Our five hour trip to Marrakesh felt short because (1) I was already getting used to the long trips and (2) we played music throughout the rest of the journey. We took our regular snack and bathroom breaks. I ate so much snacks on this trip that I kept telling myself that I would have a hiatus from those sugary and salty snacks for a month when a got back home (of course that didn’t happen). Some of the stores we stopped at accepted our euros but when we went to a restaurant for lunch, we found out the hard way that they only took dirhams. Frustrated and hungry, I tried swiping my card in hopes that I could buy something. “Access denied” the screen of the counter read. I immediately got a text from my bank saying that my account had been blocked. I mean what was I expecting, I didn’t even tell my bank that I was going to Morocco; of course they were going to block it. I brought only cash which were all in Euros. “I would have to find a currency exchange office in Marrakesh” I told myself. My friend Ycianda paid for my meal and I paid her back in cash. I had a delicious shish tawook sandwich with Fanta ( Sorry I was so hungry that I forgot to take a picture). It was very delicious. When we were done eating, we walked around the plaza to see what Morocco had to offer. My friends and I saw western clothes for very affordable prices compared to Europe or U.S. What was quite interesting was that there were a lot of long shirts that reached the knee and the prices of those were affordable as well. In Europe or U.S. any clothing that is long or modest usually is expensive. “Girls let’s start heading to the van” Paco stated. We got in the van, followed by our other fellow travelers.
It was 9:00 pm and we had finally arrived Marrakesh. I was very excited when we did so. The streets of Marrakesh were lively at such a late time. Our van stopped in front of Islane Hotel. “I guess this is where we would be staying” I said out loud. Once we all got out, I noticed there was a currency exchange office in the hotel. “Awesome!” I thought. Ycianda, Kumri and I stood together so we could be put in the same room. This was our first sleep over in (a real bed) in Morocco! Once we were given the keys to our room, we rushed . Islane Hotel represented a lot of things I thought were quintessentially Moroccan. After getting lost for a bit, we finally found our room. We unlocked the door and got in. The room was medium sized, containing a wardrobe on the left, One queen sized bed on the right and a single bed opposite it. There was a T.V. that hanged on top of the wall. We looked into the bathroom, it had a normal w.c. toilet and a shower without a curtain. Our room felt pretty comfortable. Before we came to Morocco, we were warned that no matter what, we mustn’t drink the water from the tap. Only from a bottle.
“Alright so we need to take care of some business before we go to sleep” said Ycianda. “Yes I agree, first of all let’s eat, then exchange our money, buy bottled water and other basic necessities and finally walk around Marrakesh” stated Kumri. We all liked that plan.
Islane Hotel, had a restaurant that looked comfortable with welcoming waiters. We felt compelled to eat there. What drew us the most was a Moroccan man who played beautiful music using the Oud (Moroccan guitar) . It was captivating listening to the tunes. Standing in front of the instrumentalist was another Moroccan man wearing this cute Aladdin cap with his djellaba. “Merhaba, Merhaba” he welcomed us. “How can we help you?” he continued. We told him that we wanted to eat there but first take some pictures. We took pictures with Mr. Aladdin and later with the instrumentalist. Later on we sat down and ordered a plate of couscous. The experience was simply joyful. The waiter kept coming by to ask us how we enjoyed our experience. We finished our scrumptious meal with mint tea.
Our next move was to exchange our euros. We got there and made sure it was 10 dirhams to 1 euro. The rate was as expected, so we went ahead and made the transaction. After that we headed out to the streets of Marrakesh. Once we stepped on the road, the harassment began. “Hello beautiful, how many camels can I buy for an exchange to have you?” said a male passerby. “Taxi, Taxi, Fatimas please get in my taxi” said a taxi driver. Another Male Moroccan just followed us around and tried to have small talk. I was a bit apprehensive. I held by purse tightly and walked a bit fast, trying to ignore the harassment. Ycianda and Kumri were laughing at this experience. It seemed like there were more men on the street than women so we were easy targets plus of course we looked different and spoke English. “Let’s start faking to speak to Arabic, maybe then they’ll wouldn’t think we are foreign and finally leave us alone” I suggested. We tried doing that for a while and I think it worked for a second. While walking we noticed a lot of people going towards a specific location where there were a lot joyful screaming. Being the inquisitive ladies we were, we walked towards the direction of the screaming. We later discovered that there was a film festival going on. A projection of Ghost busters was placed in Jema el fna square. Crowds of Moroccan people cheered and yelled during the fighting scenes. We watched for a minute and then I asked a police nearby where we could find a grocery store. He didn’t speak English so I spoke in Spanish which surprisingly he understood. The official languages in Morocco are Arabic, French and other Amazigh Dialects. I knew none of those so I only stuck to English and Spanish in hopes that someone would understand me lol. The police man gave us the direction and we headed there. While doing so a little girl followed us and started begging for money. I felt bad for her, but I didn’t want to bring out my wallet where the street were crowded and I didn’t want to risk getting robbed by someone. “Sister, sister please, please” she demanded while pulling the sleeve of my shirt. We kept walking and she finally left us. We got to the grocery store and bought what we needed after battling with the language barrier. Afterwards we headed back to our hotel. We contemplated crossing the road to explore a mosque like building but there were just too many men crowded around that area and the harassment was getting more intense. We decided to head back to our room. I showered and went straight to bed.
