For me traveling is time for myself. Time for inspiration, discovery. Time to grow!
Vienna 5 am, March 2017, we finally waited in the check-in line directly to Marrakech. We found some pretty cheap return flights via Skyscanner and like usual I fell asleep as soon as I entered the plane. 4 hours later I woke up, cacti and palm trees welcomed us as far as the eye can see. The colors of the city are ochre, sand and brown. I feel grounded.
- I recommend to change money in your hometown and to come here with enough cash as the exchange here was very expensive compared to at home and we could not get any cash out at any ATM machine in Morocco, apparently because of a lack of connection?
Between the airport and our riad, we already got some insight into how Marrakech flows. The everyday life and the city routine pull you back into another time and era from modern Vienna. You suddenly realize Marrakech is real. Camels are still used as a mode of transport, donkeys carry heavy trails loaded with vegetables, materials, mattress’ or maybe even fridges. The streets are anarchy. Motorbikes are driven by three to four people, a two-lane road becomes five, but it works. Bicycles and mopeds use their ability to sneak to the top of the crossing. A girl, on a public bus, smiles at me. Her vibes are so content and she seems very happy, even though she doesn’t carry a tablet or a smartphone with her. People here stick together. They support one another. That’s something I really miss in the western world where competition leads everything. I couldn’t decide what window of the cab I should take pictures out of either.. inspiring faces or impressive ways of living?
Our riad, called Nabila, was located in the Medina, which is the old city of Marrakech surrounded by a big mud wall. At our arrival, we got told that our booking was for the next day. Sometimes my boyfriend and I are a confused couple. Our room was ready and we checked into the riad (traditional Moroccan house) with an open courtyard and a beautiful rooftop terrace. I love all the little details in architecture and furniture, tiles and even plates. I also love that Ryan always wants to try new dishes and that he’s very open for local food. According to this, we had a chicken and lemon tagine for lunch, the best we had during our whole journey. The spices and recipes and dishes, in general, are pure freshness and just wow.
As we were on our way to explore the big market area called ‘the Souks’ we ran into a young guy who was on his way to work. He offered to show us the biggest tannery in Marrakesh where you can get introduced as to how handmade products are produced out of either camel, goat, cow or sheep leather. He leads us through what felt like a hundred little side streets, I was surprised that he navigated us through this labyrinth so well actually, even for a local. We got the chance to see how materials get prepared, colored and softened. I love those raw organic products such as Safran, mint, cinnamon and poppy flower dyes that are used to get these insanely strong colors! Mint handed to us by another guy distracted the smell of the animal skin. It’s so interesting to see how much work has to be done for a pair of shoes and it’s so beautiful to see that the people here appreciate their work. It makes them proud and every little step is important to finish something very precious. I got a really nice (although expensive) pair of Moroccan slippers as a “thank you”.
Pretty much everyone here seems nice and friendly at the beginning. They are very attentive and helpful, but with one condition.. you pay them in the end. You can’t expect to ask for directions without getting some coins ready, and your “friend” will often become easily offended which scared me sometimes and what actually annoyed me. Even if you don’t ask for a thing and they just tell you about where to find this or that they want money. You hear a “fuck off” more often than a “my pleasure”.
My expectations of Marrakech and especially the markets were huge, as I told you I wanted to go there for ages. I expected colors, lots of herbs and spices, unique and handmade things with quality, lamps, pillows, blankets and lovely pieces. I was surprised by the massive overload of tourism. I was disappointed by the missing quality and that nearly everybody sells the same stuff. I was shocked because of the prices which are pretty much that of Europe, even after talking them down up to 80%! If you want to find a nice piece you have to look carefully, everything else looks like an import from China, although if you take your time you can get lost in the big Souks and find some special things!
After you made it through the markets you get to the big square Jamaa el Fna. There you notice it is the place of “buskers”. Snake charmers, monkey men and Henna ninjas wanting to attack you! I basically ended up with two henna tattoos from two different women on two different days after telling both of them that I DO NOT want henna. They grabbed my hands and did not let me go, promising me that it’s a free present and that I should stop worrying. After finishing both tattoos they were pissed off because I didn’t want to pay for something I didn’t want in the first place and my boyfriend got forced to give them money. One of this ninjas came all the way to the bank with us. Ryan ended up paying 3€ for both tattoos but still. Nobody accepts and respects a ‘No’. I think it’s a pity that barely anybody starts a real conversation with you because all they see is that we’re white people and that puts $$$ signs in their eyes.
