The Magic of the Marrakech Medina


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Africa » Morocco » Marrakech-Tensift-El Haouz » Marrakech
November 22nd 2016
Published: November 22nd 2016
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Route from London to Marrackech


There are many things to note about Marrakech, especially it's most central hub and meeting place which is the Jemaa el-Fnaa square.
At first I had mixed feelings about the city and couldn't quite warm to it but regardless of my first impressions I allowed myself a few days to settle and find my bearings. It's one of those places that can grow on you quite quickly and luckily for me, it did.

I flew to Marrackech from London Gatwick in November 2016. This was my very first visit to Morocco.

My first introduction to Marrakech was stepping off the bus and being overwhelmed by the amount of people buzzing around, families sitting in the grassy park ahead of me, street vendors selling nuts and boys selling packets of tissues for 2 dirhams. I felt a shoal of eyes watching me as I scanned the place bemused and weary from travelling. A young man asked if he could help me and offered me his phone to call someone. He spoke French, no English. Within in seconds, someone had come to my aid recognising that I am a woman, alone in a busy city. Immediately this mans hospitality warmed me. I thanked him and managed to find my family who had been searching for me in the crowds. From here the journey begins.

The Jemaa el-Fnaa square, quite literally, is a punch in the face and a hard one at that!
As I drew nearer, a sea of people slowly appeared through a misty haze. Like a strange dream; you see it at first and two seconds later you are inside, like you have meta-morphed into some crazy street party with snake charmers, African traders, begging children, monkeys with nappies on, henna ladies pulling at your arm trying to lace your skin with henna dye. Fruit juice sellers shouting for your attention, urging you to sample their mixed fruit cocktails; circles of people playing tablas and traditionally dressed men with golden cups dangling from their very colourful attire. Snakes of all sizes suddenly appeared in front of my face as I dodged their whipping tails and beady eyes and African monkeys jumped on the shoulders of their owners, chained by the metal chokers around their necks much to my horror. Horses, carts, food stalls and bazaars all mix and mingle like a giant bowl of cultural soup, topped with hot spices to give it that extra kick. The mixed chants of protesters, students, singers amongst the mumbles of passing tourists fill the square with a variety of tones and frequencies which tickle your ears and make them stand to attention.
I wasn't quite sure which planet I have morphed onto but it was a place like no other. This was the real deal.

The Marrakech medina is a dry, winding, treasure trove of curiosity.
It begins everywhere and ends no where. It truly is a labyrinth of wonderment which sucks you in like a vacuum and spits you out full force; leaving you puzzled, lost, amazed, exhausted, dry mouthed and excited all at once; amongst many other adjectives I could use.
Reflecting in my wide eyes were a myriad of colours. The carpets and rugs and enormous hanging lamps enrapture you, making you feel minuscule as you walk between these items made for giants, tsars and kings of palaces and castles.
The powerful scents and aromas of the spice markets and perfumeries fill your sinuses with joy as notes of thyme, cinnamon, peppermint, soaps, ambers
Plus many more dance through your nose and swirl in your head making you feel quite light headed.
The beauty of this traditional and cultural epicentre is of magic and wonder. Like the many Alladin's lamps you spot on the old, dusty shelves, peering at you from the corner, it makes you question, which one is magic? Maybe all of them are magic. Maybe this is the Magical Medina in Marrakech Morocco.
The Moroccan lamps are a dream and it's hard not to be spellbound by their beauty. I told myself I wouldn't buy one as I had a small case. But I bought one, a big round one at that, how could I not at 100 dirhams! My mum brought it home.

Here you have to be quick footed, on the ball and quick to respond; up for a good barter to win your cheapest price. This medina is not for the faint hearted or easily irritated. You will bump then glide, slip and slide your way through the hundreds of tourists that pass your eyes in seconds. You will hear voices in your head and whispers in your ear as the trades people try to tiresomely win your attention and then hopefully the contents of your wallets and purses. Everything is a "cheap price", or so the traders say, but once they have you in their grasp they don't let you go easily. Items are rarely priced and it's all about the barter. If they said 300, I would offer 100 and work from there. I felt that I was being ripped off left right and centre, extortionate prices for mediocre items. I did however leave with some good bargains. It surprised me, Marrakech is not cheap. If you want the real bargains, the cheaper local food, you have to dig a bit deeper into the souk.
The food itself is good, I myself prefer Egyptian cuisine but this is not Egypt. Marrakech is all about shawarmas, Cous cous, meat tagines, bread, bread and more bread, pome frites; this is what most food vendors are selling. Some of the prices are cheap but the portions are small, especially in the food marquees in the main square. Take note of what you order, the waiters will set sauces and bread down before you, this is not complimentary and you will pay for all these extras. I asked them to take it away.

The people are warm and welcoming and everywhere you go they are hospitable and kind. A lot are in competition with one another to win the tourists so some can be sensitive and easily upset.

Marrakech is like no other place I have visited before. It has it's own unique flavour. It has similarities to Luxor, previously the ancient city of Thebes in Egypt; but the souks aren't nearly as crazy as they are in Marrakech.

