Where I eat my weight in bread baps in Marrakech, try not to be ripped off in Essaouira and get attacked with a flip flop.
My year in Madrid is finally coming to an end and it’s been an interesting experience. I’ve eaten far too many free bowls of crisps and clara con limóns (a better sounding version of a shandy), but Madrid doesn’t feel like my home. So before saying adios to this bizarre country, I’m venturing overseas in search of vegetarian tagines and embroidered carpets.Day 1
After a majorly rocky start to the 2 week excursion to Morocco, I’m finally sipping overpriced coffee and tucking into sugary croissants in Madrid’s Terminal 1. I think I’ve managed to wire all my money home via TransferWise (I’ll let you know how I get on as I know how difficult getting money out of a country is), but be forewarned of Spanish banking! Edit: all my money is safe and sound in England.
So far I’m planning on spending 3 days in Marrakech plus a day trip to Essaouira, a tranquil coastal town; a 3 day excursion to the High and Middle Atlas Mountains and Sahara; 2 days in Fez plus a day trip to Chefchaouen, the entirely pastel blue town, and maybe a couple of extra days in the mountains or surrounding areas if time permits. I’m on a budget of 600€ so we’ll see how this goes down…
Our hostel, Riad Itry, seems to be a really nice and chilled place. It’s incredibly basic – I booked a private room for two and the room only consisted of a bed, electric fan and shelves. There’s also a shared bathroom with only a toilet and shower area, but it did the job for 11€ per-person, per-night. The Riad is in a sea of colourful (and slightly smelly) market stalls, it’s literally a labyrinth! At first, I was taken aback when the driver pulled over and told us a man was meeting us from the hostel. We were led through tiny alleyways and down hidden corridors. It wasn’t what I’d expected but after spending an afternoon walking around, it’s a nice area if you have your wits about you, i.e. Say no to anyone who offers you anything, don’t use selfie sticks with iPads on the end… The usuals.We walked down to Koutoubia Mosque and through to Jemaa el-Fnaa square in the scorching heat. Literally, I felt like my skin was melting off my face. Jema el-Fnaa was full of horse and carts which you could smell from a mile off, tourists, locals, and makeshift stalls selling handmade trinkets and stained-glass lamps. We set up camp in a slightly touristy but, more importantly, shaded restaurant and wolfed down a decent vegetarian couscous for 45MAD each. In the evening, we braved the evening madness and made our way back to Jema el-Fnaa for the night market. The market was completely barmy – huge crowds of people eating local dishes, monkeys wearing make up and bohemian buskers. At food stall no.1 we had a vegetable tagine and bread with tomato salsa (a spicy, sweet and vinegary dipping sauce) each for 70MAD, including bottles of water. The bread and sousse were just given to us, a norm in Marrakech, so be careful with what you eat. Usually if you don’t eat it, you won’t get charged. It’s basically a social experiment to see what you do with food you haven’t ordered… Also, you will get approached by a lot of very confident and direct stall vendors. They’ll beckon you over, shout at you and follow you but they’ll give up when they see another foreigner. I say avoid eye contact and walk like you do after you’ve fallen over in public.
My thoughts for the morning:”why isn’t there any loo roll?!”, “where can I grab a coffee?” and “I could murder a pastry.”
To fulfil said pastry craving, we headed to a local supermarket outside Bab Doukkala to get breakfast and lunch to save the pennies (it’s 7MAD for a 5-pack of bread rolls and 9,60MAD for Laughing Cow cheese if you’re wondering). After a wander and trying to spot the direction other tourists were walking in, we visited the Jardin Majorelle, i.e. the Yves Saint Laurent gardens. It was 70MAD entry for only the gardens, but I loved being away from suffocating traffic fumes and raucous noise. After a walk around and the usual posed photos for the fam, we went back into the old city in an attempt to find the Palais Badi.The Palais Badi is located south of the old city and the area was absolutely mad. The roads are pretty narrow but carry the same heavy traffic as a motorway. Because there are so many motorbikes, trucks and cars, the traffic fumes are very overpowering. When we managed to weave through traffic and not to get run over, we found the Palais down another dusty road and it looked really serene with many green spaces.
