November 17, 2019
Addie and I landed in Marrakech around 8pm on Thursday night, so after taxiing to our hotel to check-in and drop off our backpacks we only had enough energy to grab dinner before hitting the sack. We ate at tourist-hot spot Le Salama, in a corner of the crowded rooftop terrace. Lamb with roasted pears and chicken couscous--a tasty introduction to our weekend in Marrakech.
Our flight had left Bilbao around 2pm that afternoon, with a 4-hour layover in the Barcelona airport spent drinking beer and our own on-the-go-concoction Kalimotxo (a traditional Basque drink of red wine and CocaCola that we had come to adore) while sprawled out on a surprisingly comfortable airport-cafe couch and watching the fourth Harry Potter movie on Addie’s phone (she had just finished reading the books for the first time and was now making her way through the movies).
The next morning we woke up early to the light sound of rain sprinkling on our private outdoor terrace. With only two full days to spend exploring Marrakech, we were determined not to let a little water get us down. A quick breakfast of an assortment of breads and mixed juices in the cafe downstairs and we were headed off into the jungle that was the souks of the Medina market. Our hotel, Hotel Ali, was just off the main square of the Medina, so it made exploring the oldest and car-less neighborhood of Marrakech on foot easy.
Our plan was to make our way straight through the market to the other side of the Medina to the Ben Youssef Madrasa, the largest Madrasa in Morocco, and then spend our time exploring the souks and buying whatever souvenirs and gifts on our way back to the hotel before lunch. Unfortunately for us it was still pretty early in the day and the market was just barely beginning to breathe with life, and we must’ve stuck out like two sore thumbs as tourists. As we were making our way through the winding, indoor alleyways we were approached by a man brimming with promises of Moroccan tanneries and by-hand scarf-dying and, eager for our Moroccan adventures to begin, we obediently followed as he led us deeper into the maze.
We resurfaced some time later in a small, open-air plaza over which hundreds of clumps of different colored yarn hung from criss-crossing planks of wood. We were introduced to a man selling scarfs who excitedly began to explain how the scarves were made and dyed by hand and before we knew it he was wrapping our heads and teaching us how to wear a variety of Arabic styles. We were so entranced by the man’s scarf-selling charm that it wasn’t until we were being whisked away to an ATM to withdraw more cash to pay for the scarves we had so willingly agreed to buy that it occurred to us the trap we had been caught in. But by that time money was exchanging hands and it was too late to haggle, and thus our fate was sealed.
Addie and I finally escaped the web of our skilled vendors and had made it to the other side of the Medina, albeit our wallets were a lot lighter and our pride was slightly tarnished. The Ben Youssef Madrasa was closed for renovations, so we turned right back into the market and bee-lined straight through, back to our hotel. We agreed that, after lunch (we shared a traditional Moroccan dish of Tagine served with roasted apricots and dates, yummy!), we would tackle the market again, refreshed and ready to barter. We quickly learned, although apparently not quick enough, that with a bit of a firm hand you could easily get to half or even a third of the original asking price.
Alcohol is prohibited in the Medina so after dinner with some friends who were also travelling in Marrakech we spent our evening eating Nutella and banana crepes while smoking apple-flavored shisha in a shisha cafe.
The next morning was sunny and warm and we began our day drinking mint tea and people watching from the hotel cafe. Around 11am we walked two short blocks to a Hammam House recommended by our hotel for a Moroccan spa treatment. Although the naked massage and being scrubbed by another person in a naked bath was uncomfortable at first, we left feeling rejuvenated and incredibly clean, and the experience became both of our favorites from the weekend getaway (if anyone is interested in the Moroccan Hammams but not inclined to strip naked there are bath houses that allow or even require its participants to wear swimsuits).
Our spa treatment was followed by an hour-long camel ride in a grove about a 20-minute drive from our hotel. I had heard rumors that the camels used for camel rides in Morocco weren’t treated very well, but I had played the role of the ignorant and hopeful because, well, I wanted to ride a camel. I very quickly regretted this decision, however, once I saw how the camels were all tied up in a jumble and most of them just out of reach of their food. During the ride, they were each tied so closely to the camel in front of them that when the front camel stopped, it caused a traffic jam domino effect that caused all the camels to scrunch up their necks in an awkward and uncomfortable position. To top it off, the ride itself was pretty dull after the initial excitement wore off. The scenery was uninteresting, the saddle uncomfortable, and the constant sight of the bunched up camels made the experience overall unappealing. At least the one camel we saw that was not tied up looked pretty happy and quite content to to eat while being cooed over by foreigners.
Addie and I ended our trip by meeting up with our friends again for a final farewell dinner in Marrakech, at the restaurant Nomad which offers a modern take on traditional Moroccan cooking.