Marrakech, Morocco: Part I

Marrakech, Morocco: Part I

I used to bring journals with me when I took trips, but I stopped in the past year. I’m not sure why. My trips these days are so fun yet ridiculous that I think I would really enjoy looking back on the details. It’s all time though, isn’t it? I don’t value writing enough to take the extra time it takes to document. Enter: the beauty of documentation via video. Which is awesome (looking at you, Instagram stories), but there’s something to be said about really good, written stories. I’ll attempt to jot down a few here because…

On my plane ride out of marrakech, I decided my adventures there needed to be documented. I actually think the stories from those days are too good to be left to those moments, and I don’t think it was just my 10am wine that influenced my decision on that.

I would suggest before every trip to a new place, you take (at least) 15 minutes to google the history of where you’re going. I advise you of this not because I’ve done it, but because I just thought of it and wish I’d done it. It’s my new plan. Googling right now. 

Flying into Morocco, I wasn’t sure exactly how safe it would be. I mean, Northern Africa doesn’t exactly have the best reputation, as each of the surrounding countries are “strongly discouraged” to tourists. Morocco is pretty different though, and I was happy to realize within a few hours I actually felt extremely safe. 

I arrived at night into their super nice new airport and immediately felt the desert heat. Unsure if the man was going to let me through customs, since I hadn’t thought to book a flight out of the country, it took a bit longer than expected. You never know with the customs guys. I had an immediate mission of finding an ATM, so I’d be able to pay a taxi driver to take me into the city. An atm was waiting for me on the complete opposite side of the airport, and as always, with currency conversions, it was extremely terrifying asking for 2,000 dirhams from the machine…which in reality is only about $200 usd. Really makes you feel like a baller when you have a pretend 2 grand in your pocket though.

I had asked my airbnb to have a taxi waiting for me, because who doesn’t love walking out of the airport to a sign with your name on it. So there he was, Abdul, waiting to give me a ride in his rickety car into Marrakech. I am 100% sure he was not a licensed driver. Albeit, he pointed out sights to me as we drove from the outskirts  towards the center and through the Old Medina wall into the middle. The roads wind and make no sense, so I had no idea where he was taking me. Halfway to town, I noticed a lot of rollerbladers on the streets, which I thought was sort of random. He tried to tell me something but it was lost in translation, until he motioned that I look in my rearview mirror. I couldn’t believe it. These rollerbladers were hanging onto the back of the car and winding through the streets with us! One guy would grab onto the car, and his friends would grab onto him, and they’d form a snake, seeing who could hang on the longest, it seemed. It was so great.

Eventually, we stopped in the street, he asked for money, and handed me off to a man who was standing by the car, who by some miracle was my housekeeper. I never really understand how these countries do it. Make things happen behind the scenes. I’m the type of person that prefers less details about everything, so this method works perfect for me, but I just always wonder how it all works out. 

Karim took me down a few streets to a door that was about 4′ high. I really didn’t think it was a real door, but alas, it was the only entrance to my Riad (home). I later realized all places are like this. Doors on walls lining the streets, with no separation between houses. It’s kinda cool actually. You go in and the places are built upwards, always culminating with a terrace on top to enjoy the evening breeze. 

The place I stayed was one of the main reasons I chose Marrakech instead of a different Moroccan city (Fez & Tangier were next up). The photos showed this incredible all-white minimalistic riad with Moroccan/Japanese influences and I became slightly obsessed. It’s all about ambiance for me. And let me tell you, it was amazing. Like, I want to build an identical one here in the states to live in. All whitewashed stone, grey & cream Moroccan carpets and blankets. white tiles, minimal Japanese artsy touches, windows in my room with grey shutters that looked out to the interior of the house, a huge skylight, and a wonderful terrace. I’ll never forget it. 

It was 11pm by the time I got settled and I was determined to go explore, but decided I could tame my excitement and wait till morning, and went on a quick, simple walk instead. Once outside in the evening hustle & bustle, I was immediately captivated by the Moroccan magic and knew I’d probably have to stay longer than planned.

NEXT DAY:

If you know me, you know anything bakery related gets me excited. Morning couldn’t come soon enough now that I knew there was a secret boulangerie in a doorway down the street. (My housekeeper had told me about it the night before.) I wore long sleeves. Even though it was 90 it seemed like the Moroccan thing to do. I also got my loaf of bread for 10¢ and then realized I didn’t really have a use for it since I was on my way to breakfast (bakeries make me lose my mind), so I walked around while eating half and stuck the other half in my purse. 

I had found an awesome looking cafe on instagram and was determined it would be my first stop, an easy way to get acquainted with the city and not get food poisoning straight off the bat. 

The streets in the old medina of Marrakech are similar to those mazes you did on paper as a kid, but the most advanced version, that you usually quit before finishing. 

This sounds like a recipe for disaster, however I should note that I have a special talent for directions and knowing where I’m at at all times. I think I got this because my mom is so bad at knowing where she’s at that I got double the gene. Regardless, I found myself turned around more times than I’d like to admit, which only makes me think a lot of people must walk in circles of frustration all day long haha. 

