It´s pretty cool I can say I´ve been to the continent of Africa. And while just about 48 hours in Marrakech hardly allows me to check off the whole continent, the experience was extremely memorable and the most unlike Spain of any other city or country I´ve visited. Here are my disorganized highlights from our trip:
- the basics. I traveled from Madrid to Marrakech on an EasyJet flight with my two roommates, our friend Tina, and my friend Chris who is visiting from home. (He´d been to Morocco before which ended up being pretty helpful). The trip was pretty hassle-free, but just a tip: the next time I leave the EU I will for sure be bringing a pen. Having to borrow someone else´s every time we crossed a border was tedious and time-consuming. We stayed at a CHEAP (but luxury-style) hotel called El-Andalous which was about a 5 minute cab-ride from the main square, which was a safe and legitimate option (the free wifi in the rooms allowed us catch up on Jersey Shore – and no that is not a joke).
- the medina. When we first arrived Friday, we trekked to the main square, or medina. We ate lunch from a restaurant with a terrace overlooking the medina, and struggled to comprehend how cars, donkeys, and horse-drawn carriages share the unmarked and traffic light-free streets with the local and foreign pedestrians. That alone was culture-shock inducing. We took in the view of Marrakech´s main mosque, and indulged in 4 dirham orange juices sold from street vendors. (4 dirham is equal to about 40 euro cents…I no longer think in US dollars so I can´t do that conversion.)
- the souks. One thing Marrakech is known for is the fact that you can find everything you´d ever need burried in the heart of its shopping district. It sort of reminded me of a much more intense version of Downtown Los Angeles´Santee Alley or Chinatown. My roommate Kerren practiced her bartering skills (prices were automatically lower if she spoke in Spanish). My friend Chris was offered everything from flying carpets to ferraris and camels if he gave one of the girls to the street vendors. Funny at first, but mildly creepy as the day wore on. He was repeatedly called “lucky man” which also started getting old. Other amusing anecdotes: street vendors would yell ¨fish and chips¨ at us upon hearing English being spoken…and the best “trade” offer of the trip occurred when one man told Chris he´d give him his motorcycle (which was right in front of him) in return for me, who he pointed to and called “Hannah Montana.” I am lucky that trade didn’t come to fruition.
- food. Desperate for a break from Spanish food, we took in as many Moroccan classics as possible. We ate tangines, cous cous, Moroccan salads, round Moroccan bread, and copious amounts of fruit juice. For dinner both nights, we ate at one of the hundreds of pop-up style restaurants in the Medina. While likely sketchy (and probably unsanitary), the food was delicious and felt like a North African version of a Top Chef challenge. We also met the “head chef” at one stand who called himself Antonio Banderas and then proceeded to offer me a trip to Germany and a free “Berber massage.” This stuff only happens to me, I swear…
- guided tour. My roommate Kerren secured a half-day with a guide. So on Saturday morning, we met Mohamed in front of Marrakech´s main post office for a tour of the main palace (Bahia palace), a 16th century palace, a spice market, and some tanneries. Mohamed´s information was helpful, and the amount of heckling we endured with the guide was appreciably lower than it was the first day.
- thoughts. It was my first time in a Muslim country, and culturally there was a lot to learn. It was fascinating seeing some women dressed in berkas (but a little scary, too). We caught some news footage in our hotel room when the Mubarak news broke, and spoke to our guide about the protests scheduled for the 20th of February in Morocco. All in all, it was a great trip and it made me eager to try to travel to some more challenging places.
Here are some of my favorite photos from the trip: