Visiting Marrakech ended up being my favorite part of our trip. Going into it, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I think we all know someone who has a horror story about the time they took a ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain to Tangiers. I know no less than five people who have competingly colorful stories about that exploit and, as adventurous as I like to think that I am, I was not prepared to sign up for that kind of excitement with Kai in tow. Instead, I did a bit of research and concluded that while visitors to Tangiers do not always love Morocco, people who venture to Marrakech generally have positive experiences. Somewhat anecdotal evidence, but compelling enough to sway our decision.
We arrived in Marrakech to one of the most beautiful hotel rooms that I have ever stayed in, a lavish suite with two bathrooms, a master bedroom, and a three-part living area. Typically, we stick to more modest accommodations, but since we would be here on Christmas Eve and Christmas, and since we wanted to be sure that we had a safe haven where Kai could run wild if Marrakech was too much excitement, we chose a much nicer room than usual. Ultimately, we had so much fun in Marrakech that we barely saw the inside of our swanky hotel room and that’s ok, after all, that is probably the best possible scenario.
On our way to breakfast, we made our first stop in Marrakech to see the Koutoubia, probably the most iconic landmark in the city. We decided to eat breakfast on the balcony of a café overlooking the souks and the edge of the Djemaa al Fina. After breakfast, we wandered through the souks for a bit where we met many “free guides”, who were, of course, not really free. At some point a young man asked us to come with him into the Jewish Quarter to see the fixed price spice market. Always curious and eager to get a good price on typical Moroccan wares, we agreed to go with him. He led us to a stall where another man began explaining what was in each of the giant burlap sacks and glass jars. We learned about Moroccan lipstick, deodorant, soaps, teas, and spices. It was absolutely fascinating. At the end of his spiel, I told him that I would buy one of each of his six types of soap. He bagged each one in its own cellophane bag and then put his hand out: “That will be 500 dirhams.” I nearly choked. That’s about $60. Excuse me? We could not bring ourselves to buy $10 bars of soap, let alone that many $10 bars of soap. We tried to negotiate, but, as the guy who brought us there mentioned, it was a fixed price market. We paid him 50 dirhams or so for his time and thanked him for his thoughtful explanation. Yikes.
As we meandered back out of the Jewish Quarter and began heading for an ancient madrassa that we wanted to visit, we got stopped again by another “free guide”. He wanted to take us to the leather tanneries and suddenly we were hoofing it to the north edge of the old city walls trying to keep up with our latest friend. Without question, I could smell that we were getting much closer to the tanneries. Unfortunately, tanning leather does not produce the most wonderful smell. Finally, we arrived at a small wooden door. We paid several dirhams, were handed sprigs of mint to hold under our noses, and headed inside. The pungent smell of tanning leather all but stopped me in my tracks. I took a few steps, carefully trying to maneuver the stroller around puddles of an unknown fluid while alternately holding the mint under Kai’s nose, then mine. Almost as quickly as we entered the tannery, we were back outside again. The smell, pools of who knows what all over the ground, and an image of the bottom of the stroller getting sprayed by the puddles as we crossed through them was just too much for me. I wimped out.
Back outside, I was able to get it together again, but I did not have the mental fortitude necessary to tour the tannery. I probably would have stuck it out without Kai, but the combination of Kai and the tannery and tannery cooties, whatever those may be, was just too much. Chris was disappointed, he was genuinely curious about the process, and I felt bad that he was missing out on it also, but I suppose that I did not feel quite bad enough to go back in there.
In addition to the souks, the Jewish Quarter, Koutoubia, and the tannery, we visited several palaces, museums, a madrassa, and many other sights, but our return to Djemaa al Fina as it was coming alive at dusk was probably one of the most thrilling things that we saw. There were merchants of all kinds selling food, shoes, textiles, and services such as open-air, on the spot, dentistry. Djemaa al Fina was also packed full of entertainers including guys with monkeys, and, Chris’ favorite, snake charmers. I was photographing into the sun while simultaneously trying to keep an eye on Kai in the busy market and keep a man with a different snake from getting too close to us, needless to say, the snake charmer pictures are profoundly disappointing to Chris. I did not come close to capturing the essence of what he experienced. Nonetheless, he says this was the best $12 he ever spent.
We ended our visit to Marrakech with an alfresco dinner on the square in Djemaa al Fina followed by a horse drawn carriage ride back to the Sofitel. What a day!
All in all, I loved Marrakech and I would jump at the opportunity to return. Somehow, it is always much more fulfilling to me to visit places that are so different from what I am accustomed to. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Spain, and I was looking forward to seeing more of Spain, but Morocco provided a much more deep, rich experience for me.
Next up: Madrid