Lost In Marrakech (Part 2)

The sound of the Adan El- Fajr (dawn call to prayer) woke me up. Looking at the ceiling I can feel my body unfurl from a long sleep after a stressful trip to Morocco and chaotic arrival to Riad Zam Zam.  I still feel dazed and confused after the events of the previous day. The manic nature of the city, the maze like streets bustling with people and the aggressive street kids (who know the look of a lost tourist) looking to milk money.

I’m not sure I’ll be able to survive this place. As I roll out of bed, I question my decision to stay at a riad in the outer fringes of the city. It would’ve been so much easier if I’d stayed in at a place that’s centrally located. I would’ve avoided the insanity of navigating these crazy streets. Looking in the mirror I think, “What’s done is done, no point in complaining about it now”.

I  head down to the courtyard to meet up with Eman, the cheery manager of the riad. She pulls out a map of the city and shows me the main touristic highlights. She promises me a guide for the first day who’ll walk me up to the main market square.

Day One

I leave the hotel with Faisal and as soon as we walk onto the street I’m knocked back by the chaotic activity that fill these narrow lanes. The first instruction Faisal gives is:

“Look up”.

I lift my gaze and notice blue arrows spray painted on the walls. Turns out these arrows form a breadcrumb trail from the riad to the main square. Seriously, who needs street signs? These arrows are like my own  yellow brick road. I make a mental note and pray I’ll be able to find them at night. The second thing he tells me is:

“Always walk on the right of the street”.

Before I could ask why, a motorbike flies past us. I jump, squeal and then nervous laugh. “Ok I see why …. I’d walk on the walls if I could … safer”. Finally we get to the square he gives me his last instructions:

“Go left,  then right,  then you’ll find a Red Doorway (‘Bab Zaghout’) and from there go straight to Le Souq”.

I think to myself that “I’m Le Screwed”.  I take Faisal’s number, jokingly telling him to expect a call from me later tonight. I grab my map and head off to the souqs alone.

As I’m walking, I’m suddenly surrounded by the same kids who helped me get to the riad on my first day. The boy who guided me came up shouting:

“The hotel didn’t pay me! I want my money”. I knew this was a trick. I cut him off and told him that he was paid and that the hotel confirmed it.

“No they didn’t pay me!” he cried. I walked away firm that this is a scam, telling him he should bugger off.

Experiencing the Souq for the first time is intoxicating. It’s an explosion of color and artisan goods that draw you in to behold their intricate details. Walking the narrow streets, vendors call and pester you into their shops to check out their wares. I spent the next several hours happily walking the Souq streets. For the first time in my life I’m enjoying the chaos that surrounds me. In fact,  I’m loving it.

The Souk In Marrakech
The Souq In Marrakech

As the evening creeps over the city, the daylight gives way to night. The darkness is pierced by the colorful lights beaming from lamps. I feel like I’m in one of the stories from “1001 Arabian Nights”. I make my way Jemaa El Fna Square. During the day it’s nothing special, a large out door public square that’s filled with stalls and shops. But at night, oh man, it transforms into something else. The square shines like a diamond from the lights that line the food stalls, dances with the performers that fill the square, exudes an intoxicating smell of spices used to prepare lush food and turns into a mythical place from another era.

First order of business, grab a seat at one of the food stalls and try some of the mouth watering food. I order some chicken skewers and a vegetable tagine. The order arrives fairly quickly and I dig into it ravenously. I didn’t eat anything all day and didn’t realize how hungry I was. I burn my mouth on the hot food as I wolf it down in record time. Satisfied but still hungry I continue my hunt in the food stalls. I come across a young girl who’s selling a selection of sweet pastries that she says are made at her home. I look at them and my gluttonous hunger wins. I buy a small box of her sweets. Again, they don’t last long in my hands as I practically inhale them in. My hunger is satisfied. Now I can walk around Jemaa El Fna and enjoy it at my own pace.


