On his first trip to Morocco, Colman Domingo gets lost—and finds beauty on every corner.
I lived in London on and off for a few years, and the greatest joy was to hop a quick flight to anywhere in and around Europe and get lost. Berlin on a whim, an afternoon train ride to Paris to grab an amazing cassoulet at Auberge Pyrenees, jetting to Amsterdam on a crisp autumn morning after awakening and realizing, “I’ve never been to Amsterdam! When’s the next flight? 10 a.m.? I’m there.” Booking a hotel room from my taxi while en route to London City Airport. (Always a boutique hotel in a gritty, up-and-coming neighborhood. That is where the real fun is, and the real people.) And I go pretty rudderless—landing and knowing as little as possible and trusting that the city will reveal itself to me and offer me its secrets and gastronomical delights. Oh, and I am a social butterfly, so I know that I will make a friend.
After six months, I had hit up many incredible places in Europe, so where else could I fly to in less than two hours? North Africa! Morocco! Marrakech was on the menu. My travel buddy and I were ready for a 48-hour adventure in this Arab land.
Upon arriving, I marveled at the grace and sheer beauty of the Marrakech Menara Airport, remembering that it doubled for the Abu Dhabi airport in Sex and the City 2. I didn’t have a Maybach waiting to whisk me away, nor was I dressed in couture. I had a good ol’ taxi, and I dressed pretty ordinary, so I could blend in as much as possible. I showed the driver the address of our riad, and we were off to the races—motorcycles and mopeds whizzing by, dust flying, people driving seemingly any which way they wanted. It was exciting; I felt like I had no psychic map for this place. I had to trust. Especially when our driver let us off, passing us to some random toothless dude on the street to take us inside the high pink walls of the Medina.
In Arabic, they talked about where we needed to go. Trust. The random dude gestured to us to give him our bags. Me and my buddy were die-hard New Yorkers: Absolutely not! Trust, we are city smart. The driver waved us away, though, basically saying that we were in good hands with this dude. We had no choice. We followed Mr. Rando.
The sounds inside these walls were no sounds I’d ever heard, and the smell of spices were scents that I had never smelled. We passed stalls of fresh veggies and everything in the world for sale. We walked down tight little alleys going deeper into the medina. We walked at least 10 paces behind ol’ boy, in case we needed to get real New York on him. But trust. We walked and walked and walked until, lo and behold, our guide pointed up to the sign above a grand door. It was our riad. The doors opened to this verdant garden, and our hostess greeted us and let us know that Mr. Rando was sort of a go-between for taxi drivers and riads, safely navigating tourists through the confusing maze of the medina. We tipped him plenty, and he smiled through that hollow mouth, showing all the worn Berber beauty in his weathered face. Fresh mint tea with honey was served. We had arrived in Marrakech, and I knew that this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. (I know that’s a line from Casablanca, but it was still fitting.)
Marrakech put on her best dress. The haze that hung over the glorious Jemaa el-Fna (the old city’s main square) was dizzying, the Atlas Mountains providing a magnificent backdrop. We sat breathless the first time we heard the imam’s call to prayer and watched citizens kneel to take a moment of praise. I got lost more times than I could count trying to maneuver through the souks.
The proprietor of an amber stall commended me for haggling like a Berber. “I am a tough New Yorker,” I told him, “so I am used to trying to get something at cost. Trust me, we all have that Berber spirit!” I heard many shouts of “Hey, Obama,” as if the Moroccans could smell that I was an African American guy, and not a Black guy from Europe.
We wound down our trip by getting the best massages at Les Bains de Marrakech, where I was pummeled, doused with hot and cold water, cradled, and brought back to life and set on my magic carpet ride back to London. I may have only had 48 hours in Morocco, but I saw and smelled and heard enough to feel full—and ready for the next adventure.