Ever since my friend Lani told me about a whirlwind trip to Marrakech, it’s been on my mind. Last year, when I learned we (well, Ed) would be going to Barcelona for the conference, I put on my planning hat and did what I do moderately well: start planning a complicated trip. I like planning things. When I don’t have any plans brewing, I get anxious and cranky.
Several spreadsheets later, I had drawn up a couple of different itineraries that would take us to Marrakech. Going to Madrid was sort of an afterthought – as we’d already done Barcelona, I really wanted to go somewhere new. It was also cheaper to fly to Morocco from Madrid than it was from Barcelona, AND we’d get to take the train. It was a solid, if somewhat convuluted, plan.
On Monday, Ed and I woke up early to grab some breakfast and get to the airport. The flight to Marrakech was only two hours or so, and it went by fairly quickly. Our flight landed on the tarmac, so when I tripped down the stairs I got my very first view of an entirely new place:
i never said it was a GOOD first view
I had been worried (because it’s what I do) about two specific things when landing in Marrakech: how do I get money, and how do I get internet. These two things were literally addressed within the first ten feet after exiting passport control: there were two booths set up with girls offering free SIM cards, and data at about €1/GB. €20 later, Ed and I were armed with 10GB of internet each for three days, which is probably enough.
Getting cash was simple, as well. The Moroccan currency is the dirham, 1 of which is around $0.14 CDN/$0.10 USD. Two large kiosks were set up in the airport: one for cash exchanges, and one for credit cards. A short queue later, we were on our way to the taxi stand with a fistful of dirham so Ed could try to haggle his way into town (it didn’t work – taxis are pretty much the only way out of the airport, so they’re pretty firm on the price. Getting back to the airport cost a great deal less.).
Because this was our first trip into new territory, we didn’t have any grand plans to explore outside of the Red City. Our taxi dropped us off outside the medina, and gave us vague directions to our riad – most of the hotels and inns in the centre of Marrakech are within the cramped, twisty walls of the old city, and cabs cannot get you there. It wasn’t a far walk, and it gave us some ample gawking time at the activity buzzing all around us.
We reached Riad Jona (picked at random) around 3pm, and I was delighted to see that the riad closely resembled my only previous experience with Moroccan architecture – the second level of the video game No One Lives Forever. The staff sat us down in the lounge, and prepared Moroccan mint tea and cookies for us to enjoy while we filled out some paperwork:
just like the videogame!
We got a full tour of the riad while our bags were taken to our room, then were given some tips on how to navigate Marrakech. This was super useful and provided the answers to a lot of questions that we had, so we really appreciated it. It was also explained to us that meals were available in the riad, but dinner had to be requested several hours in advance so they could prepare it. We scanned the menu, and ordered several things for dinner that night – never having had Moroccan food before, we really didn’t know what to expect so we choose what looked interesting and hoped for the best.
Okay, that’s all the boring logistical stuff – now for the reactions.
You guuuuys, Marrakech is FUCKING AMAZING.
The food – especially the meals we had at the riad – was incredible. We ate dinner there every night, because the food was so good there was no reason to go elsewhere. Our favourites were this chicken, almond and cinnamon pie thing that tasted like a sweet, savoury, flaky, cripsy miracle, and a stew baked in a tajine with monkfish and other things that weren’t monkfish but crazy delicious. Both of those were ordered twice during our stay. The riad also served breakfast each morning, full of fruit and tea and delicious crepe things with homemade yogurt and jams. In the afternoon after walking our feet off, we’d find a random cafe in the souk and have a snack while people watching. We ate SO WELL in Marrakech, and everything we had was incredible.
The market in the centre of old Marrakech was enormous and beautiful and chaotic. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of colourful displays of pottery, leather goods, fabrics, and spices – oh god, the spices. Everything smelled so good, thanks to the incense burned at various stalls. I could have happily spent a week getting lost in the winding, twisting streets of the souk, finding stray cats and narrowly avoiding the donkey-pulled carts and scooters coming from both directions. It was amazing. Both Ed and I agreed that between Madrid and Marrakech, this was the best and most exciting vacation we’d ever had.
I had a done a lot of reading on Moroccan culture and the things to do and not do, so armed with that knowledge and the information given to guests at the riad, we were fairly well suited for our trip. I had done a lot of worrying (again, because me) about my wardrobe – I didn’t want to call attention to myself and I definitely didn’t want to offend anyone with my tendency to wear clothing cut nipple-low, so I had purposefully chosen dresses that were long enough to cover my knees, high enough to hide my huge rack, and light enough for the weather (which was sunny and hovering around 24C/75F the entire time). It was cooler in the evenings, but the clothing we both packed was perfect for the environment.
Haggling was interesting. It was the thing I was least looking forward to, because I am very bad at talking to people. Ed handled most of it, but I was starting to feel comfortable going back and forth towards the end of our trip and even attempted to haggle for myself a few times (but likely still paid way too much for things because I don’t want to insult anyone or not give them what the item is worth). Many of the shops in the souk sell identical items, so it’s easy to find something you love, not come to an agreement on the price, then find it elsewhere with someone more willing to bargain. We walked away from several places, and were either convinced to return or simply found the item somewhere else.
Shopping in the souk was so much fun. Everything is bright and colourful and smells good. I wanted to bring so much stuff home with me, but I was limited by the size of our carry-on bags and Ed’s watchful eye. I still brought home a lot of cool stuff and gifts for friends, but had to acquiesce on things I logicistally could not manage: gorgeous brass lamps, tajines for Moroccan cooking, tea sets, donkeys. Luckily, the internet is beautiful thing, and after we returned home I was able to find several Moroccan websites that would ship the things I couldn’t bring home with me. Take that, wallet!
We did have a couple of small run-ins with really aggressive people in the marketplace. We had been warned about the Henna Ladies, and the only one that managed to get close to us had an iron fucking grip on my hand that required both Ed and I to free myself from. The Henna Ladies will trap you by applying henna to your hand unasked, then extort money from you. Ed still has a smudge of henna on his hand from where he intercepted her brush on its way to my skin, but we got away relatively unscathed. The other incident was an overly friendly shopkeep who kept hugging me, calling me princess, begging for a photo, and ultimately kissed my neck – all of which I was/am HELLA UNCOMFORTABLE WITH. Ed once again ran interferance for me, and afterward I needed a stiff drink (of orange juice) to calm my nerves. Did not like. F—–, would not be mauled by strangers again.
However, the rest of our time in Marrakech was lovely as fuck. Ed describes it as “relaxing chaos”, which it really was. If you ever get a chance to go to Morocco, I highly recommend it – I’m already planning another visit to see Fes and Casablanca in the future. As much as I loved it there, it’s probably not a place I’d go to on my own .. I’m sure I could manage, but I don’t wanna. So I won’t. And it gives me an excuse to plan another magical trip, which is always a great thing.
Also I didn’t see a single fucking Tropius so clearly I need to go back to Africa.