Algiers to Marrakesh

Five weeks ago, when I first arrived there, I didn’t like Algiers very much. The city disappointed me because it was a place I expected to love right away and I didn’t. In my journal I wrote mainly that the coffee was good and that the men constantly spit on the sidewalk.

But the last two days I spent in Algiers were altogether different, and I am not sure why. Maybe it was because I was leaving Algeria the next day and needed the pleasant farewell, or maybe it was because the skies were so clear and blue, but my last days in Algiers completely sold me on the city. I didn’t notice the young men and women holding hands on my first visit. Or the good restaurants with cheap beer on tap. Or how the Casbah seems formed by some sort of civil tectonics, as if the houses were squeezed together along some fault line, buckled and rose, and now hover over the city in a tangle.

The last man to speak to me in Algiers was a taxi driver in front of my hotel. He offered to take me to the airport but I declined telling him I was going to take the public airport bus. Reflexively, he told me that the bus wasn’t running that day. This was, of course, a lie, but it is the perogative of taxi drivers in this part of the world to weasel a fare by any means. It didn’t matter that I knew he was lying, and that the bus comes every half an hour all day, every day. If he hadn’t told me otherwise than he wouldn’t have been doing his job.

I thought of him when I arrived in Marrakesh. The first Morrocan to speak to me was a taxi driver. He, too, told me the bus wasn’t running and he, too, was lying. I told him his brother in Algiers would be proud.

I first visited Marakkesh with my sister in 1998 and, like Algiers, I remember not liking it much. But after last night I realized that Sonia and I had made a mistake a decade ago. We arrived at the central square, the famous Djemaa el Fna, in the daylight and watched as it slowly developed into its nightly madness.

This was wrong. Last night, the bus dropped me on the square after dark as the action was at its peak. I was thrown into the midst of it, and had to navigate the clouds of grill smoke, the acrobats, the musicians, the young men on mopeds, and stalls selling sheep’s heads and snails and mint tea and lentil soup and fried fish just to find the right narrow street to follow to my hotel.

This is the way to experience Marrakesh. To be thrown in like a virgin into a volcano.