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Photo by trip leader Britt Basel

A Minute in Marrakesh

Marrakech is a city of layers, and we spent our first day in Morocco weaving through them.

Today, we met our guide, Lahoucine, who led us from our hostel to a place within the city that was once used by caravan merchants to trade gold, salt, jewelry, and other goods. While there, he discussed how Marrakech is a very diverse place. He explained the holiness of cats and the un-holiness of dogs—the canines are considered unclean, and the Prophet was said to have a tamed cat that walked loyally by his side on his travels.

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Photo by trip leader Britt Basel

We next visited a bakery; a dark building lit only by a sliver of sunlight filtering in through a hole in the ceiling, and the warm red-orange glow of the fire. The place was covered in wood shavings; the preferred tinder for baking bread and preferred napping material for a small cat that had made his residence there. We quickly learned that bakeries in Morocco are only for baking food, as opposed to preparing and then baking confections. Rather, locals would bring their own dough or fish to be baked in the large oven, usually by a single man using a variety of long, wooden sticks to retrieve the food from deep within the clay furnace.

Each section of the city has a communal bakery, mosque, and hamam, or bathhouse, each highly important to the function of Moroccan society. We soon found ourselves outside a furnace, which provides the heated water to the hamam. The owners explained that it is customary to visit the bathhouse weekly.

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Photo by trip leader Britt Basel

Our trip to this cultural cornerstone concluded in a performance. Three men—two playing qraqebs (krah-kebs), finger cymbal-like metal instruments, and one playing the gimbri, the equivalent of a three-stringed guitar—played Gnaoua music, a spiritual genre created in the wake of enslavement. We learned that it can be found in many West African countries and is the root of modern blues music in the United States. The music was tinged with sadness, but brought with it a message of hope.

Following lunch, we visited a Moroccan pharmacy, a place of holistic medicine. We smelled countless herbs and powders, including the strong oil from a periwinkle flower, commonly used in vapor rubs and Moroccan saffron. From there, we visited the Le Jardin Majorelle, the former garden of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, and it now contains a museum dedicated to the Berber people of Morocco. An entire room was dedicated to the intricate and meaningful designs of Berber jewelry, while another featured traditional handicrafts such as woven shoes and sugar hammers, used to break apart the mounds of sugar given to newlyweds in the Berber culture. While in the gardens, I decided to hone my photography skills; a small cat lounging near a pool of lily pads acted as my muse. We then returned to the Medina where we split off into groups of three to explore before reconvening for dinner.

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Photo by trip leader Britt Basel

We experienced some very interesting things on our own and were later able to reflect on the situations we encountered as a group, our misadventures bringing us closer together.