I spent the last week in Morocco’s High Atlas mountains, desert, and coast, all within about a 100 mile radius.
Travel from Fez to Marrakech was a comfortable and uneventful seven hours south by train. We decided to walk to the city’s Djemaa al Fna, or main square, since it is somewhat close to the train station. About halfway to the medina we got caught in the heaviest rainstorm I’ve ever experienced and waited it out for about half an hour, huddled with locals and plenty of tourists beneath a cafe’s awning. The Djemaa is one of the most popular places to visit in Morocco as it is packed with interesting performers and vendors day and night. I saw snake charmers, musicians, fortune tellers, storytellers, comedians, magicians, and many food stalls selling treats like dates and honey-covered nuts, freshly squeezed orange juice, and snails in black herb broth.
We spent just one night in Marrakech, and though I wasn’t able to see a lot of the city, I was still ready to move on to Imlil, a village about an hour and a half by grand taxi in the High Atlas mountains. Marrakech is hyperactive, expensive, and full of tourists. There were times while walking through the wide and brightly lit streets of the medina that I felt like a scandalized old Fassi to see women in tank tops and shorter shorts than I would wear in the US.
It was an epic search for the grand taxis that could take us to Imlil that involved asking around at every intersection and a long walk outside the medina walls. Anywhere else in the world, these older, white Mercedes seat four plus the driver. Here in Morocco, grand taxis squeeze in six passengers. Since you pay by the seat, it is possible to buy out the entire car (and grand taxi drivers are always quick to encourage this option), but we decided to do it the Moroccan way and pay for our individual seats and wait until other people wanting to go to Imlil showed up to fill the rest of the car. After waiting only about 15 minutes on the curb we were off to Imlil, squeezed in close against strangers in a way so natural to Moroccans and so astounding to Americans.
Tomorrow: Imlil and Jebel Toubkal