In my initial waltz of trying to figure out the area, I dropped by some shops and got my first taste of Moroccan salesmen. I liked his stuff and really didn’t need him to tell me to like it more, because I already did. But there’s no such thing as letting someone lazily window shop in Marrakech. 

A woman was sitting on a chair stitching hats and Mr. salesman told me I could have a custom one made in 10 minutes! That would be a great initial purchase, I thought. It took an hour, but I got a “haley” straw hat and wore it straight to that cafe I was on my way to. Not sure there’s much more that says tourist than wearing a hat with your name on the front; I realized that after it was done.

After walking past Nomad (the cafe) twice, I realized that restaurants are merely hidden doors in the midst of the market. It’s name was written on a brick. Never ever would I have just stumbled upon this place even though it was in the middle of town. Interesting tacticfor marketing. 

I walked up to the third floor, which was the terrace, so that I could sit and view the markets below. Gosh the place was perfectly gorgeous. I got a fresh juice, cappuccino, and mezze plate. All fantastic. They bring a fresh loaf of bread (like the one that was still sitting in my purse) with a dish of olives and dish of a tapenade before every meal you have. I miss that. 

I sat up there for a while because it was such a happy place. You know those spaces where you feel perfectly content and grateful? I never used to pay as much attention to moments like these until recently when I realized if you don’t appreciate the immediate moment you’re in, your life is literally passing you by. I focus on these times now, when I think how lucky I am to be in a place I want to be, doing exactly what I love. Maybe I haven’t met all of my goals, but to be grateful in the moment is something really special and a great habit to begin. 

Back downstairs in the madness of the sweaty streets, I started picking up souvenirs here and there, not much, just a few cool things. In real life, I don’t buy very much, because I prefer all things to be authentic, so I tend to get clothes and such when I travel. I especially love interior designy things, but that story will come later. I really loved the charismatic salesmen, and seeing how much I could push them before they rolled their eyes so much they gave up on bartering with me. Throughout the trip I got my way a lot because I found the barter system really funny and enjoyed the game. And of course there’s always the occasions I paid too much because they told me their were the only ones in the city to make their craft (Only to always see it about 10 shops down…you win, mista). Regardless, crafting AND being a fun salesman is a real art, and I’m happy to pay those guys, even if I do fall for their marketing.

In everything that I had read about Marrakesh, the articles always talked about visiting a hamman. A Hamman is a steam room where are Moroccans go often weekly to cleanse themselves. From what I had read it would be basically an intense scrubbing of my entire body using a particular soap native to Morocco. Since I’m quite the researcher of finding the best rated places, I found one that sounded really good plus had an hour massage included. I found it…finally…since it was just a door in the wall, and went in but, as I should have expected, they were booked up for the day so I put an appointment in for the following morning.

Now I had a lot more time on my hands. And my shoulders were tense because I’d already mentally started my massage day in my head and so not having one made my aches way more noticeable. Ha. 

What to do? Luckily the market salesman have a lot of good ideas for you for what to do: learn about and buy their stuff. The tricky thing about Moroccan salesman is that it’s actually kind of interesting to listen to their knowledge on particular things. And it just so happens that I walked past a store where the man was extremely knowledgeable in herbal remedies. So even though I wasn’t looking for any herbal remedies at the time he sort of blew my mind with all of the uses of the herbs that he had that he showed me. Four instance, did you know that eucalyptus crystals can be crushed up and smelled in order to clear your sinuses? It’s quite amazing and I bought some and once I brought them back Greg couldn’t get enough of the smell. Maybe it’s a drug though, who knows. What else did I get? I got some argon oil because he said that it’s going to keep me young and I need to keep my skin young; I really tried to say that I didn’t need it but he insisted like 100 times. I also got a few oils. Like I really need more essential oils (my mom keeps me well stocked) but now that I’m home I’m actually happy that I have them because I really enjoy the scent of orange blossom and Rose. Highly suggest. He also talked me into buying some toothpaste powder that whitens teeth. A lot of my friends make fun of me because of the toothpastes that I use because they’re those natural kind that kind of look like dirt instead of toothpaste. Let’s see who’s laughing after I use my whitening dust. Let’s see, I also got a Moroccan spice rub for meat, which seemed kind of out of place there but since I love cooking I got it. He also gave me some detox tea but I couldn’t really understand how he told me to brew it so I have yet to use it. Lastly he hooked me up with some of the black soap that they use in the Hammans and a scrub brush. He also gave me a free 10 min. massage at the end which was amazing and helped my aches that I discussed above. Haha.

I walked out of that place kind of confused how he just tricked me into buying so much and kind of excited that I had all of these new remedies. Of course he could just be happy that I bought things from him, but instead he had to go take me to his friend’s store. I really wonder how long the connection would go if I let myself be taken to store after store after store. I went to the next store and really wanted to look around because it looked somewhat interesting but The New Salesman preferred that he showed me every single thing that his store had to offer. I was even looking at pictures of his kids in his wallet at one point. 

Long story short, because I was in there for way too long, I only bought one tiny set of spice holders. I had wanted a horse but what I didn’t know was that he had suggested I buy the antique horse and I wasn’t trying to throw down $100 for a little toy horse. I pretty much had to sprint out of there to get away.

