On The Road: Marrakech, Morocco
I’LL never forget the day I booked my flights to Morocco. With three other friends in different countries booking separately, a valiant cross-continental Skype effort was made to book the tickets together. Two hours, rejected credit cards and many breakdowns (both internet and mental) later, the tickets were booked. It was official. I was leaving Europe, accompanied by three friends. And what better destination to leave the continent than to go to Marrakech?
My years of envying others going to far-flung American destinations was finished; their stylish tales of strolls in Central Park would surely be surpassed by my exotic stories of camels and other animals whose names I probably couldn’t pronounce. Another group Skype attempt to book a hostel later and the trip organisation was practically complete. Perfect. That was the stressful bit over. Or so we thought.
A smug Facebook status later, I was panickingly Googling how to cancel flights and shamelessly enquiring if our hostel provided refunds (the fact that it cost 5 euro a night was irrelevant). Notifications were flying in for my friend’s smug status stating that we had booked a trip to Morocco…but not the good kind of notifications. The kind of notifications that inform you that people had commented. And the comments were not all good. People that my friend hadn’t seen in years were suddenly travel experts, stating that Marrakech was extremely dangerous. My sixty year old aunt magically became a travel expert (and apparently racist), arguing that Moroccan men were “never up to any good,” not that she had ever left Ireland before. Within an hour of the fatal Facebook post, it became apparent that Marrakech was possibly not the best destination for our ‘girls weekend’.
While my friend took the gallant step to check reviews of our hostel on Tripadvisor, I decided that I probably should have researched Marrakech more, rushing to Google. While all reports of Marrakech itself were reassuringly quite positive, a rape helpline number was provided beside some articles. Reassuring. Meanwhile, another emergency Skype session was held to discuss the reviews of our accommodation…apparently rats and snakes were ‘common’ in it. As admittedly-little research I had done into the accommodation, I certainly didn’t remember a zoo being mentioned in it. However, we decided to be brave. The weeks passed, and the packing begun. Amongst suncream and Marrakech-friendly outfits, rape alarms kindly ordered by our parents off Amazon were packed. And we were ready.
Landing at the airport, we felt like celebrities. Having changed our money into Dirhams, we were – or at least we felt – rich. Walking out through the departures exit, our egos inflated more: taxi men assured us that we’d get their best rates, given that we were the prettiest ladies they’d seen all day (in hindsight of our expanding egos, we should have considered that it was 9am). Jokes aside, our fears vanished as we were driven into Marrakech city from the airport. It was beautiful. Stunning. Sandy roads everywhere, camels waited on corners and colourful people that looked like they were part of a tribe peppered the beautiful scenery. It was perfect. I was besotted. We all were. Driving into the city centre itself, the initial calmness of the city disappeared. It was chaos. Drums were banged. Musical horns sang. People watched snake charmers.
However, we firstly had to deal with the task of finding our accommodation. Abandoned by our taxi driver, we attempted to find it ourselves. Foolish. After wandering many tiny streets later, a teenage boy overheard our frustrations. “Ladies, I know where it is,” he triumphantly stated, urging us to follow him. Obediently heeding the advice of our guide books, we initially refrained, only to eventually give in. As the boy assured us he didn’t want our money, just our ‘honey’, we cautiously followed him down various winding streets amidst the sweltering heat to find our hostel. Running from refuge from our new friend, we were welcomed by the owner, Abdul. Half an hour later, we found ourselves in the beautiful bright common room, attempting to play various Moroccan instruments, sipping mint tea. And more importantly; no sign of that free zoo mentioned on Tripadvisor.
An hour later, after various emergency checks out the tiny window of our bedroom to ensure that our new pal wasn’t in the vicinity, we braved the streets. Firstly, we went to the square, which had enamoured us earlier that morning. Sure enough, the momento of the square was still as lively as hours before with little space to move between the various snake charmers, stalls and sellers. In a novel marketing technique, the sellers called us Lady Gaga in an attempt to get our attention (unfortunately it didn’t work- maybe try calling us Miranda Kerr next time). After an incident posing with a monkey for a photo (to all future Marrakech visitors – be prepared to pay the equivalent of ten euro for a photo) we headed towards the souks; seemingly endless paths of market stalls. The tiny little lanes were not only frequented by lost tourists like ourselves; men on donkeys and carts and ponies expertedly whizzed through the throngs of people. Twice as surreal, considering that Formula One course was merely two miles away. The day passed, and despite a dead pig being thrown in my face at one point, I was smitten.
The next day, we managed to haggle a day trip down to the equivalent of €30; a trip that would include a much anticipated camel ride and walking the Atlas mountains. The camel ride was as incredible as expected and I’m happy to report that my €3 Penneys shoes managed to endure the mountain climbing. At one point during the mountain climbing, an enterprenuring local demanded that we pay him to use the ladder to continue upwards – at this point in my climbing I was on the verge of asking if his business offered helicopter rides instead. As expected, the mountains were gorgeous and luckily enough, not too many tourists, although it is reported to be a different scenario in the summer months. And with a complaint over sore feet and a last glimpse of Barbour village…our last day in Marrakech came to an end. Minus the use of any rape alarms or any forced marriages.
And in the words of our henna tattoo artist… “no money, no honey.” Get saving. Go. It’s worth it. Dead pig in face incidents and all.
Photos c/o lawrenceofmorocco.com, wildeoates.com, merzougajourneys.com