The Great Moroccan Adventure, Marrakech
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to visit Morocco. This fall I crashed my friends’ visit and succeeded. Jocelyn and Dan were kind enough to let me join them and brave enough to let me make the plans.
Boy, was it a worthwhile journey. Jocelyn, Dan and I had never travelled together before Morocco and that of itself can be an adventure. They were wrapping up a 9-month-long around-the-world trip (well documented by them at www.revealingworld.com and www.breakfree.me) so I wasn’t worried that we’d be working from drastically different budgets but I was a bit concerned that they and I are interested in drastically different things. I am notorious as a city girl and avid museum-goer. My friends climbed Mt Kinabalu in Borneo and Wayana Picchu in Peru. As with so many other things, my worries were for naught. We had a great time. Dan bravely drove us to the places I had selected; they both graciously complemented my planning.
The more I read about Morocco the more places therein I wanted to visit. As that is impossible in the week we had available we settled on a 3 town loop of central Morocco, based out of Marrakech.
Marrakech is fascinating. I wasn’t sure what to expect–my Moroccan experience totals a day trip to the Mediterranean cities of Tetouan and Tanger and the Morocco pavillion in Walt Disney World’s Epcot. Perhaps my lack of expectation is why I was so impressed. Somehow Marrakech looked exactly the way I expected North Africa to look at the same time as I acknowledged I had no idea what to expect. I did assume we’d get lost, the medina is notoriously maze-like; that expectation was not fulfilled. People are nice, people are everywhere, people are always doing something worth watching. Window shopping in the souks never got dull. I found myself thinking in superlatives–spectacular, amazing, wonderful.
Marrakech is intimidating. Performers and vendors in and around the famous Djemma el Fna are pushy. They get right up in your face. They may reach out and touch you to get your attention. Most accept a rejection with a smile. But that rejection needs to be firm. People may follow you trying to get you to visit a shop or guide you to the sights. Tips are requested and often rejected as not enough. I understand the need–these people make their living off tips and sales from visitors and if they don’t push I might stop at the next shop instead. Develop a thick skin and a firm but pleasant response. When the shopkeeper old enough to be my father asked Dan how many camels Jocelyn and I were worth I could have gotten upset but I chose to laugh and tell them we are priceless. It helps that the shopkeeper was clearly joking but, regardless, getting upset only ruins my day; now I have another story to tell and I can tell it with a laugh and a smile on my face rather than grumbling about “that sexist old man”.
Marrakech is beautiful. The roses were blooming, the walls are red faded to a warm pink, the sky was blue, and the artwork stunning. The city is surrounded by orchards, there are olive groves in the city and parks abound. We visited a couple of attractions and a tannery, which does actually smell as bad as it is reputed to smell. The Saadian Tombs were a peaceful retreat from the bustle of the city as well as a beautiful example of Moroccan craft. The Bahia Palace was stunning in the variety of the decorative work on display. The Musee de Marrakech displays a lantern that is truly impressive in scope, but the best thing, my favorite thing to do, was simply walking around the medina.
Three days in Marrakech was a good length of time–enough to see a few sights and soak up the atmosphere without feeling rushed. The hardest thing was to decide where to go from Marrakech. So many interesting things are an easy day from the city that it was difficult for me to make a choice. A saffron farm? Waterfalls? Hiking? The deciding factor for us was the knowledge that goats climb trees in argan groves. For my friends and I, this is a must-see. The argan groves are in the Souss region, primarily, and that means travelling west and south from Marrakech. We rented a car and headed west out of Marrakech for the Atlantic coast. Next stop, Essouira.