[Beginning Note: There’s not a good way to separate these posts up because I have so much to say just about the 2 days we spent in Marrakech! So they might be awkwardly broken up, but start with Part 1! And they’ll have lots of pretty pictures! :)]
Rachel, Susanna, and I started this journey at the Perpignan train station where we hopped on the FrogBus to Girona Airport and waited for our RyanAir flight to Marrakech. This was my first time flying RyanAir… The flight is a little more ‘budget’ than they allude to online. The seats were plastic, the engine roar sounded like it was in the cabin, and the woman enforcing bag-size regulations was INSANE! But I somehow managed to slide by her with my overstuffed bookbag, and the flight to Marrakech was smooth and quick. I’ve developed this weird anxiety about flying and turbulence in the past year…but this flight was a relief.
The cultural transition was sudden. We got off the plane and headed into the city in a cab. But the cab stopped at the outer-rim of the Medina (the old city center), and we had to walk the rest of the way alongside small motorbikes, wheelbarrow-carts, and donkeys. The streets are tiny and the concrete walls form a maze of ins and outs, passageways and courtyards. It’s so confusing! We stayed in a riad which means that from the outside, its unassuming door just blends in with the whitewashed concrete walls …but when you walk in, it opens into a beautiful house that’s built around an open-air courtyard with vibrant colors and beautiful decorations. It’s a little unexpected oasis.
The hostel we booked for said they had problems with their website double-booking people, so we ended up staying at a different place down the street. I think these two hotels, and a couple others, are run by the same group of people. But we didn’t know that at first… so with the language barrier, it was disconcerting when we start following some guy down dark alleyways with the promise of “Just come, i have good place for you..not far.” Haha.
It was dark and there aren’t very many streetlights (alley-lights?) and the stone pavement was all uneven… I was falling everywhere. And cats kept darting past me. We didn’t know who this man was we were following, so everything was looking a little more sinister than it should have. But he led us into this beautiful riad, and we got to stay in a private room (not the 7-person dorm room we paid for!) and we paid the same price (after some haggling of course). There’s a big cultural difference of people doing things for you, and then asking your permission afterwards. Like, when we got out of the cab, a man loaded all our baggage into a wheelbarrow and started to walk away with it, before we asked him to stop since we’d have to pay him. It was the same with the hotel room….they led us to this different “better place, same price” and then told us it would be 15 euros more expensive per night once we’d gotten there. It’s hard to know if you’re supposed to work out price before or after you try on the clothes/eat the meal/use the service. Haha, it leads to awkward conversations and confusing misunderstandings.
By the time we got the room worked out, we were SO hungry. We headed straight for the main square called Jemaa el Fna. This is the biggest square in Africa! They have night markets from 6pm-midnight that all sell food. There are maybe a hundred huge stalls set up with picnic tables to eat at each stall. The square is enormous and glows orange from the dim lights and cooking smoke everywhere.
All the food-workers wear white lab coats, which was a little bizarre. The hassling started immediately when we walked in. I don’t even really know how to describe it. We were a group of 5 young female tourists who looked like they had no clue what was going on. There was an onslaught of maybe 10 guys in our faces with menus telling us the wonders of eating at their stall versus all the rest. As we tried to move forward they moved with us. To the side, backwards, diagonal… we couldn’t shake them! Then there were 15, then 20. All the stalls are really close together, so as soon as you move away from one, you’re walking into another. Then the other workers in the stall started to clap and yell and cheer to try to get us to come into their stall. Finally we just had to sit down somewhere – anywhere! – to make it stop and put food on the table! Once you sit down, everyone disappears and no one bothers you anymore. (Until the beggars start their rounds.)
The food overall in Morocco was some of the best I’ve ever had. This dinner cost us 10 euros including drinks, tip, and all the food! Which was more than we should have paid, but it was our first night..we didn’t know better. Fresh olives and bread, all kinds of meat (maybe pigeon?) kebabs, eggplant, potato cakes, roasted peppers, vegetables, couscous, french fries with a spicy tomato sauce/salsa, and mint tea.
After the meal, we wandered around a little but it was already around midnight, so we went back to the hostel to smoke shisha (flavored tobacco) and drink mint tea. The mint tea is traditional in Morocco and nicknamed “Berber whiskey”. Sharing it is deeply traditional in Morocco to invite and welcome new people into your home or business. There is tradition in pouring the tea which Yaya (who runs the hostel) described to us… It’s poured by the head of the house and the higher up you can pour the tea from the pot the better, to make a nice layer of foam on top.
The Riad is an open-air courtyard, and the Moroccan style rooms have huge open widows and curtains instead of doors. In our place, since it wasn’t a hostel, we did have an actual door, but the windows didn’t really close. So you’re basically sleeping in the outside climate Haha. It was Cold! During the days it was a warm and sunny, but when the sun went down, the desert cold was not what we were expecting! Luckily, we had all our layers for the upcoming trip to Amsterdam so we were able to keep warm enough. But our other friends who ended up staying in the hostel weren’t as lucky! Actually the first night, Rachel, Susanna, and I all slept in this double bed to try to keep warm!
But the following nights, Susanna moved down to the couch with some extra blankets.