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. lieselbeukes  |  January 20, 2012 at 4:29 am

    You have a wonderful way of looking at the world! Love the doors!!!!!

  • 2. Sharp  |  January 20, 2012 at 9:56 am

    that’s lovely

  • 3. Jbot  |  January 20, 2012 at 10:57 am

    When it comes to art, that is simply downright sexy.

  • 4. Juliet Obodo  |  January 20, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    I love the fact that you noticed the doors! I did the same when I went to Greece.

  • 5. Matt  |  January 20, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    Great post and great pics. Congrats on getting “pressed”!

  • 6. djronstar  |  January 20, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    That Blue Door … what’s behind the blue door ???
    Desert reminds me of my time in Dubai.
    Great pics and congrats on getting FP!

    How To Be A DJ

  • 7. trialsinfood  |  January 20, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    i heard that the cats are well fed by the butchers in the markets. great photos and what an experience!

  • 8. tanyaphoto  |  January 20, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    You should think about making a book of your photos! I made a whole book of my Marrakech iphone photos on Even tiny photos came out pretty well

    You can see it through my FB page: under ‘preview my books’. The book is only 5×5, but even if you were shooting with an iphone, the photos look great.

    It would be great for a lot of your food posts too! I think they even have a way you can “slurp” your blog into a book. It would be nice for your writing and your photography.

  • 9. ricardo trevisan  |  January 20, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    Reblogged this on Ricardo Trevisan and commented:
    Encontrei este post com fantásticas imagens de portas de Marrakech, estou compartilhando. Enjoy!

  • 10. respectfullywritten  |  January 21, 2012 at 12:49 am

    geat pictures!

  • 11. fmerza  |  January 21, 2012 at 1:05 am

    Visually stunning and eloquently written!

    I loved the full blast of culture in each and every shot, each one more vivid than the next. Those doors are exquisite! I wish the social norm over in Canada were vibrant and different coloured doors. Ours are just do dull in comparison to the doors of Marrakech!

  • 12. Miss K  |  January 21, 2012 at 9:02 am

    Wow, I love how you take your photos, very artistic and classy at the same time. :)

  • 13. maryfollowsthelamb  |  January 21, 2012 at 11:31 am

    Thank you for sharing your experience. The photographs are very colorful with crisp images that need no descriptions. You definitely have a gift for writing and if you bake as well as you write, I wish I lived by you!

  • 14. lecocodemojo  |  January 21, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    Such pretty doors! I need to hack me one hahaa

  • 15. @madebycris  |  January 21, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Amazing. beautiful photos of doors, they are so different in style… hugs!

  • 16. Flossie  |  January 21, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    I have been to Marrakech twice now. I loved it both times, it is almost overwhelming to all the senses.

    And I remember the doors. I took photos of the doors too. They are so amazing.

  • 17. fromscratchhome  |  January 21, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    Great photos! I especially liked all the different doors. It makes me want to make my door as unique as one of those :)

  • 18. Blic  |  January 22, 2012 at 5:16 am

    Perfect post and beautiful pictures!

  • 19. francesaaguilar  |  January 22, 2012 at 6:49 am

    Nice photos…I’ve always wanted to visit Morocco!

  • 20. sofiaeiw  |  January 22, 2012 at 8:04 am

    Oh my gosh… Great pictures! Is it possible to buy one of yor photos?
    U can email a reply, if you want to, to

    Have a great day!


  • 21. Duoimagery  |  January 22, 2012 at 9:19 am

    I absolutely LOVE all the doors!

  • 22. Joe Labriola  |  January 22, 2012 at 11:16 am

    Haha, camels. The true horses of the desert. I’ve heard that they’ll spit at you if they don’t like you or get upset or mad! Maybe that’s all just in the movies though….

  • 23. filmcamera999  |  January 22, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    hi elissa!
    just love your photos of the doors!
    for some reason, i too cant resist passing by doors when im out and about…here in london, uk we have some buildings with really old woodwork, and im talking like 15th century, etc!
    a little ol’ church just down the road from where i live was bulit in 1200AD….can you believe that…and its still standing!
    great work….pls lets have some more doors!
    PS what kinda camera do u use? im a film weirdo…!!

  • 24. Shannon  |  January 22, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    Your photos are gorgeous!

  • 25. CD  |  January 22, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    Lovely post. I know exactly what you mean. Just returned from our first Moroccan trip, souks, tagine, desert, camel, starry nights et all… with me forever….

  • 26. choconutmeg  |  January 23, 2012 at 2:53 am

    Beautiful doors! Some of them remind me of doors in old houses in India, like my mother’s ancestral home in a village in South India. Have you been to India?

  • 27. T J  |  January 23, 2012 at 3:48 am

    I love your photos, the same groups of colorful things appeal to me as well. I also loved your blog about being robbed in Italy, I admire the way you dealt with that. I look forward to reading your next blog.

  • 28. fashionbyrussian  |  January 23, 2012 at 5:03 am

    Thanks for sharing it!

  • 29. eireplusalba  |  January 23, 2012 at 8:11 am

    Great door pictures!

  • 30. themonicastoreblog  |  January 23, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    Nice photos and interesting post! The colors in Marrakesh are amazing and it is certainly a unique place!

  • 31. T J  |  January 23, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    Reblogged this on Ms Opinionated and commented:
    I love these pictures – what a great eye

  • 32. botanicart  |  January 25, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Love the images!!!! Especially all those doors!!!! Great job

  • 33. roamingtheworld  |  February 1, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    Love your photos! They are so vibrant and capture the essence of the place. I’m living in a small coastal town in Spain and plan to visit Morocco in June! I’ve bookmarked your site!

  • 34. Stephanie Hodges  |  February 4, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    Your photographs are incredible. And the doors are so great!!!

  • 35. gaycarboys  |  February 5, 2012 at 7:02 am

    That looks amazing. I love travel and the more interesting the place the better

  • 36. Isabella Tassinari  |  February 12, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    Hey, I love your blog! I am also a college student and I’m studying abroad this semester in Italy. I was wondering if you could tell me what company you used for your ride into the desert, and wether or not you would recommend it. I am thinking of going to Marrakech for a weekend.

    • 37. Elissa  |  February 14, 2012 at 2:11 am

      Isabella – I’m not sure which company I used, but I booked it through the Mama Marrakech Riad (which was amazing and I would whole-heartedly recommend.) But lots of riads and hostels offer tours into the desert, and you’ll probably find them wherever you stay.

      I’m not sure if I would recommend it. On the one hand, it wasn’t too expensive, I saw some beautiful sights, and I did get to sleep under the stars. On the other hand, it felt a little touristy and a little playing-it-safe. I think I would have liked to go off the beaten path a little more. I also wanted to spend more time in the actual city of Marrakech, which I found fascinating, and if you take a tour it eats up at least half of your weekend.

      Ultimately you’ll know whether or not you want to do a trek like I did. Check out the prices, think about what you want to do in the city, and then follow your gut. Have a great trip to Morocco!

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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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