I was worried that a second visit Marrakech wouldn't live up to my unfeasibly high expectations. I've spent the last 12 months dreaming about a return trip and, in my head, Marrakech became something so incredible, so fantastical, that it couldn't really have been that good – could it?
No, it wasn't as good as last year................IT WAS BETTER!
Bearing in mind that I spent 12 days there and could probably spend the same amount of time describing every glorious second, this report will cover basics and highlights that may interest regular contributors but also prove helpful to first-time travellers to Marrakech.
(Due to unforseen health problems, I was unable to visit the public hammam this time. I was absolutely devastated but I will definitely be going next year, come hell or high water)
Safety and Hassle
Personally, we found that the hassle was slightly different to last year. More kids doing the “we'll walk in front of you then pretend we showed you the way and demand 100MAD” and less older people bothering us. I had two arguments in the middle of the street with young teenagers demanding money – it provided entertainment for everyone around us and I refuse to be browbeaten into handing over money for no reason. AT NO POINT was I ever threatened. The worst I received was actually from a man in his 50's doing the same trick; he told me that my husband was a good man and that I was a bad woman and a bad wife and that I was bringing shame on my husband by not handing over money. Hey, I've had far worse from yobs on the bus in the UK!
Henna ladies were more persistent but more polite (not that I had any problems with them last year to be honest). Their new trick seems to be getting you to “promise” you will return to them next time you are in the square. I made one lady laugh out loud when she said “you promise me other day you come to me”, I replied “no, I said another time, inshallah”. She thought this was really funny, removed her niquab (I still don't know what the significance of this was) , laughed like mad and hugged me before leaving.
One day I wanted to do shopping in the medina whilst hubby was helping our hosts with some work in their garden, so I went alone. I received far less attention than I did when I was part of a couple. More whistles and “salut la gazelle” but less people trying to sell to me. Although, I did get chatted up whilst I was having a sit-down in Koutoubia gardens. A lovely young man with no English spent half an hour patiently dealing with my poor French and Arabic before giving me his phone number on a piece of paper and telling me to call him!
Last year, my Darija was confined to the use of basic phrases (which worked well) but this year I could conjugate a few verbs and actually managed to converse with people on a really basic level. My husband (an avid computer gamer) said that this was the equivalent of having “cheat codes” as it meant that we deflected a lot of unwanted attention as well as having lots of lovely chats and impromptu language lessons in the street.
For every person that “helped” us and then demanded money, there were at least two people who showed us somewhere or did us a favour simply out of friendliness. The local teenage lads that gathered around our riad were wonderful – genuinely looking out for us and trying to help. There were people at stalls and in shops who remembered us from last year and welcomed us with open arms.
So, if your first contact is with someone who gets aggressive and demands payment, please don't let that colour your views. Keep an open mind and a light heart and you'll meet fabulous people.
Ok, for me, Moroccan food is the best in the world. It has EVERYTHING that I love, sweetness, stodge, fresh meat, fresh veg and an aroma that could make you weep with temptation.
We ate lovely food, both in cafes and in the street, at the Ben Youssef quissarias and at the stalls of Djemma El Fna. I even tried snails for the first time and actually enjoyed them. However there were three standout moments of the holiday.
The first was when we walked down a deserted side street around 8pm near the madrasa and found a group of people gathered around a cart with a huge pot of harira on it. For the princely sum of 4MAD we dined on a fabulous bowl of soup with great company and a moment of peace as the noise of the city swirled around us.
The second occasion was when we finally made it to Mechoui Alley and devoured what felt like an entire lamb. Bearing in mind that I never eat lamb in the UK and generally find it not to my tastes, I was amazed by how gorgeous this big slab of hot meat was. Ridiculouly cheap too.
The third meal was a goat tagine in Ourika Valley. I've never eaten goat before but now I really wish my local butcher stocked it – it was lean, tasty and delicious.
We came back with all the things that I wanted – argan oil, henna, spices, etc – and also plenty of things that we probably shouldn't have bought. We paid way over the odds for kaftans and djellabas in a shop on Place Ben Youssef and only realised when we went into Souk Smarine. HOWEVER, we did spend ages chatting, drinking tea and cold water AND we got some great photos of us as a couple (which is something of a rarity) so every penny was well-spent.
Orange juice was great, fruit juices in Patisserie Al Jawda were amazing and the highlight of the trip was shopping in Bab Doukkala (thanks to TA members' advice). Our Moroccan friends that we stayed with in the second week were surprised we went there – and yes, we were the only tourists in the entire place and it was blissful. No hassle, no overinflated prices and we weren't made to feel like complete outsiders either. Everyone was too busy going about their daily business to bother about us. I bought a teapot there from a man in the tiniest shop I've ever seen. He was repairing teapots as well as selling ones he had previously mended and he had the biggest can of butane I've ever seen squished in with him, a bath of silver nitrate and a car battery.
All in all, another amazing trip (yes, I cried buckets when we left) and I'm now planning next year's visit which will hopefully include a few days out near Erg Chebbi.
My only regret is that I can't find a job and move to Morocco tomorrow. As soon as we arrived it felt like I'd come home and that my time in the UK was actually a holiday. My husband felt the same. If I believed in reincarnation I would say that I had lived in Morocco in a previous life – I only wish I could live there in this life too.