Saturday, December 31, 2011

Before night falls. Marrakesh.

After we bid Aaron and Mildred goodbye, Soon and I plunged ourselves into the chaos of Djemma el Fna. The place was already loud and noisy.....full of activity.

We wound our way past the various street performers and dodged people and small vehicles along the way.

Neither one of us had eaten since breakfast and after a good day of walking, we were ready for at least a nibble. Time for a Djemma el Fna delicacy - grilled sheep's head. Yep, you read that right. Sheep's head.

 Wasn't hard finding a stall that sold them. You just had to look for the display :-) Of course, we got lured in my a waiter dressed in a white lab coat.








We sat ourselves down at the counter and tried to decipher the menu. Had no idea what to get but with the help of the waiter, we each settled for the combo which, if it means what we think it means, should get us a bit of this and a bit of that.  A sheep's head sampler :-)  Two Cokes to wash the meal down with.






We weren't really hungry but there's something about sitting in front of a display of food that makes you greedy so we decided to supplement our meal of sheep's head with some brochettes, which were definitely calling out to me.








"How to serve up sheep's head " The kitchen basically right in front of you so we watched the *chef* prep our meal.  I had thought he would be getting our meal from the large pot of simmering stuff that was right in front of him but no.  Behind him was another pot that held chunks of things.  From the pot, he grabbed chunks of head things....not sure what they were but I'm guessing it's stuff you would find in a sheep's head.  He started whacking off smaller bits from the larger chunks. 


The small chunks then got put onto two plates and warm sauce poured over.   A basket of sections of Moroccan bread completed the meal.

I have eaten head before so the texture of the bits was what I had expected - some meaty bits, some soft bits, some spongy bits, some gelatinous bits and some cartilage-y bits.  Unfortunately, it tasted like the head had been boiled and not grilled so it was actually flavorless.....the sauce didn't really help.  I think some good chili sauce could have saved it.  So, the sheep's head experience was disappointing.  The brochettes were okay but they were about the skinniest skewers of meat I had yet seen in Morocco.  Ah....the food stalls here are really for the tourists so that's the grade of food that you can expect.  But, as far as experiences go, this is an unforgettable one!







Luckily, both of us have iron stomachs because this is definitely not a place for germaphobes or clean freaks to eat.  You have to remember, these are essentially pop up food stalls and so there is no running water to wash the dishes with.  They just get a swish, swish in a pail of water before being handed out to the next diner.








"On the terrace "
Snack time over, we decided to check out the terrace at Le Grand Balcon Cafe Glacier where we tried to get into yesterday but gave up.  When we got up there, the terrace was crowded but with the price of two cafe lattes, we got in.  We managed to get a table though it was one row away from the wall from which you can lean over and look down into the square.  I tried to walk to another part of the terrace to take some pictures and videos but it was too crowded so I gave up.

Soon and I sipped on our cafe lattes until a table, right next to us, freed up.  We quickly moved over.  Our patience paid off!


 I was completely captivated by what was going on below us.






Of course, the food carts dominated the view.







There were the street performers......







The snake charmer.  Yes, those are real cobras.

















The man with the small hawk.  He was a popular guy as I don't think there was anyone else with a hawk.














There were the caleches....one after another, ferrying passengers from one end of the square to the other.







And, then a sight that really caught my attention.  A horse drawn trash carriage.  The guy was making his round through the juice vendors and picking up large trashcans filled with rinds.  For some reason, I never thought about how they dispose of those things.








In the distance, I could see that there was another group of people crowding out the terrace at Café de France.  I wonder what their view was like.





Everything go on below us was just so fascinating; I had to capture a snippet of it on video so here's my take.  Watch for the snake charmer :-)


Sitting on the terrace was a really nice break for us because we had been walking for a good part of the day.  By the time our coffee cups dried up, we were ready to move on.

"Where's the Bab? " Back on the streets, the sun was beginning to set but we weren't ready yet to call it day.  I wanted to see Bab Agnaou so we decided to try and find it.  I knew we could get there if we walked via Avenue Mohammed V but we decided to take the backstreets which would give us a chance to explore another area around the square.

