December 27, 2011 at 7:48 pm 193 comments

Souk archway

First, I noticed the doors.

I took a bus from Menara airport to Djemaa El-Fna, a large square in the heart of Marrakech’s old city. The bus swerved through a sea of motorized bikes, past flat stretches of fanned palms and arches marking unlit alleys. On the sidewalk I counted more feral cats than I’ve ever seen, and on the rooftops I caught glimpses of oversized nests and tall, toothpick-legged cranes.

We zigzagged between buildings the colors of rust, orange-pink and off white, with unpainted brick exposed on the sides. Elaborate grates decorated the arched windows. The Arabic tile was all geometric shapes and primary colors: chaos and balance. But the doors.

The doors were painted turquoise, seafoam green, red. Some were patterned with raised studs, others with thin scrolls or contrasting diamonds. As the bus sped towards the center square, the doors become vivid blurs against the burnt orange skyline.

(Click thumbnails for full-sized photos!)

Door1 Door2 Door3 Door4
Night fell by the time my friends and I arrived at our riad, which was tucked in the maze of side streets of a residential neighborhood. We turned a few corners, walked through a children’s game of football, and found the right alleyway. I saw a door marked 18, just like our directions said, so I pushed it open and the six of us walked inside, backpacks and all.

Inside I saw richly threaded pillows, candles flickering through the cut-outs of metal tins, and… a family of four eating dinner? The woman herded us out of her living room, back into the alley, and pointed further down. Wrong door marked 18. I’d been in Morocco for an hour, and I’d managed to walk into a stranger’s home.

We found the right door, knocked first, and settled into our riad.

We sat in the lounge and planned out our trip over a pot of mint tea – a super sweet drink consumed in tiny, steaming cups. The riad offered a two day excursion into the Sahara desert. We argued amongst ourselves before realizing we couldn’t travel this close to the Sahara without going in. As we came to the decision, I felt a raindrop, and looked up through the open roof as the sky began pouring.

Desert2 Camels at rest Tourisme Desert

I woke up early for the excursion. I showered on the rooftop terrace, under the starlit sky, and listened to the roosters crow just as my hot water ran out.

We loaded into a van – our home for the next two days. We drove out of the city, around crumbling red mountains and over rocky cliffs, past cacti dripping with ruby fruit. We stopped at villages along the way, where I haggled for silver bracelets and drank an Arabic coke.

By sundown we’d reached the edge of the desert, where we mounted our camels and rode into the Sahara. Here’s what I’ve learned about camels: I don’t like them. Mine was too tall, too fat, a little bow-legged, and very fond of spitting. I also managed to get the camel with the sassiest hips, and when I dismounted two hours later, I felt every ounce of that sass in my aching legs. Can a camel look smug? I think so.

My camel

But we set up our tents and ate vegetable tagines for dinner. We danced around the campfire and sang to each other. The sand, cool as the night air and finer than sugar, slipped through my fingers like silk. I stayed outside as long as I could, listening to the camels gossip, looking up at the clearest stars I’ve ever seen, until I woke up to a glorious sunrise edging over the dunes.

(For the record, the camel ride back in the morning is worse.)


Moroccan spices Nightmarket

We drove back through the snow capped Atlas Mountains, and seven hours later, returned to Marrakech. That night I explored Djemaa El-Fna, a square full of snake charmers, henna artists, and monkeys with chains around their necks. The night market offers heaped spices, fresh orange juice, and bin after bin of roasted nuts. I devoured dried apricots, figs, and dates by the handful.

In the morning, Marrakech experienced a torrential downpour. My friends and I picked that morning to visit the Majorelle Gardens, and by the time we walked there, my socks squelched. But thanks to the rain, we were the only visitors to the garden, and the sight of thick palms, lilies in still ponds, and a forest of bamboo moved the rain to the back of my mind.


With two hours left in the country, I fell in love with the Souks, Marrakech’s mazelike market. The stalls sell everything from slippers and earrings to glazed pottery and gunpowder tea. The market only has a few entrances, and the knot of alleys and streets of stalls were impossible to navigate. For about twenty minutes, thoroughly lost in the heart of the Souks, I thought, “There’s no way I’m making my flight back.”

Now I’m back in Seattle, my semester abroad finished. I’ve seen my old friends and had family dinner, and I’m happy to be home. But a little part of me misses standing ankle deep in sand, scowling at my camel. The weight of lifting the lid of a tagine pot. I probably won’t stop missing the crumbling archways, the brilliant fabrics, the thrill of feeling completely foreign – until my next trip to Marrakech.

Garden Pink Arch

Entry filed under: Travel. Tags: , , , , .

Gelato Withdrawals Soft Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Cookies (vegan)

193 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Vetti  |  January 14, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    evocative and achingly beautiful post. thank you!

  • 2. Thunderkat  |  January 14, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    I took a lot of photos of doors!

