On the road to Marrakesh, we swing down a side road to visit Ait Benhaddou, where producers make films such as Jesus of Nazareth, Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, and Jewel of the Nile. This place is a UNESCO protected Kasbah. Smack! The narrow road forces us into a near head-on collision with an on-coming car. My driver’s side mirror gets smashed, and we are lucky to avert disaster by a few inches.
People still live in this red, mud-brick Kasbah which hangs onto a mountainside. I’ll bet many of them have been in the movies, at least as part of the crowd. We walk around, and then force ourselves back into the car. The road climbs through the Tizi n’Tichka pass in the High Atlas Mountains. We whip around switchback lanes that seem to never end and in winter, the road is often closed due to weather. In 2005 several tourists died, stranded in their snowed-in car. At this point, we are driving up one side and down the other of a simulated Grand Canyon, as if in a movie. Truly, photos cannot capture the depth and distance of this humongous scale. Neither can they capture trucks flying around curves, often in our lane, and squeezing through impossible passageways.
Finally, we stop for lunch at a mountainside café. Everything is difficult. Even trying to order food exhausts us, as the language barrier relentlessly peels away thin layers of our energy.
Numerous travelers advise us that spending one night in Marrakesh is plenty. Some even say that we should skip it altogether. At this stage, we are not looking forward to the callousness or chaos of a large city. But, how can we visit Morocco without seeing this magical place?
We roll through Marrakesh with relative ease, and park in front of a clean hotel. Yes, we take the clean room and the indifference that comes along with it. However, the indifference disappears when we walk the streets. Mare attracts sneers from men in suits. Younger boys actually turn around after passing us on the sidewalk and disdainfully utter…,”Blonde.” We do not expect this in Marrakesh, and chalk it up to big-city life. I mean, we expect peace, love, acid, happiness, you know…like the song. I want to see folks smoke hash, dance, sing, and charm snakes here. I guess we should be here forty-years ago. For once, we are too late, rather than too early.
The Djemaa el-Fna, (Assembly of the Dead) is a major market square and open air theater. Now, the magic we seek lights-up. This street theater has been alive, nonstop, since cAD1050, when it was the site of public executions. Currently, an international film festival is getting under way, and crowds gather around a large outdoor screen in anticipation of the red carpet arrivals. Smaller crowds encircle local performers, such as clowns, acrobats, and magicians. The scent of sizzling, skewered meats competes with incense and cigarette smoke. Food-stands fill the center of the square, while venders attempt to lure us into their tent for a taste.
Carts of colorful spices, fruits, olives and vegetables line the perimeter. Mare and I dodge scooters and horse drawn carriages that whiz through the mass of moving bodies, as we stroll through the souqs, (shops lining alleyways). All of the rooftop terraces, full of people looking-out, over the crowd below, seem like a perfect place for a beer. Alas, we can only find water, tea, and Fanta beverages being served this night. I guess that one night in Marrakesh is indeed, enough!