My first 24 hours in Marrakech were a whirlwind of the most foreign sights, sounds and smells I’ve ever experienced. My apologies in advance for the VERY long post, but so much happened and I don’t want to forget any of the details 🙂
I arrived via a direct flight from Lisbon around 2pm and waited in the airport for my friend, Jess, who’s flight wasn’t getting in until 6pm. I was very happy (and relieved) to see her smiling face as she came through the arrivals gate. We exchanged our money and, after a bit of searching, found the man who I had arranged to drive us from the airport to the hostel.
This was set up through out hostel, which made me feel much better having it set in advance, but we paid too much at 15 Euros (if you were to haggle with a taxi driver – especially outside the main airport area – you could probably get it for 50-100 dirham as a foreigner, which is roughly 5-10 American dollars). Two things to note about taxis in Morocco: 1. ALWAYS negotiate the price of the ride BEFORE getting into the car. There are no meters and once you’re at your destination the driver can (and will) demand any price he wishes. Tell the driver where you wish to go and when he quotes the price, laugh and quickly half that (or more). You can expect a bit of back and forth before settling on the rate. 2. There is a difference in prices for taxi rides during the day and at night. You will pay more at night, so just be prepared for this when negotiating the cost.
Our taxi driver drove us from the airport – located in the New City of Marrakech – inside the gates of the Old City (or the Medina), eventually handing us off to a staff member from the hostel who escorted us through the maze-like streets of Marrakech to our hostel. From the moment I opened the door of the taxi and set foot on the stone streets, my senses were overwhelmed. We had to practically run to keep up with our guide – everyone walks VERY fast – and were constantly dodging people and on speeding bikes and motorcycles as they whipped dangerously through the crowded streets.
Upon arriving we were greeted with hot tea, cookies and a very warm welcome from Ali, the manager of the hostel who is constantly wheeling and dealing – in person and on the phone – ending each interaction with his catch phrase “Is no problem. So easy!” After throwing our bags down, we set out to find our way to the main square. By the time we arrived at 8:30pm, the square was pulsing with Arabic music, snake charmers, food stalls, vendors of all sorts, men with pet monkeys, women with henna ink and on and on! It was exhilarating, but a bit disorienting as well. We clutched our bags, searching for a place to eat while men shoved menus in our faces. “You eat here! We have good food. Where you from? Tell me where you from.” It’s good to be friendly, but once they get you talking it’s nearly impossible to get away from them so be warned.
After dinner we made our way back to the hostel (getting lost just briefly). The next morning we went out to the main lounge area for breakfast, which consisted of coffee and various breads (some like floppy flap jacks, others like biscuits) with butter and a sort of runny honey/orange marmalade thing that I slathered hardily on every bite.
Next Jess and I squared away our finances (which required us to convert about four different types of currency before figuring out who was owed what and how much). Then we discussed our game plan for our day and our time in Morocco, which was already feeling limited because we’ve opted to do a three day/two night trip into the desert. This will really cut into our time in Marrakech, but we heard it was not to be missed and something very unique (I mean, you ride camels at sunrise into the desert so COME ON!).
Then we set out on foot for the Majorelle Garden, recommended to us by Ali. Challenge #1 – crossing the street. You risk your life (or at least feel like it) each and every time you cross the road, which is buzzing with cars, taxis, buses and, most dangerous of all, motorbikes. You have to look for a gap in the traffic (there never is one), hold your breath, and stride quickly and confidently out into oncoming traffic. The vehicles swerve carelessly around you, barely even aware of your presence. We finally got the hang of things, but for the first 5-8 times we would look at each other and say “Ready? Ok, and we’re walking, we’re walking, we’re walking, mind the bike carrying the family of three, and WE MADE IT!” Cue happy-to-be-alive grins from each of us.
We got turned around a few times, crossed more streets than we would have liked, and were feeling preeeeettty hot, so we opted for a taxi to Majorelle. The Garden was lovely, but small and fairly expensive. Glad we did it, but not something I would do again.
Following the gardens and lunch I was ready for a nap, but instead wisely opted to go to a hammam (see hammam post here!). Once back at the hostel, I rested for a bit and then dressed for dinner. I was excited about wearing my new pants I’d bought for Morocco and wanted to dress up a bit for pictures. But an interesting thing happened on the way to dinner…
To make a long story short, we were led on about a 15 minute walk by some rather insistent men, deep into the Medina. I kept making eye contact with Jess that, had she read my mind, would have said “WHAT THE FUCK MAN?!?” But she seemed fairly cool about it, so on we went. We eventually ended at the tanneries where they clean and soften animals hides that will then be fashioned into beautiful bags, belts, shoes, etc. HOWEVER this is done through a disgusting process of soaking them in huge vats of milk, pigeon shit, and other nonsense. The smell was so horrific that they gave us stems of fresh mint to hold under our noses as we walked through the grounds. Thankfully Jess was wise enough to settle on a price before we set foot in the area (although they, like everyone else who offers you help in Marrakech, INSISTED it would be free of charge, she knew better).
After a great deal of poorly concealed gagging, we left the tanneries (PRAISE BE!) and were led back to the main square where I breathed fresh air and a sigh of relief. I needed a drink, but alas there is no alcohol to be had in the Medina…
Day one was exciting, terrifying, tiring, delicious, attrocious, and an adventure I will treasure forever.