Another Girls Gone Mild trip? Yes! And who better to grab some winter sun than my Manchester-girl-about-town, Red. Frankly, she took no convincing at all, her only objection to a suggested weekend was ‘not Russia’. Fine. As it goes, another friend was headed that way with her fella the following weekend so was able to give me the low-down over lunch recently. But I digress. Red spied some flights for £100 and we were on our way. I’m going to put it out there: I was not sure at first about Morocco as a travel destination. It conjured images of dirty streets, annoying market traders and people making a grab for anything that looked expensive or fleshy (or, in my case, both). I needn’t have worried. This is what Marrakech is really like. Come take a walk through this photo montage.
What was I saying about annoying market traders? Oh yes. I turned briefly to purchase some juice on the first morning only to find that in the 20 seconds it took me to buy my drink that Red had been accosted by a henna ‘artist’ decorating her with a temporary tattoo. Claiming it was for free, Red reluctantly gave her hand, then found herself in a haggle. In the end she lost 200 Dirham (about £14) and gained an arm covered in low-grade poo-like henna. It took nearly an hour for this to dry and the results were shoddy. But it didn’t stop there.
We allowed ourselves to be dragged into a government run (sure, sure) shop selling the fabled Argan oil. This is particular to Morocco and according to the woman in the lab coat in the shop cures everything from malaria to stretch-marks. The sell is done in a shop of coloured powders, which is distracting and curious – I’m convinced it’s ground up chalk (clue: no labels on anything) and buy the bare minimum to make my escape before I can be tempted by ‘free gifts’.
But it’s not all souks and shady shops. There is a lot of belly dancing going on. Remarkable given the usual dress-code on the streets (uncovered shoulders attract a bit of unwelcome attention). This woman was by far my favourite: if you can dance with a tray of candles and tea strapped to your head, you must be good. Do not try this at home.
Marrakech also has a crap-load of good architecture. You can wander about admiring the tiles like a DIY enthusiast in a Homebase store for days.
One of the Very Best Things about hanging out in Marrakech is the night time scene. Grab a spot above the central market (Jemaa el-Fnaa) and watch it come to life as the sun goes down. Lots of music, snake charmers, entertainment and it feels all remarkably safe since no one is drunk.
Koutoubia Mosque is also worth a look (again, from the outside, we’re infidels) and serves as a useful point for getting your bearings since it is the tallest thing in the city and can be seen from most places.
What trip to northern Africa would be complete without a camel ride, eh? Yeah, box ticked though I have to say that Red was way less than convinced than I was about doing it. I told her it was just a weird shaped horse. That didn’t work, she’s not fond of horses either. But she was convinced when we found it was literally the only way we could see this attraction which she had dragged us to; the Palmeria – an area of palm tress set against the back-drop of the Atlas Mountains.
An entrance (one of many) to the souks. This is where you can buy (in my case) genuine fake Hermes belts, scarves and hand-painted plates. Or (in Red’s case) decorative metal-bottomed curly toed shoes and wizard outfits. I’m the practical one, obviously.
Our accommodation choices in Marrakech were abundant. Unlike some other bloggers who are paid to swan about swishing their big dresses in fancy places like Mamounia, I was self-funded. But that doesn’t mean I bunked down in a hostel. My idea of roughing it is slow room service, after all. I chose Villa Makassar, located in the Kasbah (I swear I almost chose it on this basis alone) it was the perfect mix of Art Deco, luxury and ‘keeping it real’.
Oh who am I kidding – this kind of sweet carb loading breakfast is in no way ‘keeping it real’. I seriously suggest starting the day this way every day though. Cake, pancakes, and chocolate things. What I don’t have a picture of is the Hammam. Not sure what one is? Google it before you book it, is my top tip. Crib notes: you get scrubbed to within an inch of your life naked, by a stranger. If you have booked this experience with a friend, they will scrub you in the same room. One at a time. The person not being scrubbed will lie there in awkward steamy silence. Be sure you have agreed this in advance and/or you are REALLY good friends. That aside, it’s a fabulous scrub and I’ve never felt cleaner.
During the day I overloaded on fresh orange juice. These stalls are all around the market square. A glass of the the cold nectar will set you back the equivalent of 35p, so you can see why I vitamin C’d myself into a coma.
I highly recommend eating as much Moroccan food as you can get your hands on, especially this: some kind of skewered chicken thing. Menus are typically in french and arabic, so clue up on a few words (I chose francais, obviously) before you go to make things easier. It will keep you fuelled to go out exploring.
This is Menara Gardens. I’m posting this to save you the bother of going. This is essentially it. The ‘gardens’ are a bunch of olive trees in the dirt with poor families picnicking on the dirt in the shade of the trees.
You can also go stork stalking. These things nest in one of the palaces. One swooped me silently gliding from behind. As you will know from the previous post, this was not a sign of anything other than a giant bird curious about my blonde barnet.
Taxi! Yes, you can grab a cab to go anywhere you like for less than you think, but probably more than what locals pay. Some cabs will only take three people though, so if there are four of you, choose the cab first and don’t let them talk you into getting two cabs. And don’t then find a four-person cab and try to switch like we did (Red and I were sharing with two other British girls who were going the same way) because it will start a massive argument.
And that’s pretty much it, Morocco’s capital is safer than I thought, cheaper (once I got the hang of how to haggle) and I was able to fend off the pleas of souk traders with better french than I thought possible. It was also more relaxing than I gave it credit for, and far more interesting.
It did have the dusty chaotic ramshackle streets but these seemed more charming than I thought they would be. This is the one our fabulous hotel was on. Don’t judge a property by its front door. Or a country by your own pre-conceptions.