Busy, Buzzing, Bright, Beautiful.
Friday night in Marrakech is like no other friday night you will ever experience. People coming from every direction to the epicentre of this majestic city. Snake charmers sitting amongst the crowds whilst street sellers throw rebounding flashing boomergang’esq structures into the sky. The air is lit up by the lights of the souks and street markets, and filled with a heavy aromatic scent that starts your stomach gurgling.
Don’t come here planning on going anywhere fast. No amount of ‘excuse me’, ‘sorry’, ‘erm, hello?’ will advance you more than 2ft in these crowds, it requires a bit less english etiquette and a bit more patience and persistence. Everyone is going somewhere else and thats part of the magic. You just exist in this busy place and soon forget where you were heading.
We settled at a street stall for dinner and watched the world go by. I just couldn’t believe there were so many people in what seemed like a relatively small space. A man with a monkey on a chain desperately tried to get tourists to have pictures with him and then wanted money off them for it. Please, if there is one thing I would say is don’t expect anything in Morocco to be for free. A man took a photo of me in a bakery on a side street – a photo I did not ask for, and then demanded 100 Dirhams. I politely declined and left quickly but I feel if I were not with so many people (there were 6 of us) then this wouldn’t have worked! – Its a cultural difference, no issue if you know, but if you don’t well, don’t make the mistake heed my warning!
Once filled on food we headed for the Souks. Now this is a Market. Camden eat your heart out. Stacks of stalls (and I mean stacks there are literally 3 levels!) which are basically like walking into Mary Poppins handbag. They can sell you everything and anything and are impartial to the offer of a camel in exchange for your friend if it takes your fancy! A stimulating magnificent place but don’t get lost – well do – but maybe not at night, like I did – its a bit more nerve wracking than during the day… Lesson number 1 of my travel journeys – don’t assume you know the way back because the signpost roughly resembles the word ‘centre’ in english. Bad mistake – busy marrakech suddenly became ghost town marrakech, alleyways went on, and on, and on, and there were doorways to residencies but no way out and no ‘centre’. A few odd looks from some local men and me and my two friends were soon hurrying back along the path we took hoping we hand’t gone too far out of our way. We were naive, yes, but it is easy to get lost here, very easy.
Barter! You must its the culture and its insulting not to! I was told to offer half the price they tell you the item is then work your way back up to the price your willing to pay. And that worked well for me! There is a line though, don’t be rude and try and rip people off. They work hard to get the products they have and money from tourism feeds many people here, at the same time don’t be ripped off just because your a tourist – aim for fair and everyones happy.
We took a guided walking tour with a local guide which was brilliant. We walked between the old and new parts of the city and marvelled at the Koutoubia Mosque and the ruins of its former self. We then visited Bahia Palace, a beautiful display of some of Marrakech’s greatest architecture and mosaics with a lush garden entwined with the building outside. It was a stunning building and I would highly recommend a visit!
We went to a local restaurant down a side street for lunch and had the most succulent tasty chicken for a very small price complete with copious bread and berber whiskey.
I’ve mentioned the street monkeys before but on a more serious note please don’t give these guys money for a photo with the ‘cute monkey’. These animals are often in a very poor welfare state and should not be chained up and used as a money making scheme. The more tourists buy into this for the ‘cute photo’ the more it becomes an accepted way of making a living. Buy the products, eat the food, celebrate the culture but don’t pose with the monkeys – please! Rant over..
Berber whiskey! Its amazing, drink it by the gallon if you can but be warned it may give you diabetes – the sugar content is horrendous but its so worth it. Its a Moroccan green and mint tea which as you may have gathered is very very sweet and served hot in a glass cup. I do not like tea as a rule but I really like this stuff – if your a tea lover and you’ve tried it let me know what you think I’m intrigued!
– eat at the street markets and local restaurants on the side streets
– visit the souks at day and night (maybe get your bearings during the day…)
– drink berber whiskey – in copious amounts
– visit the Koutoubia Mosque
– don’t get pictures with the monkeys!
– GO to Marrakech!