Marokko – Marrakesch

Fresh out of the desert, we checked in to our new riad on the east side of town. Our host was extremely nice and accommodating. He had a printed map of town ready for us and walked us through some of the sights while we were served deliciously minty “welcome tea”. He had upgraded our room as well, which was a quaint little apartment with vibrant decoration. This riad had a truly open center and another rooftop terrace.

DSC06414.JPG
View from our room into the riad center

By the time we got cleaned up and settled it was about time for dinner. My buddy had done a little reading and picked out a place, so we headed that way on foot. The place offered rooftop dining with live music, although we had to wait a few minutes to be seated.

We sat down next to two German girls and began to talk to them about Morocco, Germany, and a few other random topics. I brought up “the pie discussion” that Chelsea and I have long debated, which proved to be an enjoyable conversation. We waited a long time for our food. While it was good, I wish it hadn’t taken so long. I had lamb seasoned with orange zest. We didn’t leave the restaurant until it was almost 11:00PM, so after dinner we just headed back to the riad to get some sleep.

In the morning we ate breakfast downstairs. Of course, there was more bread with jam and tea. We were also served orange juice. The previous night I had looked up some things to do and laid out a rough itinerary, so we set off to an early start to go explore the city.

Our first stop was the Bahia Palace. Entry was only 1$, so we went in and explored around at our own pace. Intricate tile-work, fountains, and gardens provided memorable sights. The place had a lot of visitors, but a few large open courtyards provided ample space. Many people were relaxing in the shaded walkways around the main areas. We didn’t stay terribly long as there was a lot we wanted to see, but checking out some of the interiors was worthwhile, as intricate calligraphy and stonework lined the walls.

DSC06432.JPG
Intricately carved patterns seemed to be everywhere

DSC06452.JPG

DSC06458.JPG

DSC06475.JPG
Palace courtyard views

After our visit to the palace, we dipped into a nearby museum, Dar si Said. Here, local crafts from recent and ancient times were on display. You got to learn a bit about the traditions of craftsmanship in the region. While the descriptions were only in French and Arabic, it was still neat to get to see some fine works of art up close. As an added plus, the museum is housed in a beautiful manor. Not quite as impressive as the palace had been, but still nice to see. We toured all of the small museum before heading out. By then, it was about lunch time, so we headed back to Jemaa el Fna, eager to check it out in the daytime.

DSC06498.JPG
Checking out some old jewelry
DSC06512.JPG
More colorful patterns

At the square we saw a new yet equally chaotic scene. Market tents had been set up, offering all kinds of trinkets and goods to locals and tourists alike. Snake charmers were very common in the square, so I of course had to take the opportunity to hang out with the reptiles:

DSC06520.JPG
Maybe he’s hanging out with me instead?

I had heard these guys try to rip you off. The man with the snakes asked me for 40$ for the picture Madhav had taken. 40$ to pose with his snake for 10 seconds! The man claimed that a ‘local Moroccan’ was paying the 40$. I knew this was a scam so I handed him about $1.50 and walked away. They were upset with me but thankfully not that persistent.

We grabbed lunch at a place Madhav had found online. I ordered a veggie wrap which was tasty, but we swapped halves as he got something with meat which he didn’t want. Whatever his wrap was upset my stomach which was unfortunate. At least it was cheap!

After lunch we headed towards the massive mosque overlooking the square, Koutoubia. Non-muslims were not allowed inside, but we took a couple of minutes to admire the structure and the grand scale of it. It was definitely the biggest mosque I had ever seen.

DSC06545.JPG
The biggest Minaret I’ve ever seen
DSC06550.JPG
Unfortunately non-Muslims are not allowed inside

Near the mosque were some fixed-price markets (as opposed to the souks, known for haggling). I had been considering buying a leather jacket while in Morocco and so I wanted to window shop to at least get a feel for pricing. We didn’t find much in the way of leather but we stopped in a woodworking store where you could watch someone doing the carving. It was impressive to watch; he formed a lathe with a rope and spindle and used a sharp chisel to make intricate spiral patterns. Madhav bought a chess-set for his sister and we left after that.

