Al Maghrib 1: Not Quite the Marrakesh Express

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Morocco made my soul happy. Maybe it was the sun on the streets of Marrakesh, pumping in long denied vitamin D or the plates of tangine and glass after glass of the best freshly squeezed orange juice, or just how much I love being able to read Arabic street signs, but I left Morocco with a full heart.

The trip didn’t start out quite as smoothly as it ended. We had originally planned to travel to Israel during our spring break, but a little budget math made it perfectly clear that the trip to Israel we could afford was nowhere near the pilgrimage Jeff and I envisioned. (Next year Jerusalem!)  So we had “settled” on spending our break in St Andrews with a short trip to Amsterdam or Paris to celebrate my 25th birthday (how are we this lucky?).

But in searching for flights, I stumbled upon a ridiculous fare to Marrakesh, and given how inexpensive accommodation in Morocco is, we could do 8 days in North Africa for just a little more than a few days in Amsterdam or Paris. I was immediately sold. However, this particular deal required us to get London first. I may have gotten a little cocky with our traveling prowess and booked a flight out of Edinburgh that left us only 30 minutes to make our connection to save a few pounds. In a perfect world, we would have made it, even if we had to run through the airport, in and out of security, we would have made it. But our Ryanair flight (what was I thinking) left 26 minutes late and we landed just as our second flight was pulling out of the gate. Normally when you don’t try to cheat the system, you get put on the next flight out. But given this was an unofficial connection, we were at the mercy of the airline. Also unfortunately, the next EasyJet flight wasn’t for another two days. We manged to get enough wifi to book another flight to Morocco that day, but it required us to rush to another London airport an hour away and fly through Casablanca before heading on to Marrakesh. So in the end, our budget may have been blown before the trip even started, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I imagined it would be as I hyperventilated on our flight from Edinburgh to London. Lesson learned! You can’t beat the house.

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We made it to Marrakesh, all be it 8 hours later than we anticipated!

Also, our day wasn’t going nearly as poorly as the drunk Englishman who was shouting at the Moroccan officer at passport control. Something was clearly wrong with his entry documents, and his response was to speak at increasingly loud decibels in attempt to get his point across. When we were behind him, he was making it well known that it was easier to get into Libya than Morocco (we had no problems). When the officer tried to get him to calm down and deal with the matter privately, he started screaming that the man  was stealing his passport. The perspective helped.

And Marrakesh was well worth the wait.

We stayed in the medina, the old walled city, in a riad, one of the old converted private homes that surround the city’s main markets, mosques, and museums. Remnants of the colonial era, these guesthouses are known for their beautiful architecture, unique character and affordability.

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Dream home.

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Really, how can I live here forever.

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The first of many breakfasts in which I drank all the orange juice. Like really I didn’t realize oranges could be so amazing.

They are also nearly impossible to find amidst the twists of the old city’s narrow streets. We luckily arranged to have someone walk with us from the main square. I’m sure we would have slept on someone’s doorway otherwise.

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How many different ways could I get lost?

We had planned to be in Marrakesh for a day and a half, a short time already, but we wanted to get out into the mountains as soon as we could. Our flight mishap cut that time short, but we managed to take in a lot of the beautiful chaos that is Marrakesh. We spent most of the day just wandering through the streets, stopping for a glass of Morocco’s famous mint tea on the way.

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A rooftop lunch let us watch the sooqs from above.

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All the spices.

Despite our best efforts, we did get bambozzled twice. The old city, with its charm and history, is popular with tourists, so of course there are people looking to make money off of our presence.  I have problems saying no, so even though I know what’s happening I tend to get caught up in things. I contend that we actually enjoyed our bamboozling, so I guess it was more like mutually beneficial tourist behavior.

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Clay pots for tangine and every fruit and vegetable imaginable.

The first time I was caught off guard. A group of women in the square asked me if I wanted henna. I love henna and planned on getting it done that day anyway. I just failed to name a price early on in our business arrangement. So as we chatted in Arabic I quickly was being covered literally finger to toe in henna. It was beautiful and I was happy, but I was also no longer in any position to bargain with them when it was time to pay up. Rookie mistake, but again the finished product was beautiful. Despite, its cultural acceptance I have always struggled with negotiation, so it was mutually beneficial bamboozling!

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Happy, henna bamboozling

Second, we got ushered into a traditional tannery, which again was actually really interesting. It constitutes bamboozling because on our exit we were ushered into the family shop where we disappointed all by not buying anything. The tannery uses traditional methods to strip and dye the leather, so we were presented with mint or Moroccan gas masks upon entry to mask the bouquet of meat and lye.

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Our friendly guide made me pose. I felt disruptive.

Incredible work and worth a sales pitch at the end!

But my favorite stop of the day was the Ben Youssef school. Founded in the 14th century and rebuilt in the 16th the school was at one time the largest theological college in North Africa. The pictures say it best. The architecture and the calligraphy blow me away. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We ended our wandering with more tea and tangine, rented the shabbiest car you could imagine and headed for the mountains. Our rocky start (get it mountains and rocks) didn’t keep us from a beautiful adventure.

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On our way out of the city we found Lil’ Sebastian!

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