Morocco…. somewhere I’ve thought about every great once in a while, always with a desire to go, yet always assuming it would be much later on… I spent just over a week at the end of December into the beginning of January traveling through Prague, Austria, Bratislava, and Budapest (I’ll be posting about those soon). They were amazing, but freezing cold!! Once I was back in the UK in January, I was still chilled to the bone! When I learned I would have a 3 day weekend in February, I decided I wanted to go somewhere warm!!!!!! It didn’t take much browsing of airfare to realize that Morocco could very cheaply and easily be that place. I hit up a pair of female friends, who were instantly interested in going, and we made it happen! Conveniently, this was over the Valentine’s Day weekend. Who needs a man and his chocolate or flowers when we could all treat ourselves to a weekend in Morocco?! We booked a little riad we found on Airbnb.com and arranged for them to pick us up at the airport and take us directly to the riad. We were so grateful to have arranged that! The streets of Marrakesh, unsurprisingly, are crowded and chaotic and organizing public transportation from the very beginning would have been quite interesting and challenging. Our riad was charming, but the lady working there only spoke French and I couldn’t remember enough from my lessons the prior summer to properly communicate with her, so it became a game of charades and eventually we understood that we had the entire riad to ourselves and that we could have breakfast the next morning at 7:30 before our tour at 8. A challenge, yet a success in the end! We set out into the streets, making our way back to the large souqs/market square, Jaama el Fna, we had passed through on the way to our riad. We were hungry for lunch and found a restaurant that the riad owner had recommended in a prior email to us, Le Marrakchi. They were just opening, so we had our choice of seating, with a great view looking out over the square. Shortly afterward, a pair of older British ladies were seated at a table next to us. We very quickly ended up chatting with them, they strongly recommended we get the Moroccan salad, which turned out to be a bunch of little bowls with different vegetables, some of them pickled or something similar, some different types of beans or something of that nature. All in all, extremely delicious. I’ve had bastille before and loved it, and the menu had a pigeon bastille on it for a starter, so I decided to go ahead and try pigeon. Not too good in the end, pigeon has an odd taste, the chicken bastille one of my friends grabbed was far better… Our lunch turned out superbly, and once the women told us about the evening music they had for dinner, we reserved a table for that night! Once finished, we headed out to explore the souqs and square. I really wanted to see a cobra, I love snakes, I know that’s a bit odd for a female, but they truly are one of my favorite creatures, so I was intent on seeing the snake charmers. On our way over, one of my friends was hit up by a young lady for a henna tattoo. If you don’t know about their tactics, let me fill you in. Their “technique” is to grab your hand and immediately start drawing on it in henna. The hope is to do enough to make you pay for it, and if they’re lucky, you’ll even let them do it. Well, she yanked her hand back and got away from the lady, but not before she had managed to get some of the ink on her hand. Henna is a very wet ink, and needs to be able to sit for a long period of time on your skin to properly dry and stain your skin. Not knowing this was a stain essentially, she tried wiping it off of her hand, only managing to smear it into a huge, orange stain that remained on her hand for the remainder of our time in Morocco. Fair warning gals, keep your hands close to your body when you see those ladies coming at you!! Before we could reach the snake charmers, though, we were instantly hit up by a man with a monkey trying to give it to us for a picture opportunity. We decided why not, but we straight out asked him how much, he asked us the same in return, and I told him 20 durham (about $2 if you’re American), and he accepted. Well, as soon as he sat that monkey on my friend’s arm, another guy ran over and sat his monkey on her other arm. They aren’t ones to pass up an opportunity to get your money… After her shots, we swapped camera for monkeys and I got a shot with them. I like to call it my impersonation of people traveling with children… Once done snapping the pics, I handed the 20 durham to the individual I had initially agreed with and he said no, 40 durham. I told him, no, we agreed on 20. His response was 20 for himself, and 20 for the guy with the other monkey who had joined in… I am not the type to put up with that, so I said no, and turned to walk away. The other guy with his