The last time I was in Marrakech I was 21, studying in Milan and flew in from Italy with a couple of friends. I remembered landing and realising pretty quickly that the city was very different to Milan. Food, customs, religion. All at opposite ends of the scale. I remembered Jema El Fna square being one of the most impressive places I have ever seen and hence was talking it up to all my travel buddies before we arrived in October. My reputation was on the line and I was praying that Marrakech would live up to expectations…well done Morocco, you didn’t disappoint!
If you do nothing else in Marrakech, get yourself to Jema El Fna. Fun fact, the name of this square translates to assembly of the dead. This may be in reference to the display of the heads of criminals executed there until the 19th century. Bit dark but interesting nonetheless.
Jema El Fna, for me, is my experience of Morocco encapsulated in one place. Someone asked me to describe Morocco in a sentence and all I could say was “It is an assault on the senses where at any moment, Aladdin could walk around the corner”. The hustle and bustle of the square, the cacophony of sounds, mixture of smells and the constant conversation with street vendors is overwhelming and exciting all in one hit!
It can be a struggle to get around the markets in Marrakech with everyone constantly trying to pull you into their shop. One thing I would recommend is if you want to get away from someone trying to get your attention just talk more than them.
Street vendor: “My friend, my friend, you hungry, come in, come in”
Me: “HELLOOOOO! (big smile) Man I am so glad to see you, your shop looks great! I just ate but we are here for a few days. Morocco is so beautiful. I will be back in this area tomorrow and will come back to see you. What number stall are you? Number 31. Perfect. This is such a good setup! See you tomorrow!”
Street vendor: “See you tomorrow my friend”
*Shake hands and part ways*
I am convinced that they are so bamboozled with what is happening they don’t know what to say or do. Always be respectful, shake hands and laugh with them. I made a few Moroccan friends this way.
Let’s not forget though that Morocco is not just Marrakech. I headed out to the desert with a small group of friends to see what it was all about (another post on that to come) as well as ventured to Taghazout to go surfing for a weekend. When I was out in the surf listening to the call to prayer in the afternoon I knew that this was one of those experiences I would never forget.
The month was not all smooth sailing though. As a result of some interesting restaurant food handling habits it was not unusual to have a little upset stomach here and there. However, the food was too good to turn down! Gotta say, I am ok with not seeing another tagine for a little while but I did enjoy my fair share of Moroccan delicacies!
Probably a highlight of the month though had little to do with Morocco and everything to do with just being a ridiculous person. Where we were staying there was an awesome, large pool. In the first week I was speaking to a friend of mine Ryan about what fun activity we could do down by the pool with everyone. A flat-out winner was obviously water aerobics. I can’t remember it exactly but the conversation went something like this…
Nick: “What do you reckon about doing something fun down at the pool with everyone?”
Ryan: “Yeah would be great! Some kind of workout or water sport.”
Nick: “Hahaha yeah, maybe something like water aerobics?”
Ryan: “So ridiculous, could you imagine!”
Nick: “So stupid!! Haha”
Ryan: “So are we doing it?”
Nick: “I think we are…”
Ryan: “Here come the Wetboyz!!”
And with that Wetboyz Workouts were born. We have held 2 sessions so far and are looking to have a third one this month in Buenos Aires. Who knew I had a love of aqua aerobics? Check out the video to see a few clips of the Wetboyz in action!
The reflective stuff
I feel a place like Morocco can be really confronting for people. There is no way to ease into it, the country comes at you like a freight train. I remember travelling when I was younger and how this would really be a struggle for me. I didn’t feel confident just getting out there and immersing myself in what was going on. And to some extent, I still experience that now with new places. You are not used to this new place and you need to be street smart. What I learnt though is it is important to engage with exactly what is going on around you and not your preconception of it.
Walking into Morocco a few people I know were worried they were going to have a tough time. And, they did. When they came at it from that angle it was always going to be a struggle. Meanwhile others were happily surprised with how much they enjoyed the city due to their openness and willingness to let go of preconceived ideas. Don’t get me wrong, some places are not for everyone but make sure you give yourself every chance of liking a place before you count it out.
As always, take what you will from this post and I will see you soon.