Bleh, I’ve been so sick the past two days. Fever, chills, aches, and those other fun things that come with having the flu. This means no eating my 12 grapes in Sol with the other madrileños, no dancing until dawn to ring in 2011… instead I was stuck inside, alone, with DVDs, Bebida Isotonica, and the equivalent of Spanish saltenes. I am more than just a little bitter about this.
The silver lining, I suppose, is that I still made it to Marrakesh for the weekend, and it was life changing. After a short plane ride, my friend and I took a bus and hopped off at the Jamaa El Fna square. Complete and total culture shock ensued. The square was packed with stands selling spices, orange juice and other goodies, and around the outside were groups of men sitting at cafes or watching street performances (including snake charmers!!!), and all the while people riding motorbikes zipped around us, since no real roads were anywhere to be found. We wandered around like chickens with our heads cut off for a bit through the narrow winding alleyways off the square until finally someone took pity on us and lead us to our hostel, all the while assuring us that we should be “tranquila, chicas. No pasa nada. Tranquila.”
After the owner finally stopped joking around long enough to let us check in, we got a good night’s sleep and woke up to a delicious breakfast, including sweet tea, fresh apricot jam and homemade flat bread. We set off to explore and quickly got lost. We decided to follow a couple walking in front of us, as they were the only other tourists around, and ended up spending the rest of the day with them. Jeremy and Melanie could not have been more French or more adorable, and they were pretty much experts on all things Moroccan. Thanks to our new friends we managed to find the Royal Palace and their adjacent Agdal Gardens. We enjoyed relaxing in the gardens, soaking up some sun, attempting to speak French with some locals, and watching families feed the fish.
After a delicious lunch where I tried my first tajine (great for the sore throat I’d picked up on the plane ride over), we took a brief siesta and then met up with our frenchies for a walk around the souks. The souks are a bunch of stands set up in a covered market that sell pretty much anything and everything you could dream of. They are about three times as big as the central square, and about 300 times more overwhelming. Surprisingly I managed to purchase nothing, mostly because of how much I hate bartering, and we ended the night with a giant buffet Christmas Eve dinner, filled with lots of cous cous, roast lamb, and the best tangerines I’ve ever eaten, yum.
The next day we explored on our own without the help of our frenchies, which proved much more difficult. Marrakech is confusing, and our map had pretty much zero relationship to the direction the streets actually went. We spent most of the day completely and entirely lost, and without my French 101 that I retained from college I don’t know how we would have made it around at all. Also, not having a man around, and clearly looking like we didn’t belong made us prime targets for anyone trying to scam tourists. Our forcible “hand-raping”, where two women grabbed our hands and gave us henna tattoos for “luck” and then tried to charge us 600 dirhams didn’t make us look any less conspicuous. Still, we managed to find gardens designed by Yves Saint Laurent, see a good chunk of the city, and eat a lot of delicious food, despite all the hassle.
Our flight left Sunday afternoon, but we were able to sneak in a quick trip to the El Badi Palace, which was probably the highlight for me. Built back in the 16th century, there isn’t much left of it, but they had zero restrictions about where you could explore, so we were able to clamber up the crumbling steps and explore the dark passages beneath the ruins, it was very cool, and easy to let your imagination run away for a bit. I feel as if I barely did Marrakesh (let alone Morocco) justice, and I am already dying to go back. I’m not going to pretend to be cool and casual, never has a place filled me with a sense of wonder and curiosity the way Marrakesh did. So, one day, I will be back for a more in depth look, but until then, I’m happy I had a very Moroccan Christmas.
On Monday I am off to Italy for the week on my lonesome, to see if I actually can be the cool, independent traveler I pretend to be. I’m pretty excited, although all of my excitement is generally food related… pizza, espresso, pasta, gelato… did I mention pizza?