Travellers' Tales

The Beating Heart of Marrakech by Thidara Udomritkul

Described as the beating heart of Marrakech, the Jemaa el-Fnaa is a mish mash of snake charmers, buzzing market stalls, performing monkeys and horse carriages mixed amongst a sea of people. After finishing our 4 hour descent from the Atlas Mountains, I descended straight into Marrakech with blind enthusiasm. We dashed across roads where vehicles never stopped. We absorbed the sights of horse drawn carriages and listened in curiosity to the call for prayers from Koutoubia Mosque.

After many wrong turnings, we eventually reached the square within the Medina. "Am I walking in the road?" I ask my companion. "Nah, I think it's a free-for-all here." We flinch involuntarily as mopeds swerve around us and as bicycles cut through the crowds. It was a collusion of vehicles, people, market stalls and animals yet it all seemed to work out. We embraced the vibrancy of the square, until a lady strides directly to us with purpose. She leads us straight to her henna stall, insisting that we look through her henna album. She grabs our hands and immediately starts piping out a swirly pattern. "You pay what you want", she asserts.

Naively, I thought, "ah that's ok. I'll give her 50 - 100 dirhams for her time." 

"300" she demanded, after finishing my design. "300, 300!" she was relentless as we attempted to negotiate lower with little success. We eventually parted with the money, a little shamefaced at our poor skills of negotiation. "Have this one as a gift" said the henna artist, probably pitying our measly attempt at paying a fair price. She inked a design for each of us on the palm of our hand, swirling the pattern down to the wrist. We smirked as we left, finding humour in the situation. 

We wandered down a small side street, oblivious to the labyrinth of the souks that we were about to enter. The souks were a melting pot of colour, winding alleys and Moroccan wares. We strolled down the narrow streets, dodging speeding mopeds and browsing through goods without revealing too much interest in order to avoid the shopkeeper's insisting for a sale. We descended further and deeper into the souks. The path spiralled endlessly through sheltered space adorned with colourful scarves, silver teapots, bottles of spices and jewellery. We passed craftsmen shaping ironwares, a corridor of rainbow-like lamps and bulbs, and shoemakers pounding leather. It was sensory overload, yet it was unique and captivating. 

We brought some henna paint and jasmine after some light negotiation. On our way back, the shopkeeper yelled after us: "I have tea!! Come have some free tea with me!!" At first, we walked on then we glanced at each other, deciding then and there to take up the offer. He introduced himself as Yousef whilst boiling some mint tea on a portable gas stove. We conversed about family, Marrakech and about our hike up Mount Toubkal. He handed us tea in a small glass each, using the opportunity to show us his wares. Demonstrating his goods, he massaged rose oil and argan cream onto our forearms and hands, soothing our weather-beaten skin from the mountains. Yousef dropped a small shard of eucalyptus in our tea: transforming the taste from minty to a strong Vicks-like liquid which completely cleared the airways. He proceeded to pull up a chair, asking us to sit on the same side as him and he gave us each a shoulder/arm/facial massage skillfully. We thanked him as we left the shop, where we purchased an Argan cream each. He presented us with a gift as we left: a toothpick brush and lip balm pot and proceeded to invite us out for dinner which we politely declined.

Marrakech was a crazy yet truly unique experience. Your senses go into overdrive and everything is of the unexpected. Take everything on board, descend into Marrakech with an open approach, take a breather now and then and embrace the city!

If you have a travel experience you would like to share, send it to us and, if we like your story, we'll share it with other Footprint users by publishing it on our website. We'll also send you a free travel guide of your choice! 

Just send us a copy of your travel tale (750 words) and remember to include some cracking photos to illustrate it. Whatever happened on your trip – whether it was terrific or terrifying – write it down and email it to:

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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