Marakesh…A heaven for shoppers who love to root and rummage, hence why I decided to return for a second time to this hectic, bustling city.
The first time I went to Morocco was as a young teenager with my family. We spent a few days in the heat of Marakesh, and then traveled to the gorgeous coastal town Essaouira. I had always remembered Morocco as a fierce, beautifully decorated land. People weren’t as friendly as other countries I had been to, but there was a rawness to them that I liked. A subtle impatience to the very tourists they depended on only added to the charm of the souks and the beautiful mosaic tiles lining the walls.
Therefore, when a few cousins suggesting going for a week to Marakesh, I jumped at the opportunity. As usual, I booked flights without considering how to pay for the rest of the trip, but I have learnt that where there is a will, there is a way! So off we went, in the middle of January, to explore new pastures.
My first stop was, of course, the Grand Bazaar. On approaching the bazaar, there is a massive square lined with restaurants. In the middle, you can find street performers, magicians, tribal music groups and much more. It is completely enchanting, especially at night. I will always remember sitting with a group of other tourists around a fire, whilst men from another region of Morocco played their instruments with such passion, decades of history pulsing out through their beats and rhythm.
When I could finally pull myself away from the performers, I wandered into one of the many entrances for the bazaar. A maze lay before me, hundreds of shops lined winding narrow alleys, filled with locals and tourists alike. Intricately patterned plates and ornaments decorated the shops, and anything from hookah’s to long traditional dresses could be found. I do admit that after a while it became a bit repetitive, as most of the shops stocked the same things. I did buy a beautiful silver ring, which I haggled on quite expertly. The shop keeper was fairly resolute in his price, so I decided to step up my game. Not only did I show my cousins how lovely the ring looked on my hand, I started to show other shoppers, who voiced their agreement, thus putting more pressure on the seller to come down to my offer. A tense 15 minutes followed, in which he consulted with his colleagues, eyeing the ring and me, and eventually he gave in, with a smile. To some this process might sound absolutely dreadful, but granted the seller is willing to play, it can be so much fun, and you feel such satisfaction when you get it down to the standard price that it should have been in the first place!
Whilst I enjoy the act of light haggling, not all my experiences in Marakesh were as joyful. On one occasion we spotted a beautiful dress, and went in to admire. My cousin asked for the price, and when we asked if he could give us his best offer, the seller immediately launched into a rant on how shoppers always want to haggle and this is the final price. He even went on to insult our Pakistani heritage, saying we were not welcome in his country. We were all stunned by his outburst, so my cousin calmly told the man (who had Qur’anic scriptures adorning his walls) that his behaviour was most UN-Islamic, and we promptly left the shop, laughing to ourselves at his gobsmacked expression.
Another tip is that if a young boy approaches and asks if you are looking for the Palace (or any other tourist site) DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT follow him. We made this mistake, partly because he looked so sweet and innocent, and partly because we were lost. We were led down an alley to a house with a sign on the front that said ‘The Royal Palace’. As soon as a man emerged from the shadows, we all took one look at each other and someone promptly yelled ‘RUN’. So we did, all the way back down the alley and into the crowded streets. Who knows who the man was or who was behind that door, but we definitely learnt our lesson when it comes to following innocent looking children.
Aside from that experience, and the occasional street seller following us all the way back to our hotel, I couldn’t fault the rest of the trip. We visited many museums, including the actual Royal Palace of Marakesh. Absolutely stunning rooms and courtyards filled the Palace, and I couldn’t help but marvel at how the royals lived once upon a time.
To end our trip, we decided to climb the Atlas Mountains. If memory serves me correctly, it took around two hours to get from the hotel to the base of the mountains. We organised the trip with a promoter who was stationed outside our hotel, and he arranged our transport to and from the mountain, as well as a guide to take us up to the peak. Before we arrived at the mountains, our driver stopped at a shop along the way. Even though we declined to buy anything, the staff still kindly took us to the roof and offered to take complimentary pictures of us wearing traditional Moroccan headscarves.
Once we reached the mountains, we had to walk past a few small shops and houses, finally reaching a waterfall. As slippy as it was, we managed the climb, alongside other tourists. Once we had taken pictures with that waterfall, we climbed further and was greeted with another larger waterfall. It was wonderfully picturesque. From that point on, our guide helped us climb. I fancied myself as some sort of mountain goat, and proceeded to bound ahead of the group. All went went, I was expertly hoping from rock to rock, until I reached a particularly large gap. I won’t lie, I did consider it. But the thought of not making it back to all my shopping sat in the hotel waiting for me swayed me against the idea. I waited for the guide, and he grinned at my defeat as he threw me across the hole to the man waiting on the other side.
Once we reached the top, we had a fantastic view of the Berber village below. After I sat posing for pictures at the top of rock (feeling like I was Mufasa from the Lion King) we headed down for lunch. On seeing the prices of the food, which were extortionate compared to the price of food in the city, we decided to go back and eat there. On the way to and from, the driver often stopped at little layby’s where people were selling jewellery, fans, mirrors and other little ornaments. I was tempted, as usual, but the prices were double than that of those in the Grand Bazaar, so if you are visiting the Atlas Mountains at the beginning of your trip, keep in mind that it isn’t worth buying souvenirs from these places.
I will always remember Marakesh as a city great for its food, shopping and culture. The near death experiences of crossing the roads, the smell of tagine, haggling with sellers and enjoying fresh orange juice are just a few of the many things to be experienced in this charming city.