The first thing that attracts me are the performers jostling for position in the square. There’s snake charmers, monkey handlers, fighters and dancers. I’m amazed to see the snakes (cobras and rattlesnakes) handled so casually by the snake charmers and how they’re placed in a pile in front of the performer. The don’t drift too far from their handlers. I get the sense that they’re probably drugged. All the same, it’s quite a sight. I have a fear of snakes and don’t get too close, but others are happy to have the snakes draped around their necks for pictures.

I take out the camera and immediately am accosted by one of the snake handlers demanding 100 Moroccan Dirhams ( 10 dollars ) which is more than I’m willing to pay. I haggle offering him 10 dirhams. The reaction I get, at the insult of my offer, is worthy of an Oscar. Eventually we agree on 20 Dirhams, and I get the pictures that I wanted. Walking around the square is interesting, watching the street merchants and performers molest tourists with cameras for money. If you try to take pictures without paying they may swear at you; or as one Italian lady found out, get the middle finger as the pose for her picture.

I walk around the square watching and enjoying all the other performers and shows that are on display. I amble towards a shop with nice views of the square and order some Moroccan mint tea. I’ve become addicted to this sweet drink. I feel happy and relaxed. The weight that I was carrying from Kuwait is no longer there.

Jemaa El Fna, Marrakech. Morocco.
Jemaa El Fna, Marrakech. Morocco.

I look at the clock and see that it is 8:30, so I decide to head back to the riad to shower and relax so that I’m energized for the second day in the market. Immediately I realize that I’m having problems finding my way back to the hotel. Worse, most of the stores are closing causing the streets to go dark. I start to get worried. The city is a maze and the map I’m using is useless. I swear to God, the street signage in Marrakech is meant to get people lost. A diabolical plan by the government to get tourists to hire guides to navigate the city.

I’m now randomly taking turns hoping that I’ll come across a street that I’ll recognize. Some of these turns are dead-ends forcing me to double back. At this point the streets have gone completely dark. My mind has switched back into paranoid mode and everyone I see looks dangerous, even the women dressed in the traditional dark Berber clothing intimidate me.

Eventually I get to ‘Bab Zaghout’ but I still feel lost. I’m not able to find the blue arrows on the wall to get back to the riad. Looking around, a face pops up in front of me. It’s the same kid from the morning. The one that showed me the way to the riad the first time. The one who came up to me this morning asking for money he says he was owed. The one I curtly dismissed as trying to shake me down for more money. He saw me. He knew I was lost. He and his friends walk up to me.


Smiling he asks if I needed directions. I said yes. He said it will be 200 Dirhams (20 dollars). I was desperate so I said yes. We walk silently through the dark streets of the Medina. I’m freaking out. I’m thinking this kid and his friends are going to take me into a dark corner and take revenge for this morning. Unbelievable, how is it that I get caught by the same kids three times in two days. The silence is suffocating and in the darkness I’m not able to recognize anything. I can’t tell if we’re going the right way. I’m completely at their mercy.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

We turn and suddenly I see the spray painted sign “Zam Zam” on the wall. I pay the kids and quickly go into the riad feeling shaken up.

Day Two

I wake up the next day feeling anxious and unsure of myself. While I wasn’t in any danger, I never want to feel like I’m at the mercy of anyone, especially in a strange city. I roll out of bed determined not to have a repeat of last night. I leave the riad alone and walk the same path that’s marked by the blue arrows on the wall. I make sure that I’ve memorized the path well. I pay attention to the stores along the way, hoping it’ll guide me on the way back. As I walk through the streets I notice that I’m able to follow path quit easily to the Souq as I remembered it from yesterday.

Today the Souq feels different. It’s still amazing, but not overwhelming. I walk past the stores and stalls without the wanton desire to buy everything in my reach.  The rest of the day passes pleasantly as I continue through the Souq and revisit the Jemaa El Fna. Once night came along, I strolled back through the souq to ‘Bab Zaghout’ to the riad. Minus the drama of the earlier night.

As I walked through the streets this night, the buildings that seemed broken and run down had a charm to them, the faces that pass me tonight no longer look menacing. I’m embarrassed by my earlier paranoia. I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did. I thought I was better than that. I guess I’m not the seasoned traveler I thought I was.

Below is video from my trip. NOT high quality but worth viewing.