The "Blue City" was a new attraction for me on this trip. It is located in the North of Morocco near the Rif mountains. The city was founded in the 1400's and was briefly held by the Spanish in the early 1900's. The distinctive walls in the medina are painted many shades of blue, although no one seems to agree upon the reason. The effect is quite pleasing and I think a better question is, Why doesn't everyone do this? The winding streets of the medina are packed with shops selling an array of crafts, clothing and other items. This is where our students first cut their bargaining teeth.
We stayed in an amazing hotel here (Riad Hicham) which I would recommend to anyone who is visiting. The hotel is like a smaller version of the medina with twisting hallways and hidden passageways. Below is a video of me trying to find my way from my room to the dining area. I never did master this, but I did learn the location of a secret passage that leads to the backstreets of the medina.
Typical arid land dwelling, Atlas Mountains are in the background.
Saturday we traveled 300 km inland to Marrakesh, Morocco's most "intoxicating" city. Along the way the scenery changes from the fertile coastal lands to increasingly arid and rocky soil. Marrakesh is just east of the Atlas mountains, and on the other side is the Sahara.
Just follow the map.
For over a thousand years Marrakesh has been a crossroads for trading, with caravans arriving from Timbuktu and other exotic places. It was purposely built with narrow twisting streets and blind alleys to discourage would be invaders. When we arrived my host, Mohammed, pointed to a large mosque and said, "We meet here at night fall if you get lost. Good luck."
In addition to the winding alleys there is a constant cacophony of hawkers, music, horns, and motorbikes zooming through the streets. As soon as you stop moving purposefully, merchants, beggars and "official guides" zero in on you like the helpless prey that you are. It's pretty impossible to maintain your orientation for long under the circumstances. I lasted for about 3 minutes.
Once you abandon yourself to your fate it gets easier. You can stop trying to remember where (or who) you are and just take in the sights. There are snake charmers, acrobats, belly dancers, healers, vendors of every imaginable food, service, or item (eg. sheep's heads, tooth pulling, and supppposedly magic lamps).
Finally, guided by the call to evening prayers. I made my way to the D'Jamaa el Fna, which is the central square. On the periphery was a cafe where I took a seat and nursed a bottle of water for three hours. Amazingly I managed to spot my host, who looked no less dazed than I. More and more people entered the square as dusk fell. The whole place took on a carnival like air. I'm not sure I'd want to do it every day, but it was definitely a day I'll remember.
Here's a video I made once I reached the relative calm of the square. It starts with the call to prayer. Click here! ---> MARRAKESH. (If you're fast you'll see the sheep's heads being served, and the clip of the hennayat is for my French classmates.)