Traveling the train through clear Moroccan skies, ducks and pigs and chickens call. Would you know we’re riding on the Marrakesh Express? Don’t you know we’re riding on the Marrakesh Express, they’re taking me to Marrakesh! Oh, Oh, Oh…
So we didn’t really ride on a the Marrakesh Express (that song is about Graham Nash riding a train from Casablanca to Marrakesh, we were coming from Fes) but we did take a train ride, a long, 8 hour, hot train ride to get to Marrakesh. We made the mistake of not paying the extra few euros to ride in first class, but we were smart to arrive early because at least we got seats the whole ride, other passengers had to stand for long sections of the trip. We finally made it to Marrakesh, where we experienced our first major rip off of the trip, paying double what we should have for a taxi. We got dropped off at the main square of the medina, Jemaa el-Fnaa, where we got our first taste of crazy Marrakesh. There were little boys fighting each other for tips, sad looking monkeys attached to chains, and men selling teeth (I think they were human teeth!). We navigated the narrow alleyways, throngs of people and motorcycles whizzing by to find our riad.
On our first night (and all the nights afterwards) we ate at one of the food stalls on the main square. All of the vendors in Marrakesh are far more aggressive than I am used to, including the food vendors who will do anything to convince you to eat at their food stall. “It’s all the same sh*t!” can be heard throughout the square, along with cheering when you choose their stall. We stuffed ourselves with a plate of mixed grill, olives and shrimp, all for under 15 euro!
The next morning we grabbed some mint tea and crepes (left over from Morocco’s days as a French colony) before wandering around the medina and the hundreds of shops that can be found in the twisty and confusing alleyways of the old town. As you walk by the shopkeepers call to you, beg you and cajole you to enter their shops to buy things you don’t need. The market in Marrakesh is far bigger than the one in Fes, and we got good and lost. We didn’t buy anything the first time in the medina, and to find our way out we ended up stealthily following a tour group back to the square. After a short siesta we headed back out to do a little shopping and a lot of haggling. We had been told that shop owners greatly inflate prices (sometimes as much as quadruple) and that we needed to stay firm while negotiating a price.I honestly hate haggling (I always picture a starving child somewhere that could use my extra $2 USD), but since it is part of the experience in Marrakesh I stayed firm and was able to cut the price of some of our purchases down to a third of the original quote.
For the next three days took a tour out to the desert, which I will be writing about in a second, “Desert Trip” specific post.
Once we got back to Marrakesh we spent one last day wandering the alleys a bit, drinking mint tea, and hanging out in our riad. We also visited Bahia Palace, a nineteenth century palace built for the sultan’s wives and mistresses. The Palace is SO beautiful and cheap to visit (only 10 dirham, or 1 euro). It was one of the highlights of our time in Marrakesh and I took more pictures there than at the Alhambra and the Alcazar combined.
I am really glad we went to Morocco. It is the most exotic and unique country we have been to so far. It is loud and dirty and there are cats everywhere (sad, homeless, skinny cats). It is also multi-cultural, with most people speaking at least two languages (Arabic and French), with many people in the north speaking a third language (Spanish). We were yelled at (mostly not in anger), bumped into and nearly run over by bicycles, taxis and motorcycles. We were also welcomed warmly (“Welcome to Morocco!”) and received help from strangers wherever we went. And while Morocco may not be at the top of my list to re-visit, it is somewhere I would recommend to anybody who wants to experience something exotic while on a trip to Europe.