We headed back along the street we were on last night, the one that had the restaurant selling the fresh pressed sugar cane juice.  Of course, no chance we would go by the restaurant and not get a cup each :-)

The street ended where the tour bus had stopped for tourists wanting to go to the Saadian Tombs.  At that point, we should have turned right but instead, we crossed the road and found ourselves in an open courtyard that was ringed by metalsmiths.  My guess was that we were in the metals souk.

We kept walking and the next thing you know, we're in the spice souk.  I love the colorful, conical spice displays here.  They sell so many exotic things here....a lot of which I don't recognize but it's all very interesting to look at.  I have learned not to stare at anything because the moment you, someone will inevitably dart out of a store and pounce on you trying to give it their all to entice to go inside their store.   I had wanted to buy some ras al hanout but somehow, now that I'm here, I can't be bothered as I'd rather be spending my time doing other things.  Might have been different had I actually known what to do with the ras al hanout once I got home.

Around the corner from the spice souk, we came across a mosque.  Looked like a new building.  It fronted a very small neighborhood square.  Women and children were out enjoying the evening.  There was laughter in the air.  It was a heartwarming sound.

We turned off on to another street, instinctively heading in the direction that we thought Bab Agnaou was in.  Shops lined the street.  Nothing really interesting for sale.


On the other hand, food is always interesting.  Especially baked things :-)  On our walk, we happened upon a small bakery.  The items in the display stand were calling to us, "try me, try me".  We made our way over and pointed out a few items to take back to the riad with us.

The sun had set and it was getting dark.  We didn't have much time left to catch Bab Agnaou in daylight.  With box a box of cookies in hand, we scurried along and thanks to a helpful shopkeeper or two, we eventually made our way to the Bab.

"Bab Agnaou in the glow of dusk " We crossed under the gate so we could see it from the front.  It was sooo beautiful.  The whole gate was glowing a brilliant orange color and the shadows created by the light made the detail pop.  If you ask me, dusk is actually the perfect time of day to catch a view of the Bab.  Any other time and the terracotta colored stone just looks a bit blah.


We crossed the street so we could get a better view and photos of the Bab.   As were snapping away, a nearby shopkeeper came out and started to rant and rave about something.  He was speaking and obviously we weren't understanding a word he was saying.  After a while, he gave up and walked away.  We just tossed our heads and moved on as well.







We passed the outer walls of the Royal Palace.  Not allowed take a picture of the entrance but apparently, walls are okay so this is all I have of the place.





"Koutoubia at night " By now, night had fallen and we were nearing the Koutoubia Mosque.  It was all lit up.   So pretty.    Local residents were all out and about, enjoying the night and each others' company.  Luckily, I have a very steady pair of arms and hands so I was able to get a few clear shots of the famed minaret.


"Djemma in the dark "We had circled back to Djemma el Fna.  By the now, the nightly circus was in full swing.  The place is insane.






From a distance, all you could make out in the dark were the lights from the food stalls and smoke.








Ahhh.....the madness, the chaos, the hustle bustle that gives this place life.


For us though, it was enough.  We were tired.  Soon and I decided to head back to the riad.  Back through the souk.  Back to the streets where we would once again get lost but this time, we didn't need help to set us straight.   Yes!  We made it back on our own.

The night was still young.  I had sent a text to Aaron to see if they wanted to do anything to celebrate New Year's Eve but I never heard back from them.  I had no ideas about what to do and I think we were both suffering from a bit of sensory overload from the day.  As with so many past nights here, all I wanted to do was take a shower and unwind.

After my shower, I headed out to one of the common rooms that opened out on to the court yard.  It was a cold night and so I brought a blanket from the room with me.  In the common room was a sofa, some floor cushions and a TV.  Soon figured out how to get the TV and cable box to work.  He flipped through the channels til we got to one showing a movie, in English. It was a Russell Crowe movie called "A Good Year".  I had already seen it before but hey, nothing else on TV.  I bundled myself up in the blanket and curled up on the couch and watched a bit of it.

I am calling it a night well before 2012 rings in.   Tomorrow will be our day trip to Essaouira which I am very much looking forward to.

Happy New Year, Marrakesh!