An eight hour flight will get you from Abu Dhabi to Casablanca, another 30 minutes in a connecting flight will get you to Marrakech, and will immerse you in a love that only a fortunate few will experience in their lifetimes.

I didn’t know much about Morocco, I still don’t, but that didn’t stop me from the wonder and awe of seeing the snow covered Atlas mountains from air, or the desert in between them and the sudden and abundant appearance of orange groves surrounding the city. I forgot what it was like to view ochre, burnt umber and green parcels of land; I forgot organised cultivation and farming, the last I have experienced was in Texas while flying. I forgot the hundreds of villages that these parcels create of farmers and their dependents live in, I forgot most of all the beauty of this tapestry, and it is these that evoked the immediate feeling of love to this land and its people, even before meeting them! What aided that, I must admit, was the pleasure of having a Moroccan neighbour for 7 years in Bahrain. Now I am a guest in her country for but a few days, the first of which had tremendous impact on me.

I had to get out.

Disregarding the back-pain and the more than 12 hours of travel time, I had to go visit the town I have briefly read about; so in the company of a fellow Bahraini and a new Jordanian friend we got into a taxi that took us to the heart of the old town: the Medina, which the taxi conveniently dropped us at what possibly is the largest traditional crafts shop in town. And I want to buy almost every single article it contains! From fantastically constructed side-tables with intricate inlaid mother of pearl and ivory, through to several iterations of Berber carpets and copper and bronze fanouses, lamps, to cushions and their covers and leather goods which are a fetishist’s wet dream! I want them all, my home would certainly benefit greatly from them.

Fortunately; however, my travel experience kicked in and I just contented myself to taking photographs – when allowed – in the knowledge that I want to see what others have to offer and then utilise the last day in this distinct city to buy a few articles.

Walking out of that centre, we started walking in the general direction of the flow of people, stopping every few minutes – to the detriment and annoyance of my friends – to take pictures. Thankfully, most people did not mind once permission is politely sought, and there are an awful lot of subjects that you simply must shoot! This town is anything but un-photogenic, every single thing in here lends itself to a great picture: the old man sitting by his shop, the restaurant grilling skewers of meat, the children playing, the people walking, the traditional fashion, the old doors, the narrow alleyways, the shops and their contents, the eccentrics… everything. And this is not an exaggeration. By the time I reached my room again last night, I have shot 248 photographs, most of which are usable! The value of a 4GB CF card has certainly proved itself worthy.

Onward we walked, and fortunately intercepted by an 11-year-old urchin who promised to take us through the Casbah and before we knew it, we were following this kid through the most amazing mazes which opened up to uncover tremendous architectural and artistic features in the most unlikely of places! The alleyways, some of which are probably not more than a meter wide, had intricately constructed doors with their awnings, high walls, some of which looked like ancient ruins with cacti growing on top of them, electricity wires snaking between houses and even small recesses where kids played with their spin-tops or even football in these areas not larger than 3 meters by 3 meters.

After about an hour and a half of following the kid, we exit yet another winding alleyway into a main street in the depths of the old city, and we are yet again hit with that distinct smell of spices, to enter a traditional alternative medicine shop in which all your senses are bombarded at the very same instant: your sight is flooded with all rich colours imaginable, your sense of smell is attacked with the most sensual smell of spice which lead the rest of the senses to add to the tremendous experience for your visit to become whole.

And I continued to photograph things which I became aware of; framing, adjusting and shooting as I went along.

Walking further down the road we decided that we have seen enough of this area of town and it is time to do the time-honoured thing and hail a taxi to take us to the next feature, after rewarding the boy for him giving us a nice tour through the Casbah. As we were thirsty and ready for a coffee, we asked the barely-Arabic speaking taxi driver to take us to a nice place in which we can sit, chill out and watch the world go by while enjoying a nice cup of coffee. As none of us have mastered French yet, we thought that our louder voices and gesticulations were enough to communicate to the driver where we wanted to go. And off he went. For half an hour circling the city dodging impatient pedestrians and starved looking horses, donkeys and mules drawing touristic and freight carriages, all the while the three of us watching this great city’s neighbourhoods and features going by with our mouths open with wonder… this is a place that is so completely different from the imagination, and most certainly different from any Arab city I have ever been in. It is a one and only experience.

We stop and ask for the charge, the silly twit expected that we must have had wool on our eyes; he asked for about $100 for his trouble, but he (happily enough) accepted $3!

