Meandering in Marrakech

Meandering in Marrakech
Touching down on the tarmac in Marrakech, Morocco, I stared out of the window from on board my Ryan Air flight and took a deep breath.  It was the beginning of September.   Ahead of me lay a new month, a new country, a new continent, new experiences, a new language, a new culture, and the ever-present unknown of life on the road.  September was going to be, for me, a new slate.
 
I had enjoyed the past two months exploring, partying, and traveling around Europe meeting new friends and catching up with a few incredible old ones.  Traveling in Europe, like anything, has its pros and cons.  The countries are in such close proximity that it seems foolish to skip any of them, but then one’s schedule can become quickly overwhelmed with the infinite choices.
The price tag of most items in Europe (hostels, food, admissions, libations) is also reason enough to move at a relatively swift pace.  It’s easy to spend an additional night at a hostel charging 7 euro/night, but it is quite a different story to be doing the same for 25 euro/night, which is sometimes the case in larger European cities. 
All in all, I would not change my experiences or choices about the previous two months in Europe, but I was quite ready for a change of pace when I arrived in Morocco – both for my wallet and myself.
Around Marrakech
As the bus pulled into the Medina of Marrakech, I saw donkeys hauling goods alongside busses and cars swerving with no regard to the traffic lanes.  There were horns honking, people shouting, and endless pedestrians mindlessly participating in Human Frogger where they would dodge across the multiple lanes and whizzing vehicles to safely arrive in the madness of Jemaa El-Fna.  I loved it.  After the mind numbing organization and cleanliness of Germany, the chaotic atmosphere was refreshing. 
After a confusing and sensory overloaded hour in the main plaza and winding souks, I finally arrived at my hostel Waka Waka.  The sun had just set, and the hostel was filled with Moroccan lights and candles, which gave the common room space a magical glow.  Hussein, the manager, immediately brought me tea and invited me to join him for shisha, an offer that I happily accepted after my day of traveling.  During our chat he offered dining and shopping suggestions around the city, and I added them to my already quite impressive list of suggestions from a friend from high school.
In Jardin Majorelles
My friend Sarah had recently been living in Marrakech for two years during her contract with the Peace Corps, and had been gracious enough to map out top choices for food, city attractions, events around Marrakech and much more.  When I wrote her that I would be visiting Morocco, she responded with her suggestions and then followed it up with “That was the most overwhelming Facebook message I’ve ever sent!” if that gives you an idea of the length and depth of information – it was absolutely amazing, and I owe her more than a few tagines for her time and advice! 
Tanneries in Fez, Morocco
On my first morning in Marrakech I sat across from a fellow American traveler named Bobby.  During our brief exchange of introductions, we decided to play ‘The Name Game’ (naming a person who you know that has some small usually insignificant quality in common with a new person; it usually ends with “Oh I know that was probably a long shot, but I thought I’d ask!), a usually insane way to pass the time given that we were from opposite sides of a country that was on the other side of the world. 
The first name he threw out: Patrick Darsey.  I not only knew him, but I was friends with him from Georgia Tech.  It turns out that Bobby was a roommate in Australia with Patrick – imagine the odds!  After our minds were blown at our mutual friend, we decided to explore together.  Bobby and I set off through the Medina and Gueliz parts of the city for the day, and managed to hop onto a “free” tour that turns out had been quite expensive for the people who actually paid for it.  
We were rewarded for our acting efforts with a fabulous tour of the souks, an in depth presentation of traditional medicinal herbs and oils in a Moroccan Pharmacy, and free beverages.  We were quite pleased with ourselves as we headed back to the hostel to relax before going for dinner in the Jemaa El-Fna that night with a few other friends from Waka Waka.
During my time in Marrakech, I was lucky enough to meet a few locals, and see the city through their eyes.  Nicky, a friend from Waka Waka, introduced me to her boyfriend and a few of his friends on my first day in the city.  It was great to have so many friends to ask for advice and suggestions upon my initial arrival and to keep in touch with while I was traveling throughout Morocco. 
Chameleon at Waka Waka Hostel
I met one particular local through the infamous love app, Tinder.  After being matched, Amine and I decided to meet at Café Clock, a cool cultural exchange café that Sarah had recommended for a visit for traditional Moroccan story telling.  I wanted to check it out, and like all Tinder excursions if it went horribly I could feign illness and simply scurry back into the Medina.  Luckily, it didn’t go poorly.  Quite the opposite, actually.  Except for the part where a girl from my hostel thought he was trying to kidnap us because he got lost in his own city…but that’s a story for another day.
Helmet Selfie!
Quick back-story: Sarah’s father-in-law, Hajj, is a famous Moroccan storyteller, and he performs every Thursday at Cafe Clock in Marrakech.  He is incredibly talented and famous throughout the country for keeping this traditional alive.  
With Hajj the Storyteller at Cafe Clock
The intimate and spacious Café Clock was the perfect location to experience traditional Moroccan story telling, although Amine continued to remind me that I had no idea what was being told because I don’t speak Arabic…so much for trying to blend in!
After our dinner at Café Clock, Amine and I spent the next few days together.  He invited me to watch his friends play soccer (which looks exactly like our indoor fields at home), explore the city and many cafes from the backseat of his motorcycle and visit his family’s home for a real home cooked Moroccan meal.  It was unreal. 
Think some sexy scene with a Vespa and a Hollywood actress zipping around Italy.  Now add a little bit of dirt and a lot of sweat, and that was my life.  It was so much fun!
By the time that Michael (a hostel friend from Retox in Budapest) arrived later that week, I felt like I had been there forever.  Michael and I explored a few new parts of the city, visited the Jardin Majorelle, ate at Café Tiznit (twice…this was another incredible suggestion from Sarah!), explored the nightlife in Marrakech with Amine, and set out the rest of our plan. 
In Jardin Majorelles in Marrakech
I should interject that Michael is the perfect travel buddy.  After only knowing him for a handful of drunken hours in Budapest, I was unsure of how we would travel together, but it went perfectly.  First of all, he talks to more people than I do, which is impressive.  If I left him alone for more than three minutes, he had two new friends.  

