Marrakech is wild, crazy, and unlike anywhere I’ve traveled before. I was blown away by the call to prayer, the beauty and chaos of the Medina, and the open hearts and homes of the people. I’ll be honest with you, you may need a fairly weathered travel skin and a good sense of humor to make it out alive. Even after years of traveling, I was still “got” by one of the trickier tricksters in the ‘big square’!
Flying to Marrakech (RAK) from Portland (PDX) was only $440! Can you believe it?! It was a long flight, but on Delta (which is my airline of choice) and I got a day in Amsterdam on the way there and home! Flight deals are out there, you can find them all the time, I’ll do a post about finding flight deals in the near future!
Day 1: GOOD MORNING MARRAKECH!
After a quick 4 hour flight from Amsterdam, we touched down in Africa.
*Pro-Tip: arrange a ride with your Riad/ accommodations ahead of time, catching a cab can be tough. Most likely you will end up frustrated and lost within moments of being in Marrakech, and ain't nobody got time for that.*
We made it through customs/ border control within 30 minutes and exchanged for Dirhams at the airport. They will try to sell you a local credit card to put part of your exchanged cash on, I did this, I recommend to NOT do this and just take all the cash, especially if you are taking a trip out of Marrakech.
*Cash is KING in Morocco, know that if you choose to use your card you may be charged an additional fee. You will need to negotiate this fee into the price for purchases.*
We arrived at our private Riad, where the staff were waiting with piping hot mint tea (obsessed) and delectable little pastries. We unpacked, settled in, slipped into our swimsuits and hit the rooftop to take a light nap and get some sun before setting out for our first wander around the Medina.
*I'll be doing a follow up post the best places to stay.*
*Pro-Tip: don't actually take a full nap when trying to adjust to a new timezone. A Unicorn Nap (20 minutes or less) is what you need; along with hydration and a little yoga.*
During our ‘nap’ we experienced our first call to prayer; a long, deep, and strong chant that takes over the sky and fills you from the tips of your toes to the crown of your head. It brought chills to my body, the hair on my arms stood on end.
Newly refreshed, we hit the Medina bound for the ‘big square.’ Two hours later, we were still wandering the small, packed, isolating streets seemingly no closer to the ‘big square.’ As we twisted and turned ourselves around, I started to get hangry, so food was the obvious next stop. We chanced upon an amazing little restaurant, Le Jardin. Our quick stop turned into hours taking in the secret garden, enjoying a delectable whole fish, mint tea, all while turtles scuttled around our feet before diving back into the loud thrashing streets.
After gathering our strength for another attempt at making our way to the ‘big square,’ we pushed our way through the Souks to find it before sunset. FINALLY, we made it! Boy, do I wish we had just stayed the F away - it’s a tourist trap filled with tricksters. In my personal opinion, it’s a place to avoid at all costs!
Within seconds of hitting the ‘big square,’ we were grabbed, shoved, and taken, yes just like in the movie, by local vendors. They will take your hand and pull you to their stations; whether it’s a small stool or a large tent/ trolley, all while yelling at you and trying to sell you something. I’ve been to my fair share of huge markets, all over the world, but have never seen such aggressive behavior! The rest of the Medina is not like this, it’s only in the ‘big square.’ You have to go to see it IRL to take it in and to make you feel alive, but DO NOT MAKE EYE CONTACT! DO NOT LET THEM GRAB YOU! DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING! Do a quick walkabout, see the view, take in the madness, and stay focused on making your way out alive and with all of your money!
I tell you this, because, I messed up, I made eye contact with some ladies doing henna. My one mistake ended with me covered in henna and glitter, that I didn’t even want, pissed off and down $50euros.
So, covered in glitter, it was time to make our way back to the Riad; but which way did we come from? How did we get here? Oh shit, the sun is about to set, I haven’t slept in almost 48 hours, I am starting to see spots and I’m hungry again...enter my favorite, life-saving, app, maps.me .
*DOWNLOAD IT TO YOU PHONE RIGHT NOW! Yes, I am actually yelling that at you, if you travel anywhere you need this app. It allows you to find your way, without needing service or wifi anywhere in the world - even the crazy Medina streets!*
Wandering and getting lost is what Marrakech is all about, but at some point, you’re going to be tired, cranky, hungry, and maybe a little pissed off and this app will save the day. So with the help of maps.me we found our way back to the Riad as the sun began to fade behind the Atlas mountains and the evening call to prayer filled the sky.
Exhausted and tired from our first day in the Medina, we chose a restaurant close to the Riad for dinner and wine. Our food was alright, a nice simple meal, but nothing to write home, or to you, about! Long, hot day one in Marrakech complete!
*Pro-Tip: there are not many restaurants that serve alcohol. Be mindful of this when you make plans if you like to have wine with your meals. Keep your eyes on the blog for a follow up post on where to eat, drink, and be Marrakech.*
Day 2: Gardens of the Desert:
I did some yoga and meditating on the rooftop before joining Kayla for breakfast by the pool. We skipped walking and hailed a local taxi to Le Jardin Majorelle, otherwise know as the YSL Gardens. You don't want to miss this absolutely beautiful, stunning oasis, just outside of the Medina in New City, and home to the Berber Museum and one of the more crowded tourist spots in Marrakech. We went in the mid-morning and it was little busy.