Dropping us at the entrance of what ultimately knew to be the Djemaa el Fna, the busiest square in the entire African continent, we walked with the throng and stopped aghast at the site that greeted us only a few minutes from leaving the taxi. How can such a multitude of people gather in a single location? There must have been thousands of people in there; locals trying to sell their wares, tourists and onlookers all in one place! There were snake charmers, fortune tellers, spice sellers, tarot card readers, dancers, jugglers, food sellers, story tellers and probably an awful lot more that I have missed. It was yet another sensual over-drive!

Marrakesh Market

And the camera continued to add its voice to the cacophony, but unfortunately a lot of these vendors refused to allow their pictures to be taken without being rewarded first. I didn’t have the local currency yet to oblige, nor did I have the inclination to be forced into giving, so most I have left to be, but I still managed to take a lot of general shots which I shall treasure for a long time to come.

Time was getting on, and we had to get back to the hotel to attend the welcoming activities of the conference we were invited to attend so we decided to make our way back to the hotel. We thought we knew the general direction, and as the street was familiar looking and the buildings too – all buildings in this city appear to be of a standard pinkish-orange colour – we decided to walk. Half an hour later I prevailed on my friends to hail a cab as I was convinced that we were hopelessly lost, especially after I stopped a lady and asked for directions to our hotel, the incredulous look on her face when I said we could walk to it sealed the situation, and a cab was hailed. It appeared were were significantly away from the hotel, apart from it being at the complete opposite direction of where we were walking!

That was the first afternoon in Marrakech my friends, a city I am determined to bring my family to as soon as possible for them to enjoy too, as I am absolutely sure that they would enjoy it tremendously, and yes, this is based on just a few hours of being here.

I am in love with this place, and I will leave a little bit of my heart in it on my departure… simply as an excuse to come back and retrieve it with the ones I love!

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26 Comments
  • Ibn
    15 January 2007

    Mahmood,

    I know the feeling you’re describing! That feeling of just falling in love with a place, a land, even before you get to walk around in it and live there.

    I had a similar feeling once when I was in Cyprus visiting an aunt of mine – upon arriving, at (Limassol I believe), there was something about the smells, the open and far reaching sights … the air … you get that tingly feeling in your tummy … and you just wanted to lay down and lose yourself in it – :happy:
    We stayed in a place called “Kintara Village”, and I had such a great time, just walking down the village street was heavenly.

    It reminded me alot of Lebanon too. Ill tell you what though – the Mediterranean Rocks. Hands down.

    And one more thing is for sure – vacations are NEVER long enough!!

    -Ibn

  • Ali
    16 January 2007

    man! I always want to visit Marrakesh but was discouraged by the boss (Wife). Now that she read your article in full, she suddenly felt in love with that City and want to visit it verrry soon.. soon like the first two weeks of February!!!

    If you don’t mind Mahmood, please check for me if the time is right (weather wise) to make the trip during Feb. Any other advise would certainly help. Thanks bro.

  • billT
    16 January 2007

    From reading as a kid Marrakesh always seemed a place of dreams. Can’t wait for more pictures. I already want to redecorate my house.

  • Barry
    16 January 2007

    Ahhh Morocco. Some of the most beautiful architecture there is. Southern Spain also shares the same architectural style (which makes sense considering its past!).

  • Laurie
    16 January 2007

    I want to go to Marrakesh! I want to go to Marrakesh! I want to go to Marrakesh!

  • Maverick
    16 January 2007

    You write so beautifully and descriptively. Makes me want to catch the next flight with the family. You ought to write for National Geographic since your writing and photography are of a professional level.

    It is drizzling here in Bahrain with 13 degress today and wind NW 3m/s.

    🙂

  • can we talk
    16 January 2007

    well if you ever had to, you know you can always write editorial for travel brochures, that’s for sure!!
    have fun

  • mahmood
    16 January 2007

    :blush:

    The reality is Marrakech is much more than I can give it credit for, but if I can convince a few people to consider it as a destination, then that would make me happy as I would have effectively shared my love and awe of this beautiful city.

  • Steve the American
    16 January 2007

    Just curious, Mahmood. In this market shot, how did you keep everyone in focus? Was this done with a telephoto lens from a distance? The people in the foreground and the people in the middle are all in sharp focus. That is a nice trick. And the photo has a nice depth to it. I would think that low light would have been a problem, yet nobody is blurred from movement.

  • mahmood
    16 January 2007

    Hello Steve. Flash, 18mm focal length, f5, and shot in RAW, then increase the exposure a little in Photoshop to normalise the lighting. RAW gives you a lot of possibilities.

