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I know there are some travelers out there that are tired of trekking down the European trail. I also, having been to Europe, know the feeling of wanting something more. Europe is great and has a lot of history but in some ways Europe can be very familiar and does not always satisfy the need for adventure one craves. So if you are one of those travelers, like me, that has worn the western trail thin I would suggest North Africa.
For the second semester of my Freshman year I decided to get away from Europe and travel to Morocco. The country of Morocco, once known as The Western Kingdom, has been populated since Paleolithic times dating back to at least 200,000 B.C. Located in the northwest part of Morocco is the city of Marrakech, which dates back to 1062 C.E., and is a land that thrives with a beautiful and elaborate culture. This city is filled with beautiful people and a maze of markets piled high with a cornucopia of colorful goods.
The largest market, Jemmaa el-Fnaa, is one of the most famous squares in all of Africa; it has been apart of the UNESCO world heritage site since 1985. When I first stepped into this market my eyes did not know where to focus; women in brightly colored Hijabs scurried through the maze and men sat at their stands smoking cigarettes yelling at potential customers. This square has always been known for attracting tradesmen in food, animal forage, domestic items, and snake charmers and you can still see all of this today.
The first thing that caught my attention was the large fanged monkey sitting on the shoulder of some courageous local, and the cobras and pit vipers appearing out of wicker baskets as a man played a wooden flute. I immediately ran forward, as I have always loved snakes, and had to have my photo taken; of course the snake charmer demanded a ridiculous fee but I was able to barter him down to something reasonable. If you are of the faint of heart though you can always take pictures from the distance and avoid paying. I have always had a love for creatures great and small so I just put it as a necessary expense.
I knew my day would not be complete without trying some local cuisine. In the square outside the market there are pots of snails cooking in a spicy broth, camel lung, lamb, and sheep’s brain cooking on the grill. I knew when I decided to go to Morocco I needed to try something you couldn’t get anywhere else, so I tried the camel lung and sheep’s brain. They was interesting, not the best thing I ever had but worth a try. The lung and the brain were cooked in spices and filled great flavor. The texture was different but overall not half bad. While I ate I could hear music being played all around me, some from old stereo sets, some live and all competing with the call to prayer which echoes throughout the city five times a day. After my stomach was full, I paid up and headed off to wander the Souks of Marrakesh.
I entered a tunnel of vendors all trying to sell me something cheap for the family but I ignored their calls and continued straight because I wanted to explore first. These people can sell anything and they are tough so you have to be tough back. A little trick when bartering for the many goods is to take their price divide it by three and start from there. These guys are experts at bartering so you have to act like you know what you are doing. Learn the tricks, tell them that down the way they are selling it for half the price, if they don’t barter with you walk away because if they do not come running after you with a lower price you will find it somewhere else.
While walking through the souks what impressed me was not the chaos but the colors of the cloths, the spices that are put into mounds that seem to reach the ceiling, and the pottery. All the items were gorgeous colors with bright greens, deep reds and shimmering purples that catch the eye. All the little shops were packed together like sardines and seemed to be illuminated by the sun that seeped through the ramshackle roof.
Do not worry about getting lost because you will, this central market goes on forever and it is easy to forget which way is which after a couple of turns. It is pure excitement and you will not be able to go through it all in one day. The souks and the Jemmaa el-Fnaa square is only one section of Marrakesh but definitely one of the most fascinating adventures and learning experiences I’ve had. Take your time when you are in Marrakesh, there is plenty to see and do. I was there for seven days and still want to go back and explore. The souks are the most fascinating areas of Marrakesh. If you get a chance make friends with the people who run the place where you are staying. I made friends with the owners of the Riad (which is like a hostel) I stayed at and they took me out to the less touristy parts of the markets and helped me get some valuable items for almost nothing.
Marrakech is only one city in Morocco and it might be one of the most fascinating cities I have been to. Yes, Northern Africa was definitely out of my comfort zone, but that is what traveling is all about, going outside one’s comfort zone and learning. Traveling to Marrakesh is what gave me the knowledge and comfort to travel to places like Ghana in West Africa, or any other country off the European trail. So if you’re tired of Europe, book a ticket to Marrakesh, Morocco. I promise you that you will not regret it; I most definitely did not.