This weekend I made my final excursion trip from Barcelona. I was super excited as I had one primary trip goal when I came to Spain: spend a weekend in Morocco. So I had been planning this trip since September, and when it came time to leave, well, it was an absolute mess.
We’ll start with my flight. I flew Royal Air Moroc (something I would not recommend to my worst enemy), and booked through a third party. As my trip drew closer I became skeptical of the existence of my flight, until one day, a week before I left, I received several emails changing my flight times. Now that I was mildly reassured about the existence of the flight I had to deal with the flights consuming more time than I had planned. Fortunately, Friday was a holiday here in Spain – Constitution Day – so my inability to come into work was not a problem. However, my flight for Monday morning was changed as well, and didn’t arrive to Barcelona until 5:00pm, so I had to take a day off in my final week. My final flight concern came about when I tried to confirm my boarding and print my boarding pass. The website for Royal Air Moroc – which post flying the airline, I now know is not super trustworthy – told me I couldn’t confirm my ticket. So Friday I went to the airport and prayed I actually had a flight to Marrakech. I did.
The plane ride after that was almost problem-free. There was a small problem with the plane and we were delayed in Barcelona for a bit, but I didn’t mind as that would shorten my long layover in Casablanca. The flight to Casablanca as well as my layover were great though. I met the Auckland (New Zealand) Futbol Club on my flight and talked to some of the team and board members in the airport while we both waited for our connections.
The Casablanca airport terminal for local flights is a creepy place. It kind of seems like no one enters and no one leaves, but there are always people there. I started mentally preparing on Friday for my long layover on Monday.
Once in Marrakech I grabbed a taxi to my hostel. The hostel was on a narrow road, so after the taxi ride, I had to use a guide to get there. I was not up to par on my bartering abilities yet, so I know I overpaid for the taxi+guide, but what else was I supposed to do?
When I got to the hostel, I sat down on a couch covered in pillows, in a mildly dark room with colorful accent lights. I was sure I was in a cafe/lounge sort of place and not my hostel. After minutes of confusion one of the employees came up to me and offered to check me in and show me around. This was the most elaborate hostel I had ever seen. The second floor was rooms of beds as well as another lounge space, and the third floor was a terrace with more couches and pillows and an outdoor staircase leading to the fourth floor which had more beds incase you wanted the option of sleeping outside. The place was great. I would come to appreciate that more in the coming days.
As I was unpacking my things to transfer them to a locker for safekeeping, another person in my room asked me if I had eaten. Of course, as I had just arrived, my answer was no. He invited me to dinner with a few people from the hostel. We all went to the main square, Djemaa el-Fna, where there are food stalls set up. People who go often know them by number and will recommend certain numbers, and tell you to stay away from others. We sat down at a stall and got to know each other. I ordered a lamb tagine. Tagine is a typical food in Morocco, named for the earthenware it is cooked in.
(Tagine photo courtesy of Google Images)
After dinner we got some juice. I had been warned by a friend not to drink the orange juice in Marrakech, but the people I was out with had been drinking it for days and were fine – so why not? We got mixed juices – combinations of grapefruit, orange, and maybe lemon. They are served in actual glasses, so you have to hang out by the juice stand while you drink. After the juice, we walked the outer area of the souk (big shopping area), where it met the main plaza. All along the plaza there are people pushing carts loaded with small pastries and sweets. Most of them charge 30 Dirham for 15 pieces, but we found one that charged only 20. ($1 = ~9 Dirham). I split a box of 15 + 1 free one with someone else in the group. They were delicious, mostly – with a few odd ones thrown in the mix.
We all went back and hung out a bit. A small cat lives in the hostel as the resident pet, so we played with her a bit before all heading off to bed.
In the morning, I went down for breakfast and met some more travelers. I ate some pancake-looking things with jam and drank tea. When everyone I hung out with the previous night had finished breakfast, we headed off to see one sights. We walked to the main square and drank some more juice. From there it was off to the Badi Palace. The Badi Palace was something I had down on my list of things to see in Marrakech, but I could not remember what was special about it, other than it being a palace. Once we arrived at the intersection across from it, the specialty became clear. Storks. All along the top of the palace there were giant nests and giant birds watching over the city. We stopped at the info sign outside the gate to read some basics in which the palace talked about itself in the first person – very amusing. We entered the palace, and other than the center being filled with orange trees, did not find the place very impressing. But it got better. Near the back there was a photography exhibit that was quite interesting. We checked that out and then moved on to another doorway nearby. This doorway exited the main courtyard of the palace and brought us to tunnels and ruins that we could walk around. That was pretty cool. After we examined the area, we went back to the front of the palace where there is a stairway that brings you to a small upper courtyard where you can get a pretty neat view of Marrakech, and an eye level view of the storks. Storks are really cool.
We spent quite a long time in the palace, and were all ready for lunch when we left.
We walked back to the main square through the souks and took in all the sights and smells as we went. In the main square, we went to a restaurant recommended by the hostel. I had Moroccan soup and shared a vegetable couscous with someone. We weren’t sure where to go next. Someone suggested the Jardins Majorelle, having heard good things. So we hopped in a taxi, after accidentally starting an argument between two taxi drivers, and got a ride to the gardens.
Outside the gardens there was a man selling sweets for 10 Dirham. He had two kinds in his tray – one that looked like a boomerang dumpling, and another that looked like a coconut macaroon. I tried the dumpling one. I still have no idea what was inside, although I have a feeling it was just brown sugar. The gardens were peaceful and quite beautiful, with areas ranging from towering bamboo to funky looking squat cactuses. It was a nice break from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech.
From the gardens we went back to Djemaa el-Fna and sat down for a mint tea at a cafe. From the cafe we went back to the hostel. Everyone was tired and some of the group had to leave for the airport. We said our goodbyes and split up.
In the hostel we ordered some more tea (unlimited free tea!) and talked for a bit until we all realized how hungry we were. We went back to the square and tried a different stall. This time #47. The food was good. We had bread with sauce, and fries, and Moroccan salads, and mixed grills for dinner, as well as a few cups of complimentary mint tea. After eating, we walked around the square. We came upon another stall selling tea and small chocolate-ish desserts for 5 Dirham each. We each got teas and shared a couple of the desserts before continuing to walk. After the adventures in the square, we all returned to the hostel.
After some chatting and playing with the cat and more goodbyes, I went to bed. I woke up in the early morning knowing something was not good, but I tried to ignore it and go back to sleep. When I got up for real I felt very sick. I tried eating breakfast – but only got down half a glass of tea before feeling even worse. I went upstairs to get dressed and threw up a few times. I must have eaten something bad the night before because this was surely food poisoning.
I was determined not to let my sickness ruin my day. I grabbed my bottle of water and headed into town. I went to see the Bahia Palace. I got there just as it opened and I was the only person there for the majority of my visit. I wish there had been a guide or something, as all I could do was admire the ceilings and courtyard, not knowing any information about the place. But I continued through the palace taking my pictures and looking around.
After the palace I walked the direction of the synagogue. A shopkeeper outside a spice shop asked me if the synagogue was what I was looking for, and upon my positive reply informed me that it would not be available to visit for another half hour.
As anyone making a sale would do, the shopkeeper started telling me about the different spices he was selling that were typical of Morocco. I was happy to take a seat and learn, although I knew by the end I would be compelled to purchase something. I smelled each of the spices and was told what they were. I also smelled deodorant-esque bars and learned what each were made of, as well as different types of argon oil and its composition. We drank berber tea (as is customary between shopkeepers and potential customers) and I learned about everything a typical spice shop sells in Marrakech. I was given samples of argon oil and hand powder that when mixed with rosewater creates a moisturizer of sorts. In the end, I bought some tea, a deodorizing bar, and some cumin – more cumin than I will ever need. The shopkeeper and I shared one more cup of tea and then he pointed me in the direction of the synagogue. I was a little happy to leave the spice shop. Although everything was quite interesting, the smells were a little too overwhelming for my sad, weak stomach. The synagogue was small, but very pretty. When you enter, you come to a courtyard painted blue and white, with another entrance to a small sanctuary. I admired the sanctuary and then left.
The old Jewish area was a little creepy, and although I would have liked to see it, I felt uncomfortable walking there alone. Not to mention I was feeling about ready to throw up again.
