Sunday, 26 January 2014

Leaving my comfort zone {Marrakesh}

Marrakesh. I don't even know how to begin writing about this holiday. It was probably the first time I had travelled somewhere completely out of my comfort-zone.  Europe it certainly was not. We arrived in this wonderful, crazy, romantic, unusual city on the 28th April 2011. I think perhaps if circumstances had of been different, my first impression of Marrakesh would not have been what it was. We arrived at our hotel, the  Le Meridien N'fis, just before noon and were eager to check in and make our way to the Jemaa el-Fnaa Square (the main tourist square) for some lunch.  We were delayed in our check in as the room was not ready and  were forced to spend an extra 30 -45 minutes wandering around the hotel and acquainting ourselves with all the facilities before finally being shown to our room. 

Some adorable stray kittens we saw
By this time we were now desperately hungry, and having a list of trip advisor restaurant recommendations printed out, we walked from our hotel to the square and were blown away by the commotion and craziness of everything. Cars, donkeys, motorbikes, people and animals were everywhere. Horns were honking, prayer songs where blaring and there was no order of any sorts. I felt really nervous and slightly alarmed as this reality of Marrakesh did not match the picture I had painted in my mind at all. 

The restaurant we ate lunch at on our first day
The square was total chaos, we saw a building in front of us, collapsed and smoky, with people running around like mad and we had no idea what was going on.  We were told there had been a gas explosion in the restaurants kitchen and sadly the chef was believed to have been badly injured - but this was communicated to us by another tourist who looked just as baffled as we felt. We watched the happenings of the aftermath for a few minutes, not sure what to do, but decided that, as unfortunate as the incident was, we still needed to find some lunch.  We would have liked to eat at the restaurant which was ranked number one on our list, but when we realised this was the one that was the scene of the explosion, we made our way to number two which was just across the way. We sat on the balcony, ate a delicious lunch and watched the men in white suits comb over the wreckage of the restaurant across the square, still oblivious to the true reason behind the explosion that took place on the balcony of that restaurant, probably very similar to the one we were currently at, less than an hour ago and caused such havoc.  We spent the rest of the day looking around some of the souks and generally feeling bewildered and shocked at the craziness of the city.

Only once we had returned to the hotel later in the afternoon and met up with some friends  did we find out it had been a terrorist attack. We had arrived in the square about 10 minutes after it happened. 17 people, mostly tourists, were killed that day. They were tourists sitting on a balcony, like we had done, talking, laughing, crying, reading,  living, when an evil terrorist left a backpack with a bomb and nails on said balcony and ruined so many peoples lives.   I am forever grateful that our check in was delayed, we could all too easily have been involved in something far scarier than what we unknowingly witnessed and experienced, God was certainly watching over us that holiday.

Needless to say, we were all a bit nervous the next day, but continued with our sight seeing as planned and made our way back to the square to spend some more time in the Souks.  I am so glad we went back, the second time around things were far quieter and probably what it would normally be like so it was good to see it without the chaos of the bomb and to get a true feeling for the bustling city. 


The souks were, simply put, out of this world. The colours, smells and atmosphere were unlike anything I had ever experienced. I loved the little windy streets with all the Riads lining the sides, the spice markets with the friendly stall owners who smiled and encouraged you to have a look at their goods. I found out, that using a unique technique of confusing the sellers, I was a great haggler [far better than Hamish ;)] and scored some great deals! 

I had another scare in the square near the souks. I was walking along with Hamish, minding my own business, when out of nowhere a Moroccan woman was literally in my face, grabbing my arm and shoving a syringe towards my hand. Thankfully, I soon realised the syringe had no needle and was filled with Henna, but it was nevertheless still an alarming experience.  I steered clear of these women for the rest of the trip. There was also an abundance of street vendors with a range of party tricks and animals. We saw countless cobras, other snakes and monkeys being used to get tourists attention and of course their money. 

Mansion in the Atlas Mountains
We were lucky enough to make a day trip to the Atlas Mountains, stopping off at a little shop along the way. The shop was at the back of a house and the family were eager to show us around. I thought it would be upsetting to see this side of the country, the real lives and the poverty that people live in, but even thought the house was run down and over-occupied, the occupants were all so friendly and happy to see us and showed us around proudly. They didn't seem to notice the dirty concrete walls and floor, the kitchen missing a wall with a small open fire to do the cooking, the lack of pretty decorations, the fact that their clothes and faces were dirty and there were puddles throughout the house from rain water leaking in through the patchy corrugated iron roof.  They seemed truly happy and were smiling like they didn't have a care in the world. I am so pleased we were able to see that side of their lives. It made me realise how much the Western world depends on materialistic things for happiness - I am certainly guilty of this, but I think when I returned from Morocco, I appreciated how lucky I truly am to have what I do.  

The sexy gear they make you wear to go quad biking

On our final day, we managed to sneak in a little bit of quad biking. It was a bit rainy and muddy and Hamish was disappointed as he thought it would have been far faster and more adventurous, but he took comfort in driving through every single puddle as fast as he could and at an angle which ensured that when we arrived back at the base, I didn't have a dry inch anywhere on my entire body. 

Stare off (this picture has nothing to do with this post, except it was taken in Marrakesh and this kid was so cute!)
Regardless of all the drama and feeling so uncomfortable and at times, rather nervous, I loved Marrakesh and the holiday. I think, retrospectively, I appreciate it more looking back on it that I did at the time. I really would like to go back one day, and see a bit more of Morocco and all it has to offer.

Fun Facts about Marrakesh 
  • Although the majority of the residents are Arabic or Berber, there is still a very strong French presence and it is widely spoken around Morocco.
  • Marrakesh is split into two halves, the "Old City" or "Medina" and the " New City"
  • If you take a picture of a snake charmer, monkey or street vendor they will expect payment and hassle you if you do not pay them.
  • Taxi drivers rarely use the meter, so it is a good idea to agree the fare before your journey if you want to avoid being ripped off. 
  • A pint of beer in Marrakesh is £3.00*

*Correct at time of publishing. 

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