During my 21 days away solo adventure I was enthusiastic about the fact that I would soon be visiting Africa via Morocco. I had been seeing images pop up more frequently on my Instagram feed and knew that it was a non-negotiable during my second trip across the pond. I was expecting a transformational experience that I built in my head because I would finally be on the mother continent. Unfortunately, I had a rough introduction into the country which led to me being temporarily stranded in the airport. Thankfully, the situation was worked out and I soon found myself in my riad.
I have thought long and hard about this post and know that it might ruffle some feathers but this is my truth. I would never try to deter a reader from visiting a country because everyone’s experience is different. My hope is that with my transparency you can learn more of what to expect prior to your own journey to Marrakech. I am going to start with what I didn’t love to get it out of the way and then switch gears and end on a positive note.
What I Didn’t Love
Verbal harassment was real.
I take the train to work so I get my fair share of street harassment on a daily basis. I have gone to Italy and grew tired of Italian men professing their love and attempts to try to get hands-on. While certain comments from men can seem harmless, there comes a point when it is simply too much. Anytime I was out walking in the medina, it was almost as though it would escalate. I got called Shakira and Lady Gaga (blame the blonde hair), Africa, Chocolate, and Beyonce, which were all interesting but I shook it off. I NEVER expected that in Morocco of all places I would get called nigger at least once a day as well as bitch a few times. It did not matter if I was minding my business mid-stroll or if I simply did not want to buy a product from a vendor. I felt like I was constantly avoiding a crazy ex-boyfriend because one vendor then proceeded to follow me until I dipped off into a restaurant.
The Struggle of Being a “Rich American”
Similar to the random outbursts from men, I also heard “American” when walking by quite a bit and because I am American, it was assumed that I was a walking ATM. It is sad when children are running up to you with their hands out, but I was a firm NO. When you are literally hearing “You are American, give me one dollar” from a child, you pause. You definitely have to do a bit of bartering over prices because as soon as your nationality is known, prices go up.
I remember when I had returned to Marrakech after being in Essaouira and our bus was pulling in the taxi lot. The driver hardly had time to open the door when you instantly heard taxi drivers screaming and cussing at one another, blocking the door, and for a second I thought they were going to come on the bus. I already had prearranged transportation to get me back to my riad but that did not matter as I stepped off the bus with random men attempting to grab my bag and say “taxi”. LA CHOKRAN (with means “no, thank you”).
Nothing Comes For Free
What do you do when you get lost? You ask for directions. Unfortunately, I was extremely uncomfortable at the thought of asking most of the time, because then there was an expectation for me to give money. To combat this, if I was truly at my wit’s end, I would ask restaurant or hotel staff. As for asking random people in the street, that simply was not going to happen. Aside from a sign of respect, I did not take too many photos because I did not want to get charged for it. I had no desire to see the snake charmers, monkeys, or any other attraction that would lead to me being extorted for money.
On my last day as I was leaving a site, I was heading towards the main square so that I could grab a quick bite before I headed to the airport. A random gentleman told me he would lead me to the souks but I continuously said “la chokran”. He said don’t worry and no money and I told him that I did not have any money (which was semi-true because I was officially out of cash). I should have stopped the conversation there and went about my business, but because it was so hot and I simply wanted to get to the square, I accepted his help and because if he tried me, it looked like I could take him. I reminded him that I had no cash while walking to the square and he said it was fine but of course, once we get to the square he demands that I gave him cash and I refused. He told me he would walk with me to an ATM to get cash (insert: HAIL NAH). I continuously refused and that’s when the aggressive side of him came out and I told him he could follow me to the police for all I cared. So he is now cussing at me and following me until I go inside of the restaurant I visited the previous night. I was pissed to say the least but I was moreso mad at myself because I knew better. Lesson learned.
You Will Definitely Get Lost
If you have ever wanted to stay in a human maze, I encourage you to stay in the Medina. I am sure if I had more than three days, I would have found my way but I was lucky enough to know how to navigate the neighborhood in which my riad was in. Maps and GPS’ weren’t always accurate and you had to have the ability to identify a true street and not an alley. I did not mind as much being confused during the day (even if it was 100 degrees outside) but being lost at night was infuriating and after awhile I would give up and hail a taxi.
