As I mentioned in the first part of this story, I decided to write it backward for a number of different reasons, the most important being that I left Marrakech on so much more of a positive note than when I arrived. The middle few days in Africa yielded laughs, adventure and new friends and brought a greater sense of optimism carried with me through the duration of the trip. Overall, each of the five days brought forth its own lesson.
Day 4: The Best Things Happen Unexpectedly
After many days of cat calls (think Las Vegas strip) and aggressive gestures (speaking of which, brace yourself for Day 2), I hired a guide to walk sites with me, mainly so I felt safe. The male culture In Marrakech can be quite intrusive, and I couldn’t continue to expend my energy on all of that nonsense. Frankly, at this point, I didn’t know what to expect out of this city anymore. Given the events a few days before, I was tempted to pillow fort it up in my riad for the remaining days of my trip. After talking myself off the ledge, I decided I not only needed to do things differently, I needed to see things. I didn’t fly all the way here to just sit in my room.
Before leaving on the trip, one of my girlfriends suggested hiring a guide for the sole purpose of having a photographer. She would tell you that sightseeing is great, capturing yourself in the moment is a way better cause. While my guide was highly knowledgeable about the history of the sites and overall Moroccan culture, he was also a champion photographer. He made sure to get all my right angles and suggested aesthetically pleasing shots. At one point, he grabbed my phone, told me to where to stand and said, “I’m going to make you look like a movie star.” (If this phrase had come from any other 70+-year-old, I probably would have been creeped out.) Together, we checked out all the notable Marrakech sites including Bahia Palace, Koutoubia Mosque, Saadian Tombs and, my favorite destination, Majorelle Gardens.
Upon returning to my riad, I was approached by one of the managers who I’d had many conversations with by day four. She mentioned she had a surprise for me and asked what time that evening I’d be free. She instructed me to meet her on the rooftop of the hotel. Unsure of what to fully expect, I walked to the rooftop to see a table set for two. We were having an authentically cooked Moroccan dinner together, an act of unexpected kindness.
Following my tasty dinner, chicken and chickpea tagine, she had one more treat for me: an upgrade to their suite, which was a nice way to end the day and close out my trip in Marrakech. Before we parted ways for the evening she, like the guide from my hike, told me, “You’re now a friend of mine, and anytime you come to Marrakech again, you stay with me for free, not here.”
Day 3: There Is Bliss in Little Things
Day three offered a bit of relief and relaxation. After two days of negativity, I said enough is enough and booked two spa experiences. One of them, a traditional hammam, was at the top of my Morocco to-do list.
Hammam is a traditional Moroccan cleaning and bathing event. Locals partake weekly, and it is usually a 2-3 hour affair (social gathering, really) at a public bath house. If you’ve never partaken, let me give you a rundown of what this type of service looks like, because it’s unlike any I’ve experienced before.
Prior to your scrub down, you’re brought into a steam room to open your pores. The heat from the room is usually leveraged from a nearby kitchen or bakery. Then, an oil based black soap is slathered all over your body and you are super scrubbed with a kessa glove to remove dead skin. (If you haven’t figured this out by now, this is a nearly nude experience for both you and your bathing attendant.) Finally, the last step of the process is to get cleaned by bucket after bucket of water poured over you until you’re thoroughly washed. By the end of the service, your skin feels radiant. The hammam and massage experience I received was out of this world.
The back half of the day was spent roaming the streets of the medina with Marrakech Food Tours and sampling traditional Morrocan dishes such as tagine, couscous,….steamed sheep’s head and stuffed camel spleen. (Yeah, I kid you not.) This did happen, I tried both these dishes and they were no worse than any of the bugs I ate in Asia, just different. The tour itself was fun, yummy and a lot of laughs. It was nice to share this experience with other travelers. By the time the night ended, my heart and stomach were full.
To (still) be continued…