Marrakech - Welcome to Hell

Trip Start Feb 04, 2011
Trip End Nov 04, 2011

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Flag of Morocco  ,
Wednesday, March 16, 2011

We survived Morocco! That's probably echoed inside many planes that take off and leave Marrakech behind. I flew from Hamburg to London to meet up with Paul and I stayed at his place that night so we could catch an extremely early flight from Gatwick Airport the following morning. After a night of drinking and clubbing in London's West End, I vaguely remember arriving at the airport when it was still dark, feeling very seedy from the night before.

The immigration section of Marrakech Airport is a disaster and we waited for over an hour to go through, which is apparently the average waiting time. It's a terrible first impression of a country that brings to mind images of deserts, camels, souks and couscous. We eventually made it to the arrivals hall and we were picked up by a driver arranged by the riad (Moroccan style hotel). After only a few minutes we arrived at our destination and we were charged ten euros for the short trip, which would be an outrageous amount in most parts of Europe. This usually happens to tourists when they first arrive and who can object? The very first hour in a different country is always confusing and being ripped off is an unfortunate but inevitable event for many tourists when first arriving somewhere new.

The riad was fairly average but comfortable. Not as nice as the pictures on the website but decent enough. As Paul and I were sharing a room, I only wished there was a door to separate the toilet as I was in an urgent hurry to use it and a curtain just doesn't drown out the noise. In fact, the riad was built around a courtyard on three levels and when Paul was downstairs he said he could hear me on the toilet. Nice to know.

Unfortunately it rained for the whole three days we were in Marrakech. The main attraction is the square, Djemaa el Fna, and that's where we first ended up after checking into our riad. After that we had a look around the souk and it's at that point that you soon realise that Marrakech is really an unpleasant collection of beggars and con artists. After a few days we came to the conclusion that no one can be trusted in this town, not even to ask directions. Everything comes at a price and sadly, I think Marrakech needs to do a bit of soul searching as to how it treats its tourists.

Our memories of this place which resembles a scene from Star Wars is beggars, puddles, snake charmers, more beggars and a whole city of opportunists. I have to be honest. I found the whole experience quite interesting and I'm fairly thick skinned when it comes to developing countries but I wouldn't recommend this place to the faint hearted. It's also not cheap as the locals are aware that most of the tourists are from Europe so they charge European prices. I felt sorry for Paul who was coming down with a cold and wasn't used to places like this.

The highlight of Marrakech was the hammam. A hammam is a traditional bath house which includes black soap scrubs, body wraps and massages as well as a steam room. It was also great to get out of the rain for a few hours. The other highlight was a place called Cafe' Arabe which was like a haven away from all the touts and swindlers downstairs. Being on the street in Marrakech is so intense and so intrusive that it makes you want to run and hide - and that's what we did on several occasions. Even if it was an expensive establishment, at least we were away from being hassled for a short moment. 

I suggested we go and see another part of Morocco and we both decided that Essaouria would be a good idea as it's on the coast. Not exactly beach weather (19 degrees) but it would have to be better than this. If only the rain would stop. I agreed to go and find the bus terminal and buy some tickets, which I did. Little did we know that we were about to board the bus from hell with all the Star Wars characters on board. To be continued.     
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