Winter holiday in Morocco
in Marrakech, Morocco on 13th January, 2011


I'd wanted to visit Morocco for some time. Easyjet had spammed me with a newsletter saying they were offering 30% of the price of their flights. The total was probably no where near 30% off a normal price but none the less, I booked a flight to Marrakech.

When the flight was landing I could see the city from above and it looked like a lot of cookie-cutter buildings with very little variation, this turned out to not be the case. I thought visas were ten quid each but they stamped me in for free. I've travelled to a few countries in the Arab world and in the poorer ones you tend to get people stepping over their own Mother to sell you something. Morocco isn't as bad for this as Egypt is. Not that there aren't a million salesmen everywhere but they don't follow you around for kilometres before giving up.

I exited the airport and flagged down a taxi which almost drove right past me. I got in and the driver could only speak in Arabic and French. I had a print out of my hotel reservation with their phone number. He rang them up to get directions. I had printed out a roadmap with directions as well. At one point, we were driving down a narrow street and could barely move with all the people, motorbikes and donkeys in the way. I wondered why he didn't take the main road to get to the hotel. Turned out that was the main road. There were almost no white people around and those I did see, looked very nervous. He dropped me a few very twisty streets away from my hotel. I wondered around a bit till I found it hidden away. Inside it was like a little palace with a lovely pool in the middle. The room was out of an Arabian dream. There was fresh fruit on the table in my room and jasmine burning in the bathroom. There were plenty of small lights everywhere creating a calm and luxurious mood.

I spent my first day walking around Marrakech taking photos. For interesting subjects, Marrakech must be one of the easiest cities to be a photographer. That being said, it's hard to point a lens in any direction without a person or a Mosque appearing in the background and many locals didn't appreciate photographs of either. A lot of people, including people driving vehicles, covered their faces and about ten people came up to me and told me off for taking photos. One kid tried to put his hands on my lens. I shouted "Yallah" (the closest word to fuck off in Arabic that I could think of) at him and he ran off. My camera equipment costs as much as his Dad's yearly income and I'm not keen on replacing it while on holiday.

The roads were like in Cairo and Bangalore where the traffic is thick and erratic. You need to walk through traffic slowly going lane (if there is such a thing) to lane instead of waiting for a complete clearing when crossing the road.

There were two different types of street markets I came by. One was for locals, where stuff is sold off the ground and it tended to look very dirty and smelt appalling. No one would speak to me when I walked through. The other type of street market was more friendly towards Europeans. They didn't smell so bad and were a bit cleaner. Here people tried to greet me in four or five European languages trying to find my mother tongue. You also get the asshole scamsters trying to push their services on you without your consent. Some of the services included giving you directions you didn't ask for, showing you their snake or getting you to pet their monkey while they took pictures. One clown tried to show me the way out of the market back to the main square. He didn't follow me but instead he walked in front of me. When I'd change direction, he'd catch up and continue to walk in front of me. At one point I grabbed him and shouted at him to stop following me. He got the message and, after a few friendly goodbye words, he buggered off.

Food was really cheap. I had a lunch which consisted of chicken couscous, a bread basket and a mineral water for about two pounds. There must have been a discount for putting up with all the feral cats circling my feet as I ate. There were probably some cost savings from not cleaning any of the dishes. There must also be a subsidy from all the beggars who came to my table as I tried to eat lunch. Finally, the money saved can help contribute to the taxi ride to the hospital to treat the cross-contamination poisoning.

Pizza Hut ended up selling the best food I ate in Morocco. Another oddity was the lack of places selling more pan-Arabian food. I thought most food from Iraq to Morocco was the same but the Moroccans really had a world of their own when it came to their meals. I did find one place selling more Iraqi-style food. The only downside was when I ordered chips the waiter placed each one by hand on my plate. Considering seeing everything else he was doing with his hands this really killed my appetite. This restaurant was on a pretty busy side street. One day there was this guy shouting and screaming at people. Nearby shop owners, including my waiter, tried to go over and calm him down with no avail. My waiter was even punched in the side. I was wondering when the cops were going to turn up and then I saw the man shouting and hitting people was a cop.

I almost went the entirety of my trip without a drink till I saw a "British" pub on my way to Pizza Hut one day. After dinner I went by to pay a visit. I thought it'd be full of sunburnt travellers and expats. I was wrong, it was full of depressed-looking Arabs. They were allowed to smoke in there so all my clothes were tainted with a smell that I haven't smelt since 2007 when the UK banned smoking indoors. Excluding a few bottles of vodka, there wasn't any booze on display. They did sell beers in small bottles which equated to £4.10 a pint. I drank about £4.10 in beer before heading on.

The cab drivers in Marrakech were a bunch of bastards. They're a pain in the ass to negotiate with and their prices were so high you'd think you were driving in a Bentley with presidential protection. One drove me 15 minutes away from where I'd asked.

One thing I have a hard time getting used to is being treated like a wallet everywhere I went. This happens in every third world country I've traveled in. White people are considered to be wealthy and a prime target for salesmen. What ends up happening is that you hardly go five minutes on the street without people trying to proposition you. I've learnt to deal with this with humour but I still keep my guard up. It's unfortunate, at one point I was sat in a cafe and a local guy was trying to chat to me in a genuine attempt to have a conversation and I wasn't being approachable as I'd normally be in London. He was high as a kite so I guess it wasn't the end of the world.

I had about ten euros worth of Moroccan money left when I was leaving the country. I went to a exchange booth but they refused to exchange it on the grounds that I couldn't provide the ATM receipt for the money. Nice.


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