After seeing the craftsmen we wanted to get away for a while. We took a long walk up to the Majorelle Gardens. I believe they’re named after some important fashion designer who presumably lived there, but to us they were just another oasis of plants and shade in the bustling city. Lots of non-native plants were present here like cacti and a diverse set of flowers. The gardens were crowded but thankfully things were cooling off as the afternoon progressed.

DSC06556.JPG
A bit of peace and quiet
DSC06558.JPG
Tranquility and shade

DSC06584.JPGDSC06586.JPG

After our stop in the garden, I was ready. We were determined to at least look in the heart of the souks and see what I could find in cheap leather. We ventured into the souks and spent more than a few minutes wandering around. We found where metalworkers were welding and grinding detailed gates and art pieces, tons of stores with elegant light fixtures, pottery, and everything else you can imagine. We found an area devoted to selling spices where we saw some impressive displays:

DSC06541.JPG
Lots of people were selling spices. I’d buy from this guy.
DSC06529.JPG
A small taste of the chaos of the souks. This was actually a pretty empty spot
DSC06611.JPG
Gloomy lanterns in an alley

Eventually we did find the leather market. We stopped into one store to try some jackets on and out of curiosity I asked for the price of one of the jackets. They were asking for 130$, but the material and cut was not that nice. With that as a data point, we moved on to somewhere with a much larger selection. There, the shopkeeper eagerly showed me an abundance of styles, colors, and sizes. I spent a few minutes trying different options on. Eventually I found one that I liked, a dark brown jacket with heavy zippers and buttons. I asked for the price and he wanted $250. Let the games begin.

I started my offer at about 1/4 his price, asking for 60$. There was a dance to this. He apologized and informed me the jacket was far too nice to give it away for that price, and counter-offered with about 230$. I went up to 70$. He moved to 220$. When I informed him that I was not ready to spend that much money, he asked me what my last price would be. I informed him that I had 100$ in local currency and couldn’t afford anything more. With that, he came down to 160$, but I told him that I didn’t have the money and started to walk out. At the last second he offered 140$, to which I made my last offer: 100$ in Moroccan currency and 30$ in Euro. We agreed on that price and I walked away with a fancy new jacket. I don’t know whether I got ripped off or got a great deal, but haggling for the jacket was a fun experience I won’t soon forget. So far, it seems to be holding up just fine.

After our successful foray into the souks, we both had goodies to drop off at the hostel, so we made out way out of the crowded streets and into the sanctuary of our riad. We took a few minutes to relax and do some research for the following day. After a short rest it was dinner time. Per a tip we got from a couple we’d met at lunch, we had made reservations at a well-known place overlooking the spice markets. We weaved through the streets until we made it back there and were promptly seated.

I had a deliciously spiced couscous dish. I realize all the food is sounding similar, but I assure you, this one was unique. Spicy chicken and a tasty offering of vegetables balanced the grains perfectly. It was a big plate and I had no trouble putting it down. Madhav’s phone reported we’d walked 13 miles since breakfast.

We were unable to reserve a table out on the patio but took a chance to walk out and enjoy the view. The spice market was as lively as ever, now brilliantly illuminated to make the spectacle even more memorable.

The highlight of dinner for me was probably the dessert. I had seen that they offered unusual ice creams and decided to try some. I ordered two scoops: the first was a mix of almond, argan oil, and honey. The other was a flowery-vanilla mix. The argan oil ice cream tasted like berries which then faded into a hint of mint-tea right at the end. It was a strange combination but one that worked surprisingly well. After every bite you were left with the hint of mint which left you wanting more berry; this was a problem as I only had the one scoop of it =)

After dinner we walked back to the riad, tired from a long day. On the way Madhav ticked off a bucket list item by buying some street food. He said it was good but it was a fried vegetable roll (not inherently bad) served at room temperature (no thanks). I was stuffed from dinner and dessert anyway, so I didn’t partake.

The next morning we woke up early and well-rested. We asked our host and were able to have breakfast on the rooftop terrace. We enjoyed our view as we were treated to a typical Moroccan breakfast, but with some different spreads. I savored what ended up being my final glass of mint tea of the trip.

