“A mix of tradition and modern life” was how our Atlas Mountains guide, Noureddine described Marrakech. We were instantly welcome by the more modern side at the airport with some of the most beautiful geometric beams and windows I have ever seen. We met our driver, Hakim, and made the twenty minute drive into the Old City, or the Medina, where our riad was located. Before entering the Medina’s thick and soothing pastel pink wall, Hakim pointed out the “New City” next door where we could find modern restaurants and high end stores like Gucci. We playfully informed him that we didn’t come here to shop at Gucci and dine on fancy food. He nodded in approval and went on to tell us about day excursions out to the Atlas Mountains where the Berber villages are. Hakim is Berber so he was quick, yet still respectful, to say that the Medina is touristy and we would do well to get out of the city to see the real Morocco.
With that bit of information in our back pocket we entered the wall of the Medina and were greeted by the Koutoubia Mosque – Morocco’s Eiffel Tower. It was stunning and the fact that it’s seven centuries old makes it a world wonder. Moving past the mosque we were in local trade streets, no tourists in sight but lots of motorcyclists and donkeys carrying heavy loads behind them. My first reaction was “yes, i love this!” but then it quickly turned to a “wtf?” when we arrived at our final destination. Paved roads had ceased three turns prior, the corner was littered with trash (no dumpsters I guess?) and there was a dog laying in a pile of torn up styrofoam looking totally dead. A group of neighborhood boys were playing a game of football (soccer) next to it and didn’t seem to think anything was wrong. Hakim didn’t seemed phased either so we carried on and met our riad host, Sadiq. He was ALL smiles and the most welcoming. The exterior of the riad didn’t look like much (it’s next to a cement brick maker) but as soon as we walked inside it was like being in a completely different world. It was gorgeous and peaceful and had a great balance of traditional and modern style. I later learned that traditional riads (mansions with open central courtyards or gardens) were designed with very few exterior windows and embellishments to keep with the modesty and privacy of the Muslim culture. Our room was so simple and beautiful that I had completely forgotten about the dead dog by that point.