My Moroccan Adventures: Experiencing the Old City in Marrakech

After travelling to Morocco for 6 days, I can say that it is a country that took me awhile to love. It was my first time in a country in Africa, and although Morocco has a lot of Euripean influences, it was still unlike any place I have been. I don’t think spending only a few days in Marrakech would have allowed me to learn to love this place. When I arrived, I was expected to be greeted by a rush of heat but instead it was quite breezy but the sun was still up and shining mighty. We were lucky to have a private cab arranged to our riad, Riad Chamali. The airport is located in the new city which really resembles any big city with a lot of highways, shopping centers, bigger establishments, and people dressed in business/work clothes. Our riad though, was located in the old city that is confined by a pink wall. Once you step into the old city, you immediately see the divide in how people dress and what people do for a living. In the 6 days I spent there, I was met by countless people coming up to me ushering me to try out their restaurant, men selling cookies, sunglasses, jewelry, women asking for money outside of toilets…really people just trying to make a living. I have to admit my first two days in Marrakech, I never felt so aware of being a female and specifically, a Chinese girl. I couldn’t go a day without being stared at with curiosity and had people approaching me with “Konichiwa” or saying “Ni Hao”. At the beginning, I was utterly uncomfortable with all the verbal comments directed to me but I soon took a different approach and realised they people were simply not used to seeing people of different ethnicity. That being said, I noticed that most tourists in Marrakech were older couples and my travel partner and I stood out like a sore thumb, us being an Italian and Chinese girl who look way too young to be travelling on their own haha.

Venturing in the endless maze of narrow streets of the souks, selling things varying from souvenirs, teas, ceramics, etc while having scooters rushing pass you in all directions, I was always on my toes when travelling. Most of the shops seemed to be selling the same things so I would recommend seeing where you can use your bargaining skill. It reminded me of my trip to Vietnam two years ago where scooters were the main form of transportation. Traffic rules do not exist here, yet everyone who seems to own a scooter has an admirable skill in maneuvering through the crazy traffic of people with ease. The old city is where most of the “tourist attractions” which is why we had chosen a riad directly in the old city for ease of walking everywhere without needing to spend money on transportation. Out of the 6 days I spent in Morocco, I spent 3 days in the old city. On my first day we explored the surroundings, made a visit to the Bahia Place, and had our first experience in the Djemaa El Fna. This huge square is crowded with people and market stalls! A huge open air market with stalls offering freshly squeezed orange juice, snake charmers, souvenirs, and many other locally produced items. It is quite overwhelming and I highly recommend keeping a close eye on your belongings.

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One the second day in the old city, I spent it checking out the Saadian Tomb site, went to a Argan oil cooperative, and made our way to the Majorelle Garden which is located in the new city. I learned that a cooperative is a business that jointly shares profits made which is a wonderful way to help out the people. The architecture in this city is simply lovely, with amazing details that I could spend awhile just admiring. I also love their use of colourful tiles and geometric designs which makes the architecture incredibly vibrant.

However, there is little information on the historic sites in these places, with few signages that are in Arabic and French. I have never wished I had continued with French or kept my knowledge on conversational French from French 12 as much as I did then. This reminds me of this French lady that sat behind me on one of the coaches to Essaouira (daytrip from Marrakech) who had said “I used to just speak English here, then I realised speaking French would allow me to get better discounts, and then when I started learning Arabic, I got even better discounts!” Marrakech is simply one of those cities that can be described as being crazy, being overwhelming to a whole different level than London. My encounters with people in the old city have been positive and negative, with the good being more memorable. This also comes from my lack of knowledge about their culture too. It is definitely a country where being a male is important and holds more power which can make it quite uncomfortable for me. However, on my last day of the trip, I had learned to ignore and politely decline any catcalls or racial remarks that I received. I also learned that there are male only cafés which explains why there were cafes populated by men sitting outside. During the day you will not see a lot of women on the streets, and I wonder why this is the case. This is only one side of the picture though. I also met wonderful men and women that kindly helped me and my friend make our way through the city, offering us a kind and genuine smile that humbled my experience being able to learn and love their home. There is a humbling and heartfelt simplicity that happens in Marrakech where certain privileges and modern advancements do not take place. People had a simple way of living by selling what they had made. As an educator, it made me so happy to see kids running around, cycling, and playing with just their imaginations in the early evenings. They were not tied to technology and really seemed to be living greater than other kids do. Children are also honing on physical and hands on skills learnt from their family and learning basic skills for helping out for independent businesses.

The old city is really an indescribable place, and if you ask me, it wasn’t the landmarks that defined my experience on this trip, but the people I met who live such a different life from me. One thing to also note is that there are 5 prayer calls that happen throughout the day. I have to admit when I first heard it, I found it quite eerie since it had happened during the night and I had no idea what was being said. What happens is that someone makes a loud prayer call through a speaker in the city, a signal for others to know that it is time to pray. However, as the days go by, I found respect and a calmness in knowing that this call that can be heard loud through the city, and that there were people in their homes praying. I am not religious myself but have always found complete respect and understanding in how a religion can ground someone and help people. My third day spent in the old city, was mainly spent tanning on the roof terrace of my riad. My stay at a Riad, a traditional Moroccan house is also highly recommended! The staff at the Riad Chamali were incredibly helpful and welcomed me into the riad with warm and safe hands. I don’t think I ever felt so taken care of before staying in a hotel and they really tried their best to help with everything.

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Riad Chamali

At the end of the day, the welcome I received from people in Marrakech was greater than the discomfort I felt from people who only addressed me due to their curiosity and lack of understanding for the difference. I would definitely recommend a visit to Marrakech. That is it for now…keep posted on my next blog! It will outline the 3 daytrips I went on in Morocco and whether I think they are worth it!

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