I wanted to go to Morocco to feel inspired. A place of ancient history, architecture, spice, and color. As a visual person it felt so intriguing. It really is as glamorous as Pinterest leads you to believe, but it is also a third world country. Opulent and grand at times, there are correspondingly shocking sites for a privileged American. A reality check outside of the comfort zone I didn’t realize I had. Pushy men in the streets, extreme poverty, copious stray animals in rough shape, and classic tourist traps to avoid. These are a few examples of the sites and feelings I really needed time to process as a sensitive person after coming home. Of course, the country is also magical as well! It’s not all bad, it was fantastic, and I want to return without hesitation. What a juxtaposition. There will be no food photos in this post, though I will tell you we ate well! Being a vegetarian did not hold me back in the least.
We landed in Morocco later than anticipated after a long layover in Amsterdam. The airport was modern and beautiful, while outside it was already dark... and chaotic. Our riad sent a driver and our first taste of the country was winding through lawless traffic and passing families of three (+ chickens)on tiny motorbikes. He took as deep as he could into the medina, and there we were, on a dark tiny cobblestone street now being lead by foot to our first home away from home. We were both exhausted from traveling and exhilarated from our cab ride. A bottle of wine on a rooftop terrace later and we were out!
I came home and painted my kitchen Marrakesh pink. I have a love-hate relationship with this city. It was wild inside the medina (old walled-city), where we spend 75% of our time. Motor bikes are the main transport around the narrow roads, but damn, be careful, I'm not sure how neither of us became road-kill. The colors and culture are what leave you sentimentalizing the city. It was endlessly fascinating taking slow walks around our riads.
Unsuspecting streets and doorways lead to marvelous things in Morocco! This garden dates back to the sixteenth century. The original palace structures are long gone and it had turned into a trash pit by 2008 when the restoration process began. It really was a breathtaking first site to explore. Lime trees and tile.
Three hours west of Marrakesh, you will find the coastal city of Essaouira. The fish market had all kinds of strange creatures. We watched a large (very alive) shark be dragged into a butcher shop. Where Marrakesh was painted earthy pink, this city is blue and white. The Genoese-built citadel by the harbor is from the 1700s, though the city is ancient!! The Roman Empire used it to produce purple dye from shells. I really appreciated this city after the noise and shuffle of Marrakesh. Essaouira was a quiet retreat for a few days. We coordinated an evening camel ride along the beach through our riad and it was one of my most memorable moments. Selena was on the sweetest camel - and I got to pet and talk to her the entire ride (so i feel like she was my camel too). We also spent 5 hours at a luxury pool in the middle of a Moroccan thuja forest while visiting the coast, can't beat that.
What happens when a Belgian architect comes to Marrakesh? They never leave and build a riad. We found our last accommodation through Airbnb and it was the perfect get away in the Medina, just very hidden. We didn't pay enough attention leaving one morning and were completely lost coming home in the afternoon. Local boys spotted us walking up and down the winding streets and offered to help... which may have been even more terrifying than being lost in the first place. More and more of them started to appear, and they were taking us in unrecognizable directions. We were so tired from the day and these kids were intense. Eventually we did find our riad and the owners rushed us inside and shooed away our entourage who were demanding money by this point.
You learn to be a bit more guarded in other countries, there is so much generosity to be found, but also plenty of locals willing to take you on. A woman quickly grabbed my arm while in the souks and covered me in decorative henna (and glitter!!) before i could stop her, then demanding $100 US. It was a haggle to make her leave. In hindsight, "La choukran," was this first phase we were taught on this trip... No thank you.
The last days of our trip were spent wandering museums and resting. After being in go-mode for days, all I wanted to do was nap. I enjoyed the photography museum, but mostly because I really enjoyed watching Selena. She was very moved from portrait to landscape, her appreciation was contagious. I added a portrait of a Berber woman to my freshly painted Marrakesh-pink kitchen when I returned home.
We met our new friends Carolyn and John in Amsterdam before getting to Morocco. Leave it to being on another continent to meeting people who live close to home, we live less then two hours apart in Washington! They invited us to lunch when we returned to Marrakesh and took us deeper into the market souks than we had dared before. We went rug shopping (which had been too intimidating on our own to be honest) and they showed us their favorite tagine lunch spot. Funny story, somehow we didn’t book a place to sleep our last night. Caroline and John offered a spare room in their home… their hospitality reflects the kindhearted warmth we found in much of of Moroccan travels. Always be kind, and meet friends wherever you can. We ended up staying with our original Airbnb.
On our sixth day in Morocco we visited Jardin Majorelle, also known as the Yves Saint Laurent garden and museum. Lovely place, we managed to mostly beat the daily crowd by going early. It was going to be 95°F that day anyway. Even though this site was near the end of our trip, it was the first time we really encountered mass tourism. So many selfie sticks and short-shorts. After a little research prior to our trip, Selena and I both decided to mostly cover our legs and shoulders out of respect for the culture. This was the first place we noticed blatant disregard for dress-codes. Now now... I'm a liberal from the Pacific Northwest, women should wear what they want when they want. However, the male gaze is not my thing. I'm sure these tourist were not staying inside the media... S and I are bold and took on more than we even knew. By the end of our trip I had started to wear my hair up more to blend in, and we were perfectly comfortable buying abundant amounts of sweets from market vendors.