Marrakech: Culture Shock, Textures & Unreal Experiences
SO…I SPENT THE MONTH IN AFRICA.
I still don’t think that it’s fully registered to me that I was in Africa. And there’s still a month more to spend next month. But, after the experiences of this month, unreal and pinch me as they were, holy shit you guys it was amazing, frustrating, so mind-blowing in amazing ways and complicated ways…but let’s try to recap the best I can.
THE CULTURE SHOCK...
I think the best place to start is the culture shock because this was real and this colored a lot of my experience this month. Admittedly, I struggled with it. So…let’s break down what exactly it was that I struggled with.
Morocco is a Muslim country and because of that, there are aspects of the culture that are incredibly different than what I’m used to. Wearing yoga pants like I normally do? It’s not necessarily a no-no, but you draw a bit more attention. Women’s rights? It’s less of a thing. Cat-calling and harassment is pretty damn commonplace in the culture and this was a lot of what I experienced. One of my first nights, walking a grand total of 5 mins by myself down a very main, well-lit road at just before 9pm at night, a cab pulled over to offer me a “free ride”, which I found out later was sketchy AF (and trust me, it felt it at the time!). A week or so after that, in the middle of the day, in broad daylight, I was followed for about 5-10 minutes by a guy who wouldn’t take no for an answer, asked me about getting a massage and even followed me across the road after I stopped and crossed the road to get away from him. Generally, you get harassed in the Medina, markets, and souks as a tourist to buy things, but even more so, you get harassed for being a woman. You get told to smile if you’re trying to turn on your best resting bitch face. You get followed as I did. Especially, as I found out, as a blue-eyed woman, which is apparently is a novelty in Morocco. There were multiple times when men asked how many camels they could buy me for, which I understand was a joke, but it got old really fast and it made me exceptionally uncomfortable. At one point, I even had the guide to one of my Remote Year tours compliment me on my eyes…and then my ass. Awkward.
By the end of the month, I kind of barricaded myself within our apartment complex, only leaving to occasionally go to the cafe around the corner. It got very uncomfortable and I just got sick of being sold to, checked out, harassed and the general feelings of intense discomfort that came with that.
That being said, ti wasn’t all bad. There were some amazing moments and true top moments of the year that originated from that.
Bahia Palace. One of the first things we did upon arriving in Marrakech was head to the Medina for a heritage tour. Stop #1 was at Bahia palace, a gem of a place that was the epitome of Marrakech architecture, opulence and courtyard culture. It was beautiful, it was colorful and it set the standard for the rest of the month.
Badii Palace & The Saadian Tombs. This was a fave! Badii palace is a former palace of a Saadian sultan that is now a ruin just south of the main Medina in Marrakech. But, even this ruin was unbelievably beautiful. Nearby was the Saadian tombs, which was perhaps one of the most opulent places I’ve ever seen. I mean, it was a tomb! And it was gorgeous! These two places were truly a representation of how ruin can be as powerful as the modernized and ornate riads.
Le Jardin Secret. Perhaps my favorite place in the Medina! It was a gem and I’m obsessed with it. It’s in the heart of the Medina, just off the bustling footpaths that wind through the souks. But, as soon as you duck inside the gates of this place, it’s the most peaceful place within the bustle of the Medina. The emerald tile. The ornate buildings. The colorful flowers and lush plants. It was unbelievable!
The Souks. I’m just going to throw it out there right now. I HATE the main square in the Medina. They’re selling overpriced junk. They’re grumpy and pushy in their selling. I HATE the main square. But the souks were so much better! The stuff that they’re selling is so much better quality and so much more of the kind of things that you would want to buy in Africa, beautiful trinkets, pashmina scarves, etc. Yes, you still get the pushy sales people sometimes, but it’s still fun, though a little overwhelming to experience.
Street Food. We had a full blown street food track when we were in Marrakesh, and let me just tell you, it was legit! Even when we weren’t on the track event, my favorite meals were in fact the cheapest meals where we simply followed our noses to street food stalls serving up deliciousness. Seriously, when in Morocco, skip the sit down meals and simply chow down at the street food vendors! Not only is it cheaper, but it’s delicious and well worth it! Oh…and get over your prejudices and try the snails!