I whole heartedly left Marrakech feeling spellbound by it's magic. As I left for the airport I felt it's energy pulling me back, urging me to stay just a little bit longer. Like I was tied to it's strings.
As I looked back to the Jemaa el-Fnaa square I remember how I had felt only 9 days previously and reminded myself never to judge on first impressions.
The way we experience cultures, cities, people, to each person is unique. We warm to things differently and can often judge based on past experiences, both negative or positive.
The thing to remember is to keep an open mind. If we use our energy judging to quickly we often miss out on just allowing ourself to absorb the moment, living and breathing the moment. It is these moments which are soon etched in our memories that live with us for eternity. Cherish those moments. These moments happen when you open your heart and your mind, step out of your comfort zone and take risks. So what are you waiting for?

THE CONS

With every new city you visit, you must be wary. There are pros and cons to everything and also with poorer countries, come people less fortunate therefore more desperate. You have to keep a keen eye about you and be vigil at all times.

ANIMALS

Unfortunately like other African countries and worldwide the use of animal labour is still very much alive and in your face. Seeing monkeys with metal chokers and chains being made to perform is upsetting. It's also not unusual to see a sad looking donkey or chickens cramped into a small cage being carted through the souk. Meat is hung and the carcasses of animals are on show, trotters and heads you can find in the food markets. Stray cats and dogs are rife and I would not recommend patting them. I was scratched badly by a cat in the new town. Kitten can be seen cold looking and dirty and this can be very upsetting.
There are African traders selling bone tusks and items made of bone. There are furs and rugs made from skins and large snakes skins hanging in the markets.
Africa is a huge trader in animal skins, bones and fur so if you could not stand to see this, then I recommend that you do not visit Marrakech.

BEGGING AND HOMELESS

There are many poor beggars sleeping on the streets in terrible conditions, their clothes are torn and dirty. I saw a young man sitting helplessly in the street with an open wound that covered his whole calf, waiting for infection. His skin had peeled off but he just sat there looking helpless.
Some of the people are heavily on drugs, I saw a few, it was mainly in the late night. One man was eating popcorn from the ground. I had a big bottle of juice so I approached him and told him to drink it. I wouldn't recommend approaching people in the dark streets but my mum was with me and I had my wits about me. I also couldn't watch him like that.

GETTING LOST

The souk is a winding maze and you can get lost so easily, especially when all the market packs up, everything looks different again. If you ask for directions one person tells you to go one way and the next person will send you back the way you came, this is horribly confusing and some of the younger ones find it funny watching you walk back and forth dazed and confused.
It is not recommended to walk through the souk or any of the darker alleyways late at night, especially if you are a woman, you can easily get lost in this giant maze and you will get approached and followed. You have to have a good memory. Lucky for me, mines is photographic so I rarely get lost. It's a good idea to take screenshots with your phone or even a video.

BEGGING

You find children begging everywhere. Usually their parents have sent them out to collect money. The best thing you can do is offer them clean clothes, maybe some drawing paper and pens. These people have very little and they appreciate the little things. As it was drawing near to winter my mum handed out socks to the men as it gets cold at night. Also warm hats. These are things people appreciate and what they need.

ALCOHOL

Regards to alcohol, it is prohibited around the medina or near mosques and it's not easily found. You can buy it in the hotels and more upmarket restaurants. You can buy it also at some hostels but the beer alone is nearly £3 for one small can. Our cheapest bottle of wine in the restaurant was £17. I recommend stocking up at the nearest carrefour supermarket. It's not like other holiday destinations where you can just sit in the street and drink.

HENNA LADIES

The henna ladies are everywhere and they have a system. We had quite a negative experience with these women. They walk round with a syringe full of henna dye and they will approach you head on and say here is a small flower for good luck, they might grab your arm and before you know it they are tattooing you with henna. They will then demand that you pay them something ridiculous like 300 dirhams which is approximately £26. The dye they use is also an orange dye and it's cheap and only lasts a couple of days. I recognised what they were doing immediately and everytime they grabbed my arm I pulled it away forcefully. Unfortunately my auntie or cousin didn't and then they refused to pay and the women became very angry and turned quickly against us. They began to chase us shouting loudly, my cousin was quite taken aback. I asked them to just leave quickly and we managed to get away from the women. They are very forceful and boisterous if they don't get their own way. I would be very wary of them.

STREET SELLERS AND EXCURSIONS

There are people everywhere in Marrakech, most of them are looking to sell you something, including excursions. Be careful and only buy from places that are accredited. Look for the trip advisor sticker for example or some sort of certification or insurance policy included in the price. Never hand over your money to anyone in the street and always get receipts or evidence of payment.
It would be nice to believe that people are good everywhere you go but that would be living in a perfect world. There are good and bad people everywhere and not everyone has your best intentions at heart so it best to treat everyone that you don't know well with caution. Ask questions, be curious, question motives and don't fall into manipulation or pressure traps. If you want to walk away, say "No Thankyou" and walk away. Speaking the language a little also helps and they will respect you more for that.

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