The Madness of Marrakesh, Morocco
Marrakesh was a city we only read about in travel books and it was on our list of places to visit during our trip. We booked a room in a guesthouse just on the outskirts of the center of the Medina. The owners Jacque and Nicolas were very welcoming and actually expats from Belgium. Their home was decorated in a traditional Moroccan theme and it felt very exotic and authentic to stay in.
If you’re planning a trip to Marrakesh, I’d highly recommend either staying in a guest house or a riad. We were able to stay in both and really enjoyed the atmosphere. Our guesthouse was especially memorable because of how friendly our hosts were and it was like our safe haven from the chaos of the Medina. (When referring to The Medina, it’s the famous UNESCO plaza and walled section that most people think of when they think of Marrakesh.) In the morning, they would set up a delicious Moroccan breakfast for us consisting of jams, pastries, yogurt, and some really amazing Moroccan pancakes.
Their pets were also very entertaining and friendly, 2 dogs and 1 cat. Morocco being a Muslim country had Mosques that would sound a loud call to prayer multiple times a day. The dogs were accustomed to this call to prayer and would howl along with the call to prayer when it sounded. It was hilarious, because it was as if they were praying too.
One of the dogs, Bobby, seemed to really like attention as he enjoyed being pet. Here’s a picture Tiff captured of Bobby looking really upset that I stopped petting him
The cat was also very cute as it would sometimes bully the dogs around. Tiff actually caught it trying to snatch a sausage from the griddle in the kitchen one evening. The cat gave Tiff a guilty look and scurried off the counter.
To get to the center of the Medina, we rode bicycles provided by our guest house. It was about a 10 minute ride through one of the most intense areas we’ve ever encountered.
Getting into the Medina is chaotic, filled with random obstacles to avoid just to get to the center. You have many things to worry about while riding such as avoiding cars, people, bicycles, push carts, donkeys pulling a cart, motorbikes and much more. This mayhem included with the dusty air, loud sounds everywhere, and a beating sun made it the ultimate sensory overload.
Here’s a quick video of our bike ride from the guesthouse into the center of the Medina to give you an idea of the various “obstacles” we would face:
If riding to the Medina wasn’t intense enough, upon arrival to Jemaa El-Fnaa (the center and crown jewel of the Medina), we would get bombarded with vendors yelling towards us getting our attention to buy things.
Apparently if you look of Asian descent, you’re automatically assumed to be Japanese, so they would yell out “Hey Japan!” “Konnichiwa!” wherever we went. Despite all the yelling from every which way, walking around the Medina was one of the highlights of our trip to Marrakesh. I highly recommend it as it really immerses you into the culture of Morocco, however, be prepared as it can get overwhelming. The store keepers are extremely aggressive with getting a sale from you and will actually chase you down just to try to bring you back to their store to make a purchase.
Once you’re in the Medina, something we highly recommend is to grab a spot at one of the cafes overlooking Jemaa El-Fnaa to watch it transform as the sun comes down and night time rolls around. As the snake charmers and performers make their way out, a new wave of chaos takes over as the food vendors and lamp sellers take over.
A timelapse of our view of Jemaa El-Fnaa transforming from day to night:
At this point of our travels (4 months on the road), we were getting worn out and being harassed every time we left the guesthouse was really overwhelming. We ended up not sight seeing as much as we should have in Marrakesh. On top of that, every time we attempted to visit a site, we would get lost and someone would offer to “help” us without even knowing where we were intending to go (for a tip, of course).
Wandering the streets away from the vendors was a good idea because that was where we were truly able to admire the amazing architecture of Marrakesh.
One of the places we did manage to visit was the photography museum, Maison de la Photographie. The museum had some amazing photos of Marrakesh throughout the ages and you can see the snake charmers and street performers existed even during the 1900s!
Our visit to Marrakesh was definitely something to remember. It really put us outside of our comfort zone and was the most exotic city we’ve visited yet. We found that people in Morocco were really friendly but can be very pushy at times. Some vendors may try pushing their product on you or are trying to figure out where you are going so they can solicit you. Take it with a grain of salt and just enjoy the moment, and your experience will be much more enjoyable.