Traveling - it gives you home in thousand strange places, then leaves you a stranger in your own land.
I have the worst sore throat I’ve ever experienced. We get off the plane and I’m struggling. I usually don’t get sick, and I couldn’t think of a worse time for it to happen. No matter.
The plan for the next day or so is that we’ll take the train into Casablanca and spend the evening before we drive to Marrakech.
On the train, a guy flags down a trolley so I can buy a water. The water doesn’t help, but it’s better than nothing, and I’m appreciative of course.
When we get off the train, we walk around trying to find our accommodations and end up where we need to be. We check in at the desk and walk our luggage up our floor.
I look out the window, and I can see billboard advertisements, an eclectic mix of buildings both contemporary and old, and of course — the ocean.
I feel like shit, but I’m happy to be here.
Outside of the airport, we hop into our rented Fiat 500. It’s the smallest car I’ve ever been in. The car is weak and accelerates about as well as a go-kart.
We start our drive and head along the highway through Casablanca to the next destination.
It’s a trap, a tourist trap.
In all reality, Marrakech is great and I’m positive we were robbed of the opportunity to see the city. We’ll go back with someone who knows the area better next time.
The city itself is vibrant and busy, but the tourist areas are something to avoid. Once you get off the beaten path a bit, the incessant hawking stops and the streets open up a bit.
El Badi Palace is decrepit and old. Storks and their nests line the tops of the columns and walls. Holes and chipped stone make pockmarks out of what was an imposing fortress a few hundred years ago.
Transient rulers throughout history have stripped it of its valuables and let it fall into disrepair. It’s a pretty awesome place.
Jardin Majorelle, the Marrakech mansion of Yves Saint-Laurent, is a nice place. However, I get the feeling that it isn’t particularly representative of the surrounding city. It feels like an enclave, walled off from the outside.
I was skeptical at first of the origins of this place. It felt as though it was built by a foreigner in a foreign land. But my skepticism is ill-informed — Yves Saint-Laurent actually saved the garden from failing.
The owners of the garden appreciated the surrounding cultural elements and tried to incorporate them into the facility.
Driving not allowed
I remember seeing the entrance to the old Medina on YouTube, which is why I know we’re driving into it right now. There are more people than I thought there would be, and not a lot of room to drive.
As we make our way in, passing carts and people move aside to get past our tiny car. The street gets narrower and narrower, scarier and scarier. The pavement turns into cobblestone, which turns into something else.
The old Medina is unique and stunning. Twisting and turning, scraping past the walls, we finally get to our Riad accommodations.
The person who runs the place asks where we parked our car, and we reply: “in the lot outside”. She asks how if we drove in through the South entrance, pointing at a map, and we say no.
Before checking us in, we shakes her head and says it’s impossible to get in the way we came.
Me and my Dad silently disagree — it’s possible, it's just not allowed!
Imlil and Toubkal
A pack mule carries our luggage up a steep incline, walking alongside us. We’re staying in a hostel that happens to be at the top of the village of Imlil. It’s a bit of a hike, but not too bad.
Chickens cluck and dogs bark. There are small little aqueducts adjoined to the houses that make up the town. Because it’s so steep, we can only see so many of the houses until we got close up.
The place we’re staying at is small and modest, but we have a great view outside the window and the hosts leave some hot water bags for us.
Someone asks me where I’m from, and I reply: “United States”. He says he’s never heard of it. I say back again: “America?”, and he immediately smiles and nods his head.
Any time someone tells me not to refer to the US as “America” (because of the broader Americas), I tell them this story now.
Even people in other continents recognize it. My hunch is that many people haven’t heard about the "United States", but know all about "America".
Time to sleep.
I despise being sold anything. I hate being pitched.
We’re walking on the side of a pass near Mount Toubkal, and we see a man sitting outside a small store. We’re in the middle of nowhere. Even though hundreds of people have tried to hawk us goods this trip, this one intrigues me.
As we walk past, he invites us in.
He has a story about every object in the shop, like any good salesman. The more we talk, he starts to mention other customers who have come in.
His accent changes. It sounds Russian. Sure enough, he starts talking about how Russian tourists are always rude.
I ask him if he knows any other accents. He tells us he can do a Welsh accent pretty well.
Over the next 25 minutes, he sold us a silver bracelet. All in a perfect Welsh accent.
Aqueducts and Villages
The footpaths surrounding Imlil actually go through a lot of diverse nature. At different points, I felt like I was in a different country.
Sometimes, desolace and dusty foothills. Sometimes, I felt like I was in California. Sometimes, rural Europe.
There are aqueducts that stretch from village to village, carrying snowmelt from Mount Toubkal above.
On the paths, we run into few people. There are dogs and chickens running around, and sometimes they come up to say hello.
One day, we hike to the top of a large hill. I’m reluctant to call it a mountain because of the much higher peak above us.
We find a small house on the side of the path, and figure out that there’s someone selling food. We figured it’d be cheap and we’d give a gracious tip.
The food comes out, and we pay up. Like clockwork, he tries to charge us foreign prices, so we haggle and bring it down a bit.
No matter. The view is beautiful. You can see for many miles, and small villages occupy the valley.
Still at the top of this hill, we hear a familiar sound: prayer call.
But this time, it echoes. In cities, prayer call is loud, but often muffled because of the buildings and existing noise.
Here, it’s crystal clear and you can hear it for miles.
The prayer call here feels a bit different than the ones in Marrakech and Casablanca. One starts, then another overlaps a few minutes later. My hunch is that each town is a few minutes out of sync with the next.
Towards the end of our trip, we head to the Cascades d'Ouzoud. On the drive there, we pass through winding valleys, huge elevation shifts, and lots of beautiful scenery. I’m blasting Stromae in the car to try and convince my Dad to learn French with me.
We’re nearly there when a group of kids runs out in front of our car on the highway, selling something. We pass by and say hello, but don’t buy anything.
The falls themselves are beautiful, and there are many trails in the surrounding leading across small riverlets.
Old men and women with pack mules line the pathways. We exchange a greeting or two, but it's mostly silent.
One man seems particularly happy to hear me greet him in French. Probably sick of Americans.