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: , , , , .

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193 Comments Add your own

  • 1. debibradford  |  January 16, 2012 at 10:46 am

    Always wanted to go to Marrakech. Not only is the name enchanting, your imagery and prose support everything I’ve ever imagined about the place. So magical and mysterious, filled with color and noise and dust and golden sky. Lovely. The doors make me swoon.

  • 2. veghotpot  |  January 16, 2012 at 11:10 am

    Amazing photographs! I love all the doors – I always notice little things like that when walking around. Lovely to see it captured on camera x

  • 3. madasaurusrex  |  January 16, 2012 at 11:16 am

    love this! i was just there a month ago and have a few nearly identical photos. such a quirky little city. glad you had a wonderful trip!

  • 4. brainymuslimah  |  January 16, 2012 at 11:17 am

    That is the country I was born in Its so exotic :)

  • 5. Dave Lewis  |  January 16, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    Morocco is awesome. Just added a poem and pic from Marrakech here –

    Cheers :)

  • 6. Dounia  |  January 16, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    Beautiful photos with very vivid descriptions. I really enjoyed reading this – thanks for sharing and congrats on being freshly pressed!

  • 7. Slice of Mid-Life  |  January 16, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Congratulations on being freshly pressed! What a wonderful description of your trip, along with beautiful photos. As a fellow Seattleite, I remember reading about you a few years ago in (I think) Pacific Northwest magazine. It’s great to see that you are still writing and baking, I hope you are enjoying Boston. Clearly you are enjoying the great wide world.

  • 8. 4myskin  |  January 16, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Wonderful! I think a camel ride would be amazing…but not a full day’s worth! Sounds like you brought the rain from Seattle too. :)

  • 9. abhimanyuprakash  |  January 16, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    love the doors

  • 10. Carlie Chew  |  January 16, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    Wow, so gorgeous! I love your pictures of the doors and spices : )

  • 11. rtd14  |  January 16, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    Your pictures are not only beautiful, but I enjoyed reading your rich descriptions. Thank you.

  • 12. Christine Smith-Johnson  |  January 16, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Absolutely beautiful! Thank you for taking us there. You have a great eye for beauty and a way with words. I love it!

  • 13. Kelly S.  |  January 16, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    Beautiful photos! You inspired me to post my own from my trip to Morocco as my next post!

  • 14. Red Toenails  |  January 16, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Great pics! I wanna go!

  • 15. Constance V. Walden  |  January 16, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    Great doors, great colors, thanks for sharing these. Connie

  • 16. thattallasiangirl  |  January 16, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    The doors are simply lovely.

  • 17. toliveinspired  |  January 16, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    Amazing, total eye candy.. I would love to go one of these days!

  • 18. shawnandsuzanne  |  January 16, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    I Love your photos! I especially love the Camels and the Blue door.

  • 19. never2late2write  |  January 16, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    You’re a creative genius! I can see why you have so many followers. Your words, photos and thoughts make me crave all kinds of wonderful things.

    I’d like to nominate you for the Versatile Blogger Award. If you’d like to participate, please visit Thank you for sharing your blog. it is truly a privilege.



  • 20. theincurablelibertine  |  January 16, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    morocco sounds amazing!!! i definitely would love to go there! your blog is wonderful!

  • 21. TWB  |  January 16, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    Ah…………..Morocco! Thanks for the lyrical prose, the stunning pictures and, most of all, for reviving my own beautiful memories of that fabulous country. If you get the chance, please check out my blog, Travel With Balls. I really think you’ll like what we’re trying to do, and it was inspired by a trip to Morocco in 2010. Peace & Blessings, Jan

  • 22. fashionbeauty4you  |  January 16, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    I will go there someday as I love that part of the world.Drop by my blog sometimes.Cheers

  • 23. thesquareflea  |  January 16, 2012 at 11:59 pm

    Beautiful writing and pictures! My parents are originally from Morocco and I used to visit when I was younger. Never been to Marrakesh though . . .this makes me really want to visit it.

