Severed goat heads, bloody and besieged by flies, lay side-by-side on a butcher’s slab. A dozen lethal serpents, coiled and poised to strike, wove back and forth before a snake charmer in the Marrakech souk.
The Fez Medina tempted me with shop after shop of exotic merchandise until I was hopelessly lost within its maze of serpentine, narrow lanes.
An afternoon Sahara sandstorm pelted my bare legs with razor sharp grains of sands as I struggled to stay on a galumping camel, but by morning the exquisite dunes stretched like coral colored waves against a luminous blue sky.
Through it all ran the common thread of music: the rhythmic hand clapping of Dakka Marrakchia musicians in Marrakech; bejeweled Berber women ululating impossibly high notes as men in flowing white caftans beat panel drums around a campfire; and in the desert, hours-long chanting of Gnaoua spiritual songs dedicated to prayer and healing.
These are just some the images and experiences of Morocco that will forever be engraved on my mind.
Fascination, however, commanded an emotional toll. Guides shepherded me to shops guaranteed to offer the best prices and quality when, in truth, it was more about which merchant would pay a higher commission.
Organization was virtually non-existent; nothing ran on time or according to schedule. And everywhere, everyone had a hand out for a tip, right down to the drunk at the gate of the Jewish cemetery in Fez, who accosted visitors unwilling to make a “donation” with his foul liquor-breath.
Exhausted and exasperated, I was relieved when it was time to depart, but three months later it was the arresting sights and trance-like music of this storied land that I remembered most.
In the end, the price of frustration was little enough to pay for the privilege of being fascinated.
In late 2006, Barbara Weibel left a corporate career to pursue her true passions of travel, photography, and writing. She has visited 48 countries and her work has been featured in Huffington Post, Travel + Escape, Lonely Planet, and the new analogy “65 Things to do When You Retire/Travel.” Read about her adventures at Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel or follow her in real-time on her Facebook Page or on Google+.