  • 3. Adventures with Alex  |  January 14, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    Hey! Fantastic read. This actually popped up in Freshly Pressed but I was looking through your site and you go to Emerson right? So do I! And I actually had a chance to do the desert trek in Marrakech when I studied abroad, so glad a fellow Emersonian got to enjoy it!

  • 4. starlight  |  January 14, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    love your photos.. my favorites are pictures of the doors.. they are so colorful with different designs. congrats on being FP.

  • 5. LadyT  |  January 14, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    sounds like an amazing experience! thank you for sharing the gorgeous pics! i love the doors too! congrats on being freshly pressed

  • 6. Betty  |  January 14, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    Very descriptive writing, loved reading it. Photos are beautiful too. Good luck -from a fellow baker.

  • 7. Karen  |  January 14, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    Your pictures are awesome! Thanks for sharing.

  • 8. plaidoak  |  January 14, 2012 at 11:55 pm

    Beautiful photos.

  • 9. wonderfullyawoman  |  January 15, 2012 at 12:17 am

    I’m in love with your blog! I feel like you’d like my new blog: and your followers would to! Check it out. From your blog it seems like you’d have lots of stories to tell!

  • 10. abichica  |  January 15, 2012 at 12:45 am

    Beautiful pictures!! its a really beautiful place, filled with so much color and life.. really amazing!! :-D

  • 11. woody  |  January 15, 2012 at 1:02 am

    I was in Marrakech 2 years ago with my wife, while in the souk I tried on a pair of sandals by a kindly street vendor they were selling for about 20 euros The buckle ripped off because the leather was too dry and old. The nice man asked if I would like to try another pair on and , I, mindful of being a guest in this wonderful place said”my friend these are not for me and I thank you” The next word out of this nice mans lips were” you fucking Jew you ruined my shoes you fucking dirty jew”
    I felt a bit uneasy as hordes of men with robes came out of nowhere and I felt a riot was soon to ensue. A great young and strong Marine type of American grabbed me and my wife and we walked quickly from shop to shop followed by men with cell phones calling. We beat it out of there and I vowed not to return, the cruise ship I was on Celebrity x stopped calling on Morocco. Now that the war is over maybe it will cool down, but the Jewish thing when will that cool down when Isreal is pushed into the sea? hmmmm, I like Thailand, nice people..

    • 12. lorraine  |  January 15, 2012 at 3:23 pm

      me too.
      i went with my friend, both female in our 40s and iv never been so terrified in all my life. the souks are a maze and some small child is always wanting to take you back to your riad (for a price) even though they didnt know where it was.
      the riad owners were wonderfull and the escorted trip up the atlas mountains was amazing. my friend and i paid for a guide to take us through the souks(as we would never have found our way out) the guide took us to all these shops that basically made us buy things at ridiculous prices we were conned rotten. we eventually had to body swerve the guide. every picture we took of anything, someone came up and demanded money from us.
      it was an experience il never forget. but still glad i experienced it.

  • 13. Yatin  |  January 15, 2012 at 1:11 am

    Hah, very funny description of your camel experience. Camel rides are tricky, you feel like one after riding even for couple of hours.

  • 14. Azhar Shahani  |  January 15, 2012 at 3:03 am

    Excellent post…

  • 15. ramonadepares  |  January 15, 2012 at 3:53 am

    Lovely memories of my time there

  • 16. Scott  |  January 15, 2012 at 4:06 am

    Very descriptive writing – it takes you right there.

    Your story reminds me of the lyrics to Lorreena McKennitt’s
    “Marrakech Night Market” and her own vivid description of the place in the liner notes of her album “The Mask and the Mirror.”


  • 17. hotfishballs  |  January 15, 2012 at 6:01 am

    Nice entry on the Marrakech doors! I did an entry on Morocco, too! That’s why when I saw yours, I was so interested. Nice pictures!

  • 18. animalizard  |  January 15, 2012 at 8:27 am

    You have the most beautiful way of putting things! And the photographs were so colourful I almost wanted to reach out and touch them!

  • 19. thecoastallivingmom  |  January 15, 2012 at 10:18 am

    Those doors are amazing!

  • 20. Sacha Calagopi  |  January 15, 2012 at 10:47 am

    Your photos were amazing! My favorite one depicted the blue door. Thank you for sharing your adventures!

  • 21. travelphotocorner  |  January 15, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Beautiful photos. Looks like you really had great time. I hope that at the end of this year manage to join the jeep tour and see it finally.

  • 22. thethreesixtyfiveproject  |  January 15, 2012 at 11:52 am

    I love the door photos! Such beautiful pictures, I hope you had a wonderful time out there!


  • 23. Secondhand Surfer  |  January 15, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Inspirational! I like it.

  • 24. rastelly  |  January 15, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    The doors remind me of
    some parts of San Auntonio,
    Ever hear of the River Walk? It
    leads to a mueseum built into the
    ruins of an old mission – it’s strange
    to see ancient buildings harboring
    modern familiys and machinery.
    As if we are walking in the very
    footsteps of our Ancestors.