It’s really hard to get involved in real life, especially as a woman. Men and boys enter rooms before women and girls do. You see no women in the streets really. Mainly men in coffee houses, restaurants, or sitting around in public wherever they feel. Noticing this felt weird. I think a females opinion doesn’t mean a thing, and this took a fair bit of my energy at the start. To notice you’re less worth than a man in the 21st century. I could just write about fancy restaurants and nice sights from this trip but that’s not how I feel Marrakech is. I love the architecture and the creative side but there’s still a huge part of a not existing balance and many issues that make you realize that the world is not fair. It is an important experience for me and I love how different it is, to everywhere I’ve already been. Still, a lot to wonder (I would have for example loved to grabbed all the plastic on the streets as I do it at home, but it would have taken me forever!).
Marrakech’s history is very interesting. I would visit the old college Ben Yussuf, the Bahia, and the El Badi Palace and the Saadian Tombs, where the old royals are buried. I don’t think the Jardin Menara or Yves Saint Laurent’s Jardin Marjorelle are a must see as they are not very well looked after and more of a tourist hype. You can not enter a mosque as a nonmuslim. You will still hear that they get called to pray every 4 hours – the city is very loud. Instead of heading from one sight to another I would plan lots of day trips. There’s a beautiful botanic garden from the Austrian artist Andre Heller 23 km from the Medina with a free shuttle. Probably the most unique garden I’ve ever been to. Go for a ride to the beach in Essaouira. On the way there you’ll drive through the Argan valley and you ’ll see goats standing in trees. Essaouira is less busy, cheaper and the fish and seafood are super fresh! Don’t eat fish anywhere else but on the coastline. It was very nice to escape the hectic life in the big city.
While having dinner one evening Ryan and I decided to go on a Sahara trip. I always wanted to sleep in a nomad camp under the stars and to get lost in space. Lucky as we were, our hotel offered a very cheap trip for 3 days for 90€ including the bus ticket to the Sahara plus food and accommodation for 2 nights / 3 days. It was awesome. We crossed the huge mountains, drove through the most beautiful valleys and I felt so connected with nature. I recharged my inner batteries again (: We’ve seen so many nice places, visited a free nomad village, Berber tribe, drank some delicious mint tea and got introduced to the natural lifestyle of these nomads. We ended up in a Canyon valley – I can now imagine how insanely sick the Gran Canyon must be after being so stoked from this baby Canyon in Africa.
Slowly the landscape changed. It got stoney and quiet. Wide and bright. I knew the desert can’t be far and suddenly we saw dunes. I could not stop smiling. It was breathtaking. We got camels and rode them through the Sahara for about two hours. You can’t put this silence and wideness into words. You feel free. You feel your freedom. I love the Sahara already. How couldn’t I? Surrounded by endlessly big sand dunes and in my lover’s arms we’ve watched the most beautiful sunset – super corny – I know. This spot made it onto the list of my favorite places in the world. If you ever get the chance to explore the desert – go for it. The stars haven’t ever felt that close and even though the night was freezing cold I had the best time. Morocco, you’ve touched my heart and I don’t know if I come back but I would never have wanted to miss these moments in the middle of nowhere.
Back in Marrakech, we had an amazing last couple of days. After knowing how the city works Marrakech 2.0 was exciting. We weren’t the cities victims anymore and didn’t let anyone rip us off. With the knowledge and experiences that the first two weeks taught us, we ended up loving Marrakech. We worked out how to enjoy the city beats and it’s actually always interesting to see new impacts and expressions from new parts of the world.
Although what do Moroccans think about us? What does a waiter in a hotel think about me? Does he judge me because I’m lying in the sun wearing a bikini, or because we drink alcohol and occasionally have a knee showing?
There are lots of open questions but I will never get an answer.
At the end of the day, we all live in our own little world full of illusions, wishes, and our own truth, but isn’t this beautiful that our thought will always stay free.
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Amandine & Adrian