As we want to go to Essaouira and get away from the city, we booked bus tickets today for tomorrow morning with Supratours at 80MAD per-person. The journey takes about 3 hours, more or less, so we’re leaving early, early morning. Apparently the difference between Supratours and other Marrakech bus companies is that their buses drop you off inside the city, not outside. Food for thought if you book a trip.
We had dinner at food stall no.22 at Jema el-Fnaa. This time round the food stall vendors were pretty hilarious, e.g. “All shit here’s the same, try our shit!” I appreciated the marketing technique and, yes, the majority of stalls had a similar menu.
Thinking we were being cunning by not eating the olives we hadn’t ordered, we didn’t consider being overcharged for soft drinks. Another tip: make sure you specify between small and large drinks to avoid being stung by costs! We ended up paying 95MAD (plus 5MAD tip) for two vegetable couscous, 2 bread rolls with tomato salsa and 2 large soft drinks. Not too bad but we were a little taken aback with the bill.Also, great anecdote from the day: child shouts at boyfriend to give him money, boyfriend refuses, child gets angry, flip flop is thrown at boyfriend by child. Never anger a Moroccan kid.
After an early wake up and a 25 – 30 minute walk to the train station, I finally had my first cup of coffee in Morocco. Oh to feel human again!
Our bus to Essaouira arrived in time and took about 3 hours the scenery enroute was pretty desolate with a lot of empty farming grounds and abandoned buildings. Someone on the bus obviously found inspiration in said landscape as they didn’t stop taking photos for 3o minutes. I knew this because their camera sound was on super loud #publictransportfauxpas.
The coastal town itself was more what I’d envisaged for Marrakech; moorish inspired architecture with cobbled streets weaving around the city. What was really interesting was the contrast between tourist-friendly Essaouira and local Essaouira. By tourist friendly I mean a very clean and international language friendly area, with organic shops and quirky cafes. Local Essaouira, just an archway away, was a chaotic street market filled with locals making dealings or grabbing ingredients. If you follow streets around, you’ll also find aged, derelict buildings and rubble strewn across the ground. You can really see where money’s been invested for tourism.
The beach itself stretches quite a way, with extreme sports on one side and families paddling about on another. You can also hop on a camel and cruise around the beach if you’ve always wanted to ride one. One thing that caught me by surprise was just how windy it was. It was like I was walking, more lurching, through a wind tunnel. The sun was deceivingly really strong so you were in that Catch 22 of being freezing but probably burning all flesh exposed (I have a bright red nose and neck as a result. It’s a super great look).As always, these areas are a bit of a tourist trap. We ended up paying 120MAD for a lunch of vegetable tagine – again – with some fresh orange juice, a coca cola plus tip. With hindsight, I wish we’d gone to a supermarket in Marrakech and brought a beach picnic instead… Learn from my mistakes, fellow budget travellers.
I wouldn’t say Essaouira is the most beautiful seaside town I’ve ever visited, but when compared to Marrakech you can see its appeal. It’s quiet, chilled (temperature and people wise) and there’re no toxic fumes or pollution in the air. I suggest going for a day trip if you’re Marrakech-ed out.
Riad Itry pros
– You’re right amongst all in the medina.
– There’s enough space in the private rooms.
– It’s inexpensive, more or less.
– It’s easy to book rooms for extra nights in person.
– There’s a kitchen if you want to unleash your cooking skills.
– You’re in walking distance of coach and train stations as well as supermarkets.
– It seems like a safe area but it can be intimidating when you first arrive.
Riad Itry cons
– There isn’t a free breakfast which most hostels include.
– The roof terrace is more an open concrete space with a couple of chairs.
– You’re more than a walk away from the main happenings, such as Jema el-Fnaa, and you’re told to walk along the smelly and congested motorways.
Have you ever travelled Marrakech? What did you think? Was it exactly what you envisaged or completely different? Lemme know your thoughts!