Not in Europe Any More

Riad Laarouss

OKOK. Poor WiFi was not the only reason I have delayed this post for almost a week now, when I’m already back in the U.S. I admit that figuring out how to describe our experience in Marrakech contributed to the delay.

We spent three full days and four hot nights in Morocco, with the first one described simply as #CULTURESHOCK. But I promised to give more details into our first night—darn my terrible memory for some now fuzzy details.

Upon landing and before lining up for customs, I immediately went to the bathroom to put on some pants under my black dress. Even at the airport in Barcelona, noticing the conservative clothing of the crowd waiting to board the airplane, I felt the urge to cover myself up. After customs and exchanging some cash to the local currency dirhams, we spotted our driver and followed him outside. Wow. It was hot for nearly 11 p.m. Our driver with a heavy Moroccan-French accent chatted with us here and there, with the most memorable thing he said to us being: “Marrakech is tranquil.”

Soon, we stopped at the taxi stand of Riad Laarouss near la Pharmacie Populaire. Another employee of the riad we had booked (riad means a housing complex with a courtyard in the middle) met us to walk us through the streets of Riad Laarouss with our luggage.

The thing about Marrakech is the unbearable desert heat during the day results in much busier and later nights (like Vegas, hah). So at a time when we’re used to, well, tranquility, we unknowing young tourists felt the complete opposite, being led through night stands of raw meat hanging here and there and motorists zooming past you. Where to look? What to avoid? Sensory overload.

Eventually, we made two right turns into a narrow, dark alleyway, where we saw a group of young men at the end. If my body didn’t physically hesitate at that last turn into the dark alleyway, my mind certainly did. We walked right up to them, where the door to our riad was located. Thankfully, this young, always-smiling host helped make us feel more at home, offering the Moroccan mint tea I had first tried in Shanghai that I had missed. We sat in the room across from ours on the first floor, as he explained in apologetic broken English how things worked.

Of course, I have no photos from this night after the airport, but I did make sure to capture the morning scene of the route we took—much calmer but the raw meat still present 😉

For some reason, beyond trying to avoid being hit by vehicles coming at all directions, our first full day in Marrakech dulled our senses for the most part. We had an amazing breakfast on the terrace of our riad, but the excitement went downhill afterward.

Rooftop terrace breakfast at Riad Bonheur
Rooftop terrace breakfast at Riad Bonheur.

Our first stop was Jardin Majorelle, the top-rated attraction of Marrakech. But whether I blame my unvoiced concern of my friend being museumed-out from previous cities or not, we didn’t go to the Berber Museum inside the garden, which our riad host later explained was basically the best thing ever. Ugh, I’ll say this again: Do your research to see which attractions may be worth visiting, and don’t be afraid to go by yourself. I already felt bad for visiting Casa Battlo in Barcelona while my friend occupied herself with shopping because she just wasn’t interested. Then again, when will you ever have another chance to visit these places? If you can’t convince the company you’re with to go with you, go alone. If you’re afraid of creating tension, know that everyone has their own interests and people close to you should understand. I regret not pushing both myself and my friend to visit the museum, especially with the dull day that we ended up having.

Despite having a map, we told our taxi driver to return at 2 p.m. But we were finished by 12:30 and were chilling at a café until 1:30 when we went to search for him and eventually just called another taxi. We felt bad but another tip gained: Don’t bother with making deals with taxi drivers. Spend as little or as much time as you want wherever you want without being tied down to waiting for or rushing to your taxi. We made our way to Sofitel hotel, where it was suggested that we hang out for the day, since it’s usually too hot to do much else. But after being approached about whether we planned to swim (non-hotel guests can’t?), we went to eat lunch at L’Oasis restaurant that overlooked the pool. At this point, we definitely kept kicking ourselves about being so ignorant about Morocco. The proper way to spend vacation in deserts, including Vegas, is poolside at a hotel during the day and then out into the city for the night. Could you imagine renting an Airbnb in Vegas without A/C and having to just find ways to spend your days elsewhere? Yeah, we had one loud fan. #idiots

For our final stop of the day, we went to Place Jemaa el-Fna, a popular square and marketplace full of street vendors selling food, clothing, accessories, lamps, etc. And well, we got lost. And then scammed. Honestly, the experience could have been less traumatic for my friend (more just unpleasant for me) if I had just stopped for a moment to consult with my friend about our options once we realized we were lost. Instead, I insisted that I could get us back quickly. But after an hour of wandering the streets FULL of motorists who didn’t give a shit about pedestrians, whether young or old, we ended up trusting a stranger to lead us back to the square and being forced into giving 110 dirhams for doing so.

By the end of it, we just needed to sit, eat, and process what we just experienced. I tried so hard to ignore that my friend felt extremely uncomfortable rushing through the dangerous, exhaust-filled streets behind me like that, but I felt the discomfort and fear underneath the stubborn arrogance that made me think I could get us out of the maze we found ourselves in.

Thankfully, we tried to make the remaining time we had in Marrakech the best we could, with a jam-packed second day of hammam, pastry baking class, AND camel riding. That post coming soon (I mean it this time) 🙂