Our first mission for the day was purely business. After our shopping yesterday we didn’t have enough cash to pay our host for the room and consequently set out to find an ATM. While on this errand I had to find a place to print my boarding pass for our return flight that evening.

We walked for 10-20 minutes to get the tasks done. The ATM was nothing special, but printing the boarding pass was a little more memorable. Dotted all over Marrakesh are little “cyber cafes” offering internet access and basic services like printing. We went into one and were able to get the pass printed, but not before I struggled to enter my email password due to the alternative keyboard layout. I shouldn’t have been surprised to find the keys in different locations, but it was still strange for me to encounter this. We thanked the woman running the cafe and returned to our riad to check out.

Our first sightseeing stop of the day was Ben Youssef Madrasa, an old Islamic college where theology was studied and taught. Here, more intricate calligraphy and decoration was our focus, but seeing the small nooks and rooms jutting off the main halls was cool too. It was reassuring to note that college students everywhere are subjected to cramped living quarters. Some things are universal.

DSC06643.JPG
The main courtyard of the college building
DSC06616.JPG
Looks like my handwriting..

DSC06656.JPG

We had one more garden to check out, “the Secret Garden”. This more than any other place I would consider an oasis. Literally amidst the souks, a huge expanse of fountains, greenery, and trees offered an escape from the chaos of the streets. We relaxed here and had an amusing discussion about dream homes and the desire for secret passages, playrooms and all sorts of outlandish features.

DSC06662.JPG

DSC06678.JPG
Secret gardens often go unexplored

The last few sites we wanted to see were back towards the south end of town, so we headed back for one last stop at Jemaa el Fna to grab a quick lunch as it was on the way. We both ate fairly light and were pleasantly surprised to find the meal cheap even by Moroccan standards.

After lunch we entered the Badi Palace. This was a bit less intricate but far more grandiose. The palace was huge with open expanses, fountains, and an underground network of tunnels which had been converted to exhibition halls for photographs and artifacts. We also saw bits of the palace which hadn’t been looked after so carefully- massive birds were making impressive nests in and on top of the outer palace walls. Our visit was a good mix of history, context, and simple experience. While we didn’t have a guide again, some of the text was in English and so we were able to take it all in at our own pace.

DSC06695.JPG
This courtyard was.. a little bigger.

DSC06705.JPG

DSC06690.JPG
I’m not sure what all the holes are for, but look at that massive bird nest! We know who’s king here

DSC06708.JPG

Our last stop in Marrakesh were the nearby Saadian Tombs. Here we walked among ancient kings laid to rest. Many of the graves were not incredibly intricate, but a few of them laid in an amazing beautiful room filled with tile work and carvings. The area itself is pretty compact, so we didn’t stick around too long. As we were leaving an overfilled van of schoolchildren arrived and the kids were filing into the burial area. We left as the crowd was thickening.

DSC06716.JPG

DSC06725.JPG
Not a bad place to be buried, eh?

With our time for sightseeing in Marrakesh running out, we opted to walk back to the airport to stretch our legs a little before the long journey. At the airport we faced a lot of security: let me outline the steps.

First our bags were scanned before entering the airport building. Then we filled out emigration forms. Then we had to do the pre-passport check at Ryanair check-in. Afterwards we had our passports checked before entering security. We went through normal airport security with baggage and personal screening, where we received pat-downs. We were then waived past a customs desk. We met passport control and got an exit stamp, which was then checked by another officer. After all this we were able to make it to the gate. I was hungry from the walk over and so I ordered a big plate at a sushi place nearby.

We had a long flight followed by a long drive home. I slept on the plane but we didn’t make it home until around 3AM. It wasn’t the most convenient flight given that I had work the next day, but it was all worth it. Exhausted, I rolled into bed after a long journey.

My stay in Morocco was certainly one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had this year. Everything was vibrant, colorful, and wild; the buildings, the people, the landscape, and the food. While the desert was serene, silent, and vast, the city was bustling and cramped with a healthy dose of chaos. Morocco was a major contrast from all of my European travel, but in its own way, the country offered me many contrasts even in my day to day experience there. While I don’t anticipate returning to Africa during my stay in Germany, I look forward to going back and exploring more of what it has to offer. As always,

Best wishes and safe travels everyone,

– Ben

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s