Mission to Morocco (Part One)

A couple of months ago I realised it has been basically a year since I’ve been abroad, so started picking my brains for somewhere I could go.

I always try and go somewhere that’s a totally different world; I love to see different sights, experience different cultures, and smell different smells (however unpleasant they may be).

Being pretty broke, I quickly waved good bye to dreams of backpacking around India again, so started to rack my brains of places to go that weren’t TOO far away yet weren’t a package holiday in the South of Spain.

A few years ago, I took a trip with my Mum to Morocco.  I had a wonderful time with my her, as she’s great and a good old egg and we did have A LOT of laughs and see some amazing things, such as sleeping under the stars in the Sahara Desert and driving through the Atlas Mountains.  However, I did come away from that trip thinking I didn’t LOVE Morocco.

Now one of those things that my Mum has always taught me, is that if you love somewhere, never go back.  This may sound stupid, however if you think about it, you can sort of see the sense.  I think what Barbara was trying to get as was, if you’ve had such an amazing experience somewhere, don’t return, as it cannot be topped.  So with that twisted logic, I thought to myself, I didn’t love the country before, I certainly haven’t seen all of it, I’m older and perhaps have different views to what’s fun on a holiday, it’s cheap and not too far away AND it’s a totally different culture.  I was sold.  The flights were booked, the bags were packed and off on my travels I went.  With Julien; of course.

Unfortunately due to me not receiving annual leave pay, I was only able to take a week and a half off work, certainly not ideal but we could make it work!  So on the train to Gatwick we hopped, bought the obligatory last minute hats and flip flops, and boarded our flight to Marrakesh.

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After calming my nerves due to the flight, with a few (too many) complimentary glasses of wine, we made it through passport control, and out to the African wall of heat, so intense it was as though it was trying to sober me up on purpose.

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We waved down a taxi, some sort of rusty old Ford model from the 50’s, with parts of it having been bound with duct tape to ensure they don’t fall off.  We flung our backpacks into the trunk and tried to liaise with the driver in a frenzied mix of French, English and Arabic that we’d like to get to the medina, and handed him a piece of paper with the address scribbled down.  After looking at the address and coming across as even more baffled than we were, he asked the other drivers to also come over and see if they knew where our riad was.  After much shouting amongst the drivers in very fast and hurried Arabic, the location finally seemed to become clear, and into the car we jumped, to the next part of our adventure.

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We pulled out into the highway, both excitedly looking out a window each, like a pair of dogs in the back seat, wide eyed and wind in face.  The excitement of a different culture took hold already, with the joy of seeing an entire family riding a motorcycle, whilst carrying a goat, and a ladder, and a gallon of paint all, at the same time.  We continued to drive along, and saw the juxtaposition of the newly built outer city, with its building designed to be appreciative of the desert looks, yet also air-conditioned with lots of shiny glass, slowly melting into the walls of the ancient medina, with the crumbling, old wind battered walls, and the docile camels swaying in the Moroccan breeze.

As we entered the outer walls of the old city, we waved goodbye to the highway, and hello to a lot more horn blasting and very crowded streets.  After a few near prangs, it was time to ditch the car, and enter the Souks.  These are an absolute rabbit warren of intricate little streets, criss-crossing their way across the town.  On our way into the Souks we seemed to acquire a few extra “helpers” that offered to carry our bags and give us directions.  We politely refused, and continued walking, however they did persistently stay with us right until we got to the front door of our riad.  Luckily, our host, the wonderful Alexandrie was on hand to speak to them, in fluent French, and make us feel less guilty about not having to give them any money.

As soon as the door to our riad closed behind us, it was like stepping foot into another world.  The peace and serenity was just over whelming.  The centre courtyard was whitewashed, with a water feature trickling down, and ending in a small pond with floating flowers at our feet.  The riad was humble, compared to the one I’d stayed in before; however what it lacked it size was more than made up for in taste and homeliness.  Alex was from Paris, and had recently taken over care of the property.  He employed a small team of three local Moroccans, as drivers, cooks, cleaners, and someone to stay in overnight in case guests wanted anything.  Alex also stayed in one of the rooms himself.

We were shown to our room, which was small yet idyllic and called the Aladdin room.  It had shutters and windows surrounded by vines and looking out onto the courtyard.  The room also hard a large en suite, which wasn’t separated by a door (therefore forcing us to introduce certain bathroom rules) however it somewhat added to the sense of authenticity and serenity, due to its part marbled features and part white washed walls.

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The riad had four bedrooms altogether, however in the time that we stayed there you wouldn’t have known anyone else was in, unless you wanted to.  We ran up onto the roof quickly, where we saw the sun beginning to set in the distance, and heard the birds tweeting as we look over the dusk kissed roofs, past the numerous roof tops with washing drying in the warm breeze, and the tall towers of the mosques calling people to prayer.

After freshening up and changing into our evening clothes, we departed the riad to start our walk through the souks, with a view to end up in the world famous Jemaa El Fna.

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We took with us a small map to help guide us through the tiny streets; however I don’t feel like it made much of a difference.  The streets twist and turn at every opportunity, with many of the tiny shops selling similar products, making it more difficult to decide on a landmark to help find our way back.

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I would imagine you could live there for months, and still not be entirely sure which path to take to get back to where you started.  Nonetheless, it was an adventure, and good fun at that.

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We wiggled our way through the streets, promising ourselves not to get too distracted by all the gorgeous fare just yet and finally came out by the main square.  There was a heavy sigh of relief to realise that we’d made it as we saw the souks slowly give way to the wide open space.  Looking up to the sky, we were suddenly brought back down to earth with a thump, when out of nowhere a young and enthusiastic Moroccan boy grabbed us by the arm telling us of the very well-priced, authentic food on offer at his stall, and (in his best Cockney English accent) assured us the food was “as sound as a pound”.  Within seconds we had 4 other men all wanting us to come to their stalls, with long tables and benches laid out like in a school canteen.

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We felt as though we needed somewhere a little calmer however, for our first night in town, so tried to politely make our excuses, and walk away from the top part of the square, and away from the food stalls to the South side.  Here, we were greeted by groups of Moroccan ladies, all wanting to draw their henna design on my hands, one even going as far as taking my hand and forcefully beginning to draw.  Other characters around were children playing games with empty soda bottles, trying to get the tourists to come and have a try, men with odd, hand help symbols with which they danced to the clanging noise whilst wearing funny hats, and men dressed as women dancing to the sound of drums.

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In a bid to try and escape this madness, we moved to the East section.  Here were people selling their produce and trinkets on rugs laid out on the ground, selling everything from tagines to chameleons named Lady GaGa.

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We strolled round these for a while, fighting the urge to want to explore more, however we just had to eat something.  We chose a small, discreet doorway, which led up to the rooftop of one of the many restaurants surrounding Jemaa El Fna.

We chose a table by the edge, which was not difficult as this restaurant wasn’t particularly busy, un like all the others.  This wasn’t because the restaurant was particularly bad, it was just rather humble and understated.

IMG_5503We enjoyed a lovely meal, sans the alcohol, listened to the prayers being called from the many many mosques, and with that felt it was time for a good nights sleep, as we knew there would be plenty of adventures to have in the upcoming days.IMG_5499

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