3 days and surprisingly no altercations with motorbikes in Marrakech…

Our journey from Croatia to Morocco – although long – was relatively stress-free! This was primarily due to our 4 hour stopover in Barcelona airport being made much more enjoyable by the presence of a fairly decent Zara right beside our waiting lounge…

If all transit involved killing time in Zara, I would not mind it one little bit!

Zara purchases aside our connecting flight landed in Marrakech close to midnight where we then jumped in a very old school Mercedes (the taxi of choice in Morocco) for the 15 minute drive into town.

Here we are with Ali himself!

We were met just inside the Medina walls by Ali – the young Moroccan manager of the Hostel Riad Marrakech Rouge. We continued on through the windy narrow streets on foot as the road from our meeting point became too narrow for cars to continue.

There was quite an eerie air to the abandoned streets as we scuttled along them in the darkness. As we made our final turn down into an alley that in the pitch black looked more than a little dubious, I was extremely glad we’d organised with Ali to be led to the hostel. I would have felt very sketchy otherwise!

The hostel’s central chill out area…

We opened an unmarked door in one of the walls and were immediately led into a gorgeous little Moroccan haven right in the middle of the city! Three stories of high walls spotted with wooden doors surrounded a large central courtyard area that was decked out with cushions, low couches, tables, Moroccan rugs and a selection of hookah pipes. We were shown into our massive room (it ran almost the whole length of the building and had bed space for 4 people) and were immediately poured a piping hot mint tea and offered a puff on the shisha pipe.

Piping hot mint tea – yes please!

Not a bad way to unwind after a day of travel!

Our explorations of the city began the next day and I can honestly say that Marrakech was so incredibly unique and unlike any place I have ever visited.

Firstly, those abandoned streets we’d wandered along the night before – were not so abandoned come morning. Scores of people shuffled down the two metre wide laneways, all whilst constantly ducking to the side to avoid being run over by the countless motorbikes that zoomed and weaved their way along the passageways, rarely slowing for anything!

The Djemaa el Fna at dusk…

Ten minutes of walking and two near death experiences with passing motorcycles lead me to the Djemaa el Fna, the main square and vibrant pulsating heart of Marrakech.

The square really is at its most lively around dusk – but even early in the day it is bustling and filled with snake charmers, acrobats, tame monkeys, fresh orange juice vendors, shrouded henna-artists and a number of witch doctors.

One of the many orange juice vendors – this one was not my mortal enemy.

I unwittingly created a mortal enemy for myself when I chose to buy an icy cold cup of orange juice from one vendor instead of his next door neighbour. He clearly thought I was initially walking towards his stall so when I instead stopped at the one adjacent unleashed a myriad of intelligible curses combined with some universally understood offensive hand gestures in my direction. I genuinely thought he was going to spit on me at one stage – so although my juice was delicious, I avoided that little nook of the square for the remainder of our stage for fear of further confrontation!

Leaving the evil orange juice vendor behind we walked through the thick solid heat to explore some of the other major drawcards of Marrkech.

Will in front of the city’s largest mosque…

First stop was the Koutoubia Mosque, whose towering minaret can be seen from higher points within the fortified walls of the old town or ‘Medina’ as it’s called.

Just a snippet of the ware’s within the souk…

Next we wandered through Marrakech’s infamous main ‘souk’ or market. It was hard to tear myself away from the walls of (ridiculously cheap!) handmade leather bags and gorgeous painted ceramics. I also found myself gobsmacked by the scarves, harem pants, hand-crafted jewellery and canvas paintings.

It appeared I was going to need a bigger bag!

A little cat family chilling out beside one of the souk’s stalls…

The level of hassling I received from the shop tenders was definitely on much different level that anything I’d experienced before. I always understand when they get eager if you stop to look at something – as you’re obviously somewhat interested. In Marrakech, however – I wouldn’t even have to give something a second glance and that somehow could still warrant the shop keeper leaving their post in the store and following me down the lane for good 50 metres yelling ‘I’ll give you a good price!’. The majority of the time it was for an item I would never even dream of buying. It was all quite bizarre really!

