Mayhem in Marrakesh, Morocco
It was 11.00pm when we arrived at the Riad (hostel). We expected a warm welcome but instead confused faces presented themselves to us when the door finally opened. Dirty, tired and hungry after a long flight and an even longer wait to get through passport control (nearly an hour), followed by a frantic search for our luggage which had been tossed off the carouse when it shut down, I was desperate for a shower and some sleep. I showed them the print out of our booking but they couldn’t find notification from the booking site. After some discussion the owners told us that it wasn’t a problem as they had a room, which they prepared, and we finally crashed at 3.00am Spanish time (12.30 Morrocan time). When the owner finally tracked down the booking it had been made for October and not September. It appears that using a Spanish booking site when one’s grasp of the language is limited and having an internet connection that cuts out a crucial moments does not make for a good way to book accommodation!
Marrakesh was full on. Motorbikes constantly raced down narrow alleyways in the souks, revving, beeping and burping out gouts of smoke. Bicyclists flew along the same routes whilst donkeys pulling carts of goods took up whole lane ways. All forms of transport threatened to mow down pedestrians, residents and tourists, alike. It was hard to relax as I was constantly jumping into shops to avoid being hit, pulling others out of the way, holding on tight to my bag to stop it from being snatched and trying to avoid touts/shopkeepers/scammers, all at the same time.
We acquired a map but quickly realised that many of the roads, lanes and alleys had no signs on them and the maps itself was inadequate. Trying to find anything by it’s directions was impossible, so we wandered. Over the next few days we found two palaces, the main square, the bus station, a mosque, the museum, a photographic exhibition, the Berber market, a souk, shops, food markets, restaurants, snake charmers, musicians, story tellers, the train station, several royal gardens and a whole heap of lost tourists and all by meandering. The only problem was that we could never find the same place twice.
Now wandering during the day is pretty safe if you stick to main roads and tourist trails. Landmarks are easy to remember as are the shops, schools, squares etc if one looses ones way. There are people who will demand money to show you the way but persistence will find someone who will direct you for free, especially if you stop to have a coffee in their shop! But night-time is a different matter and as we found out can be dangerous.
During the day we had stopped for coffee in a cafe. Later whilst looking up trip advisor for somewhere to eat we found rave reviews about a restaurant which we thought was the same one that we had stopped off in earlier. We set off at night thinking that we knew the way and became hopelessly lost in the back streets. Instead of retracing our steps, stupidly we plunged further into the maze. Ten minutes later with no tourist, square and little signs of life apart from hooded figures scurrying down lanes we started to get worried. At this point a local offered to take us back to the square. Having run out of options we decided to trust him. This was our second mistake. He took us half way there and then insisted on us buying him some cigarettes at a dodgy kiosk with a few salubrious characters hanging around it. Feeling pressured we agreed – third mistake. The vendor gave him the packet and our change. We should have insisted that he take us right back to the main area before payment and walked off if he refused. So we were lost, surrounded by locals and it was night. We cut our losses and left him with the change. By luck we found our way back to a market with tourists and locals, although we still had no idea where we were, and met a Spanish couple in a similar situation. Having obtained further directions from a hairdresser who seemed happy to help, we walked down a street towards the square and passed right by the recommended restaurant. Which, it turns out was not the one we stopped in earlier after all (ironically that was three doors further down). We decided to stop and eat and had an absolutely superb Moroccan meal. In fact it was the best food I had during my time in the country. The place is small, has basic furniture, Yusuf tends to wander off and have a chat with his friends if you dither over the menu but if you can overlook these things you will be in for a great meal – and he gives directions for free.
We went back the next day during day light hours to make sure we knew the way to the cafe and were treated to an fluffy, light and tasty omelette and that night we had another superb tangine. The cafe is called byzantine, check it out if you ever get to Marrakesh.