Four Recently Ex-Students in Marrakech

It’s a very odd feeling finishing university, especially if you’re among the first. Everybody is dying to know what it feels like to have officially entered the real world. Amazing, is usually the answer but if I’m being honest it’s a bit of an anti-climax. I’m still waiting for the excitement to hit me. NO MORE EDUCATION EVER. Nope, still nothing. Anyway, to try and beat the post-finishing blues, four of us decided to make a quick escape to the sunshine. Most of our pals are still living in the library so the atmosphere is less than jubilant on campus. Marrakech may not seem the obvious option for a celebration what with the strict drinking rules and religious etiquette but flights were cheap and faced with unemployment that was hugely appealing.

Arriving in the early evening, we were met by a transfer organised by our hostel (only one of EQUITY POINT’s many perks) and deposited on the roadside near the centre of Marrakech. Feeling slightly disorientated by the dark, heat and noise of the city, we really had no option but to follow the man who had silently flung our suitcases into his hand-wheeled trailer and sped off down a narrow street. Thankfully, he safely led us to the door of our hostel, disappearing just as silently as he had arrived. The city is infamously hard to navigate, with hundreds of identical passages and a lack of road names so without his help we would probably still be wandering aimlessly in Africa. Even equipped with a map, finding the central square was not without it’s difficulties. But getting lost is by far the best way to really explore the city. On one particular journey to the cash point (the markets are hard to resist) we found ourselves in a tiny square packed tight with bundles of clothes for sale. This was also the only time we saw Moroccan women as the streets are mainly dominated by men which we were all warned against on departure but contrary to the vicious tourist rumours and tales of woe, we found almost all the locals to be very welcoming and helpful. It was very flattering to be constantly greeted as ‘beautiful girls’ and likened to the spice girls (the dream of every girl born in the nineties).

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Haggling in the ‘souks’ though was a little harrowing and takes some serious perservance. It helps if you can speak french or even more so if you have the odd arabic phrase up your sleeve – a local herbalist taught us the phrase for ‘how much?’ which i’m sure would have worked a treat if our skin wasn’t so pale and our expressions weren’t so baffled when they replied in their native tongue. The main error we made was not bringing an empty suitcase to stuff full with spices, lanterns, shoes, purses and beautiful handmade leather goods. With only one piece of hand luggage each we spent a good deal of the time wistfully staring at the rows and rows of weekend bags which would be flogged in London for at least £50.

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The food was exceptional. Richly spiced cous cous, piping hot tagines, fragrant chicken pastilla, olives, homemade breads and strangely, the best Pina Colada I’ve ever tasted. However, we were well guided and I can imagine it can be a bit hit and miss without recommendations. Our favourite spot was on the roof top terrace of Cafe Arabe. This is where we started and ended our trip, perched on the low stools and lounging on the plush cushions. It was slightly more expensive than some but given that it served alcohol (great cocktails) we were willing to pay the bit extra. The food was of no better standard than the other places we visited but the atmosphere was very peaceful and relaxed which made a welcome contrast to the buzz and chaos of the central square. That said, no trip to Marrakech would be complete without eating at the night-market. As the sun sets the city’s central square comes alive with lights, performers, food stands (more like makeshift restaurants) and music. It’s hard to know which is the best place to eat and I’m sure they’re all pretty much the same, but we just picked the busiest one and were amusingly clapped to our seats by the waiters as they sang ‘that’s the way uh huh uh huh, we like it’ (sadly not exclusive treatment as the next group were also serenaded in). There was no menu to choose from so we just opted for a selection of everything which resulted in a delicious feast of kebabs, fish, chips and various vegetables.

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Lunch was also always very indulgent – lighter options seemed hard to come by, not that any of us were particularly watching our waist lines. We ate at Cafe Bougainvillea a few times (on the second last day we discovered their chicken pastilla which was just so good) and on our last day grabbed some takeaway sandwiches from Cafe des epices (predictably located in the small ‘spice square’) which were nothing super special but nice bread and fresh ingredients.

We weren’t particularly ‘cultural’ in the sense that we didn’t visit any museums or tourist attractions, but this was mainly because our time was so limited and walking round the souks was surprisingly exhausting. Instead we spent most afternoons lazying by the pool, which was seriously luxurious for a hostel. The rooms themselves were very basic (we had bunk beds) but clean and we had a private bathroom which is always a plus. There was also a roof terrace with a bar where breakfast was served in the morning (included in the price) and where we played cards in the evenings and smoked shisha.

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One of the girls we were travelling with had stayed the year before in a very swanky hotel called Les Jardins de l’Agdal which has the most amazing pool so we decided to try and ‘pass’ as guests for the afternoon. Dressed in our sunday best we flounced through reception and ordered lunch by the poolside before retreating to the soft white mattresses of the sun-beds. Unfortunately we were quickly caught out and had to pay 200dirham for the afternoon but it was definitely worth it and I would definitely recommend trying to sneak in or at least popping in for a quick drink.

We had also booked a half day camel trek before we left with specialist morocco which promised a ride through the picturesque palmeraie and a break for mint tea and traditional pancakes at a local house. I’m still not exactly sure what a palmeraie actually is but I had assumed it was a lush forest of palm trees, instead it was at most twenty trees sparsely dotted across the landscape. That said, it was still a highlight mainly because the movement of the camels combined with our odd appearances (the company provided headscarves more for novelty than necessity) which made us all a bit hysterical.

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All in all it was the perfect kickstart to unemployment. I’m seriously considering starting up a company selling leather goods bought from the markets in Morocco. Or a spice shop. Or if all else fails I’ll go live with our camel leader who offered to trade me for a 1000 camels. At least i’ve got options.

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