Riad Hopping. One of the very last things I did in Marrakech was riad hop! I didn’t have the time or money to actually spend the night in any of the many boutique riads in the city, but we did do a riad hop one night where we did drinks, appetizers, dinner and dessert at various riads in the Medina and it was amazing! Not only are the riads diverse, but they’re so spectacularly beautiful! Seriously, it’s worth it just to see these amazing buildings and courtyards!
One of the first trips we did in Marrakesh and in Morocco was to take a 3 day, 2 night trip into the Sahara. We did a great trip with Ando travel that included a trip to Ait Ben Haddou, transportation, night in a hotel, camel ride into the Sahara, night in the Sahara and all breakfasts and dinners all for a steal of a deal of $135 a person! Oh and we had a kickass driver named Mohammed who was awesome! But anywho…
Ait Ben Haddou. Leave it to the fact that burned-out Ellyn has been traveling for 11 months and just doesn’t research anything anymore…but I had no idea was I was stepping into when we arrived at Ait Ben Haddou. It was only when I got there that I realized that this place was the filming location for some of my favorite TV shows, movies, etc. including Gladiator, Game of Thrones and SO MUCH MORE! It’s an unbelievable setting for movies, but an even cooler place to get a glimpse into the Berber cultures!
Todra Valley & Gorge. After a night at a hotel, we headed to the ruins of a Berber village and a real Berber village in Todra, checking out the Todra Valley and the Todra Gorge. It was a beautiful early morning trek through the ruins and the valley where we learned a little about their agriculture, their lifestyle and where they showed us authentic Berber rugs made on a vertical loom, and where they were just a little bit pushy about selling you rugs. But, all in all it was an amazing day! Todra Gorge is another Hollywood-centric place in this region, and was where they filmed a scene for the Mummy Returns!
A Night in the Sahara. Oh, this night! This night was perhaps tied with Machu Picchu for favorite overall Remote Year experience! I don’t even know if I can put into words how magic it was, but I’m going to try. As we were driving along, very suddenly off in the distance you started to see something. Orange rolling hills of sand just appeared. There was no gradual build-up to the Sahara desert. It just started without warning. And it was magic! But the fun really started once our van pulled into this non-descript house ride on the edge of the rolling sand dunes. Once inside, we got our shit together (quite literally) and mounted our humped transportation before taking off into the desert. Lemme tell you, camels are not comfortable to ride, but that definitely didn’t stop the pinch me “Holy shit! I’m riding a camel in AFRICA” moments that eventually ensued! We rode for about an hour and arrived at our camp in the desert RIGHT at sunset. We sat and watched the sunset before heading into our camp, not the fanciest place in the world for the night. There, we ate our best meal of the trip, enjoyed drums and singing performed by our guides and cooks, and starred up at the sky. We counted shooting stars and just generally enjoyed laying on the sand dunes under more stars than I have ever seen in my life. I feel silly continunig to say that it was magic…but honestly? I can’t think of a better word to dsecribe it.
Ourika Valley & Hiking the Atlas Mountains. Our monthly all-day track event this month was a favorite. It included a trip up into Berber villages in the High Atlas Mountains where we hiked up toa beautiful waterfall. But that wasn’t where our day ended. We hiked around the waterfall, went back to the buses, and then drove to our host’s house. Well, kind of. We drove to the vicinity. But, we had about 1km or more of a hike through more rocky terrain just to get to his village! There, we piled all 30 or us into their tiny house where they cooked us an amazing meal! It was one of our chillier days in Morocco, but the high Atlas are gorgeous, an unanticipated beauty within the desert and dry Moroccan landscape, but indescribable and so appreciated nonetheless!
All and all…it was a solid month! It definitely was exhausting – I’ll admit it! Living the work travel life while in Morocco, a place which, in and of itself, demands a high degree of attention and energy, is a challenge. I was ready to go after about two weeks. Not necessarily because of a lack of enjoyment or appreciation, but because of a lack of energy. It’s not exactly a place that I would suggest that someone live the digital nomad lifestyle in. There’s a lack of infrastructure for that and it’s just difficult to maintain the level of energy needed to excel at work and enjoy touristing within the city. At least it was for me! Definitely, it’s a place worthy of a visit as a tourist, but a digital nomad might want to think twice before settling here to live their work-travel lifestyle.