“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves and we travel, next, to find ourselves.” –Pico Iyer
“Traveling—it leaves you speechless and then turns you into a storyteller.”—Ibn Battuta
The second part of our holiday brought us to Marrakech in Morocco, which was booked on a whim one cold January night in hopes of warmer weather. Similar to the Christmas markets in Germany, this was the trip we had been looking forward to all year, claiming to be on a “Morocco diet,” dreaming of sun and heat in Marrakech. When it came time to board the plane in Lyon, Alex, Doug, Kate, and I could hardly contain our excitement. We flew to Casablanca, where we were completely confused by the time change (It’s two hours behind France, though only one hour when it isn’t daylight savings) and the airport, which had long, empty hallways and seemed lax on security. We boarded our second flight for a quick half-hour trip to Marrakech: literally up and then down.
When we arrived, we had some trouble getting money out, as the machine wasn’t taking our credit cards. As our hotel had a shuttle that you could pay for at check-in, we decided to do that. We had to call them, but they sent over the shuttle van. He navigated the twisty-turny streets and wove around scooters while talking sporadically on his cell phone and ignoring speed limits. Despite having read this, it was a different experience being in the car. Imagine our surprise, however, when he parked in a square, no hotel in sight, and asked us to pay him. When we pointed out what was written on our reservation, he just shook his head and brought his palm to his forehead. He was not happy. He led us through alleys, full of stray cats and trash. We were quite nervous that he was just leading us in circles until we saw a sign for the Riad Hannah. Eventually, we got there, where he asked us to pay one more time before coming in. The receptionist later explained that the website was wrong and you had to pay the man directly, but it was all very confusing…
Our hotel was nice. It had a sitting room/library with a TV that opened onto the courtyard in the center. There was also a rooftop terrace with tables and chairs to relax in the sun. Doug and I shared a room and Kate and Alex shared another. The rooms were very narrow and the bathrooms were a bit strange, but other than that it was nice. Our first night we decided to stay in for fear of getting lost again. We began our first full day in Marrakech with breakfast (bread with jam and an egg), coffee, and mint tea. We then ventured out to explore the streets of Marrakech and find an ATM, which proved to be more difficult than we thought. Because most of the streets are small and narrow, they don’t have names on the map. The part where our hotel was located was in an unlabeled area that represented the souks. Eventually we found an ATM and wandered around the streets and markets into the big square, Jemaa El-Fnaa. It was full of people doing henna, snake charmers, orange juice stands, and dried fruit vendors. We had some tagine for lunch, a slow-cooked stew and Moroccan specialty. We did a bit of shopping where I practiced my haggling skills, wandered some, and then decided to go to the tanneries where most leather goods are made.
While looking at the map to try to find the tanneries, an older man stopped us. He told us he was going to the tanneries anyways as he lived and worked there (he showed us his card as proof) and said he would take us for free. Despite reading about scams, we figured we wouldn’t be able to find it on our own and followed him. He gave us all Moroccan names (Doug=Mustafa, Kate=Aisha, Alex=Mina, and I was Rashida) and talked about the culture. Eventually we made it to the tanneries where he tried to give us a tour. We decided this is where we would leave him, so we said no thanks, but he pushed us on a friend who handed us some mint leaves and took off. We saw the process and pe
ople working. Basically, the leather sits in mud and pigeon poop for ages, and then is beat and stretched and worked until it can be sewed and crafted. Halfway through the tour we asked the man if this was costing us. He said 10 Dh, which is about a Euro. After that he was a lot less helpful. We paid him and left, walking quickly to escape the man from before who asked us if “our guardian” got a tip. We walked outside the wall and took a turn around the Medina before coming back in and making our way back to the hotel for a rest. For dinner we went back to the square, which was crowded with vendors at night, and ate very cheaply. We also got a box of assorted cookies for 20 Dh (about 2 Euros).
The next morning we ventured over to the new part of Marrakech, which is completely different from the Medina. Here there were modern cars and big apartments, as well as chain stores and restaurants like McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and Mango. We started off in the Majorelle Gardens, which were designed by Jacques Majorelle when Morocco was a colony of France and were later owned by Yves Saint-Laurent. They were very beautiful and full of bright blues and cacti. We went to a restaurant and ate lunch with the locals, then walked back through the new town and then the cyber park.. We even managed to convince a Moroccan man that Doug and I were French! It was very hot: about 35 degrees Celsius, or 95 degrees Farenheit We went to the square again for dinner and I got a henna tattoo on my hand.
Our last full day in Marrakech began at the Saadian tombs, which were rediscovered through aerial views in 1917. They were beautifully tiled and still in good condition. Next we took a taxi to the Palmeraie, which is a large area full of palm trees on the edge of the desert. There, we dressed in robes and mounted camels, which we rode around for an hour. We passed by a Berber village and saw sheep and goats, as well as interesting plants. Although it was kind of frightening when getting on and off the camel, the view was good and it was an enjoyable time. We came back to eat near our hotel at a café with a rooftop terrace which overlooked the city and eat our last tagine. Upon arriving at our hotel for a midday rest, we discovered that the hotel had moved our rooms without telling us. Unfortunately, that soured our opinion of the Riad, which had been lovely thus far.
For our final afternoon, we hit the souks to do some major bargaining and haggling. I managed to get slippers, a purse, and a pencil case for 130 Dh when his original price was about 250 Dh. I also got a marriage proposal and a promise of 3000 camels if I return… backup plan, right? We made our way to the square for dinner, orange juice, and more henna before turning in for an early night. Unfortunately, the hotel did not call the shuttle as they said they would, so we had to catch taxis to the airport. We made it on time to our flight, however, and returned to rainy Chalon.
Marrakech was an altogether different kind of culture than I had experienced in the past. You had to constantly be on the lookout for people driving their scooters down the street, stray animals were everywhere, and the men were somewhat bolder than we were used to. All in all, I greatly enjoyed my travels and the new things I encountered. I’ve been so lucky this year to come into contact with so many other people and cultures, and it’s really redefined my opinions of stereotypes and helped me to realize that you can never judge someone by one aspect of their personality, whether that be culture, heritage, religion, or something else. Each person I’ve met is a unique mix of the experiences he or she has had, and I hope my own experiences have impacted me for the better.
French word of the day: Jus d’orange—Orange juice et Thé à la menthe—mint tea. These are two things we had a lot in Marrakech.