And I sprinted for the nearest caf√©. Realized I only had about two dollars in coins because Mr. Herbal remedies bought me out so I rummaged around and found enough for a cappuccino. I looked at a book of excursions when I was in there. I had been planning to go to the desert and ride a camel, but after my first evening in Marrakech, I’d already extended my stay because I was so taken by the city. So excursions probably weren’t going to happen this trip, which is fine with me. 

From there I left and perused the Old Medina, the middle of Marrakech, which is enclosed in stone walls. All of the souks and soul are found here and I wanted to get a taste of everything. This mostly consisted of me taking photos of all the unique doorways, of olives, of cool everyday life. I was approaching dinner time and cous cous was sounding really tasty. I scouted out a place that sounded delicious and went to have a candlelit dinner for one. Romantic, I know. 

I was seated right above the bustling night alley, and it was refreshing to be watching the craziness below after having been in the midst of that 90¬∞ desert day all the hours before. The menu was short but incredible. By incredible I mean there was lots of food involved in the meals, my favorite type of meals. I ordered a 3 course one. It was like $10, I mean hellloo, best deal. I actually forgot about the bread & olives as an appetizer thing everyone does, so maybe it was more like 4 courses. I got that first, and was already loving life, before my real app came. I should mention that I thought the other sauce that came with my olives was a bread-dippin marinara, only to find out after a big scoop that it was a hot sauce of sorts. When you’re with people, things like this are really hilarious, but alone, you aren’t sure whether to panic or laugh or tell the table next to you, who might be scared you’re choking. I got through it alone. 

So I have this issue where I pick weird things off the menu. BECAUSE…let me explain, first I like most things, but secondly, because who knows when I could try that thing again. In recent years, this menu selection process has failed me about 75% of the time, and I’m usually jealous of people around me who got normal, delicious things. Stubborn me keeps picking the weird stuff though. Which brings me to my app, I ordered hot eggplant salad. Faaaareaky. Back in college one time I tried cooking eggplant, and figured it needed cheese so I bought slices of fake cheese from the smoke shop next door. Oh hi, college girl. I feel like I still have that horrible taste in my mouth of how bad that eggplant attempt was, so since I’ve never ordered eggplant anything. So maybe it’s weird that I ordered it in Morocco. I would agree with you. If someone had stopped me, I probably would’ve order the normal salad, but I was having my dinner for 1 and all choices were mine, plus I had no wifi to even check if people had reviewed the eggplant salad as 5 stars. Plot twist: it was fantastic! Crazy, I know. But let’s get on with the meal. I got the cous cous with lamb as my main. 

My housekeeper had told me that when Moroccan women get a tummy, they say they’ve been eating too much cous cous. Not my words, his. I thought this was funny because cous cous, those little grains of gluten, seem so innocent. Plus it’s just funny to blame anything on the name cous cous. If I would’ve stayed longer, I might of become the cous cous queen (I’ve always liked the stuff). So I couldn’t finished all of it, because my now, I’d eaten like so much food. But if dessert is on the menu, you eat dessert….so I tried to choose the best one, I think it was called orange dream, maybe. I was hoping for a cake #pastries. It came out as slices of oranges on a plate with cinnamon sprinkled on top. So that’s cool, they wanted me to be healthy after my cous cous, I get it. 

Jokes on them, I went to 2 pastry shops afterwards. I was so full. But like, then I walked by pastry shops. It’s always a little tricky ordering pastries in foreign countries, because the tastes of the cultures vary so much. For instance, in Paris you know you’ll get those incredible French pastries, but go down to Mexico and you get pastries that look really delicious but end up having weird consistencies or being crunchy when u wished they were light and fluffy. Moroccan pastries were, hmm maybe a 4/10. A bit too much frying and crunchiness, but not terribly bad. Someone later told me never to eat the fried pastries because they never change the oil. Too late.  

So I knew I needed to check out Jemaa al fna, the main tourist spot of Marrakech. I’d been avoiding it because I imagined what it would entail, and couldn’t really imagine the salesman being worse than I’d seen. However, you guessed it, they were. The food guys kept yelling their menu at me and following me so I would come eat at their tent. I started shouting how full I was (I was so full), but they didn’t seem to get it. I continued on to see snake charmers, fortune tellers, trinket sellers, and musicians. I stopped to video one group of men and I hadn’t even pressed play before he turned his tambourine over and came straight towards me giving it a little shake, but this time not for music. Luckily I had a coin at the bottom of my purse, because there was a whole circle watching, probably glad he they hadn’t pulled out their cameras. I went on my way staying more aware of who was watching which photos I was taking. Even the slightest move of my phone in the direction of taking a photo, would cause someone to come after me wanting money; it was bazaar to have my photo freedom stripped in a public place. I was over the whole Jemaa al fna about 5 minutes after I got there and decided it was past my bedtime. More than happy to go back to my cozy riad I was staying in, I walked back excited to wake up, because tomorrow is….massage day!

Skills

Posted on

July 17, 2017