The main courtyard of Bahia Palace

After I few wrong turns I managed to drag myself away from the Souk for long enough to visit the striking Bahia palace – a stunning palace and set of gardens a short walk from our hostel that was built to form a lavish private home in the 19th century.

As we entered a gate tucked into the high walls of the palace it was like walking into another world. Gone was the buzz of dangerously close motorcycles and the constant fear of being mowed down and in its place was a cool, relaxing sense of calm. It truly was a little oasis of serenity within the hectic and stiflingly hot city.

Lemon and orange trees were spotted amongst the ornately decorated courtyards and their scents blended together as we examined the beautiful decoration and intricately carved woodwork that was scattered within the palace.

Every afternoon we would return to the hostel for a restorative afternoon kip and then indulge in solid session of hookah accompanied with freshly brewed mint tea – all complimentary! The hostel had a really lovely social vibe about it, making it incredibly easy to meet other travellers over a shared puff of a water pipe whilst lounging on the comfy cushions.

Will was a little devastated to find out that beer was not easily obtained within the Medina walls. The only places the precious liquid was sold close by to our hostel were expensive bars, usually for the hefty price of close to $8 a bottle! Our excursion to the closest supermarket to stock up on supplies became a little longer than originally intended after we took a wrong turn and walked the length of the city walls before arriving. Oops.

The rooftop terrace at Hostel Riad Marrakech Rouge

The hour long trek was luckily made worthwhile when we treated to this view from the decked out area of the rooftop of the hostel as we sipped on our beverages and passed around the hookah. Not too shabby hey?

Our remaining time in Marrakech centred around a few things, primarily…

A little snippet of these cost us WAY more than then should have!

– Being ripped off by a local spice merchant and paying 5 times the standard amount for a selection of spices. First and last time I bought something without researching the price first. Lesson learnt!

A market stall feast fit for a king!

– Digging into mountains of food at the Djemaa el Fna`s nightly food stalls. Although I`m sure on one or two occasions we were ripped off (the term `ripped off` being relative and probably only meaning being overcharged $5) – eating in the food stalls of the huge square is an experience that shouldn`t be missed. We feasted on small dishes of fried eggplants, spiced olives, meat skewers and fried peppers amongst tables filled with locals and tourists alike.

– A night of soccer hooliganism at an international game between The Ivory Coast and Morocco. The hostel staff were all so adorable – when they discovered that a big group of us were keen to see the match they immediately jumped onto motorbikes and rode off to the other side of town to organise the purchase of tickets for us all. What a bunch of gems!

Pots of tajine simmering away on the sidewalk…

– The consumption of mountains of tajine – one of Morocco’s national dishes. I ended up trying no less than 4 different tajines during my time in Marrakech. The name `tajine `comes from the special earthenware pot in which the dish is cooked. The dish can be somewhat likened to a mild Indian curry and I found it absolutely DELICIOUS!

Lamb tajine – heaven in a (ceramic) bowl!

The best tajine I tried for sure was at the recommendation of good old Ali the hostel manager. On his advice I visited a busy restaurant tucked to one side of the main square. For the grand total of 30 Dirham ($2.50) I received a huge helping of spicy tender lamb simmered with tomatoes, potato and juicy olives. I`d be lying if I said I didn`t return to the restaurant multiple times just for this specific dish…

Overall the staff and everyone staying at the hostel completely made our few days in Marrakech. Nothing was ever too much trouble and at every chance available they would be gladly giving us advice on sites to see, how much we should be paying for something, where we should be eating and what other places we should visit. Amidst all of this they still managed to constantly kept my tea glass full, a hookah ready for me to puff on and my belly full of delicious traditional Moroccan sweets.

When it came time for us leave the hostel for our 3 day desert tour we were genuinely a little sad to be leaving everyone. I waved a sleepy goodbye to the staff as we set off to the tour meeting place, glad that we would be returning to our little Moroccan home for at least for another night or two before we bid farewell to the country for good…

HOSTEL RIAD MARRAKECH ROUGE

http://www.riadmarrakechrouge.hostel.com/

http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Hostel-Riad-Marrakech-Rouge/Marrakech/33753

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Comments
One Response to “3 days and surprisingly no altercations with motorbikes in Marrakech…”
  1. J.B. says:

    I love Marrakech! Nice post.

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