With only a few weeks left in Europe, Lauren and I spontaneously booked a last minute trip for her birthday to Morocco. We had been talking about Africa all through May and the beginning of June, but with busy schedules and separate people to bid farewell to, the opportunity to go seemed elusive.
But after spending the weekend under the stars, enjoying the mountains with a group of friends — over drinks, naturally, we decided to just book the tickets and go. If not now, then when?
I have always appreciated this aspect of our friendship; impromptu adventures always make for good stories. And I was glad to be ending my year with the person I started it with.
Our evening flight provided a spectacular sunset. Vibrant hues of red and dark blue painted the cloudless horizon. Foreshadowing the dynamic spirit of Marrakech. In order to get a better view, I abandoned my assigned seating and sat down by a friendly stranger, Hannah from Brazil.
She was brave to trek to Morocco alone. Even Lauren and I were skeptical, as two women, to go just us. We had both heard many stories from female travelers, imploring us to be careful, don’t go out at night, and to make sure to take not so revealing wardrobe.
Once our feet were finally on solid ground, a taxi from our riad picked us up. A riad is a traditional Moroccan palace built around an inner garden or courtyard, often converted into hotels at the allure of tourism.
Because of the narrow roads we were dropped off about a 5-8 minute walk away. Upon our first impression of Marrakech, I felt uncomfortably blind in a labyrinth. We followed a guy, who put our things in his wagon, as he led us through. Once we got to the entrance of our riad, he stood before us with his hand outstretched towards Lauren. Having already paid, we were confused.
The entrance door opened and a friendlier looking male greeted us. The other boy with the wagon stood with his hand still toward us, and Lauren hesitantly gave him money. We stepped through the entrance with the boy calling behind us aggressively for more.. even though what she had given him was more than a day’s wage. It caught us off guard and we were both relieved to have the door slammed shut behind us and locked.
View from the upper terrace.
This was the door to our room, massive in size, it felt like being in a dungeon.
During our first night sleep at around 4 am, Lauren woke me, with a terror stricken whisper, “did you hear that?”
It took a few moment for my ears to adjust, but it initially sounded like a stampede of cattle maniacally yelping and running towards our door. The lock rattled against the wooden surface, heightening our uneasiness. Laying fully awake in bed, we realized it was the call to prayer. Unknowingly, we found ourselves in a Muslim country during Ramadan. It is the holy month, where believers fast from sunrise to sunset, a celebration of when Mohammad received the Holy Quran, and also a test of discipline to adhere to the will of God and defer from the luxuries of the world.
After a delicious and healthy breakfast, we decided on the first day we were going to throw ourselves into the maze and get lost. We wanted to explore the famous souks, open-air marketplaces, that Marrakech is known for. While trying to find our way to the center, we noticed mainly Moroccan men crowded the streets. Many approached us, in a friendly but manner, trying to get us to follow them in hopes we would pay for directions.
Morocco looked good on Lauren, aka so baby.
Exhausted and overwhelmed, we finally stopped for a late afternoon lunch. This moment forever cemented in my brain.
Lauren sat across me, cheerfully sipping on her virgin mojito. Both of us had our hair up from the extreme dry heat, dehydrating our bodies.
There were only two other parties; a french couple sitting to my right, chatting away in their own language. Behind me sat an English pair, the accent giving their origin away.
Lauren and I were discussing her personal affairs; namely, the heartfelt farewell between her and her Italian — the inevitable distance, when it comes to international love.
While shoving a bite of salad into my mouth, my phone made a noise. Intuitively, I knew this ring. My push notifications were on, and it signaled the sound of my BBC news app alerting me of a huge occurrence. Annoyed, I quickly tried turning the volume off on my phone, having to look at the screen.
“U.S. Supreme Court backs gay marriage.”
I interrupted Lauren’s oration with an, “Oh. My. God.” Honestly confused, I read out loud to her the article’s title, and she immediately rejoiced. I was stunned at first, my fork still hovering over my mouth. I reread the title many times, even though parched, my eyes began to swell up with salt water. I don’t cry often, so to find myself on the verge of tears from joy was… for lack of a better word, emotional.
