I had booked to go to Marrakech in early June without giving it much thought. Other than how excited I was to be going to the continent of Africa since I had left Nigeria so many years ago. While Morocco is not Sub – Saharan, it is on the mainland and I just couldn’t wait to be heading there. As with most of my flights, and trips in general, I try to keep it as cheap as possible. Unless it’s food, then I go all in, cuz you have to enjoy what you’re eating! In order to keep costs down, my flight from Stansted airport left at 6.15am. Yes, that goddamn early.
I had to take the Stansted Express from Liverpool Street station, which was the first train of the day. The only people at the station at the time were travellers like myself, and horrifically drunk people who were still going from the night before. One of whom came up to me to make sure that I was okay. Even in his drunken stupor, he was still a gentleman. As is my luck, the lift that I would take down to the platform was not working, but I was lead to another lift behind platform 10 that would get me there, but just the long way around. To make things even better, as I was walking towards my platform, I dropped. Right on my ass. Some genius had spilt (what I hoped was) water on the ground and did not have the decency or common sense to put a sign out.
Thankfully there were some men working nearby who helped me and my bruised ego up. This fall did make my hip hurt for a while, but thankfully I had under an hour of sitting to try and correct things. The train ride over was uneventful and I, along with a surprising number of people, arrived at Stansted in one piece. Most of the people there were on stag and hen weekends and looked ready to rumble.
Due to some miscommunication, my reservation did not have me down for wheelchair assistance. But I was allowed to check my bag in for free and make my way slowly down the stairs to board the aircraft. As we were waved over to the plane, everything was going smoothly until the heavens opened up and it started to rain. As the crew were not finished with their security checks, we could only look on into the dry plane while we were outside, getting wetter and wetter.
When we were finally able to board, I had the misfortune of being stuck behind a group of very loud ladies who were far too alert for anyone’s good. And there I was with barely an hour of sleep, trying to settle in for the 3+ hour flight. They did quieten down after we took off, and it sounded like the Spanish guys next to me were grateful too.
While mid air, I had spoken to a member of cabin crew and made sure that I had assistance on the ground. Anybody who has flown to the UK knows that the first thing you notice when flying over is how green and lush the ground looks below. I was not expecting this in Morocco, but I certainly wasn’t prepared for how arrid it was. There were just varying shades of brown, with a lone tree stood in defiance every few miles.
Landing in Marrakech, I was greeted with a solid wall of pure heat and a guy waiting at the bottom of the plane stairs with a wheelchair. Making our way through to baggage claim and heading towards the taxi rank, I had thanked him for his help and turned to head into the taxi. And this is when I felt him pull my arm back, I owed him a tip. Sadly for me, the smallest note that I had on me was 100 dirhams. And my taxi driver did not have any change on him, so I had to give him the money to avoid any awkwardness. I found this to be very poor, as only disabled people or those with reduced mobility would essentially have to pay this as they do need help. Of course, I had to be the genius with no coins. Lesson #1 learned.
Moving on from this, I took the short journey from Menara airport to Kenzi Farah hotel in the Hivernage region. While the hotel is a rating 5*, believe me it is not. I’d say closer to 3 or 3.5*, which I wasn’t too fussed about as I didn’t pay a 5* price. As my flight was so early, I was in my hotel by 10.30am and was eager to get my first day in the Red City started. I had planned on going straight to Jemaa El Fna, which is the main square in Medina and do a spot of shopping and haggling. At least that’s what I had intended on doing. The moment I stepped out of the hotel lobby and onto the stairs, a woman with a badge around her neck asked me if I was going somewhere and needed a tour guide. I told her no many, many times before I just had to walk off as she was getting more and more insistent. And she was eating into my Marrakech time.
Outside the hotel and many other tourist places there are taxis readily available, from grande to petit taxis, depending on your requirements. Walking over to the petit taxi section, I asked for Jemaa El Fna, after a little back and forth, I got the driver to get me there for 20 dirhams. At this point, it’s all good and I’m feeling proud of myself. Having only had some coconut water and the banana from London in my stomach, I went to the nearest restaurant and got some food. I had requested apple juice, but I got something completely different. But it was sugary, so I was on board!