Another thing that was frustrating was this sort of scam / joke culture I saw. On multiple occasions, random men would say “souks are this way” “you are going the wrong way”. First of all, who said I was going to the souks? How do you know where I want to go? Let me guess, it’s because I am American and all of the Americans are going to the souks. I have no interest in any other sites or restaurants. Even though if my map was showing me that I was heading in the right direction, after a fifth person says that I am in the wrong, it will eventually mess with your confidence.
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What I Loved
I stayed at Riad Dar Zaman and even though it was further away from the main square than I would have liked, the staff made up for it. Immediately when I arrived after my bumpy arrival at the airport, I felt like I was at home. There are only four bedrooms in the riad and so there is a personal touch because the house managers only have a few visitors to watch over. Everyone’s heart seemed pure there and I loved having breakfast made especially for me. After rough days out in the chaotic streets, it meant a great deal to me to come back to a place of peace.
The Women & Their Fashion
It is no secret that Morocco is a Muslim country and the women dress modestly. Because I was traveling during Ramadan I was more mindful about my outfit selection and did not want to offend anyone. I already stood out being a black woman with blonde hair and could not understand how some people were comfortable in shorts. What I strangely found though was that I often locked eyes and made smiles with random women. I was so sick of the men but I am glad that there was some sort of female bonding going on while walking about in the Medina. In addition, much to my surprise I fell in love with the fashion and had to limit my shopping.
Gueliz is part of the newer developed area of Marrakech. While I felt as though I could not truly relax in the Medina, Gueliz provided some solace. Yes, it is a bit Westernized but this was the first area in which I instantly figured out where I was and the proper streets to get home. My riad was in a residential neighborhood with wide streets and visible sunshine. If I did ever come back to Marrakech, I would not hesitate to reside in Gueliz.
The Architecture & Design
One positive thing about getting lost so many times was the fact that I was able to see a lot of buildings. The architecture that I witnessed was stunning. The details are so intricate and it takes you back in time. Another thing to note is that you truly cannot tell what the inside of a riad looks like because it was thought to be distasteful to have opulent doors. However, once inside you might be in for a treat. It adds to the mystery of the city behind the red walls.
The food was amazing, but the TEA?!
I tried my best not to eat in public because I was traveling during Ramadan and wanted to be respectful. However, on a few occasions I did have a mid-day meal. I was introduced to the local dish of tangine and I simply could not get enough of it along with mint tea. I had chicken, beef, and lamb tangine while in Marrakech. As previously mentioned, the breakfast at my riad was divine, courtesy of Chef Karima.
Now, if you are a tea lover you cannot visit Marrakech without partaking in the mint tea. Even if you are not the biggest tea drinker, you should still give it a try. It is incredibly fresh and just tastes like a different world in comparison to the tea served in the states.
Some final thoughts
I am proud of myself for visiting this city on my own and pushing through, difficult moments and all. In hindsight, I recall having a conversation with my line sister and about how Marrakech didn’t feel like a “girl’s city” so the fact that I did it alone, I had to pat myself on the back. I was frustrated beyond belief at some point and even flipped two people off on my last day, but I am grateful to have had some positive moments shine light throughout my time.
I wish that my experience had been different but this was my journey and I have to own it. I admit that I still have major reservations about ever making a return trip, but this would be one occasion in which I would like to go with other people. I am glad that I can cross it off of my list and that I maintained just enough sanity to have stayed out of jail. Thankfully, I had a great deal of relief when I went to another Moroccan city that I highly recommend, Essaouira.
As I said before, I do not want to ever deter a reader from visiting a country they have an interest in traveling to but I would not be okay with myself if I did not tell you all my truth, the good AND bad. I hope that if you ever travel to Marrakech you have the time of your life and do not have as many negative interactions as I did. That’s the price you sometimes pay while traveling but in the end, things usually work out. After my time in Marrakech, things only went up and I can’t wait to share so stay tuned!
P.S. Be on the lookout for my post featuring my tips for any women traveling in Marrakech solo. In the meantime, read about my love affair with Essaouira, Morocco.