before I left Marrakech. I never made it back, though, because just a few minutes later, I realized I was sick as a dog. Fever and chills and, weirdly, intense pain in my hips and knees. So I stumbled back toward my hostel, half-blind because I was crying from the pain in my legs—and, of course, because it’s freakin’ depressing to be sick on your vacation.

My legs hurt so badly that all I wanted to do was sit down, but I went a bit out of my way because I saw a pharmacy, the first of three within a few meters of each other that were all closed. (If you ever plan on getting sick in a Muslim country, I recommend not doing it during the Friday lunchtime prayer.)

The cool part is that I stumbled, crying, back across the square,  I nearly tripped on a snake charmer’s viper. I didn’t, but I almost died anyway, of fear, but after my life flashed before my eyes, I realized that it was actually pretty awesome. I mean, that could only happen in Morocco.

And after that, ladies and gentlemen, I spent the rest of my time in Morocco on a couch in my hostel, huddled under a blanket.

Actually, that’s a slight exaggeration. To pay for said hostel, I had to visit the ATM on Christmas Day, only to discover that my ATM cards mysteriously weren’t working even though I had used them successfully in Fez. I didn’t even have change left for a cyber café, so I had to hobble over to a park that offers free public WiFi—which, I must add, puts Morocco at least a century ahead of France—to try to sort it out. I did, a dozen Skype calls and about a million weird looks at the solo Western woman crying hysterically into her iPhone in a Moroccan park later. (If you ever plan on running out of money in Morocco, I recommend not doing it when their banks are closed and it’s Christmas Day in the U.S.)

Moral of the story: thank God and Allah for Western Union, parents who are willing to spend their Christmas finding a branch that’s open in America, and while I’m at it, for the petroleum addiction that demanded that a gas station with a Western Union agent stay open on Christmas Day.

And while I’m sending up thanks, I should also mention how lucky I am to have chosen the hostel that I did, the Riad Marrakech Rouge. They took wonderful care of me when I was sick, running to the pharmacy on my behalf, welcoming me to stretch out on one of the couches in the living room, tucking me under cozy blankets, and bringing me endless cups of tea. If you ever go to Marrakech—which, despite my misadventures, I still recommend if you’re in the area—you should stay there and you should tell them that the American who got sick on Christmas sent you. (Bonus: it’s cheeeeap.)

When you have a fever and body ache and look like a-rude-word-for-poo on vacation, taking pictures isn’t much of a priority, but I did get a few of the square as I loitered there drinking fresh-squeezed orange juice.

There are dozens of stands that offer fresh OJ for about 40 cents US.

Sunset behind the mosque. (Pinhole double exposure.)

Near my hostel.

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