11 Aug Lost in Marrakech
by Cody Healey-Conelly from United States
I have to admit, I was pretty nervous about heading to Morocco. Although I’m a seasoned traveler, it would be my first time in Africa and my first time in a Muslim country. I’m a white American and given the current politics of my country, I’d like to think it was fairly normal to be nervous heading into a situation like this. Upon setting foot in the Marrakech airport, my fears began to quickly subside. The young man controlling the customs line was super friendly and offered us some tips on helpful Arabic words.
Outside the terminal, we met the driver from our hotel and hopped in a van. It became apparent rather quickly that we weren’t in Kansas anymore. Street signs in Arabic, Adobe houses, and camels flicked by as we drove from the airport to the Medina (town center) where our hotel, Les Jardines De La Koutoubia waited. We were immediately blown away by the hotel, its traditional Moroccan ceilings and delicious cups of mint tea while we waited for our room to be ready. At this point my nervousness had subsided and my adventurous spirit began to kick in.
We threw our bags in our room and immediately set out into the labyrinthine streets of the Medina. As someone with a strong sense of direction and an adventurous spirit, we headed out with no map or an idea of where we were going. Within minutes we were in Jemma el-Fnaa, the big square and marketplace, and my wife was (unwillingly) having two monkeys put onto her arms. If you’re going to Marrakech and not interested in this type of experience, make sure not to dwell, gawk, or take pictures of the people in the square charming snakes or hanging out with monkeys. They will quickly swarm you and ask for money.
Marrakech, souq by Cody Healey-Conelly
We made it out of the square and into the maze of souqs, stands that sell almost anything; food, crafts, clothing, electronics, etc. Shopping in Morocco is probably much different than one is used to. For one, the price on just about everything is negotiable. The salesmen are also rather aggressive (friendly but a bit pushy). Quickly, I realized not to enter a stall or look too closely at something unless I was seriously considering buying. This strategy made things a lot easier than trying to extract myself from someone trying VERY hard to sell me something. Another shopping tip, before heading into a stall, decide what you want and what you’re willing to pay for it. It was mind-boggling seeing what some items were priced at and what you could eventually pay for them, sometimes twenty-five percent of the initial price. When haggling, it’s good to stay relaxed and friendly, complimenting the merchants wares but being firm in not paying more than you want. If the merchant won’t come down to the price you want, it’s perfectly acceptable to thank him and walk away. In fact, that often seemed to lead to better deals.
Saadian Tombs in Marrakech by Cody Healey-Conelly
After wandering for about half an hour, we were hopelessly lost and it was 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Unfortunately around this time, we ran into a bit of a scam. A man told us about a “leather festival” that was having it’s last day. He then pointed us to another man who just happened to be on his way there. Immediately I recognized this scam from a story an acquaintance had told us but it was too late. We were taken to a tannery and shown around by a third person who then shuffled us into a shop. We were able to leave without buying anything but once outside, the “tour guide” demanded money of us for the tour. Everything ended up fine, we paid about $4, but just a word of warning for travelers to Marrakech, if you start hearing “tannery” and “leather festival” it’s basically time to say thank you and walk the opposite direction.
One essential tip about navigating in Marrakech, there are blue signs anchored to the tops of walls in places that will point you back to Jemma el-Fnaa. These were one of the few indicators of the way to go despite nearly everyone calling out to us and saying we were going the wrong way (sometimes we were, sometimes we weren’t). We decided to head back to the hotel to hydrate and rest. The next day, we decided to book a guide through our hotel to help us find our way around. This was well worth the money (I think about $30) and I would recommend it to anyone that visits Marrakech. Aside from gaining info about the various tourist spots in the Medina, the guide was invaluable for helping us get our bearings as well as keeping aggressive salesmen away. We were called out to by merchants much, much less when they saw we were with a Moroccan guide. The amount of peace this offered was worth the $30 alone. The guide also helped us learn how to haggle. I’m sure some of the stores he took us into had some sort of commission relationship with him, but we would have ended up over paying by a lot if we hadn’t had him to tell us what the real price of items were.
We spent four days total in Marrakech, mostly in the Medina. We did venture out to the New City and Le Jardin Majorelle. If you have time, I would recommend exploring the New City a little as it offers a better picture of everyday Moroccan life. There were art galleries, Western style malls, and great restaurants. We had lunch at Le Grand Cafe De La Poste, which looks like something straight out of Casablanca.
After four days of the hustle and bustle of the Medina and 110 degree heat, we were pretty ready to head back to the relative calm of Spain. I think four days in Marrakech is probably the perfect amount of time to see most of the city. As our stay ended, we did find ourselves wishing we maybe had another day or two so we could venture out and see the deserts and mountains nearby.
Although Marrakech was incredible, beautiful, and mysterious, I think it’s very important to have a relaxing hotel to retreat to. The heat, the haggling, the mopeds zipping through tiny streets all can get to be pretty exhausting. It was invaluable to be able to retreat to a hotel with alcohol and a pool for a midday swim and drink.
If you want see more by Cody Healey-Conelly, please visit syntheticlives.com