I am standing, now for more than an hour, in the longest immigration queue I have ever encountered. This is it. I am in Morocco. After several months of planning and un-planning, after numerous articles I had read, pictures and videos I’d seen, I am finally in Morocco to make my own memories and to write my own stories.
I am excited and nothing could have dampened my spirit in this moment. Not the slow-moving queue nor the man in a suit who kept stylishly edging his way to the front. Two hours go by quickly for me. But I can’t imagine that Mark would have said the same thing. At 10am when I arrived at Mohammed V International Airport, Casablanca, he had already been waiting for two hours.
I finally meet up with him at a cafe close to the train station at 12pm to begin the first day of our adventure in Morocco.
Day 1: Casablanca to Marrakech by Train
We had decided on taking the train to Marrakech rather than getting on a connecting flight. We got our tickets and had breakfast while we waited for the train to arrive. Mark handed me the ‘Travel with a Pen’ pens he got me for Christmas. (I got him a malaria kit. Lol, I’m so romantic!)
Our train arrived promptly and silently. We found ourselves running to catch up with it. Because the first class berths were sold out, we booked to ride in second. All the seats were filled up by the time we got in. We wound up standing for about 20 minutes – which passed very quickly. Eventually, some passengers got off and we got seated. After travelling for about 4 hours, we arrived in Marrakech.
We headed straight to our riad, where we were welcomed with the traditional Moroccan mint tea and biscuits. I could barely contain my excitement! Mint tea was one of the things I looked forward to before this trip (and I’m not even a ‘tea’ person – well was not a tea person. It’s safe to say that after our stay in Morocco, I have now become one).
After we checked into our room, we got some rest before heading out to the Jemaa el-Fnaa square. This place has a life of its own! It wasn’t exactly shocking to me though (I mean, I live in Lagos and I go to Balogun Market) but still, I have never seen anything like it. It had everything; musicians, acrobats, boxing matches, all sorts of games, all sorts of people. There were food courts and juice stalls all around, their vendors trying hard to get the attention of tourists and locals as well.
We settled for a glass of fresh orange juice (which became my second favorite drink in Morocco) and I had my first taste of Tajine. I should admit, after dinner that evening, I was convinced that I would starve in Morocco but I’ll let you find out how that story ends. We returned to our riad afterwards to prepare for another day exploring the sights and sounds of Marrakech.
Day 2: Marrakech – Medina, Souks, Maison de la Photographie, New Years Eve!
The next day, we set out to explore the medina and souks of Marrakech. Walking through the souks, I felt like I was in a movie. I half expected to hear ‘get out of the way!’ and see a man dressed in the most stylish suit chasing someone else. That didn’t happen – disappointing!
What did happen though was people calling me ‘Bob Marley’, ‘Rasta’ or ‘Rasta Princess’ – which I found unsettling; vendors calling us into their stores ‘only to look’ and young men offering to give us directions to places. We had read to be wary of the latter if we weren’t ready to tip them. When I say tip, you think it’s voluntary, it is not. We succeeded in avoiding these guys for the most part until we needed directions to the tannery.
We asked a passerby and he tried to explain it to us. It was a bit confusing but luckily and miraculously, he saw a guy who was also going the same way. (Plot twist: He wasn’t. He was strategically waiting for this very moment). Anyway, we had a mini tour of the tannery and almost got coerced into buying leather jackets before we eventually made our way out of the souks.
We tried to visit other places afterwards; Ben Youssef Medersa was closed for renovation, the queue at Le Jardin Marjoelle was ridiculously long, we found the Maison de la Photographie by accident and enjoyed visiting it and then it was time for lunch.
Lunch at Le Jardin Restaurant was a delicious way to end the afternoon and La Salama, another restaurant in the medina, felt like just the right place to cross into the new year.
Day 3: Marrakech – Le Jardin Marjoelle
Our first stop for day 3 was the Le Jardin Marjoelle gardens. Luckily, we arrived early and got our tickets quickly. Our time here was spent
taking pictures against the colorful backdrops admiring the very beautiful gardens, visiting the Yves Saint Laurent Love gallery and the Berber Museum- this I found to be really cool.
We spent the rest of the day just walking around, drinking mint tea, eating pastillas and tajines (by this time, I was beginning to warm up to the Moroccan cuisine) and meeting up with Micheal, a friend of mine who was also in Marrakech.
Day 4: Marrakech to Aït Benhaddou – We Rented a Car…
Day 4 marked the beginning of another adventure. Mark decided to rent a car and drive to Fes, passing through Aït Benhaddou, Todgha Gorges, Merzouga and Midelt. It was the first time either of us would rent a car in a foreign country, so yes, it was very exciting. He negotiated a fair deal with the riad manager and soon, we were all set to receive our little Duster. The car didn’t get to us on time, so we had a little photo shoot at the riad during the wait.
Our car eventually came by 1pm and we set out to Aït Benhaddou, stopping along the way to have lunch and – you guessed it – more mint tea. We arrived our hotel by nightfall, to a view of the biggest and brightest moon peeking out from behind the mountains. I was blown away! We spent the night moongazing with a cat cuddled up next to us. (And I wasn’t even a cat person!)
I absolutely loved everything about this place. The next day spent exploring the Kasbah Aït Benhaddou made me love it even more. The small hike to the top was pleasant, the vendors that lined the walls of the Kasbah were more laid back than Marrakech. There were no shouts of ‘Rasta’ or any variation of the word and our onward journey to Todgha Gorges was smooth and event free.