Moroccan Diary – Book 5

Marrakech is usually people’s first stop in Morocco, but it was our last. The drive was long, and by the time we arrived, it was already the end of day. The city was as chaotic as Fes, our driver couldn’t even get us to our hostel, with the narrow streets and endless traffic. Our hostel was highly rated, and we booked a private room for the 4 of us. What we didn’t envision was this:

Our “private room” was a extension built on the roof, with no lock, no luggage space, and definitely no bathroom. At night we listened to the laughter and drunken conversation right outside the window into the wee hours as we tried to go to sleep on our very uncomfortable beds. If it weren’t for the cold, I would say the tent in the Sahara was in better condition. Although I do have to admit, for the single traveler looking for people to hang out with and don’t mind the occasional flea, it’s a good place to party.

The next day we hit some of the major tourist attractions, starting with Bahia Palace. We had little interest in the history to be honest, but had lots of fun taking photos of the beautiful tiles.

For lunch, we were lucky enough to have a traditional meal at Xinxin’s coworker’s house (more like a giant mansion). The house was gorgeous, with a giant backyard big enough for 10 dogs (!) and a ceiling that looked more intricate than the palace we just visited.

That evening we had mint tea at a cafe overlooking the market and watched the beautiful sunset, before heading into the sprawling maze of the Marrakech medina. We tasted everything from olives to snails, and enjoyed a feast for our eyes with the vibrant colors of all the souks.

Our favorite stand at the market is the fruit juice stand. For 4dh, or 50 cents, you can get the basic orange juice, and for a few dirhams more you can get all kinds of tropical mixes. Since there are so many stores that sell the same thing, each stand comes with a number, so you can return to the one you want later.

The trip has been so hectic we hadn’t made plans for New Year’s Eve. Apparently a nice dinner and party out in New Town was just as, if not more, expensive than San Francisco. Since we were staying at the party hostel, apparently there was already a plan. After some discussion we decided to be cheap and hang out with the college kids, which led us to a lackluster dinner at a random restaurant and an equally lackluster countdown at a club in New Town.

First thing we did for the new year was to move over to a new hostel, Priscilla Queen of the Medina. The hostel itself was as eccentric as its name, and while it’s still pretty bare bones in terms of amenities, at least it’s flea-less! We also indulged in a nice, warm bath at a traditional hammam, to wash away all the grime over the past few days. Instead of a public hammam, we decided to go upscale and opted for a private one. Usually people know of two kinds of hammams, the public ones frequented by locals, and the hotel hammam travelers like more. The public hammam is quite cheap, sometimes only costs as little as 10 dirhams (1 dollar), while the hotel hammams could cost as much as $60, the price of a massage in the US. The one we went to is a spa hammam, which is somewhere in the middle. Besides traditional baths, they also provide massages, manicures, waxing, the works. Unfortunately we only carried enough money for the bath, or we’d have loved to get pampered. We were ushered into a private room where a really cute girl rinsed us with super hot water, fiercely scrubbed us down, covered us with some kind of mud thing, and rinsed us off. It was definitely worth the extra price, rather than being naked with a bunch of strangers and getting scrubbed with our face on the dirt floor.

We also visited the Ben Youssef Medersa, the largest Islamic school in Morocco. Although it doesn’t look much on the outside, a narrow passageway led us to an open courtyard with vaulted ceilings, gorgeous carvings on the beams and walls, and of course, the iconic tiles Morocco is known for.

Our final touristy stop was the Jardin Majorelle, known for its connection with two artistic owners, French artist Jacques Majorelle, and the designer Yves Saint-Laurent, whose ashes were scattered in the garden after his death. After a few days in the crowded old city, the small garden was a breath of fresh air, with its cobalt blue walls hiding behind lush greens, accented by bright spots of yellow and pink.

We were out of ideas of places to go, but we found Maison de la Photographie, a photography museum that showed historical photos of Morocco, starting from the 1800s. One of my favorites was a photo of Ben Youssef Medersa before its restoration, which really puts into perspective how easily history can be destroyed if no effort is made to preserve it.

Other than the photos, the museum itself was quite an oasis in itself. Since it wasn’t a popular tourist spot, it wasn’t as crowded as the other places, and it was nice to be able to sit in front of an old photograph to imagine what life had been hundreds of years ago in the quietude of the old house. There is also a rooftop cafe where you can overlook the entire city while enjoying some tea and sandwiches, and maybe even the sunset.

For our final night in Morocco, Larry decided to splurge on a super nice riad, a traditional hotel with an interior garden that has a fountain. I tagged along and was lucky enough to enjoy the luxury as well! We were welcomed into the riad with a pot of tea and some of the best cookies I’ve ever had, followed by a tour of the hotel grounds, which included a beautiful courtyard, a calming swimming pool, and a super nice rooftop with multiple private areas to curl up with a book and enjoy the sun. Unfortunately by this point, I was full-blown sick, with a cold that has been developing since the desert and only got worse with the hostel living and polluted air of Marrakech. I ended up spending the rest of my trip in the hotel, which wasn’t a bad idea at all, since the dinner and breakfast were a couple of the best meals I had in Morocco.

Last but not least, I wanted to give a shout out to the cats of Morocco, who roamed around like they owned the place 🙂

I came back from Morocco and was sick as a dog for a month. Also this trip had its ups and downs, I’m glad I finally made it to Africa, and got to spend a night in the Sahara Desert!

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