Walking away I headed closer to the square and wished with all my might that I already had a jalbab that would provide me some reprieve from the unforgiving heat. But no such luck, so I pressed onwards. One thing that stuck out to me as soon as I’d arrived was the visible presence of armed police officers around the major parts of the city. Usually that would unnerve me as we don’t really get that in London. Unless you’re at the American embassy, of course. But them being there made me feel better, as I have been known to get lost once or twice!
So far, I had not been relieved of any money. Walking around I saw snake charmers in the distance but didn’t venture any closer as I am terrified of snakes. And if I seemed to be getting any sort of entertainment from the act, I’d surely have to pay for the pleasure. Walking around some more, I noticed there was a long line of horses and carriages ready to take tourists around the city. Unfortunately, with the horses, comes the usual smell, so I didn’t stick around for long. Off I went in the direction of the Koutoubia Mosque, and that’s where the money spending began. (Sorry Alex, I was stupid!)
I was minding my own business and taking photos of the building when he came up to me, Mustapha the guide. He was, for lack of a better phrase, a smooth operator. It went quickly from him offering to take my picture, to him leading me around the souks and telling me about the different symbols on the house doors. Which he said represented the tribes of the family that lived there, and these were also tattooed onto the faces of some women. And they wore face covers so as not to be seen by the public and only remove it in their homes.
We went from the carpet seller, to the clothes and jewellery store before ending up at the argan oil shop. And he somehow managed to get me to follow him to buy some more bling. He was very good at what he did, and while I did have a whale of a time with him, including hopping onto a scooter/motorbike. I really should be more careful when doing my conversions! I certainly overpaid for everything from the people he would have been calling to let them know that a “Westerner” was coming their way. While I would be more frugal and haggle more of the next few days, he was a good enough guide and took many, many photos. Saving me the hassle!
The issue I had now was that I had spent most of my time walking around the souks and shopping, Mustapha had given me my goods and boy were they heavy! Especially due to the fact that I had bought a small carpet for my parents. Lugging it from the entrace/exit of the souks, I wanted to go to the main street and hail down a taxi back to the hotel. And that’s where I saw it, it was a park unlike any other I’d been to before. It was a freakin’ internet park!! That’s right, a park that was both beautiful AND gave you free access to wifi. It is called Cyber Parc Arsat Moulay Abdeslam, I had never seen anything like it before, and ended up spending way too much time there. But as other travellers will know, wifi can be rare at times, so when you can combine it with lush green vegetation, and a cute little ginger cat, it’s pretty much impossible to resist. So why fight it?
I was in the park until it closed and the rain started pouring down and brought down everyone’s body temperature by a few degrees. Unfortunately, I was unable to go back to the park as I didn’t have time, but definitely worth a visit. Taking cute little pics for the ‘gram, getting to upload them straight away and make folks back at home jealous? Result!
Having restored my energy by staying in the park, and getting to know my new feline friend, I had enough strength to walk back to my hotel. But as in usual Jay fashion, I made sure to get really, really lost before I actually figured out where the hell I was going. But I was treated to a random fight that appeared to break out between this guy and the police. Not speaking Arabic, but it seemed as though the guy was being singled out for doing something that other guys were involved in. What it was, I have no clue.
What I saw next made the roundabout walking worth it; I saw camels for the very first time ever! They were across the road and being looked after by a couple of guys that were trying to get the lasts tourists of the day out for a quick camel ride. While there was nobody about, I was stood on the other side of the road transfixed by the majestic animals, especially as I had planned on going on a camel ride the next day. FYI, adults camels are HUGE, like seriously big. So I was happy to be a safe distance away, lest any spitting ensued.
Finally making it back to the hotel, I stuck the DND sign outside of my door and had dreams of camels and Moroccan spices. And totally did not spend an hour or so stewing about how much money I had essentially given to Mustapha, the live action Aladdin. Unfortunately, with not a single musical number anywhere in sight! I shouldn’t be so hard on myself though, we did get an excellent photo together.