*Pro-tip: head to the Photography Museum in the morning instead, have lunch, then make your way to the gardens in the early afternoon. I feel the lighting for photos will be better than the time we went.*
After exploring, we wandered the wide streets of New City taking in the horizon before heading back at the Riad. For our rooftop reset, we found our way to Cafe Arabe for sunset cocktails. As we enjoyed our cocktails, a pair of travelers came and sat at the table next to us. The gentleman said down and said “ugh, I need an alcohol,” I instantly feel in love and struck up a conversation. They had just found out their Sahara desert tour had been canceled. Kayla and I quickly discussed and invited them along on our private tour leaving the following morning! Enter our new friends, Tom and Melissa, and this is how the Soul Assassins were born!
Day 3, 4, 5: The Road to Morocco - Berber Tour of the Sahara:
Overview of the trip goes as follows: I’ll be following up with a full Berber tour post next week!
First Day: 8 am pick up> Marrakech to Dades via High Atlas, Ait Benhaddou Kasbahs, Ouarzazate, Roses Valley toarrive at a beautiful hotel in carved into the mountains!
Second Day: 9 am departure > Dades to Merzouga Gorges through Rissani, Todra gorges, Erfoud. Carpet buying and camel riding!
Final Day: wishing we had one more day in the desert - sunrise and 10 hour car ride back to Marrakech!
Day 6: Byla and Ambien Espresso take on the Souks:
We returned from the desert refreshed and with new super powers as Byla (Kayla) and Ambien Espresso (me); ready to take on a long, exciting, and exhausting day searching for the best of the best Souks. Our lovely hostess, Sarah the Parisian, took us to the best carpet souks in the Medina and showed us a few easy ways to navigate without getting lost.
*Pro-tip: get to know your Riad host! They hold the key to the secrets of the Medina and may have the insight into all of the best Souks, restaurants, etc.to help make your trip unique.
Haggling in the Souks is SO fun and different from the haggling I’ve done elsewhere. My father taught me the art of haggling at a very young age. I used to be embarrassed when my father would haggle in stores, like department stores, but it worked and we always got the best price, everything has a better price - I promise you that!
*Pro-tip: there is no shame is asking for a discount, even in department stores! Most likely you'll get at least 10% off just for having the cajones to ask!
We spent two hours in one carpet souk selecting poufs, pillows, and haggling with the owner. Haggling in Marrakech is done with a smile, a light attitude, and handled like a playful conversation between friends. The strategy here is more about making a genuine and authentic connection between buyer and seller than who can stand the strongest (the way it’s done in China).
The culture in the Souks and in Morocco is extremely light-hearted, open, and all about creating an experience that keeps people coming back for more. The Moroccan people want you to walk away with a feeling of warmth, connection, and love. They are hoping to see you again in the future, this is not a one and done way of life.
During the haggling, we stepped away for a moment to refuel at the famed, Nomad for a juice cocktail and to figure out how we were going to get all of our new found treasures home. With our poufs and pillows purchased we navigated back to the Riad carrying our packages on our heads like true locals!
For our final sunset, we met Falcon Berber (Tom) and The Goddess (Melissa) back at Cafe Arabe for our final meal together. We had bottles of local Rose and made plans for our next adventure together. The best way to make travel friends is to travel after all!
Day 7: Peace out Marrakech:
We sadly grabbed our bags, a porter, and made our way to the airport with 60 kilos of carpets, pillows, and poufs and hoped for the best. We decided to not ship anything and try to fly with it all. When we priced how much it would cost for us to ship things home it ended up being about $1,500 and we figured the overweight bag fees would be the less expensive way to go. As it turned out, my bags were checked for free and Byla (aka Kayla) only had to pay $16.50 in fees! While everything went smoothly for us to get back to Amsterdam easily, it was hard to say goodbye to each other and to Marrakech. We vowed to be back within a year and knowing us, we will be!
The hardest part of coming home isn’t the jet lag, it’s the travel lag. It’s missing the feeling of being in a different culture, exploring a new part of the world, trying new things, and dearly missing my travel companion. Kayla and I have explored 4 continents together, have been friends for 7 years, and our friendship is unlike one I’ve ever had before. We may get frustrated with each other after 18 hours of flying, or when we’re hungry, but we work through it with love and compassion and in the end give each other space to just be. It’s not easy traveling with others, I love a good solo trip, but there is something special when you make that connection and find your perfect travel companion. I know Byla and Ambien Espresso will stand strong together against all odds to take on new adventures for many years to come. We’re in the midst of seeing how to make this a full-time gig, don’t worry, I’ll keep you updated!
Something special happens when traveling in Morocco; time moves slowly even when everything seems to be moving fast and in all directions at the same time. Old and new stand in stark contrast with each other. As you wander the Medina, feel the sand between your toes in the Sahara, or enjoy a meal with friends by candlelight, time freezes, it no longer exists. Past, present, and future collide at the same time. You become fully present in the moment, fully aware of all senses, allowing you to drop into the sensation of being fully alive and aware with each breath.
This travel experience made reground, reroot, and refocus - I came back to the states ready to take on whatever the universe may send my way. I am ready to let things shift and transform to create new space and awareness to the world around me. Some trips are once in a lifetime, some are life changing and when you experience those travels they always stay with you; every place, every moment, you carry it with you in different ways for the rest of your life. Set a price alert and go get yourself lost in time and space.
Travel Light, Travel Often,