monkey though did manage to get the 20 out of my friend, though, so I’m not sure how that would have worked out had we both walked away and refused! So, even if you agree on a price, they’ll be sneaky and find more ways to up that price on you… Just past them, we finally reached the snake charmers. True to your stereotypical idea of a what a snake charmer should be, they were playing music, but the snakes weren’t exactly doing that weaving/dancing/climbing thing you see in films. Disappointing of course, but I didn’t really expect it to be like that in the first place. Of course, these guys were no different than the individuals with the monkeys; they wanted our money. They immediately ran up to us and put water snakes around our necks to pose for pics, grabbing my camera out of my hands to take a picture of us. Of course, since I use manual mode and hadn’t had any sort of a chance to change the aperture, shutter speed, anything, those pics came out way over exposed. So when they tried demanding money, I told them no way, those pics came out horribly, we’re doing this again if you want money! So we re-did that shot. I thought we were done at that point, so we handed over some money and made to leave, but the older, rather amusing guy in the group, ran up and threw his cobra around her neck! She, unlike me, is afraid of snakes, yet somehow she managed to go with it, I was so proud of her! I was next, of course, and the old guy stood there with me, holding his cobra for the pic… (he did the same for her of course) Is it necessary to say at this point, that the old guy wanted more money for the cobra pics? We made our way from the square into the souqs, which is a huge, multistory maze of little market stalls, selling so many odds and ends, but generally separated into sections selling the same types of items. I found some pretty jewelry items for gifts, one of which I haggled pretty harshly for. It was a huge, heavy silver bangle with camels, that I knew a friend back home going through some tough times would absolutely love, so I needed to get it. The guy wanted 1200 durhams (about $120) for that initially. After a lot of haggling, like serious, hardcore haggling, and several attempts to leave the store whenever he wouldn’t budge any lower, I finally managed to get it for 400 durham (about $40). I couldn’t have been prouder of my efforts, and in the end, my friend was so happy and touched when I gave it to her, that it was all worth it. But, haggle hardcore when you want something, it is possible to get it for a third of what they’re asking. We haggled on everything we bought and saved so much money. I’m thinking that since it was February and they weren’t super packed with tourists that might have helped increase their desire to sell, even if at a lower price, but I’d bet you could still get steep discounts in the summer months as well, if you’re determined enough. After our shopping, in which we did buy quite a bit of stuff, some of it large and heavy, we made a quick run to our riad to unload. We then set back out to explore more of the city, heading for an old palace. Unfortunately, by the time we found it, they had just closed, so we only got to see the boring, stark, outside wall of the compound. So we turned around and took a different route back into the city center, passing by the large mosque, Minaret de la Koutoubia, on the way. By the time we reached the souqs, we were tired, parched, and a little hungry, but we still had about two hours until our dinner reservation. We found a little restaurant/café type of place on the edge of the square and climbed up to the rooftop overlooking the square. We relaxed there as the sun set, watching the market lights come on as it came to life with musicians and dancers. Eventually the evening call to prayer sounded, and the musicians all immediately packed up and left. We finished our food and drinks, and headed back down into the souqs, wanting to find a few more items before dinner. Dinner turned out to be absolutely amazing, but that was no surprise after our lunch. We were sat at a little table front and center in front of the musicians, playing and singing away throughout our meal. We ordered dessert after dinner, as the musicians finished and cleared out. Before we got around to paying the bill, though, we were pleasantly surprised to see a belly dancer show up and start dancing her way through the room. She was shortly joined by a second dancer, and the two of them worked the crowd, randomly pulling people out of their seats to dance with them. It was great fun and a fantastic way to finish our first day in Morocco. We dragged ourselves back to our riad afterward and crashed right away, it had been such a long day, and we needed our rest for tomorrow’s tour through the Atlas Mountains to the ancient city of Ait Benhaddou.
A Day in Marrakesh, Morocco