Moroccan Adventures 1: Meeting Marrakech

On September 10th, after maybe three hours sleep at Sam’s friend’s house, Sam and I hopped in a taxi to Stanstead airport to start our Moroccan Adventure.

We spent the airport time being wearily excited, relaxing in the main seating area until it was time to go to the gate.

As we had checked in online quite late, we ended up in separate seats, at quite different ends of the plane. I sat down and got settled. A man came over to talk to the girl next to me. She started complaining about how she didn’t want to sit alone. I said I didn’t mind switching seats with him as I was alone.

They thanked me and he led me down the plane to his seat.

It was the one next to Sam. What are the chances?

I wanted to sleep on the flight, but it was with Ryanair, so the non-reclining seats made it nearly impossible.

The flight was nearly four hours long and felt slow – I had gotten used to long haul flights, with their comfy seats and in-flight entertainment.

We eventually arrived and made our way across the warm tarmac, into the air conditioned terminal.

The terminal building was very nice, but the queue for passport control was very long and slow. We finally made it out, with shiny new passport stamps, to get my bag which had ended up in the hold because apparently Ryanair would rather pack more people into their planes than make sure everyone could have their cabin bag with them.

We exchanged some money and exited the terminal. It was still early, so the heat wasn’t too stifling, but it was certainly hotter than the UK. We struggled to find the bus stop and eventually agreed to take a taxi into Marrakech.

As we drove into the city, we admired the buildings and trees and excitedly reminded each other that we were in Africa now!

We got to the old centre of Marrakech, the Medina, paid for the taxi and walked to our accommodation.

This is where I want to share about the wonders of maps.me. Maps.me is an app I downloaded that is my travel essential. Forget special travel gadgets, fancy rucksacks or any kind of multi tool: maps.me is my travel saviour.

The app is an offline map app, which allows you to pin locations in sets with different colours and has a route feature for walking or driving. It is excellent, despite not being perfectly functional and you can download whichever areas of the world you want to. Updates are frequent and the app is completely free.

We used maps.me to get us to our accommodation, where we checked in and had a nap.

After the nap, we headed out to find the henna cafe, to have some food and maybe get some henna done too.

We left our Riad and walked in the direction of the main square – Jemaa el-Fnaa.

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Jemaa el-Fnaa

The main square was our least favourite spot in Marrakech. It is super busy and full of people trying to sell you things, often in very forceful ways.

As we crossed the main square, a woman accosted us and offered us henna. We said no and walked on (I had read that it was better to get henna in one of the cafes).

As we walked away, the woman grabbed Sam’s wrist and proceeded to do an incredibly fast, pretty crappy henna design on her hand.

Sam was too stunned at this point to stop her.

The lady finished, then demanded an extortionate amount of money for the design. Sam argued that the amount was ridiculous and handed over a small amount to try to make the woman go away.

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Sam’s squiggly henna

We then ran away.

This is not uncommon in the square – there are also men with monkeys on chains, which is obviously very cruel, who will throw them onto tourists and then demand money for a photo.

Sam and I mainly avoided the square for the remainder of our visit, only skirting the edges when we had to.

We walked on through the busy streets until we found the henna cafe. We climbed the stairs and, after Sam had washed her unwanted henna off, sat down to eat.

The food was lovely and filling, washed down with beautiful Moroccan mint tea. The terrace was high above the noisy street and a wonderfully calm place to sit.

After eating, I paid for a henna design, done quickly and expertly by a little old lady with henna stained hands.

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My henna (the next day, after leaving it on overnight)

We sat there for quite a long time, before heading back out to explore the bustling streets.

We wandered aimlessly, enjoying the unfamiliar sights. We were impressed by a lot of the products – especially the beautiful pottery.

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Inside one of the souks

The streets we ended up on were relatively quiet, although we were surprised to see scooters zipping through the narrow streets of the souks. The main noise came from the store owners, who were trying to get out attention.

The golden rule is not to stand for too long by something you might not want to buy – a woman was literally chased by a stall owner who had placed an item, one that she clearly didn’t want, in a bag for her!

Eventually, we made our way back to our accommodation, where we had a lazy evening as we were still very tired.

The next morning, we grabbed a crossiant from Patisserie des Princes and began our walk to Jardin Majorelle.

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Enroute to Majorelle

The walk was long and hot and through some of the smelliest and busiest streets we had encountered in the Medina. One street was so full of people, bikes, scooters and a van, that we were temporarily trapped between a fish stall and one with live chickens. Lovely.

Jardin Majorelle was so beautiful, with stunning colours on the pots and structures around the garden. The incredibly vibrant blue catches the eye – just gorgeous.

We were enthralled by the carp and the terrapins in the pools of the garden as well as the massive cacti that towered out from the ground.

It was an oasis of calm in a busy city. The Medina is a mad place, teeming with life. Outside the Medina is pretty crazy too, just in a more usual city kind of way – bigger shops, more modern buildings in sandy colours and the fun of Moroccan driving on bigger roads.

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What an incredible place

After the garden we bought some postcards and trudged through the baking streets to find a Carrefour to buy some snacks. We also bought some more drinks as the heat was quite devastating.

It is a shame that one can’t drink Moroccan tap water, because, despite low prices, a lot of your money goes on drinks in such a hot place!

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Old city wall

On the recommendation of a friend, we visited Ensemble Artisnal. It was a bit of a walk from the Carrefour, but we found it quite easily thanks to my map app. It is a market just outside the Medina where locally made craft items are sold at fair prices, without the need to barter – easy for western tourists who aren’t used to the concept!

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The entranceway to Ensemble Artisnal

The products in there were especially nice and the atmosphere much more relaxed than the souks of the Medina.

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I loved the mirrors with the tiny doors

Sam was especially taken with a music shop and spent a long time looking at and playing the instruments.

Eventually we left and made our way across the road to a pretty little park, that had an exhibition about environmental concerns on it – apt in a city so polluted.

We sat in the park, watching the world go by. The fountains in the centre splashed. People walked by.

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In the park

Eventually we made our way back to our hotel. On this day, I had chosen to wear a vest, instead of covering my shoulders. I’m not sure if this was partially why the following street harassment occurred, but it is possible.

We were almost back at the Medina, when suddenly a teenage boy ran past, grabbing my bum on his way.

As I watched him run away, I felt disgust at being treated that way and sadness that we still live in a world where boys are not taught that women aren’t just sexual objects.

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Koutoubia Mosque, the largest mosque in Marrakech

We returned to the hotel, freshened up and went out to dinner at the Henna Art Cafe. This is a different place to the Henna Cafe we visited on the first day. This cafe is much nearer to our accommodation.

We headed in and found a seat on one of the lovely quiet terraces, through a tiny door that even I had to duck to get through.

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The beautiful terrace with the tiny door

The menus were beautiful, on blocks of wood with henna patterns around the edges. We ordered and waited. I had mint tea again – something I became quite addicted to in Morocco and a veggie tagine.

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The beautiful menu

The cutlery were brought to us in a pretty (hopefully unused) slipper. The food was excellent.

We returned to the hotel once more for our second night in Marrakech, with a planned early morning to venture out to the Atlas mountains.

 

 

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