Note: While I was deeply affected by my time there, and am super excited to share my experience through a series of blog posts, I am in no way an expert on Morocco, nor Marrakesh. I spent three days there, did not do much research ahead of time, and stayed within the walls of the medina most of the time. This is the equivalent of someone writing about their experience in France, after having spent three days in Montmartre. So, I am only sharing here what I saw and felt in this limited amount of space and time.
With a couple changes of clothes in our bags, we were ready and more than just a little bit excited.
I had always wanted to go to Marrakesh, and I thought that maybe I had blown my one chance thirty some years ago when I had turned down my parents’ invitation to join them. A teenager with priorities, I apparently had an important party to attend, that weekend. Really.
So when I found us round trip tickets for 141€, we jumped on them fast.
The flight to Marrakesh left at 6 am, and we had to check in at 4. The easiest and cheapest thing to do this seemed to make our way to Pisa in the late afternoon, then take a snooze at the airport, after having paid our respects to the Leaning Tower. To her credit, our friend Marta was rather vocal about not liking our plan of sleeping at the airport, but we were full of adventurous spirit, had hitchhiked in the countryside, caught planes barefoot, and driven a Fiat on Italian freeways, so what was a night at the airport?
After walking through dreamlike night time Pisa, we made our way to the airport and found a couple of green plastic chairs to call home for the night. In a somewhat remote corner of the airport, they seemed fine enough, until a gentleman a few seats away decided to start listening to the TV on his iPhone, really loudly. A trip to the bathroom had me notice that there was an empty chapel nearby, and it was not long before we were laying down on the floor by the altar. Lights off, door closed and pretty darn comfy... before we were awakened rather abruptly by two security guards, informing us that the airport was closing. It was 1 am.
Several of us, including the gentleman with the iPhone, made our way groggily outside, looking around for shelter. The grass seemed like a good option, but then we noticed the sprinklers.
We settled in a closed restaurant’s covered area with tables and chairs, where a few people were gathered. It seemed that our trip had already started as most of our roommates looked Moroccan, and there was a very distinctly foreign flavor in the air. Because I was cold and I wanted some sense of privacy, I wrapped my scarf around my head and tried to sleep - when the iPod was once again loud, and there was no sleep to be had. When a man got up to ask firmly for it to be turned off, I knew that we weren’t the only ones with fragile nerves. We got up.
It was not warm, we were tired. We tried the parking lot. Gates closed. Then, on a whim, one of us pressed the parking elevator button. When the door opened, we looked at each other with surprise, and before the elevator changed its mind, we stepped inside. It was brightly lit, but it was out of the cold. And it was private. For the next couple of hours, it was home. Sitting on the small floor, I could not help but think of what someone would see if they too, called the elevator. And that thought, combined with the lack of sleep, gave me a big fit of the giggles. Just when I thought I was over it, they would start again. We managed to catch a little bit of rest, and were not a second late when the airport re-opened, at 4 am. We vowed not to tell Marta.
When we landed in Marrakesh, a few hours later and having slept in the plane, I was high. We were in Africa!!! Just like that, we were in Africa. The airport was beautiful, and as he had promised, Jan, our Airbnb host, was waiting for us.
Jan (pronounced Ian) is from Belgium and after spending the last twenty years in and out of Morocco, he had bought his riad - where we would stay - and moved to Marrakech three years ago.
Meeting Jan was the biggest blessing for this adventure, and what made our trip the wonderful thing that it became.
Driving expertly through Marrakesh (which is much less crazy than driving in Italy), he talked to us about living there, and his life. I was drinking it all in. Finally, we parked right outside of the medina - the walled city - and walked the few steps home.
Of these few very first moments, I only remember being happy out of my mind. Also, the orange-ish dirt of the walls. And the heat. Eyes wide open, we followed Jan through a small side steet, and when he opened the door to the house, it was as though we had entered yet another world.
Quiet. Beauty. Exotic simplicity.
Even though the house has no window at all to the outside (to keep the women hidden, is what he told us), it is designed in a way that it is very light and airy. Small and three stories high, the whole house is built around a tiny courtyard / living room, open to the sky. All three floors look down onto the courtyard, and its plants, mosaic, and typical tiled small pool of water. Downstairs are the kitchen, courtyard, another living room and a bedroom. On the second floor are all the bedrooms, with beautiful open doors to the courtyard, and on the third floor is the rooftop terrace, looking over the city, the hazy hot air, and several mosques.
The best word I can use is enchanted. We were both under the spell.
Jan invited us to sit down in the courtyard and headed to the kitchen to prepare a pot of traditional mint tea, which we sipped together. Bliss...
He then showed us to our room, on the second floor. Intricately carved wooden doors, painted tiles, rich fabrics, heady scents, deep colors, lush plants, and everywhere Tadelakt, the traditional Moroccan way to work with concrete so that it becomes smooth, round, waterproof, and so luscious you just have to caress it as you walk by. Which we did a lot.
Because one can only take so much magic in one gulp, we decided to take a quick nap before heading out with Jan.