  • 25. Courtney  |  January 15, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    I stumbled upon your blog because this post popped up when I logged into wordpress. I’m studying abroad right now in France and I’m going to travel to Morocco (which is why I clicked on this post). I kinda stalked your blog and read all about your adventures abroad. It made me smile and laugh and I loved every minute of it! I hope that’s not weird, but from a fellow student studying abroad…it was wonderful. Your writing is absolutely incredible; I totally felt like I was there during every blog post. And that’s all I really wanted to say. I hope your next semester back hope is wonderful! :)

  • 26. lindseyjonesmakeup  |  January 15, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    Absolutely love it! I went to Marrakech and I wish I would have stayed in a Riad, I was way too poor in college and I had to stay in a hostel. But regardless, it was an amazing experience. I loved reading about your adventure. It brought me back! Thanks for sharing!

  • 27. Marie Midtlid  |  January 15, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    oh my, that place has been on my “to-travel-asap” for a long time, and your blog post doesn’t exactly make it easier for me to wait for that one day in the future I’m going to see everything with my own eyes. Amazing…

  • 28. cm  |  January 15, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    Ahhh thanks for taking me back. Marrakech is probably one of the best places I’ve ever been. And the doors, I’m obsessed!

  • 29. The Black Dandelions  |  January 15, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    Please, when you write about tourism in Morocco don’t forget that the state of Morocco is occupying Western Sahara since 1975 and violating the human rights of the Sahrawi people on a daily basis. Please visit the website for ASVDH, a Sahrawi human rights organisation for survivors of Moroccan state terrorism:

  • 30. Cassie  |  January 15, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    I love the bright colors, and the doors. Puerto Rico is like that with doors – they’re all bright and ornate.

  • 31. orangepajamas  |  January 15, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    LOVED the doors ! i have now added Marrakech to my list of must go places :)

  • 32. Ryan Auberson-Walsh  |  January 15, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post.
    Am dying to see Marrakech for myself! :]
    This only makes it look more worth it! ;]

  • 33. lamboling  |  January 15, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    absolutely love your blog!! and now i love marrakech even more:) great work!

  • 34. Lindsey  |  January 15, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    beautiful writing about a beautiful place…great post!

  • 35. daeja's view  |  January 15, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    The doors in Marrakesh totally did it for me too…..

  • 36. thinkactlive  |  January 15, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    This is fantastic! Now I want to go paint my front door. Seriously.

  • 37. hellenjc  |  January 15, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    I love those doors..

  • 38. Kate  |  January 15, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    Love this post! I’ve been to Morocco and it is an amazing country with amazing people! I went in 2009 and was in Marrakech, Jamal Fna and also spent time in the Atlas Mountains with the Berber people. This brought back some great memories! Thank you!

  • 39. thenotwriter  |  January 15, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    Sounds beautiful. Id love to go there.

  • 40. violetsandcardamom  |  January 15, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    Such stunning photos! That series of doors is so beautiful!

  • 41. nmaha  |  January 16, 2012 at 1:05 am

    Ah! Morocco, a dream destination. I am waiting for the day when I can visit Fez, Marrakesh, Casablanca and the rest.

    We did a similar camel ride into the Sahara from Egypt.

    Btw, elephants have sassier hips than camels. Just saying ;-)

  • 42. Stephanie  |  January 16, 2012 at 1:39 am

    totally LOVED the colorful doors. That is what I would have taken pictures of too! Nice job!

  • 43. never2late2write  |  January 16, 2012 at 1:51 am

    Beautiful pictures. I enjoyed reading about your travels in Marrakech. I used to live in Morocco. It’s an exotic and wonderful place.


  • 44. sheisimpeccable  |  January 16, 2012 at 4:04 am

    lovely! What vibrant colors!

  • 45. brianfpennington  |  January 16, 2012 at 5:28 am

    Excellent post, my sister is on holiday there at the moment. Lets hope she brings back some photos like yours.

  • 46. literarykitty  |  January 16, 2012 at 6:03 am

    Glad to see I’m not the only fan of Moroccan doors! Marrakech really is a photographer’s paradise. Beautiful coulours.

  • 47. itsallmanana  |  January 16, 2012 at 6:07 am

    How exciting! I have my own Moroccan trip planned for October and I cannot wait!

  • 48. Jane  |  January 16, 2012 at 9:30 am

    A really lovely read with great photos. It’s definitely on my list of places to go now. Thanks.

  • 49. scrapstu1949  |  January 16, 2012 at 9:35 am

    Very well described and some excellent photos. I loved Marrakesh too especially the souks. If you’ve not been you should also try Fez or even Rabat. Both very old and atmospheric and a bit less touristy. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  • 50. mjspringett  |  January 16, 2012 at 9:48 am

    The doors, how many would have walked right by without notice? Great sense of humor with your camel ride, you captured his spirit quite nicely, thanks for sharing MJ

  • 51. photoclare  |  January 16, 2012 at 10:07 am

    Beautiful door images – always wanted to do a ‘door’ series of images myself!


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Elissa Bernstein

I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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