From The Hammam To the Market

Friday, March 27.

Before I hit the hammam (with tour-mate Sally), I head over to a nearby internet cafe.

I haven’t checked my e-mail for days. And (sadly) it’s feels weird. It should feel liberating. But instead it’s almost as if my brain’s a goldfish -it’s  finally used to having its own bowl with fewer fish around, and now it’s been pulled out of its solitude and dunked into that huge tank with schools and schools of other fish it left behind almost two weeks earlier.

This feeling takes hold as I open my e-mail and read about the imminent  job cuts announced at my workplace while I’ve been away.

I also get an e-mail from my long-time friend, who also happens to work in the same building, in another department. Her contract wasn’t renewed, so she’s out of work.

I return to the riad a little sobered and a bit sideways,  and hurriedly pack my backpack for our trip later in the afternoon to Marrakech.

I rush downstairs after to meet Sally and a young woman from the hammam. We walk down the main street nearest to the water and catch a cab that whisks us away from the old part of the city to the more modern, suburban part less than 10 minutes away.

We’re dropped off in front of a nondescript block of white buildings where the hammam is located. Once inside, it’s another matter.

We start with one-hour, full body massages. We assume we’d be getting these AFTER the hammam. But whatever – it’s absolutely awesome. 

Following this, we enter a small, tiled, bathing room. We each lie on adjacent heaed slabs, as a woman (the one who gives me my massage) individually washes, exfoliates, and soaps our bodies, covers us in scented paste, rinses us and washes our hair.

We feel like we’re five years old again. But it’s a worthwhile experience that leaves us feeling relaxed and understandably dazed.

We’re completely mellowed by the time we head back out into the harsh sunlight, grab a taxi and return back to Essaouira’s main square, where we both have some well-deserved gelati.

We return to the riad, collect our things and load them into the carts of porters waiting by the front entrance. We’re taken to the bus depot, where we wait for our bus to arrive, then cram into the first 10 seats once it arrives.

It’s a packed bus on the way to Marrakech, but I’m feeling too dopey to notice. When I’m not trying to record trip details into my travel diary, I’m fast asleep.

We pull into Marrakech ’round 6:30 p.m. The sun has started to fade; everything seems sepia-toned and dusty. It looks like it’s about to rain.

And the streets are congested – cars and scooters going every which way. Men on scooters. Young women on scooters – probably the most I’ve seen all trip.

Getting off the bus and walking towards our accommodations, we feel raindrops spordically pelting us; I hope it holds off until we can take shelter.

morocco-march-2009-5301Our hotel isn’t in the medina –  where I assume most travellers and tourists would stay to get “the authentic Moroccan experience” – but in the newer part of town, in a hotel about two minutes’ walk from the train station.

For the second – and final – time, I get my own room. Pros: big bed, clean towels, a bathtub complete with towels, a shower rack and those little wrapped soaps, a TV and a shower all to myself.

Cons: the big neon sign right outside my window. Meh. You can’t win ’em all.

(While I’m casing my room, tour-mates Nikki and Alex – who’re right next door – apparently look our their windows and witness an accident involving a woman hit by a car. I’ve no idea how the situation resolved itself, but I got the impression the woman was all right.)

morocco-march-2009-531For dinner, the group walks from the hotel to the Djemaa el-Fna, the square and marketplace within the walls of the old city – the beating heart of the district.

 There are all sorts of people hawking their wares; street performers galore during most parts of the day and night; and – in the evening, when we go – there are food stands lined up beside and across from one another, with benches to sit at and eat.

We feel a few droplets of rain as we approach the food stands; just after we find stand #42 and take our seats, the heavens just open up. The rain pelts the ground, forming huge puddles under the benches and pooling in the plastic tarps above. The skies even toss down some hailstones for good measure.

morocco-march-2009-535There is no set meal. All we do is sample dish after dish after dish … plates of salty fries, sizeable shrimp, salad, grilled eggplant (or aubergine, as Alex would say to correct me, ’cause that’s the British way 😉 ), vegetarian coucous, meat skewers, pastilla … 

I didn’t think it would fill me, but I am surprisingly stuffed by the end of it.

Following dinner (which includes the guy who runs the stand hovering over us for tips), we’re given a bit of time to explore. 

From the time we congregate near the juice stands, I finally experience the in-your-face nature of the market. It’s almost a bit too much, even on a full stomach.

We pass by aggressive henna ladies calling out for a sale, and vendors in their stalls farther away saying things like, “Hello! Australia! Hello, Obama! Rasta!”

(Oh NO he didn’t.)

Out in the main square, people are gathered around various dimly-lit performers, whether they were musicians, snake charmers, or just odd witch-doctor types with even odder things on display … all hoping to get your attention, and your money. This includes the odd pickpocket spotted nearby, trying to blend in with the crowds watching the performances.

We leave the Djemaa el-Fna and are back at the hotel by 10:30 p.m. It’s been a long day. And we’ve got just one more left.