A day spent wandering around Marrakech is a day studded with ritual in the form of beverage.
The morning cup of cinnamon coffee, a spicy brew to fuel the long hours ahead of labyrinthine streets and souk treasures. The avocado smoothie at noon, sweet and creamy- the best Moroccan milkshake. The afternoon glass of fresh orange juice from one of the vendors in the square, succumbing to the citrus and the shade of an umbrella and the plastic chair beneath it. But above all else, the mint tea, always and everywhere during any study abroad program in Morocco.
You imbibe in cup after cup of the national beverage, what the toothless man trying to sell you a carpet calls “Moroccan whiskey” when he invites you into his market stall for a sip and a gander at textiles. What the hostel owner greets you with as you settle into the plush of the low sofas in the riad’s courtyard. What you order at the café when you need a moment to rest your dusty soles from the constant treading of cobblestone. Cup after cup of mint tea every day until you realize you wouldn’t have it any other way.
Sugary, sickly so sometimes, but a sweetness that you quickly grow comfortable with. It is custom, it is ceremony, and it is a divergence in a day of endless walking. You relish it.
A muddled glass of mint, a dance of swirling sugar and leaves induced by your spinning spoon. In the early mornings, when you wander out into the medina in search of coffee and a pastry, you see men with enormous bundles of mint leaves bustle in and out of cafes and restaurants, delivering the day’s supply. Wafts of scent follow their trail.
Marrakech is everything wanderlust is made of. A dusty maze to weave through, treasures to unearth in every market stall, magic kingdoms of shiny lamps and wooden chests and gilded swords and leather belts studded with mystical insignia, pyramids of powdered spices and scents drying in the sun, all the colors of the world weaved into tapestries and carpets mounted to crumbling walls. Stepping into the medina is submitting to getting lost in a magical, mystical world. It is succumbing to the madness and the beauty of it all, this labyrinth of tiny alleys and turns and loops and paths.
Marrakech is a feast. It is a study of patterns and colors, the dusty salmon of bruised walls, jewel-toned tile work, intricacies of an arch or spire.
It is a study of scents and flavors and tastes, couscous and tagines and round loaves of bread dipped in pungent sauces and wild honey like caramel, the smell of leather, ancient dust, cumin, cinnamon, and mint. Always the mint. One thousand and one sights and sounds and smells to overwhelm or inspire, but always a sweet little cup in a shaded corner for respite and clearing of the mind and sensory palate. You sit, you sip, you revive. This place is a legend, a fairytale, a grim storybook, and a wonderland. You drink your tea and take it all in.
In the afternoons, you sit with a cup at a terrace-top café overlooking the Plac Jemaa el Fna. The madness down below, the biggest square in Africa, is wild with a circus of street performers and peddlers, acrobats and snake charmers and magicians, fire-breathing dancers and monkeys on leashes. The witch doctors set up shop with their potions and dragon skins, street food vendors sell spiced tea and harissa soup and snails, an open air food court grows up out of the pavement complete with tents and picnic tables and smoked meats and tagines. You watch the sun set over it all from this rooftop perch, your mint tea keeping perfect company. It sweetens the light in the sky, the smudge of pink over dusty roofs and sea of satellite dishes. Sweetens the darkness that soon cloaks it all.
In Marrakech you drink mint tea with strangers wearing djellabas and with fellow nomads as you plan trips into the Sahara. You learn to eat couscous with your hands, to find your way home, to tie a turban, to haggle.
You learn small words- skukran, besseha, balak, beshhal- and trace calligraphy into your notebook. You eat olives the color of roses and you buy a carpet in shades of sand dunes and saffron. You learn to cook with spices you have never heard of. You start lining your eyes with kohl bought at the market, rub argan oil into your hands and cheeks. You chew on the mint leaves in your tea. You sketch tiles and archways and photograph henna hands and eat sandwiches where the locals eat sandwiches. You learn to seek refuge on rooftops, sip tea on terraces, and to be nude, not naked, in hammams, unveiled, not exposed.
And you muddle mint leaves in your glass of tea, savor the moment when the steam twirls and tangos in the air, when you frame the sun with your glass and it glows golden, absolutely amber. And forever after, when you catch a drifting whiff of mint, that bouquet of both sweet and cool, you are back there in Marrakech, your sandals sooty from wandering the medina, worn by cobblestone, darkened by the sun. Your skin too, amber hues, fingertips scented mint.