0 In Morocco

Marrakech

Christmas in Morocco

Christmas in Morocco may sound untraditional but I was in need of Vitamin D so my favorite NY-based fancy-pants architect and chief wild child Merica May and I decided to chase the sun. The sun ended up being cheapest in Marrakech- part of a country that had always carried an allure for me. It would be my second time in Africa in six months but I knew it would be a very different culture and experience. In fact I’d asked a well-travelled friend for her biggest culture shock experience and she’d said Marrakech.  From many other sources I’d heard that it was unsafe, there was suffocating pressure from shopkeepers, and harassment towards women. But I tend to not pay heed to warnings like this and in this case none of the warnings came to pass and I found the people of Marrakech to be the friendliest and most helpful people that I have EVER experienced in my travels. 

What should have taken us a few hours to get there took us an entire day however. We were having bad travel luck after bad travel luck and in the end I had to (got to?) visit Vienna (albeit for just a few hours) and spend the night in Barcelona. Three countries for the price of one. As a result of this, we had to skip out on going to a little seaside town in Morocco that we had planned. Another reason to go back! 

Flight delay fun.

Marrakech is a whirlwind- basically a big labyrinthine outdoor mall selling colorful shoes, carpets, tagines and fresh juice. Cats roam wild, the energy is frenetic but shopkeepers will stop and happily have a chat with you. Our first meal we didn’t have any small change and I was sure we were being bamboozled as another guy offered to take our large bill to break it- but he not only returned he helped us order our food to our exact specifications. This type of helpfulness happened ALL THE TIME and while my mistrust guard was up the entire time I always felt sheepish when it proved unnecessary. The kindness of strangers was on full display in Morocco. 

We had a long deep talk with a young pizza seller one night (originally we decided we wouldn’t go out after dark but quickly threw out that plan as both impractical and unnecessary), sharing our favorites book titles, talking about god and science in such an open and honest way. His girlfriend was impressed with our ‘beautiful American teeth’. Two young guys who ran a patisserie that we returned to a couple times were keen to list off all the places they knew about in America- New Jersey! Detroit! Minneapolis! (But why those places, we asked). 

Pizza, beer and chess- not exactly what I was imagining for Morocco! But it was perfect.

Much of our time in Marrakech was spent admiring the sunrise or sunset from the many rooftops vistas, looking over the city and out to the Atlas Mountains.

The tourist attractions in Marrakech left a little to be desired. We were underwhelmed by almost all of the “sights” of the city though the Yves St Laurent garden was pleasant enough. And of course, we needed to experience the overwhelming production of buying a carpet in Marrakech! It’s a full day affair! 

Buying rugs in Morocco is a serious business. Can you find Merica?

We stayed in a beautiful traditional Riad which is the Moroccan answer to a bed and breakfast. Breakfast on the rooftop of dates, pistachio and endless Moroccan tea. The room was painted deep blue with intricate design everywhere and they provided little elf shoes for us to wear. 

After a few days we needed to get out of the pollution of the city (that is my only complaint- the smell was terrible) and into the mountains where we hired a guide to take us on a 40 kilometer mountain bike ride. If you follow the news you might recall a particularly horrific incident that happened in the Atlas Mountains around Christmastime- that is to say, two days before we arrived in the exact same village. Rather than rehashing the sad news I will say that we did consider not going on this mountain bike ride. We were shaken but ultimately decided we can’t live in fear and that it would be a tribute to those girls who had been so similar to Merica and I. 

Driving towards the village of Imlil

After having been to the region I cannot imagine anything bad ever happening there. Our experience was overwhelmingly positive- of good and kind people welcoming us. Kids running after the bikes screaming Bonjour! People sitting on the rocks enjoying the beautiful day. Washing our tomatoes in the spring water. Being taught Berber- the important words like the words for bicycle, and beautiful. My time in Imlil was my favorite part of the whole trip. 

Our guide. He loves mountain biking so much yet has never been able to travel outside of Morocco.

At the airport I had another lovely experience- this time with the baristas at the airport Starbucks who gave me an Arabic and a French lesson at the same time. It was like magic when I learned to write my name in Arabic and later on a different shopkeeper looked at it and said my name.  

My favorite peoples’ names written (badly) in Arabic.

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