Singaporeans Abroad - African Adventure Series (1.1) Marrkech, Morocco - Dizzying souks, smelly tann
I have been to a decent number of countries, (by Singaporean standards) but few have left as lasting an impression on me the way Morocco has.
To mark my first time in Africa, I decided to start with the North instead of the South, which everyone usually starts with. This probably ranks among the best travel decisions i've ever made. Awesome doesn't even begin to describe the Moroccan experience.
We started our journey from Marrakech (the most touristy part of Morocco), through Ouarzazate to the Sahara, then made our way through Fez (ancient capital of Morocco) to Chefchaouen (the Blue City).
Now, we usually NEVER book our hostel in advance. This time though, I was relieved we did. While i'm all for getting lost (it can be fun), I'd rather find my hostel and put my bags down first. Lucky for us our driver brought us right to the doorstep of "Waka Waka" our accomodation in Marrakech.
(It cost just 6 Euros a night for a dorm and that includes free flow of Morrocan Mint Tea and breakfast the next day too!)
We arranged for our 3 day 2 night desert tour with the hostel for 80 Euros. (easily at least 70% cheaper than booking online in advance. Singaporean's, you guys gotta kick the "book in advance mentality if you want to save money")
We then got ourselves lost for 2 hours trying to find the main square of Marrakech when all it should have been was a 10 minute walk away from the hostel. Welcome to Morocco; where everyone gets lost.
(We went through this street at least 4 times and still couldnt find the square!)
Part of the Marrakech experience is getting conned by the locals, especially the kids. When you're on the right track, they'll shout to you "The Square's the other way!" or "Road closed!" The objective? To get you so lost, you'll "pay" them to get you to the square. I wasn't pissed; in fact I thought it quite amusing.
I couldn't help smiling when we had finally reached the square. I was like "Yay! i'm here! I saw this on the Amazing Race just 3 days ago. It looks exactly the same!" I just love that "I can't believe i'm here!" feeling. It's the reason I travel.
Now, when we travel, there are just some things you have to do regardless of the costs. In Marrakech, having dinner/tea in a terrace restaurant overlooking the square is one of them.
The next "Must Do" is to have a glass of Moroccan orange juice from the many juice carts scattered all over the square. Fresh and icy cold goodness!
(Above)The Girl with Nick, our new friend from Canada. We met in our hostel and traveled together to the Sahara. That's why hostels beat Air B&B anyday; you always get to make new friends while traveling.
(Below) Juice seller preparing our delicious refreshment. Oh, did I mention? 4 Dirham is around 0.4cents Euro; unbelieveable for such a huge glass!
If you've watched those "Travel Shows" you'd know what we'd visit next. Yeah, the Tanneries.
See the mint leaves in my hand? You practically have to breathe into it if your going to have any chance of surviving the smell.
(Above & Above) Locals earning their bread and butter.
I would love to say the tanneries were another "I saw this on Tv and I'm here" moment. Unfortunately, that was not really the case. The tanneries are a scam.
A local (who spoke english) told us that entrance to the tanneries were free. He then asked another local(who didn't speak english) to guide us in. We said we didn't need a guide. Suddenly, no one understood english and insisted on guiding us. I though, whatever, i'd read about this online. I would just tip him 2 Euros and ask him to leave at the end. It didnt turn out that way. He insisted on 10 Euros, so we said "no way. I'm not paying that amount". It started to turn ugly when he started calling out to his "friends". That's where we had enough. I told him its 6 Euros or he can forget anything. Though it turned out fine, 6 Euros was still kind of a rip off; it sort of kiled the "experience" for us.
A really fun thing to do is wondering around the Souks(market) without a map and getting yourself well and truely lost. It doesn't take much effort;you'd get lost even with a map.
(Above) Lost in the Souks of Marrakech. Everything looks the same....
Two days is ample time for Marrakech itself. By the evening of our 2nd day, we felt comfortable with what we had experienced and seen. All that was left was "trying a Moroccan Hammam" (bath) and eating in the square like a local.
(Above) The Girl & hostel buddies ready to "eat in the square" local style
(Below)Guess what's for dinner? Nope it's not seafood...
(Below) It's freshly boiled snails!
The snails didn't taste so good boiled to be honest. I prefer the cooked Singapore/French style. But what the heck, it's all for the experience right?
Our night ended in what would turn out to be an awkward experience.(funny though) The Girl, myself and our two hostel buddies decided it was time for the Hammam.
(Above)Three of us and the Girl before a Hammam.
Masseur/Bath Girl: "Alright, clothes off everybody! Everything, nothing on."
Us: "you mean naked? Everyone at the same time?"
Massuer/Bath Girl: "Yes."
You know, group nudity isn't exactly the most popular trend in Singapore. While I wsn't too concerned, The Girl was starting to back out: and we'd paid for the Hammam already.
Massuer/Bath Girl: "Ok, you can bathe in your undies. Hurry."
Traveling is about experiencing new things right? It's not like we're comming back to Morocco again; better than being fully naked anyway.
And so began the process of taking turns to watch each other get scrubbed/bathed by the massuer. (4 people, one massuer. What?!)
(Above) Marrakech becomes deserted after our Hammam; guess its getting late.
We'd really enjoyed our time so far.(yes, even the Hammam) Even after traveling to quite a few countries, Morocco(as a whole; please don't just go to Morocco and visit just Marrakech. You're not doing the country justice this way) felt so different, so interesting. In fact, it became our favourite country.
Its a very affordable country to visit and I would seriously recommend it to anyone who wants an exotic holiday but has a tight budget. (those who know me know im constantly broke.) A night in a hostel cost between 4-7 euros, a loaf of bread costs 0.10 euros cents, and a meal in an expensive restaurant costs the equivelent of 5 euros. And the portion is huge enough to share!
From getting lost in the Souks, being harrased by touts, choking on the stench in the tannaries, to lying under the stars in the Sahara; it's an experience that will stay with us for we daresay a good many years.
Do also check out our other posts on other regions of Morocco
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