After 35 hours of travelling from Melbourne via Dubai, London and Lisbon we arrived in Marrakech, Morocco. Exhausted from the flights, transfers, long queues in the cavernous, officious Marrakech passport control we arrived at our Riad in the north western section of the Medina. A Riad is a building with a collection of rooms surrounding a courtyard open to the sky. The Medina is the maze is of streets and buildings imprisoned by some 19 kilometres of tall red clay and chalk walls. Nothing could prepare us for what lay ahead. To complete the assault to our senses our first foray into the Medina felt like we had each been hit in the head with a sledgehammer. It was hot and humid, communication was not always possible as the primary languages were Arabic and French with English sometimes a distant third. We were after an adventure and it began as soon as we set foot outside the front door.
Totally unfamiliar with the area we asked our receptionist for a recommendation for dinner. “Le Foundouk” was the response and having read how easy it is to become lost in the Medina we ordered a taxi. It was dark and after winding around the streets the driver collected his fee and pointed us down an alley so off we went. Fortunately Le Foundouk loomed above us not too far ahead and the waitresses directed up several flights of stairs to the roof top. The evening prayer call was whining through the street speakers, lanterns flickered red and kaftan wearing waiters directed us to a table. The atmosphere was definitely Moroccan.
Keen for the taste of Morocco we ordered mixed Moroccan salads, a chicken tagine and a lamb tagine. The salads were delightfully sweet but surprisingly the meat in the tagines was stringy and stewed. Perhaps they were just not for our pallet but most of the main course was returned.
Having no idea of the direction of our Riad we requested the waiter to order a taxi. He directed us to the doorman, a rather large man wearing a brown kaftan and a red fez. The doorman promptly picked up a yellow lantern and waving it in front of him we followed him through the narrow alley ways in single file to avoid being collected by the occasional motorbike which zoomed past us in a cloud of dust with only an underfed Moroccan cat's whisker to spare. The alleyway widened slightly and there miraculously were two beaten up old taxis. We tipped the doorman, folded ourselves into the back of the taxi gave the driver the address and the ride of our lives commenced. I don’t think I will ever forget the yells from the street traders as they picked up their merchandise to prevent it from being hit by our taxi, the yellow melons rolling along the ground, the white teeth and eyes flashing by the window, the banging on the bonnet, the boot and the roof as the traders and pedestrians objected to our driver's route. What a scene! Somehow we arrived at the right destination and after recognising the alley way which led to our Riad we paid the driver, headed down the lane and knocked on the big brown wooden door. It creaked open revealing the tranquil courtyard beyond and we retired to our room wondering what the days ahead would bring.