November 2015: Marrakesh, Morocco

After another round of “Where can we fly that doesn’t cost much?” we ended up in Marrakech, Morocco ($72.93 for both of us to fly here from London). This was definitely our most “exotic” location to date, so we were excited and definitely curious to see what things would be like there.

Bonus! First time to Africa!

The place we stayed (called a riad) was sort of a cross between a big house and a small hotel. The family who ran it lived there, often hanging out near the front door or watching TV in the main room on the bottom floor—the only place where the WiFi worked, and consequently a place we spent a large amount of time in, meeting and chatting with the many people who passed through.

This picture was taken from–no joke–the doorway of our riad. We’d step out of our hotel straight into the Medina.

Our particular riad was located right smack in the middle of the busiest part of the city, the Medina. The Medina consists of approximately a million tiny shops all packed together with cramped alleyways running between them, sometimes veering off at odd angles or coming to an abrupt dead-end. These shops mostly sell things like Moroccan tea sets, spices, shoes, and wooden knick-knacks.  Outside of each shop would be a man, sometimes playing on his phone, but usually trying to convince you to come inside and look at his wares.

If you can picture that, then add in hundreds of people walking along these alleyways, with dozens of mopeds and bikes squeezing their way through the crowds at the highest speed they can manage. That gives you a pretty good idea of what the Medina is like.

Jemaa el-Fnaa, the giant public square nearby, mostly empty during the day.

For two introverts who dislike shopping as much as we do, this was more than exhausting: it was nerve-racking. Even something as simple as going out for dinner was a bit of a challenge, knowing that people would be coming up on all sides of you saying, “Excuse me! Eat here! Here, look at our menu!”

Another picture of Jemaa el-Fnaa at night, taken while standing in the same spot. This picture cannot convey the mass of sensory overload, with the lights, sounds, smells, etc.

The first couple of days were intense sensory overload for us, to say the least. We just weren’t used to the aggressive sales style, the haggling, the sheer number of people around. But soon, we began to settle into it. A smile and, “No, thank you,” and a good attitude went a long way.

So we settled into a bit of a pattern, going out for walks around the Medina, reading, having meals at the nearby stalls, and enjoying the bustle.


The Sahara Desert Excursion

Since we were in Morocco, it seemed important that we ride camels. After all, how often do you get the chance to ride a camel in Africa? So we signed up for a desert excursion, where we would ride camels out into the Sahara Desert and stay at an encampment for the night before heading back the next morning.

Ali makes friends with Joe’s camel.

After a pretty rough nine-hour drive out to the desert (seriously, nobody told the pregnant lady we’d be in a car for nine hours), we hopped on a couple of camels and slowly loped our way out into the desert.

Joe and Ali, before bedding down for the night in a tent in the desert.

The evening was pleasant, and the number of stars we could see out there was phenomenal. It was the first time I’d ever actually seen the Milky Way. But we were exhausted from the long drive and crashed pretty early.

The next morning, after a quick breakfast, we packed up, rode the camels back to the van, and drove the nine hours back to Marrakech.

Final Thoughts: Camels, cool. Desert, cool. (Well, actually the desert was pretty hot. Except at night.) Long car rides, ugh.

Once we got back, neither of us was feeling that hot. Both of us had gotten food poisoning (though Joe’s was much more mild), which usually just sucks, but since I was starting the third trimester of my pregnancy, was also a little worrisome, especially when it included some very unpleasant stomach cramps.  So we headed out to the International Hospital to make sure everything was fine with the baby.

Unfortunately, we don’t speak French or Arabic, and nobody at the hospital had more than a very basic understanding of English, so after meandering through the hospital trying to communicate with a half dozen people using miming and hand gestures, they checked to make sure everything was fine with the baby, gave us a list of prescriptions that were hopefully for my ailments (the packaging was also in Arabic, so we still can’t be too sure) and we were on our way back to our room to recover before leaving the country. It wasn’t the best way to end the trip, but the hospital excursion was a fun adventure on its own, and gave us some valuable practice that we’d later need to deliver the baby in Istanbul. We’re glad we were able to experience a place so different from any we had been to before.

(Joe chimes in): I really liked Marrakesh.  It was, by far, the most foreign place we’ve been, in terms of the culture just being different than the States.  We’ve spent a fair amount of time in Western Europe, which is quite similar, culturally, to the USA.  Marrakesh was so exotic. The sights, the smells of spices in the air, the sounds of the music and people.  I probably wouldn’t want to live there, but visiting it was so thrilling.

The markets were so unique–there were trained monkeys, snake charmers, and peddlers of every kind of goods you could want!

Even their most “normal” (Western) grocery stores were unique.

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