Landing in Marrakech…

So about two and a half weeks ago my victorious boyfriend and I set out to adventure the streets of Marrakech, Morocco. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect traveling here, despite our thorough research and fervent efforts to learn as much as we possibly could about this North African country, we were still a bit dumbfounded upon our arrival.  After first landing, we decided that we were going to take a taxi into the city, which is what most tourists do when they land in Marrakech. We left the airport and found ourselves in our first true Moroccan haggle: the haggle for a fair priced taxi. We learned before leaving home that bartering is a way of life in the Berber community and both of us have had our fair share of traveling to third world countries and having to do this before. So, we managed to get the taxi for 100 dirhams, which is about 10 euros. It doesn’t seem that bad and I’m not complaining, but apparently it’s a huge rip off because if they turned their meters on we would apparently only have to pay 30 dirhams as the commute from the airport to the city isn’t that far, about 15 minutes.

The taxi drove us to Jemaa El Fna, which is the main square in Marrakech and it is actually the largest public space in the whole African continent, little tidbit for you.  So, we stepped out of the taxi and attempted to navigate the chaotic and winding streets of the Medina (which is the inner part of the city and the more cultural area)… we quickly found ourselves pretty lost.  The streets in the Medina don’t intersect and plot out on maps in the same way that they do back in North America, or even Europe for that matter. So, trying to reference a horribly drawn out map in our little travel book wasn’t helping much, especially when so many of the road signs are in Arabic or French, which both of us (regrettably) can’t speak.
We were also followed by one annoyingly persistent man who was dressed to the nines, at least by Moroccan standards,  who kept wanting to help us find our hotel, or “riad” as they’re called in Morocco. Riads are like a mix between bed and breakfasts and guesthouses and are a pretty good representation of the quintessential Moroccan hospitality experience. But, of course they are located down tiny streets that are impossible to locate unless you’ve been there many times. So now, we were at the mercy of our bad maps and insisting street people.
So, this man kept following us for a good forty minutes as we continued down dead-end alley ways and snaking cobblestone streets. Our method of finding our riad clearly was not working, and every wrong turn we took we could hear the man echoing in our direction: “Your riad is not that way,” “You’re going the wrong way,” “You’re very lost, let me help you.”
Of course, in North American society, if someone is so nice to go out of their way to assist you, you should cherish this social nicety and take them up on their offer. But  in Morocco, it’s typically a form of money grabbing and it’s best to avoid it as much as you can. I don’t want to dismiss all the people who are genuine and not looking to make a quick buck (or dirham I should say) but in most cases, as a tourist, you have to be cautious about trusting strangers to guide you in the right direction. Er, at least that’s what all our travel books and websites said. And I’m sure we made quite an easy target with our maps out.
So, eventually we gave in and let a group of young boys that couldn’t be older than 9 or 10 show us all the way to our Riad, which wasn’t far from where we started in Jemaa El Fna. I’ll expand on this jewel of a tourist site more later.
We knocked on the unmarked door and found ourselves greeted by a lovely Moroccan young man, Ali. He showed us into the Riad, which is called Riad Marrakech Rouge, and closed the door behind us. So we failed to tip to the boys who showed us to the riad, and now I understand that probably wasn’t so nice. We could hear them cursing at us through the closed door, but Ali motioned us into the common area and to ignore the boys outside, so we did. This was our first Riad experience and we were eager to drop our bags down in our room and relax for a minute or two before venturing back out to Jemaa El Fna. But, Ali told us to relax and sit while he brings us tea. I suppose this was our first realization of the difference between the slow-paced Arab culture and the fast-paced North American culture. But, we obliged and sipped on some typical Moroccan mint tea that Ali brought out about ten minutes later on a beautiful platter. After getting to know Ali and the other travelers staying at our Riad, we were shown to our room on the second level of the Riad.
After settling into our room, we decided to mission back to Jemaa El Fna to experience the nightly festivities that take place there.
We ate typical Moroccan cuisine at a food stall in the center of the square after being hassled to eat at many different places, we felt very overwhelmed and finally settled on the first one. We ate bread and salsa, lamb shish kebabs, couscous and ordered some Coca Cola.
After dinner, we toured around Jemaa El Fna and observed many crowds gathered around storytellers sitting cross legged on the ground. Obviously, we couldn’t understand the Arabic story, but it was really interesting to see how eager the listeners are. Usually, the storytellers will tell a story that is between 30 to 45 minutes and will leave the story with an intense cliff-hanger and the listeners have to come back to the next night to hear how the story ends. It was a cute little thing to watch as we walked by, but I couldn’t help but wonder what they were telling stories about that made people want to sit around for that long!
After staying in the square for an hour or two we decided to make our way back to the Riad. This first night in Marrakech was a bit chaotic and fascinating, as much of the rest of our time in Morocco was.

That’s all for now, but more to come on Morocco, France and Monte Carlo!!!

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