Chaos and relaxation in Marrakech
On May 7, 2019, exactly 3 weeks after I left Prague, I arrive in the million-strong city of Marrakesh. For a long time I thought it was the capital of Morocco, but it is Rabat. It’s not even Morocco’s biggest city, that’s Casablanca. So what is it that makes Marrakech so famous?
Maybe a good starting position. Head one way and you’re in the desert, head the other way and you’re on the highest mountain range in Morocco, face back and you’re by the sea. The presence of the airport, the preserved atmosphere with a historical touch, its liveliness. Maybe all of these together.
Marrakesh’s popularity among tourists goes hand in hand with its popularity among locals. 40 years ago, half as many people lived here, around 500,000. Today it is almost 1 million. For comparison, Prague only grew by about 100,000 during the same period.
I weave through the exuberant traffic. The traffic rules here are probably still only carved on stone slabs. But it’s not a particularly stressful experience. This is traffic on intercity roads in the Czech Republic. Drivers in Morocco are relatively respectful of each other and they honk their horns about as much as you’d expect here. Apparently so that people don’t fall asleep behind the wheel in the hot weather.
The map shows that the riad where I am staying is somewhere in the gray box on the map. I’m getting used to that in Morocco. I roughly know the location of the target, I will solve the rest on the spot.
In the photo you can see the street where I left the motorcycle parked. One of the prompt Moroccans assures me that parking at the NO PARKING sign is the ideal and best solution. They say it is Ramadan and this place is not used at all during Ramadan. He immediately invites me to his restaurant. Although he claims to be the owner of the restaurant, he still demands a financial reward for the questionable parking advice. In addition, he promises to look after my motorcycle.
One thing must be left to the Moroccans, they are uncompromising traders who do not care if the customer will ever return. Rather, they kind of expect/hope that you’d rather not come back. Therefore, they are able to promise you absolutely anything.
Moroccan culture is significantly different from ours. On the streets, someone will constantly approach you and offer a casual chat or great advice. It always looks very innocent. But you have one certainty. It is never without ulterior motives. During the 5 weeks I spent in Morocco, dozens of people approached me in a friendly way. I can’t remember a single instance where it was without ulterior motives. In the beginning it always seems like you say to yourself:
“Well, this one is really nice, this one is definitely different, he really just wants to chat or maybe he just wants to help me. I’ll give this last one another chance.“
Sometimes they are very persistent when you reject them in the end. Some can appear relatively aggressive, while others look as if you have just killed a family member. They are even capable of lying to you and sending you in the wrong direction when you are lost. This situation happened quite often. The reason is still unknown to me. They probably expected me to arrive at the shop of their acquaintances, who knows?
On the other hand, there are Moroccans who you won’t meet on the street, but anywhere else. For example, a waiter in a restaurant, people in your accommodation, a person drinking coffee at the bar next to you. Just everyone who won’t catch you on the street, but you’ll talk to them naturally as a result of the given situation. Those are the Moroccans you want to meet. They are generous, funny, cheerful people, full of life. They are interested in what you have to say and will tell you as much as you pay attention to them. They’re just nice people.
However, it is necessary to realize that their religion and culture shaped their views and values in a slightly different direction than ours. However, they will not be angry with you if you disagree with them. I wouldn’t recommend convincing them that we have it better.
I once complained to one of the Moroccans about how the Moroccans on the street are perhaps too aggressive in extorting money from foreigners, too “pushing the saw”. He answered me with bulletproof honesty:
“If you don’t like Morocco, don’t come here.“
Accommodation in Marrakech
I’m slowly starting to orient myself more in my gray box on the map, somewhere in the middle of Marrakech. Now I just need to find the right signs and my riad in the narrow streets. After fumbling for a while, I give up and ask someone on the street. A small boy is assigned to me, who will lead me to the door of my riad. I wouldn’t have found it in my life without him.
The receptionist informs me that I will be accommodated in another riad, that this one is not for singles. So I let myself be led into another riad. The road through the market, hanging sheep’s heads, the stench of rotten fruit in the air, a maze with thousands of alleys and after 15 minutes of walking we are there. Party hostel. I argue with my receptionist for 10 minutes that I don’t want this. I want what I reserved.
It sounds quite simple and clear. But I managed to convince him only when I raised my voice at him. I actually kind of started yelling that I definitely wasn’t going to stay here. I’m not proud of it and it’s very uncomfortable for me to raise my voice at someone. But in Morocco it was sometimes the only way. Honestly, sometimes it was like dealing with children. You raise your voice and suddenly everything works and is as it should be.
So we go back, for 15 minutes we weave our way through the smelly marketplace full of people. Back in the original riad, he takes me to a single room where there are 3 bunk beds. No one else is currently staying here, everyone who works here is just sleeping 😀 That’s probably why he didn’t want to stay with me. He had to clean one of the beds.
The riad was pleasant and beautifully decorated. In addition, there were desks near the drawers and I could work that way. The ceiling in the main room had an open ceiling, so sometimes a small bird would fly to my table and keep me company. Which was nice, because otherwise I would have felt like I was in a haunted house. Because everyone slept during the day because of Ramadan. In the evening, when the sun went down, they prepared a feast, and the whole family who owned it gathered together and feasted. Once I was invited to the family table with 2 other guests. It was one of the best meals I had in Morocco. It can’t be described because it was a lot of small dishes and I can’t even remember what they were. I just remember being excited.
I was very happy that I won the opportunity to stay here. In addition, Maya will arrive in two days and we will stay in this riad for another 3 nights.
Food in Morocco
The dishes are all very tasty and can be prepared in a hundred different ways. After 2 weeks, however, you can’t even see the tagine anymore, and you wouldn’t even throw couscous at the newlyweds at a wedding. But what I didn’t eat here were their pancakes, which we got for breakfast with olive oil and olives. Olive oil and olives are excellent in Morocco, I can’t let that happen. Often in a restaurant you get olives as a gift as an appetizer before they bring you the food.
We often received figs (or dates, God knows what the difference is) and various other fruits. Another thing I can’t pass up is their fresh orange juices, which doesn’t sound exotic, but trust me, it’s worth it.
TIP: before you order orange juice on the street somewhere in Morocco, make sure it is chilled. You pour warm orange juice straight down the drain in that heat. The ice in the juice is at your own risk, sometimes they even had written that they prepare the ice from bottled water. Drink tap water at your own risk 😉
They had the best restaurant meal in Marrakech at Mama Africa. Actually, it wasn’t so much Moroccan cuisine, but rather some African hipster style. The price is ideal, the taste is incredible and most importantly they also had other dishes than couscous and tagine 😀 I recommend!
I set out to explore Marrakesh and like a cow with grass in its mouth, I roll over the thought of what I will eat in my head. In Morocco they have Ramadan now and no one is allowed to eat during the day. I allow myself to be surprised and calm myself down with the thought that if they can do it without food, then maybe I can do it without food too.
Ten minutes later I am sitting in a restaurant with 30 other travelers and tourists. We look at the square, eat our ordered meals, and passing Moroccans look at us frowningly.
Walking through Marrakech is an intense experience. Even though it is Ramadan, the city is still alive. There are crowds of people and vendors everywhere. The thermometer turns forty. I’ll buy some food in the store so that I have something to eat in the riad. I’ll leave the rest of exploring the city until tomorrow, there’ll be two of us for that.
Have you got the urge to go to Marrakesh?
I used to search for cheap flights mainly on Skyscanner, but over time I switched to Kiwi.com (originally a Czech project). I always find better flight deals here than anywhere else. Try it and see for yourself.
Cheap flights to Marrakech, Morocco: