Morocco Part 2: Marrakech and the Sahara


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Part 1 Here

Everyone travels Morocco in pairs. I learnt this very quickly. Whilst I did meet a couple of solo travellers, the clear majority were with other people, which made making friends more difficult than usual in a hostel. So on the first day I set off to explore alone. The first hour or so I visited sites, loitering near English speaking tour guides for a bit of extra info when I found them. And I wasn’t hassled at all. I was amazed, maybe I had seriously misjudged morocco.  Until I found out why. Firstly, mornings are far better than afternoons, a consistent pattern I found over the next few days. Secondly, I was so on guard that I had been walking around with the most terrifying, pissed off expression on my face. I ended up chatting with a lovely girl in one of the palaces I visited, who proceeded to put up with me for the next 2 days. She was the one who informed me that she had been reluctant to talk to me because I looked so scary! We made a good team since she was too friendly and would reply to people who yelled out at us. I was excellent at telling people to bugger off. But when time came to File 11-4-17, 6 03 11 pmbarter, or if we got caught somewhere we didn’t want to be, Chris was brutal at getting what she wanted (and I was terrible). Together we made a great traveller. We visited the palaces, the photography museum, and the tanneries (where I discovered Chris’ amazing getting-us-out-of-uncomfortable-situation skills). We took a Moroccan cooking class with a friendly dutch couple, where Chris probably joined the long line of people who regret doing anything related to preparing food with me. Together we had to constantly fight against people trying to get money from you. Whether it was the more innocent pressure to buy from their shops or people offering direction you don’t want and then asking for money. Kris’s friendly nature came in handy at one point as one man stopped to offer us directions. I tried to walk away the whole time but Kris chatted. I fully expected him to ask for something but when he finished he just said Welcome to Morocco and walked away. He was the only person we met inside the Medina our genuinely just wanted to help.

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I lasted less than a day before I bought a scarf to cover my blonde hair. Chris already had dark hair so didn’t stand out as much as I did (not that it really helped her much). Even with a friend, the harassment was constant. Mostly it was men yelling “nice arse” as you walked past, or getting as close as they could and saying “Oh my god” in the creepiest way possible. The funniest one I had was when I was walking home alone after dark, with my hair and face covered (and I apologise in advance to my grandparents in case they read this story). A man in a market stall yelled out, “Good evening, I have dick for you?”. I raised an arm in acknowledgement, “no thanks mate”. I walked a little quicker after that. The only reason I was amused by that was that

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They have a real dedication to satellite dishes for some reason

the guy was inside a closed in stall and a little distance away. The scarier one was a different night when a group of young guys tried to convince me that I was going home the wrong way (I knew exactly where I was), he tried telling me the road was closed and then said there were no hostels there (also a lie) and he would show me another place. I spent the rest of the walk home looking over my shoulder.


[I should note that when we left the Medina one night and headed into the modern part of the city we were pretty much ignored (with only one unfortunate exception), so it was only a big problem in that part of the city.]

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Fortunately, I had a tour booked that weekend, which meant travelling with a bigger group of people. Over two days we travelled from Marrakech to Merzouga where the Sahara desert began. This meant many, many hours in a bus with 16 other people. It was a fairly mixed collection of people with a handful of Americans, 4 Germans, a couple from Austria, a pair of guys from Argentina, a Greek and myself. I ended up seat buddies with a lovely American girl called Bridget, who, despite travelling with a group of her friends, was nice enough to put up with me hanging around for the weekend. We stopped at a few cool places those first two days including a desert oasis where carpet making nomads lived during the winter, a very old city where a bunch of movies (none of which I’ve seen) were filmed, a canyon, a whole host of great lookouts, and Tagines. A Tagine is a traditional Moroccan clay pot, and everything cooked in it is also called Tagine, which is basically all we ate all weekend. There was a bit IMG_0423 aof confusion when we woke on Sunday morning as it was daylight savings. I happened to know because of a discussion I’d had with my Casablanca friends, but apparently, no one else did. So people with phones that auto time adjusted turned up at 7 for breakfast (we were supposed to leave at 7:45) and the other people turned up at 8. Even after talking to the staff and established that yes, the time had changed, we were confused since no one had seen our bus driver. He showed up at 8:45 and when we tried to tell him it was daylight saving just said, “no this is drivers time”. We spent the rest of the day running off his clock because he refused to change it, it was all very chaotic.

From Merzouga we rode camels for about 1 ½ hours into the desert. Just orange sand dunes as far as the eye could see. The wind did make it a little difficult to see but it was still incredible. We spent the night at a desert camp where we ate Tagines IMG_0570(surprise, surprise!), had a bonfire and the nomads played drums and tried to teach some of us. We also left the camp and climbed a huge sand dune to see the stars away from the light of the campfires. Only a handful of people made it to the top…. I was not one of them. I’d gotten yet another cold the day before the tour so my ability to breath ceased about ¾ of the way up. I felt that was respectable enough as a bunch of us stopped there. We were up fairly early the next morning to ride the camel’s back as the sun rose. Followed by an 11-hour bus trip back to Marrakech. It was a long day but we manged to entertain ourselves, funnily enough partly thanks to logo identification app I put on my phones years ago, we somehow ended up with half the bus playing a weird sort of guessing game.

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As much as I had enjoyed the things I’d done and seen in Marrakech, I wasn’t exactly that keen on spending much more time there. My cold was just getting worse, so I was physically exhausted and wasn’t looking forward to the mental and emotional exhaustion of being yelled at every time I stepped outside the door. This meant I wasn’t exactly devastated when my hostel told me there had been a mix up with my booking and there was no room for me that night. Oh no, I had to go back to the comfort and relative quiet of my friend’sIMG_0476e house in Casablanca. There was however one more thing I was determined to do in Morocco; go to a Hammam. Hammams are Moroccan bath houses, that people had recommended to me and I knew there was one nearby. So I asked the staff and was given directions, however there were no signs or anything on the doors so I stood there looking at this random doorway in the medina wondering if I just walk in. I ended up asking an English-speaking tour guide who walked past. They confirmed it was it so in I went. I know I could’ve googled a nicer one to go to but I figured this was cheaper and more authentic, and that it was. No one spoke English but between my limited French and a lot of pointing we managed. I knew these involved being totally nude in a public bathroom, but it was still a little disconcerting when they asked me to strip off in that same entrance room. It wasn’t very comfortable and I did wonder how weird it would be if I just left File 11-4-17, 6 07 50 pmat that point and just cut my losses with the 50 dirhams I had already paid. Eventually they led me to the shower room where a handful of Moroccan women were bathing who barely gave me a second glance. Without going into much more detail, I can now say that having another (also almost nude) lady bath you with buckets of water isn’t as weird as an experience as it sounds. It may have been after a week of barely functioning (or non existent) showers, but it was nice to have proper warm water and a rather brutal scrubbing. It did leave me feeling more refreshed and positive as I headed back to Casablanca.

I couldn’t help but notice the different experiences I had at the train station (and again at the airport) than I had had the first time around. Heading to Marrakech I had kept my hood up and my head ducked down, hyper aware of anyone who stood next to me. On the way back I felt more comfortable and spent my wait pulling faces at the little Moroccan toddler sitting next to me with his parents. The only difference was my attitude and how confident I felt. I think it was knowing that I could handle the Medina in Marrakech made everywhere else easier.

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I’m really glad I visited Morocco and wish I had a chance to see some of the other cities as it is a gorgeous country and I met some really lovely people. That doesn’t mean I’m in a hurry to return though, as I felt on edge the whole time I was there and it did a lot to reverse the trust of strangers I had finally been getting comfortable with in Europe. The people trying to trick you out of money felt constant so it was difficult to trust anyone, even those who were well meaning, and the harassment was just exhausting. I’m saying this for perhaps the first time in my entire life, but if I were to return I’d rather go with a male companion for the sake of my own sanity more than safety.


One comment

  1. Howdy Mikaela!

    It sounds like you handle the street harassment as well as it can be handled. Unfortunately, I’ve come to the conclusion that all men are willing to engage in sexual harassment and sexual assault (they are along the same continuum), the only thing that differentiates men are the circumstances that they will commit such acts in. Very depressing.



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