I hurried back to the hostel where I did, in fact, throw up. I went to bed and slept for a couple hours before returning to the common room for some tea. I met up with one of the guys, (Patrick), I had dinner with the night before and asked him if anything made him sick. Since we all ate the same food I assumed I wasn’t the only one. I was the only one. I wanted to go back out – there were a few things in the souks that caught my eye that I wanted to purchase, and no trip to Marrakech is complete unless you get lost in the souks.
The two of us went on a small shopping adventure. It was very useful for me to have Patrick with me, as he spoke fluent French. He helped me barter for the items I wanted, and I helped him pick out gifts for people. We did not realize how deep into the market we were walking. We would soon find out.
Once we reached the fruit market, the regular shopping seemed to dissipate. We looked for a way back to the main square. Once we decided we were legitimately lost, Patrick asked a local for directions. We were told the main square was one direction, but that the tanneries were very close, and Sundays were the most interesting day to visit. I still had some water and some energy left, so we got a guide to the tanneries. As we were walking, the journey became very creepy. We walked for quite a long time down winding, narrow roads. At one point I questioned whether or not we were still in Marrakech. We got to the tanneries and saw the pools in which the animal skins are soaked, but realized soon that our guide would want money for showing us around.
We left, and I was looking particularly pathetic – being out of water and not having eaten since the night before – so we grabbed a taxi. I was doing just fine in the taxi until we stopped at an intersection and I got a whiff of all the petrol fumes. I turned to Patrick, and in my most attractive moment ever said, “I’m going to throw up.” He took the scarves I bought out of the bag and handed the bag to me. I gracefully – except not at all – threw up multiple times into the bag. Lovely, right? It gets more embarrassing. Public trash cans are not super popular in Marrakech, so I had to walk through a good stretch of public space holding my warm bag of vomit, before I could dispose of it.
I stopped to buy a new bottle of water and a makeshift gatorade to ensure I was at least getting some nutrients. We got back to the hostel and divided up our purchases – they were now all in one bag since I had thrown up in the other one. I let Patrick go do some more sightseeing, and I went back to bed. After another few hours of rest I got up and had some more tea with people in the common area. They invited me out to dinner and I knew I should try to eat. That didn’t work. As soon as I got to Djemaa el-Fna, I felt too overwhelmed by the smells to stay. That was unfortunate as I wanted to visit the souks one more time after dinner to buy a painting I had been eyeing. But I felt to sick to stay around, so I walked back to my hostel to drink more tea and hang out.
After a few more hours, I went to sleep. I had to get up early on Monday for my flight back to Barcelona.
The first flight (Marrakech to Casablanca) was easy. Customs only wanted to know how much currency I was bringing out of the country and the line at security was nonexistent. It was the second flight in which the problems began. I had a five you layover in the Casablanca airport. Thankfully, it was in a different terminal than my first Casablanca layover. Seeing as I was still undernourished, I was exhausted. So I set an alarm and took a nap on top of my backpack on the airport floor. I woke up an hour before my flight was set to take off, but when I looked at the screen by my gate, the flight on the board was for Madrid. I got extremely nervous, thinking I would miss my flight, so I ran to the information board and then from gate A5 to C14. When I got to the correct gate the info screen said the flight boarded at 1:30pm. It was 1:40. I asked around and everyone in the waiting area was on my flight. It was delayed, but the delay had not been posted. So thankfully, I did not miss it.
The real trouble was when I got back to Barcelona. At customs the agent paged through my passport, I got worried. He was taking a long time to give me a stamp and let me through. He asked me how long I was staying Barcelona. I told him 89 days total – I leave Saturday for the U.S. He wanted proof that I was leaving. He told me I could not have my passport back, and I could not go through to Barcelona until I proved that I was actually leaving the country on Saturday. I got super nervous. I didn’t have my ticket. I wouldn’t have it until I checked my bags and got it printed at the check in desk 5 days from now. So I called my Dad and had him try to find it and email it to me. After much difficulty, I got the ticket information and showed it to the customs agent. He did not seem happy with me, but he returned my passport and allowed me back into the country. After all that I just went back to my apartment and slept.
I thoroughly enjoyed Marrakech, but it was a difficult weekend, and I am glad to be 5 days away from returning home. This week will include my final posts about Barcelona. I will try to make them count.