  • 24. LELASURAMADU LOVES CATFISH  |  January 17, 2012 at 12:48 am

    Unix culture. Maroco

  • 25. Kelly  |  January 17, 2012 at 12:52 am

    oooh i love morocco, and the middle east in general. awesome pix! x

  • 26. wifemotherandgeekism  |  January 17, 2012 at 1:20 am

    I loved the pictures especially of the doors. The colors were amazing! Reminded me of a trip i made to Istanbul…

  • 27. irishlottoresults  |  January 17, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Beautiful Imagery and Writing, a truly immersive read

  • 28. nathfuller  |  January 17, 2012 at 9:08 am

    I went to marrakech last year, your writing brought back all sorts a good memories from there. Really like the way you write.

  • 29. Emma @ Sweet Mabel  |  January 17, 2012 at 9:24 am

    I would love to visit Marrakech, especially after looking at your colourful pictures, absolutely amazing! Thank you for sharing! x

  • 30. Chaks  |  January 17, 2012 at 9:50 am

    lovely photos and nice post.


  • 31. Frank Winters  |  January 17, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Excellent writing and lovely images! (May I ask what camera use used?)

    Cheers, Frank

  • 32. barcncpt44  |  January 17, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Looks like you had a great trip. Great photos as well.

  • 33. writerintherough  |  January 17, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    I love your pictures. The colors are so vivid. I would love to visit Morroco someday.

  • 34. Java Girl  |  January 17, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    Your a great writer as well as a photographer. You have 2 million views? Holy cow! :) Well deserved! Have a great day and thanks for sharing your blog!

  • 35. riannagalvez  |  January 17, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Lovely photos!:) Hope to visit this place, soon! :)

  • 36. writerwannabe2011  |  January 17, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    Totally jealous! Wonderful pics — love the doors!!!

  • 37. Rae  |  January 17, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    The pictures of the doors are really amazing, especially that last one!

  • 38. La Cueva de Claudia  |  January 17, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Love the pictures and the way you talked the places through. I’m planning to go this year and now, I’m even more excited to learn about this fascinating culture. I’m with you about the camel experience. Thank you for sharing!

  • 39. Terribly Sorry  |  January 17, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    Your photos are almost outshone with your words. become an author! please visit my blog too :) from terribly sorry~

  • 40. meg895  |  January 17, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    This is beautiful– reminds me of my own time living in Morocco and my own camel ride into the desert and, I agree, the ride back in the morning is worse! Thanks for painting such a vivid, lovely picture of a vivid, lovely place.

  • 41. salomeanulisch  |  January 19, 2012 at 4:01 am

    I love the pictures.

  • 42. mikanqueen  |  January 19, 2012 at 7:20 am

    We had one of those downpours when I arrived in Marrakech on Monday night (16 Jan). I’ve never known rain like it in Morocco, but the locals are always happy for a bit of water for their crops! I am a big Maroc-o-phile…. If you are interested, this is my blog:
    Happy blogging!

  • 43. Michele LMS  |  January 19, 2012 at 9:47 am

    Beautifully written, and I love your photos! . . . Morocco is definitely on my list of places I’d like to visit – particularly after reading your post!

  • 44. Eagle-Eyed Editor  |  January 19, 2012 at 11:39 am

    The photographs are wonderful…so exotic and colorful. What a treat to read about this place. And I’m determined to try out some of your recipes. I’m having a hard time choosing which to try first!

  • 45. Ask Miss Know it All  |  January 19, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Too funny! Love your writing! I think we were on the same trip! ;)

  • 46. Development/Skeptic  |  January 19, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Thanks for a great post! I’ll be studying abroad in Paris this spring, and definitely have my sights set on Morocco. What was your experience like as a female tourist (and how easy was it to communicate/haggle in English or French with the average person?) Thanks!!

  • 47. Oh God, My Wife Is German  |  January 19, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Great post! Thank you for sharing!

  • 48. madebywei  |  January 19, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    i just wrote an essay for school about the doors in Morocco. It’s crazy that I stumbled upon your post here about the same topic.

  • 49. bowtiqx  |  January 19, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Reminds me of eat,pray and love. Brilliant writing. Thanks for sharing!

  • 50. Angelene @Languages Of Art  |  January 19, 2012 at 11:29 pm

    Woooooooo.. So pretty:o)


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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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