It’s amazing to me how within 3 hours, I can go from one of the largest cities in the world, to a land with blazing sun, grounds made of sand, and men selling freshly squeezed juice. Although I’ve done some traveling in my life, it still impresses me just how pleasantly surprised I am at the quick change of scenery. From the description I gave, the image in your mind might include a beachy shore with swim suits. Let me set the record straight: take away the ocean & paradise scenery, and add a camel and loud markets. I’m talking about Marrakech, Morocco!
In February, my fellow American friend, Nina, introduced the idea of spending a weekend in Morocco. The idea of going to Africa was tempting, exhilarating, and… well, scary! I’ve heard of other student traveling to Morocco and it seems that many Europeans travel there, but I didn’t know enough about Morocco to know what to expect. For about 3 seconds, I debated not going. Until I reevaluated why I’m here: I’m studying abroad to experience new things and step outside my box. This was the perfect opportunity to do both of those things!
We departed on Friday morning with our destination set to cross continents into Africa. The three hours flew by (pun intended) and we starred at sand and palm trees as our plane descended. We departed the plane, collected our bags, exchanged some money, and set forth to find the driver who was waiting to drive us to the hotel. We were told he would be outside the gate, and holding a sign with my name. Pretty cool right?! I thought so, until I exited the gate and saw about 70 men all holding signs with names! We searched for about 20 minutes until we found the needle in the haystack that was our driver!
He took us to Hotel Cecil, which was recommended to us by other international students who had also traveled to Marrakech. It is quite inexpensive, includes breakfast, and has a great location. It is right outside the market square which is a large attraction in Marrakech. We dropped off our bags and immediately set out in search of food!
Initially, we were a bit cautious about our surroundings. Like any other place, I evaluated the environment, and slowly ‘got my feet wet’. Because we were three girls, traveling by ourselves, I was especially aware that we were typical targets for any one looking for prey. After doing a lot of research, I found that the town didn’t have a dangerous reputation, but the amount of people in the market made it easy for a pick-pocketer to have a field day! I just made sure I was constantly aware of who was around me and where my belongings were.
We found a nice restaurant next to our hotel and got comfortable in the wonderfully cushioned booth. (I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss how amazing it was to sit in a booth that felt almost like a couch. I didn’t realize until I sat down, how much I missed cushioned seating! I use my bed (which is a cot) in my apartment as my couch as well. So when I sat down on an actual cushion, it was the first time in three months that I remembered how good it felt for your body to sink into the place you rest. Okay, rant over!) We looked over the menu, and quickly loaded the currency converter app on our phones, because we had no idea how much any of the menu items were going to cost us. We quickly realized that the average meal at this fairly nice restaurant was going to cost us about 85 dirham, or 5€ which is very cheap for what we are used to paying for a nice, sit-down dinner (in France, a dinner entree will cost you about 15€). Knowing we had the financial freedom to order anything we wanted was a nice change and we took advantage of it! The three of us shared an appetizer, I ordered a chicken couscous for my entree, and we split an assortment of pastries for dessert. I also ordered a mint tea because I was starting to feel a cold coming on. The tea and appetizers arrived at the table and I was very impressed with the presentation. My tea came in a beautiful silver teapot, and when I opened the top, the aroma from the mint leaves became pleasantly overwhelming. I took a sip and immediately fell in love! The warmth was soothing on my scratchy throat, but the bold flavor was like nothing I have ever tasted before. I hadn’t known of the Marrakech Mint tea phenomenon before this trip, but since I’ve been back in France I am constantly seeing “Marrakech Mint” as flavors in cafés! (Not complaining!) I urged the other girls to try, and they both agreed with my positive review, in fact, they ordered their own pot with dessert! The appetizer was a type of pastry with chicken and a strong almond flavor. It was very good, but the sweetness of it caught me off-guard. It was a great dish to share with others! My couscous was amazing! I am a big fan of couscous, but I can never seem to make it as good as other people can so I don’t cook it often. This was delicious! Full of vegetables and chicken, the serving dish was like nothing I had ever seen. Little did I know, they were all over the market place and part of the reason the dish tasted so good. It’s like a Moroccan crockpot that sits on charcoal and cooks for hours before being served. The dessert we order was an assortment of pastries which we shared, however we all ordered a tea for ourselves because we knew that was too good to share! There were six different sweets and I would compare them to baklava with a twist. There was, again, a presence of almond flavor, but the combination of other ingredients made it a wonderful end to our dinner!