My phone alarm rang angrily at 7:00 am, forcing me to wake up.During this time, the call to prayer (Athan) was being recited. I found Ycianda wide awake staring at the wall. “You are so creepy” I stated. Ycianda laughed. The plan was to meet up our travel group in front of the hotel by 8:00 am. I woke Kumri and we all got ready. “Click, click” we took a selfie or two and then headed out for breakfast. We were the first from the group to be out. We decided to sit close to the scenic view of the Atlas mountain. “Bonjour Ladies, are you with the travel group?” asked the Moroccan waiter. “Yes” we confirmed in unison. “Your breakfast would be here with you shortly” he said smiling. Then he grabbed Kumri’s hand and did a quick waltz. Kumri later asked for a picture with him. It was so entertaining.
Breakfast was finally served, we had Moroccan bread, croissant, yogurt, a plethora of yummy sweets and of course mint tea. It was a perfect way to start the day.
When we were done eating, our travel group started trickling in for breakfast. There was no way we were leaving at 8. So we brought our bags down by the lobby and did more exploring of Marrakesh and taking pictures. We later joined our group, when Paco beckoned that we come together.
We were all introduced to a guide named Ibrahim who was going to show us around Marrakesh. We crossed the road to the Koutoubia Mosque. He explained its significance and stated it had the tallest structure in all of Marrakesh. Later on, we headed to the famous Jemaa el fna square. This was the square where most important events took place in Marrakesh. Then we took a tour of the Bahia palace. We later ventured into the souk (Market). I was captivated by the items that were being sold especially the Djellaba for women. I stopped by to ask the price of one and the shop owner encouraged me to come in and see more. I caught Paco’s glance, which meant stick to the group. His behavior reminded me of my Dad whenever we were on trips. Never mind, I told the store owner. I walked briskly to the group. “I promise you, you will see the same thing in Chefchaouen, (our last trip) for even a better price” Paco assured me. We later visited a herbal place. In this place we were given advice on some of Morocco’s herbs. One of which was Argan Oil. ” Argan oil is good for your skin, hair and body” the lady in charge explained. She later discussed about other medicinal products they had for depression, acne, body cleansing and beauty.After she was done nearly all the girls bought at least two products. We later headed out of Marrakesh to Ait Bin Haddou.
As we rode on our journey through the mountain, I couldn’t help but gaze at the beauty of God’s creation. We kept driving around and around the mountain. This was my first time being driven on a mountain. My friend felt sick from the continuous turning.
Half way through our trip, we stopped at an Argan oil factory. There we saw how the Argan seeds were grinded and then processed to oil. There was a sample of bread with peanut butter or honey or oil all mixed with Argan. Later on we had the chance to buy whatever liter of Argan oil we needed. All the manufacturers were women. I smiled at them and said salaam. I bought a little bottle. “yalla, let’s go!” commanded Paco. We all got in the van again.
6 tiring hours later, we reached our final destination. It was a hotel in the canyons. We got our bags and headed in to be assigned our rooms. Kumri, Ycianda and I got to stay together again. “In an hours time, dinner would be ready” said a middle aged man, who I believe was the manager of the hotel. We got in our room. Kumri went straight to bed, she was still sick from the mountain drive. Ycianda and I suggested that she take a rest. I cleaned up and then joined the rest of the group in the hang out spot of the hotel.
Every one including me were looking deeply into our phone screens. There was little or no communication between anyone. You have to understand we didn’t engage in technology for over 6 hours and there finally was Wifi. Wifi was gold!. Some of the people in the group got bored with their phones and started talking to one another. I chit chatted for a bit and then resumed on my phone. 2 hours later, dinner was ready!. We all got upstairs to see this huge dinning room. There were three set of tables designated for us. I sat down by Ycianda and some other girls who I hadn’t talked to much during our journey. We got acquainted for a bit but all I was thinking about was the food. I was famished. Finally, an appetizer was given to us, it was a cheese like meal with meat in inside. As the waiter served our meal he would say something like “there you go Ameenat, and this is for you Fatimah”. We all gave him a puzzled look. He smiled at us and said “Those are your Berber names”. “Ahh” we concluded and laughed nervously. Our main meal was lasagna followed by a dessert of strawberry cheesecake (Not Moroccan at all). My tummy was very happy when we got done with dinner. “boom boom” I saw two Amazigh men bang their drums. They beckoned us to come over and dance. Mathieu being the social butterfly, started the dance and everyone else followed suit. I was too full and tired to participate. All I did was cheer and clap. After the entertainment. We all went to the veranda of the hotel and star gazed for a bit. The sky was so clear that night that the stars shined visibly bright. I was getting too tired, I finally retired to my room and so did some others.
I slept soundly, excited for the next day’s adventure especially to the Sahara Desert