One of Michael’s first friends in Marrakech – the lead singer from the Casino club!

I fell asleep on the bus with him, and when I woke up we had another awesome addition to our travel clan, Anh (more accurately, we decided to become leeches to Anh and follow her around Morocco).  Michael was always up for a party, and in a country that made alcohol possession and consumption a challenge, Michael rose to it every time. 

Rabbit & Raisin Tagine at Cafe Tiznit in Marrakech Medina
One of my favorite memories: Michael commanding the bus driver to a nearby village and demanding he find a store that sold something with an alcoholic percentage.  We were not ruling out mouthwash.  As he entered the store, the cashier pointed to a door with a “Do Not Enter” sign on it.  Michael busted through the door, then went down a hall and busted through another one.  

Brorocco.

Immediately, we heard shouts of celebration and hurried after him.  In what only can be described as Prohibition style, there was a startled Moroccan stocking the shelves of an otherwise secret room.  Within moments, our bus had emptied and everyone was grabbing at bottles of vodka, beers, wine bottles and anything else they had on the rickety shelves.  It was hilarious, but it also made for a hilarious drunken camel ride later that day.  

Michael & me in the High Atlas Mountains

Seriously, riding camels would not have been the same without the group swapping vodka swigs and stories during our voyage.  Well done, Brorocco.

In front of the Medina wall in Fez
 As I mentioned, we joined forces with Anh after our Sahara trip, and were lucky that each of the hostels she had booked had additional rooms for us.  Our next stop after Marrakech and the desert trip was Fez.
Ahn and me exploring the Medina in Fez, Morocco
It was a quick two day/one night visit, but we managed to see the majority of the Medina of Fez, the infamous tanneries, taste more delicious Moroccan cuisine, and relax before heading onto our final travel-family destination: Chefchaouen.