The next day, we had a tour planned to see the Ouzoud Cascades, the tallest waterfall in Africa. I booked all of our tours through Marrakech Airport Transfers. They were affordable, and always picked us up and dropped us back off at our hotel. The cascades were two hours away by car, which we were fine with since we woke up to dark clouds and rain. We hoped that we would drive out of the weather, but no such luck. When we arrive, we hired a guide that took us to different locations where we could see the waterfall from the top, the base, and everything in-between. Our guide was great! He gave us a lot of information about the history and surrounding areas, and we even stopped at his house along the way so he could get an extra umbrella for a British woman who was getting soaked! Along the hike, I couldn’t stop taking photos. It was so beautiful and I wanted to capture as much as I could. While I was busy shooting the waterfall, I failed to notice the family of monkeys in a tree 15ft above me! There were other travelers that started to feed them, which brought them even closer! These are wild baboons! And they were close enough for me to touch! Our guide proceeded to tell us that hikers often feed them to get close enough to take photos. However, the animals are now becoming dependent on human help/food for survival and it will become a big problem very quickly if it is not stopped. Although I thought it was very cool to see them, I had no desire to come as close as I did. One even photobombed me!
As the day went on, we got closer to the base of the waterfall and the clouds separated enough for the sun to make an appearance. Once we reached the bottom of the cascades, the suns reflection on the water created a rainbow and it was one of those beautiful moments where nothing else in the world matters. I was soaking in the pure beauty of the glorious environment around me, and simply enjoying the moment. We retreated back to the top of the waterfall where we ate tajine for lunch before the two-hour drive back to our hotel.
That evening, we ventured into the market outside our hotel. The vendors were a bit overwhelming and very competitive, all trying to get you to come into their stores. Being the great barterer I am, I got some great souvenirs including a teapot, a medium-sized travel bag, a decorative candle holder, and a few pairs of earrings! I would say 40% of the market vendors were selling freshly squeezed juice. Grapefruit, lemon, and oranges made the market colorful and added a citrus aroma to the air. We took the opportunity to get a few glasses while we were there and even helped behind the counter!
The next day we had a tour booked to ride camels! When in
Rome Morocco! Again, our driver picked us up and took us to the Palmeria (a desert land with palm trees). Once we arrive, we were immediately instructed to climb up on the camel! I thought we would at least get a little demonstration or something. The looks on my friends faces were priceless! Surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous or scared. I can’t say the same for them! We rode around for about 45 minutes, with a guide of course. My camel had a baby with her who followed us and trailed behind at times chewing leaves off other plants. It was such a cool experience! After 45 minutes I was ready to get off, which was another adventure… Have you even been atop a camel when it sits down? I don’t recommend it! It requires strict coordination and amazing balance. Anyone who knows me, knows that I don´t possess either of those qualities. Luckily I didn’t fall, but it was hard to stay on!
Once our camel ride ended, our driver took us for a ride though a part of Marrakech we hadn’t seen yet. It was a classier shopping district than we had been used to. We were tempted to ask if we could shop for a little (actually, my friends did ask), but we didn’t come all the way to Morocco to go shopping at Zara! I talked the girls into going back to the market to get something to eat and hanging out on the rooftop terrace of our hotel. We ate and walked around the market a bit more making sure we had all the souvenirs we needed. There were also street performer in the market, but be careful, if you want to take a picture, they will expect you to give them money, or delete the picture. There are women belly dancing, men with monkeys, and that day we even saw a snake charmer with real cobras! I chose to get a henna on my hand, and became known as “the girl with the Moroccan tattoo” back in Poitiers! After round two at the market and grabbing lunch, we packed up our things and checked out of the hotel. Our flight would leave that night and take us back to France.
Because our flight got in so late, there was no train available and we would have to wait until the morning to get back to Poitiers. This was not our original plan, but the airline had to change our flight and we didn’t have much of a choice. Being in our 20s, in college, and in Europe, we really watch where we spend our money. Seeing as how we would only be in Paris for less than 11 hours, we did some research and agreed to spend the night in the airport! (Another adventure!) There were lots of other travelers doing the same thing, and which was comforting knowing we weren’t the only ones. We found a spot, and pulled two benches together to make our bed for the night. It was definitely uncomfortable, and the noises in the airport made it hard to stay asleep, even with headphones and music. We were also cold, despite the layers of clothes we were using as blankets. We waited for McDonald’s to open at 4:30am and moved our location once the airport started filling with travelers. I think I got about 80 minutes of sleep that night. We decided that next time, it would definitely be worth it to split a hotel near the airport!
Our trip to Morocco was amazing! I can’t believe I can say I’ve been to Africa now! The way of life there is much different, but that is to be expected. Look at my pictures here: https://thetwentysomethingtraveler.shutterfly.com/. I hope I am inspiring some of you to travel and see the world that’s out there waiting for us! I will be in Poitiers for two weeks where I will finish a few more classes before I start traveling on my bigger/longer trips.
*Great things never came from comfort zones.*