Leaving Lisbon for Marrakesh was bitter and sweet. The comfort of western living had not prepared us for the onslaught that was to come
We arrived to a beautiful airport, on a beautiful 27 degree afternoon to be greeted by Kathryn, our lifelong friend and our Riad’s (Guesthouse) driver. We piled into his luxury, midsize van and off we went. Hurtling along the highway, we made our way to the city of Marrakesh, and then to the ancient Medina (the center), a half hour drive. This is where the onslaught started. There are no rules of the road here. Life has been as it has for a millennium. The Medina is over 1000 years old and it is only us westerners that have altered it. Donkeys, rickety carts, motorcycles, vendors, children and tourists all vying for space on these narrow stone roads. You walk with the traffic on the right, lest a vehicle careens around the windy corners only to screech to a halt as a donkey sits waiting for its masters return. When you cross a road, you start with one foot (make that fateful step) and weave your way through the mass of motion. Our host claims that he has never in his life seen an accident in the Medina…amazing.
We arrive to meet Youssef and Burcin and immediately feel at ease. They are young, wonderful hosts who greet us with warm hugs and show us their Riad. An oasis in what appears to be chaos. A beautiful Riad with lovely sitting area, kitchen, private rooms and rooftop deck – this is their home. But one thing we’ve found about beds in Morocco – hard! The hardest foam we’ve ever found, but surprisingly comfortable. We slept like logs. Youssef and Burcin gave us all the tips and advice to survive the Medina.
I say survive because when you first arrive, the vendors descend like seagulls on an injured fish. You can always tell newbies to Marrakesh – wide eyed, looking at their maps while frantically searching for street names. Along comes a seemingly descent, innocent local asking if you need help, and for no price they will help you find what you’re looking for, just follow them. You will then find yourself in a carpet shop, or silver shop paying an exorbitant price for something you didn’t want or wasn’t planning on buying. It takes gusto to stand up and say no and walk away from this now angry vendor who throws his arms around claiming that you are starving his children and how dare you waste his time….
Its another world. For those of us who have travelled to Mexico and Central America, or to Thailand and Asia, Morocco is something else. The Medina is ancient – some walls and arches are over 1000 years old, as are some customs. The calls to prayer, which happen 5 times a day, are amplified public notices to com to the Mosque to pray – they sound very much like air raid sirens. They change depending on who is doing the calling, and every Mosque does one, so there seems to be a competition going on – at sunrise and sunset, with a few others thrown in there throughout the day.
Restaurants are plentiful, but choosing one is difficult as a lot have meat hanging out front, or cats curled up on the benches. The Western style ones are generally centred around the square where acrobats, henna artists, drummers and various animal acts congregate. There are snake charmers, monkeys and beggars with varying degrees of disabilities all around the squares trying to make a living from the hordes of tourists. Be careful how you approach them – if you take a picture or even hover too long, be prepared to be accosted.
Talking with Burcin, who is Italian/Turkish, even she, after living here for years needs a break – it is an onslaught on all the senses.
But don’t get me wrong – Marrakesh is amazing. The smells, the colours, the sights, the sounds, they all bring life to the forefront. It’s exhilarating, exciting and exhausting. If you do go, make sure you have a Riad, or hotel that you can escape to where you feel safe and are able to recharge. We were there for 3 days and although we were happy to move on, we were also sorry to leave and we miss it and our wonderful hosts at Riad Yuki.