  • Anonymous
    16 January 2007

    I’ve been to Casablanca and hated it. The long flight was a shock (didn’t expect it to be 8 hours long from Abu-Dhabi). However, I hear Marakesh is much nicer and more authentic. Casablanca was just a dirty city, heavily populated, with a lot of poverty. We stayed at the best hotel in town and it was horrible. I don’t recommend Casablanca.

  • Bernie
    16 January 2007

    This is exactly the feeling I am hoping to get soon.
    We are seeling our house this year, investing the money safely and taking a couple of years out to travel the world.
    The view is that if we find somewhere we really fall in love with and they will have us then that is where we will settle for a while.
    Marrakech is most certainly one of the cities I had in mind for a visit and you have convinced me I must go.

  • docspencer
    17 January 2007

    Mahmood, this sounds like a fantastic trip! I am looking forward to seeing all your pictures with great pleasure. Will you post them?

    Best wishes,

    Vic

  • Esra'a
    17 January 2007

    What a fresh update. They should pay you for PR work or something! You’re really great at showing off places. I’m going there in March and now I can’t wait.

  • LuLu
    17 January 2007

    Magical! I remember having this feeling only in Egypt and now I’m head over heels in love with it. Can’t wait to see Morocco!

  • Maryam in Marrakech
    17 January 2007

    So glad that you loved Marrakech. I do to! In fact, so much so that I decided to move there!

  • layal
    17 January 2007

    you certainly managed to capture the atmosphere well in that photograph. what camera do you have?
    and ahh, i want to go to marrakech !

  • tooners
    18 January 2007

    Your tell a splendid story. Never thought of visiting Morocco, but now I want to. I love this picture and will check out your Flickr for more. All the colors cause my senses to react feverishly. :silly:

  • DP
    18 January 2007

    Wow! i just spent a week in Morocco in early December.. absolutely fabulous! everyone there told me that Saudi’s come there but not Bahraini’s… looks like there’ll be more soon enough!
    I flew from Dublin to Agadir where i spent two days. A friend rented a car and we drove East to Taroudant then North over the snow-capped High Atlas into Marrakech. Spent one night in Marrakech and drove the next day to Essaouira on the West coast where we spent another night. Then drove back down the coast through Taghazout to Agadir.

    Absolutely incredible, i would recommend it to anyone! but driving through the Atlas is certainly a test of nerves, especially at night.

  • DP
    18 January 2007

    BTW.. Next time you should visit a Moroccan hammam.
    It makes you feel fresh and rejuvenated and is a great reward after navigating the busy souqs.

  • sleepyinsaudi
    18 January 2007

    OOh! Marrakesh! We visited about 5 years ago with two busloads full of motley geoscientists of various nationalities. We were led through the windy maze of the market, eyes and mouths wide open at the amazing sights and smells( some PHEW!).

    A weird thing we saw was a man with a wheel barrow full of sheep’s heads go by. The funniest thing we saw was in one tight curve of the corridor where the whole crowd of shoppers had to back up ,after much shouting in French and Moroccan Arabic ,to let by a donkey laden with cases of Coca-Cola bottles on its way to one of the cold store stalls.

    We found ourselves in the Djamm al Fna and watched the world go by at an outdoor restaraunt table while eating the finest french fries dipped into fresh made mayonaisse that has ever been tasted.

  • larie
    19 January 2007

    When I read your post i seem to feel that i’m there. It must be because you write with your hart.

  • D
    23 January 2007

    I was a participant in the same conference that Mahmood attended (though we spoke fleetingly) and I agree with his wonderfully articulate description of the city. It is indeed a magical place enmeshed in its own rich past. It seems the city was the capital of several dynasties throughtout its history which explains the sense of cultural richness one feels enveloped by there. For all those who are planning to visit soon (and I see you are many!!), I would recommend you stay in a Riad rather than a conventional hotel. Riads are old but renovated guest-houses whose main characteristic is an open courtyard in the middle akin to traditional Syrian homes. I made it a point to visit two during this trip, the Riad Sultana and Maison D’Arab, and both were architectural works of art. If however you are in an extravagant mood and want to seriously splurge, do stay at Amanjena. Its simply stunning (though I would still recommend the Riads).

  • mahmood
    23 January 2007

    hey! isn’t blogging wonderful? Good to keep in contact and thank you for the excellent suggestions. I told my wife that we have to go back to Marrakech because I am sure that she would love it there too.

  • zaer
    25 June 2008

    ya marhaba

  • Jade
    26 June 2008

    Of course you must take your wife over there for an exotic vacation – don’t be so selfish Mahmood…..women appreciate these things just as much as you men do.

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