As I write this, I am sat on my flight back to London. I have just had a heated discussion with my boyfriend because of the way that I was writing one of my reviews. He (quite rightly) accused me of using flowery language to discuss experiences that, at the time, intimidated, scared or upset me. I have been in Marrakech for the last six days and I can hold my hand up and say that it was the most challenging holiday I have ever had. I was expecting it, I’m not totally naïve, but you can play scenarios over in your head many times and when it comes to the crunch, your feelings can be totally different. I can’t count the amount of times I rehearsed the next few sentences in my head over the last three days that I spent in the Medina, but here they are. I was brought up in England, a country that is world-renowned when it comes to politeness. We Brits will queue anywhere and say sorry at anything, even when it’s not our fault. I am unbelievably guilty of this and have often thought that I’d have a good stash of cash if I created a ‘sorry’ box.
I don’t like being approached when shopping and I will more than likely be put off a purchase if someone approaches me and actively tries to sell something to me. I might be in the minority but I know a fair few people that would say the same thing. So when we walked through the streets of the Medina in Marrakech and every single shopkeeper tried to guide us into their shop for us to see their goods, I was put off going in. I didn’t step foot in one the whole time I was there. But perhaps it wasn’t just that, I have a feeling the fact that is was 44 degree heat and the fact that I have just splashed out on a hefty deposit for my flat that put me off shopping a little.
But it wasn’t the shopkeepers that intimidated me, it was the boys on the streets that, even if you gave off a slight air of not knowing where you are going, hounded you, tried to give you directions, walked with you to the place you were going and tried to get money off you. Boys tried to point you in another direction by coming up to you, pointing and saying ‘ It’s closed, that way is closed.’ I have no idea what they were trying to achieve but 100% of the time nothing was closed.
Our first evening in the Medina was spent tirelessly looking for one of the restaurants that had been recommended to us by the General Manager at Dar les Cigognes, Tobsil. The description on our recommendations sheet told us that this was a romantic restaurant with great entertainment and refined Moroccan cuisine. We walked for what felt like hours trying to find the place. We stopped in a chemist on the square to ask for directions. He was extremely helpful and even rang the restaurant to double check as he was not sure. But even when we arrived in the area, we were unsure which alleyway to take. Then in stepped a local lad. ‘Are you lost’? He asked? Foolishly we said yes, we were trying to find Tobsil. ‘Ah, Tobsil, I will take you there, follow me.’ At this point I knew that it was a bad idea. He took us down the side streets, which wound and wound and seemed to take us deeper and deeper into obscurity.
Eventually we arrived at a small door and a doorman from the restaurant greeted us. The lad and his friend asked for money and the doorman appeared to be in on it. I was in a foreign country, surrounded by three men, down a dark alleyway with no other human being present. I was scared. We didn’t have change and weren’t about to part with a note that worked out at £20, so we declined. Insistent, the lad and his friend continued to pester, until I shouted out ‘Can we please just go into the restaurant.’ At this point, the doorman pressed the bell and the door opened instantly. Shocked, we rushed to our table and marvelled at the interior. Dark with red velvet chairs, rose petals scattered everywhere and live music that started up as soon as we took our seats. I’m sad to say that after the ordeal of trying to find the restaurant, we left five minutes after arriving. At 7.30pm we were far too early and as a consequence were the only customers in the whole restaurant.
But let me say that, looking back, every person in the Medina that I felt intimidated by was totally harmless. The taxi driver that took us out of there laughed as I sat in the back semi shouting after having one last bad experience with a local teenager who tried his hardest to ‘help us’ (when we were persisting that we didn’t need help) and when we put our bags into a taxi came up close to me through the window asking ‘Do you have a little present for me?’ By this time I had had enough and shouted to the taxi driver to drive off. He did, simply laughing and said ‘Welcome to our country.’ All sorts of thoughts were raging through my head during the taxi journey but what it all comes down to is that it was truly a culture shock. The taxi driver was right, this is their culture and I was just not used to it. The General Manager of Dar les Cigognes was right, the city may seem scary at first but there is never any trouble between the locals and tourists and it is totally safe.
At times I felt like I was on a film set. I was half expecting a trio of Mini Coopers (a la one of the Bourne films) to come flying past me, down the winding and narrow alley ways, past the many donkeys carrying heavy loads, the tiny shops barely big enough to allow a man to stand, the many tailors working their machines, motorbikes, mopeds and push bikes speeding past pedestrians on narrow streets, men sat outside souks pouring mint tea from a height.
I am probably sounding like I did not enjoy my holiday. I did but at times it didn’t feel like a holiday! It was an adventure, a culture and a level of heat I had never experienced before (it has never reached 44 degrees in May before!) Marrakech is colourful, wild and lavish and at times ridiculius. There’s a surprise… And young lad telling you ‘that way closed’ around every corner. Would I go back to the Medina? I’m not sure. But if I do, I will make sure to practice my haggling skills for weeks before.
Although morocco is quite clearly a poor country with very poor alongside the ultra wealthy it does seem a place that allows equality and opportunity and for this reason I was reluctant to offer any sort of ‘present’ to a young lad.
Over the six days that I spent in the city, I was glad to experience luxury at the Four Seasons resort, two traditional riads, both very different in their own rights, and the chaotic city. I feel like I have been away for six weeks, not days. And I telly you what, I’m well looking forward to a good bowl of cereal for breakfast in the morning.