I’m finally getting around to my travels from earlier this month. As some of you may or may not have known, I spent a week traveling around Morocco after my teaching contract ended, and it proved to be a challenging, but beautiful experience. Plus, it was my first time on the African continent, which was incredible, to say the least!
For a long while, I’d been interested in visiting Morocco, after seeing many gorgeous photos of the country online and from my friends who’ve visited. That said, I didn’t hesitate to buy a round-trip ticket for 70 euros back in December with a friend, scheduled for May. Five months leading up to my trip, and I was so excited!
The day came, and before I knew it, I headed to Paris where I dropped off my *massive* suitcase at a friend’s flat (to be taken once I returned from Morocco and had to head home to the States) and headed to the airport to catch my 21h00 flight to Marrakesh.
The plane took off half an hour late, but all the same we arrived in due time three hours later and after getting through customs, I found my hostel’s taxi waiting for me outside; I’d contacted my hostel beforehand to let them know that I would be arriving in Marrakesh late (past midnight, basically) and the receptionist arranged a taxi to pick me up to get me safely to the hostel late that night. I made it to the hostel where I checked in, was shown to my bed, and proceeded to crash without having showered or freshened up. Mind you, it’d been a long day…
I’d gone to bed close to 2h00 and woke up at 6h00, unable to get back to sleep because of nerves and excitement to be traveling in a new country. After a *carb-filled* breakfast provided by the hostel, I mapped out places I wanted to check out that day and around 9h30 set off to explore the city.
Marrakesh (let alone Morocco) is very different from what I’ve experienced so far from my travels around the world. If I had only one word to describe it, that word would be chaotic. To put it into perspective, the streets and alleyways are constantly packed with pedestrians, bikers, and motorcyclists alike: it’s a miracle that no one gets killed, for it seems that everyone has a death wish there!
Not only that, but also the famous souks (marketplace) at the Jemaa el-Fnaa main square are noisy, i.e. an overload of stimulants on the eyes, nose, and ears. From market stalls stuffed to the brim with handbags, scarfs, and trinkets to the merchants who aggressively pester you to come into their shops to buy something, Marrakesh is definitely different from what I was accustomed to back in Europe and the United States; I would say that the noisy, vibrant atmosphere resembles that of the markets in Asia, but even then, they’re not the same thing.
I arrived at the Jemaa el-Fnaa before heading west towards the Koutoubia Mosque, the largest mosque in Marrakesh. It’s also the tallest in the city, measuring 77 meters (253 feet). I’m told that other buildings cannot be built any taller than the mosque itself, which goes to show just how religious the people are. As a non-Muslim, I can’t enter it, but taking a photo from the outside is better than nothing!
I returned to Jemaa el-Fnaa, where I decided to check out the souks. Now, I knew that it was easy to get lost in the dark, narrow, and windy streets of the marketplace, so I made sure to remember how to get back to the main square. I had no problem with the first souk, but ended up getting utterly lost in the second one. However, the latter was more gorgeous than the first, as it had this lantern souk that took my breath away…normally, you’re not supposed to take photos of these shops, but I did so discreetly:
I also bought myself a headscarf, after bargaining with the merchant from 200 dirhams (20 euros) to 150 dirhams (15 euros). Feeling satisfied, I continued through the souk, only to find myself utterly lost once I popped out onto the big street.
Considering that Google Maps was of no help in Morocco (and my hostel map as well), I ended up wandering for two hours in the heat, trying to remember how to get back to the main square. I encountered a couple of faux guides (aka con men who try to help you, but actually want your money), but refused their advances.
However, it wasn’t until a man approached me, asking if I needed help to get back to the city center that I said yes. In hindsight, it was stupid of me to go along with it, but at that point, I was desperately lost and if it meant giving him money, I would do it. I won’t go into the details of what happened (will save it for another post), but basically, I got robbed, and that really shook me up for the rest of the afternoon. Probably the craziest thing that has ever happened to me while traveling, and I hope not to relive it again.
Eventually, I took a taxi back to the main square, and from there I walked back to my hostel. I had a late lunch/early dinner at a cafe just down the street, treating myself to a vegetable tagine and orange juice while cooing over the cafe’s kittens playing with my shoes. If anything, the combination of food and kittens made my crazy day just a bit happier. ❤
Returned to my hostel after dinner, showered, and turned in for the day. I would be taking a one-night tour to the Sahara desert the following morning, so I needed my rest- more on that later, too!
Upon returning to Marrakesh after the desert tour, I checked back into my hostel, for I would be staying another two nights in the city. My friend with whom I would be traveling arrived that evening, and I was so glad to see her especially after the robbery incident a few days prior. For the rest of the time in Morocco, we stuck together, and we spent our last full day in Marrakesh exploring the center.
Besides seeing Jemaa el-Fnaa and the Koutoubia Mosque, my friend and I visited the Ben Youssef Madrasa, an old Islamic college known for its gorgeous courtyard architecture. Granted, we had to pay 20 dirham (2 euros) just to see the courtyard, but it was quite beautiful, to say the least!
We wandered the souks a bit before heading out to the Menara Gardens, situated far west in the New Town. It took perhaps 30-40 minutes to walk over, and under the merciless, midday sun, it was quite the challenge! Eventually, we made it over, and got views of the Atlas Mountains behind the massive pond.
Upon making our way back to the city center, our final stop was at the Bahia Palace, a 19th-century palace that surprised us with its architectural overload of beautiful rooms, courtyards, and gardens. It was also only 10 dirhams (1 euro), which made the visit all the more sweet!
Feeling the heat of the Moroccan sun, my friend and I headed back to our hostel afterwards, resting up before heading out again to get dinner in Jemaa el-Fnaa, while also waiting for it to get dark to see what the nightlife was all about. The place was still buzzing when it got dark and as the lights came on. It was still a loud and noisy atmosphere, and while my friend and I checked out the main square, we didn’t stay too long and afterwards just headed back to our hostel, where we turned in for the night: we would be heading out the following day to our next destination, so we wanted to turn in at a reasonable time.
Granted, Marrakesh was an interesting city to start off the visit in Morocco. While I’m not saying that I dislike it, Marrakesh was definitely a lot to take in, and the fact that it was so hot and that I’d been robbed detracted from what could’ve been a better experience. Still, I’m glad to have visited and seen some lovely places there.
More to come soon- stay tuned!
— The Finicky Cynic
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