I hold my breath. It’s a battle for survival. Should I dare? I finally decide to take the plunge. I make a dash for it as I dodge crazy motorcyclists and cross the chaotic, traffic-jammed road. I get to the other side and, miraculously, I’m still in one piece. Phew, made it. Just about.
Marrakech is hot, humid and humming with activity – an eclectic mix of culture, Berbers clad in brown cloaks, men with long curly beards lying idly by the roadside, old clay buildings, modern hotels, palm trees, tooting horns and frenetic taxi drivers.
I bravely head towards the maddening souk. Apparently it’s a must.
I just got here and I’m already being persecuted to pose with snakes and monkeys.
I struggle to get a hyperactive monkey off my head, and then make a dash. I HAVE to get out of here. Running deeper into the labyrinth, I pass a myriad of colourful stalls selling anything from rotting bananas, plump oranges, silk sarongs and pashminas to intricately woven carpets and rugs, deep red and orange leather moccasins, clay pots and an array of herbs and spices whose aromas perfume the air with an oriental, musky smell.
My throat feels like sandpaper. I am parched. I sit at a rooftop terrace sipping a very overpriced coke, which soothes my thirst but not my pocket! A whiff of fresh bread permeates the air. My stomach grumbles – hunger pangs…..or stomach cramps? I have been riddled with bugs here. Still, greediness gets the better of me and I dig into a tajine of couscous and cinnamon-flavoured meat. Yummy.
I feel hot and sticky. A hammam is the answer. Total ablution. It cleanses your body as well as your soul. Or so I’m told by Zahira, the stocky lady who welcomes me inside the oasis of tranquility. I sit in a steam room and and fight off giggles as I marvel at the strength Zahira possesses, as she uses every intrinsic muscle to to scrub me from head to toe. She rubs some black, mucky soap all over me and smiles.
“Very good madam, very good for skin. Now you will become clean.”
Was I that dirty?
She then proceeds, without warning, to almost drown me in bucket fulls of hot water. I gasp for air. Is this relaxing, I wonder? Next, the most vigorous exfoliation I have ever had – I’m surprised my deep dermal skin layer has remained intact. I am now refreshed but somewhat sore.
Night time – and the market is still buzzing. Thick misty smoke hovers above hundreds of food stalls, as dodgy chicken is barbecued, almost burnt, on rusty grills. Ahmed the butcher tries to entice me into trying some weird piece of meat I can’t seem to identify, but I politely decline. Instead I try a handful of snails boiled in cumin for 6 Dirhams. Slimy but interesting. The sound of bongos rumbles in the distance, men in colourful robes and fez hats dance in the square and a snake charmer entwines his snake stylishly around his neck like some precious piece of jewelry. Suddenly, I’m roped in to this impromptu show– out comes my latest, best-bargain-acquired aquamarine sarong and beaded necklace, and with freshly henna-tattooed hands waving erratically , I find myself wriggling my way around the square, shaking my pelvis to the beat of the bongos with Ahmed the butcher who has left his stall unattended for a while.
This is fun. In small doses. But now I need to get away. Too much chaos. Atlas mountains here I come.
Photos by Carolyn Bonello
Coming from the tiny island of Malta, my desire to explore the world is intense. Mountains are my greatest inspiration and I especially enjoy trekking in the Alps. I love adventure and have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, been to Everest Base Camp and backpacked through South East Asia. I have visited 30 countries so far and hope to top 50. I work as a Physiotherapist and in my free time love reading, swimming, cycling and any other form of outdoor activity. I keep journals of most of my travels, have written several articles, and love reading about other people’s experiences, as this motivates me to constantly plan where to conquer next!