I had been to Morocco before. It was 2003 and I was studying abroad in Spain and a few friends and I stayed up one night talking about where we could go that would be DIFFERENT. At this point I was dreaming in Spanish, devouring lady mags with my handy dictionary, and was T-9 texting with friends making plans to drink copious amounts of red wine mixed with Coca-Cola before shaking my tailfeather at an outdoor disco. It was my first time out of the country and I wanted to see as much as I could and go somewhere as far away as I could imagine.
That place was Morocco.
So with a backpack, three changes of clothes, I set out to explore Morocco and it sounds like the beginning of an ERASMUS joke. “So a Pakistani woman, three Americans (one African-American) and a Finn take the ferry from Malaga to Tangier” and off we were for two weeks in Morocco. DURING RAMADAN.
I cried over the beauty of Chefchaouen. I bought a ton of crap in the souks in Marrakech. A guy kicked me in the souks in Fez. I still have a bump on my shin from it. I figured I’d never go back.
But after a rainy month in the UK, Dave and I wanted to return home tan at least since returning tan AND skinny wasn’t in the cards after the BEER-AND-CHEESE FEST that was visiting all of Europe and with just two precious weeks left in June, Northern Africa was bang for our buck in terms of sun, money, and an air of the exotic. We had met lovely Tunisians just the week before and had we known we might have headed there instead but Morocco was it and we were off.
We flew from Edinburgh to Marrakech and the second we stepped off the plane the deep, pulsating desert heat hit us. Being ridiculous, grizzled backpackers by this point we took the local bus to our five star Starwood hotel (booked on points) and it wasn’t even funny anymore. We had done this how many times? We didn’t blink at the bellhop eyeing our dusty bags as we checked in and then were upgraded. We immediately did laundry in the hotel bathtub which we proceeded to do daily because the heat dried everything in about 20 minutes.
We stayed at the Le Meridien N’Fis on an excellent use of points at 3,000 per night which included breakfast which was a DEAL. Situated right between the “cosmopolitan” ville nouveau and the medina (the old, walled city) we figured this would be an ideal spot to work on our tans during the heat of the day and explore during the mornings and evenings.
Our first afternoon we took a cab to the medina and walked around. We miscalculated when the “heat of the day” was over and started out around 4pm which meant that by 5pm we were absolutely soaked with sweat and sought comfort in a small cafe where we both drank 5 L of water and had some hot mint tea (which was oddly helpful). The heat of the day in Marrakech in June was stifling. 110 F. 113 F. The dry heat made it tricky — upon walking out of the hotel we’d remark “oh this isn’t bad!”. But then, it was bad. And we were stuck. We ate a nondescript dinner of tagine (our first of about 400 while there) and slept the deep yet unfulfilling sleep of the dehydrated.
The next day we ate a huge breakfast, idled by the pool and then at 5:30pm walked the mile or so into the medina. Still yet, we didn’t learn our lesson and it was impossibly hot but we were stubborn so there’s really no lesson at all then when faced with our pale, western resolve. We got lost in the souks and I noted that things looked a bit fresher than when I was there last. Also, there were about eight million more people there. All of them were puffy and English. A few were lithe and Spanish. We found a great cafe on the main square to people watch and then at an early hour for Moroccans and their European neighbors but late for us since we were starving we set off to eat at the touristy (but quite fun, actually) Jemaa el Fna market place. Dozens of white tents pop up and you can eat street food (though sanitized for tourism) and people watch some more.
After dark, we walked home along Mohammed V and were struck by the number of Moroccans who were out enjoying the cool breeze. Families having picnics. Kids on bikes. It was really pleasant to walk through “real” Morocco amid the tourist craziness of the Medina. The city came alive with locals.
The next day we set out a bit earlier to visit Ben Youssef Madrasa — the ancient Islamic college in the center of town. We enjoyed the architecture very much — I am a HUGE sucker for modern (or as it were, ancient!) Moroccan decor so I ate it up. After sightseeing before lunch, we lazed at our (really nice, actually) hotel pool before getting dressed up for a “nice dinner” in the ville nouveau.
Unfortunately, the restaurant we wanted to visit was closed on this particular day of the week and while we looked around for some of the cosmopolitan ville noveau, we mostly saw other lost tourists looking for the same thing, rich people in very nice cars and then the very poor selling trinkets. By this point Marrakech had drained DaveKlein and he was OVER. IT. I sort of see how he felt — Moroccans are a friendly people in certain situations. We sort of longed for the innate friendliness of the Thais, the Turks… Moroccans were tougher, more grizzled by tourism in addition to their almost ingrained business sense and language abilities. I don’t begrudge them this (after seeing what the puffy English and the lithe Spanish were wearing ) but it did make things seem oddly more difficult. It was the one Muslim country we had visited where tourists aren’t allowed in most mosques.
After being lost and very hot while dressed “nicely” we just gave up the next day and sat by the pool almost exclusively. We went to a neighborhood coffee shop for lunch and then did the least backpacker-y thing we could think of for dinner: room service.
It was glorious.
Marrakech is smokey. Hot. Beguiling. Dirty. European yet Not. Oldey timey but not. It was just not what Dave wanted. I had been there before and I think that had sort of jaded my view. My first memories of Marrakech were SO out there and crazy and I was open to the experience. This time around we were a ticking time bomb of Ennui. We wanted out, but just not yet. We talked so much in Morocco about dying to be home and now that we’ve been home for two months I will share with you this:
we were snotty, ungrateful jerks. We wanted a dryer. I wanted to see my father walk after a surgery put him out of commission for months while we were gone. We wanted to see Dave’s grandmother. We wanted a dryer. We didn’t want the constant negotiations. We just wanted home.
Marrakech: I’m sorry we mistreated you. There was a pool and room service had burgers and we were lousy guests.