Love won, it came and conquered. My eyes instantly cleared as I regained awareness of the others around us, staring, from my loud inaudible gasp of hopefulness. Lauren wrapped me in a quick hug, and we clinked our glasses to being American; what a good day to love without reason.
Impressively, we found wine at a terrace restaurant. Marrakech being a Muslim country, means that alcohol is prohibited for them to drink. There, we met a really friendly couple from Edinburgh, Scotland — Mark and Doug. They were searching for a venue to host their upcoming wedding, and I thought how perfect it was to speak of eternal promises of love on a day where it became a little more equal in my own respective country.
They had been in Morocco a few days more than us, and suggested restaurants for us to go eat at — and drink, obviously.
They proved to be really enjoyable company, and after dinner, we all set off together to walk around the center; they also wanted to make sure we got safely into a taxi. Lauren and I had been apprehensive about roaming around at night, especially, from all the attention we had gained earlier in broad day light. But our new companions being males, changed everything. We weren’t approached, nor were we called any weird names.
In good humor, we had told the boys all the things that had been yelled at us:
Flower, chicken curry, skinny girls, everything free for you Miss Japan, she’s so baby, you are princess… other obscene and sexual things not worth mentioning.
So it was nice to finally stroll around, and be unnoticed. The cat-calling hadn’t seriously bothered either of us, as we took it in good spirit, but I had never craved invisibility more.
Something Lauren eloquently stated stayed stuck in my head for the remainder of the journey, “We aren’t here to change the culture, only to critically observe and enjoy.”
The next day we decided we would go see the Saadian Tombs, ride camels, visit Ben Youseff, shop, and catch the sunset from a terrace.
The outside tombs of soldiers and servants.
After this, Lauren and I got lost on what seemed like the outskirts of the city. There was only a big highway, that we walked beside for about a good hour. We had read that at a certain park you could ride camels, but it was closed. What luck. We hung our heads in defeat while dragging our feet, trying to make our way back to the center in the blistering heat.
However, at some point, Lauren coincidentally looked up to her right and there the camels were. We laughed with renewed vigor, and set off in a fast pace towards them.
We were ecstatic, how could we come this close to the Sahara and not ride the ships of the desert? The universe was in our favor this day.
So graceful, chicken curry.
We rode the camels for about 15 minutes, but it was enough for us to have our desires fulfilled and another activity marked off of our to do list.
The tall standing structure in the background is called the Koutoubia mosque. Nothing in the city can be built higher than this point. And as non-Muslim tourists, we were unable to go inside. It reminded me of the tower of Cathedral in Sevilla; similar architecture and colors.
We came upon a cemetery that was quite colorful. As I was snapping a picture, an angry group of people began shouting at me. They had been no where in sight until I pulled out my camera. Taken back, I apologized and walked away.
After, we finally made it to Ben Youssef, which used to be a college for Islamic Instruction. But later was restored into a historical site. Full of color and beauty.
Half our day gone, we grabbed a meal before sunset. Lauren and I pretty much ate a Moroccan salad for every meal. It was refreshing after a long day of sweating and roasting beneath a clear African sky.
We did a bit more window shopping before retaliating to a terrace. The interesting thing about buying in Marrakech is the way prices are handled. The vendor will give you a price, and you have to bargain with them. Keep a firm poker face, and always say a lower price, chances are they will start at a number that is double what the time is worth. A trick I picked up on, was to simply show interest, and then walk away. They will literally follow you, begging for another chance at negotiation, and normally give in to your price. It’s hilarious, but exhausting.
It was our final night in Marrakech and we had become much more comfortable and adjusted to our surroundings. We could even navigate the network of never ending street.
We decided to stay out late, confident in our own capabilities. It’s unlike any other place I’ve visited, a different kind of energy, dynamic and vigorous, the city comes alive after the sun dies. The myriad of lights against a black background blur your vision at first, and while immersed into the buzzing crowd, every other sense is intensely stimulated and heightened.
There were many times I strained my eyes to make out what was happening in the shifts of light and moving silhouettes, my eyes darting from left to right — performers surrounding tourists to make some change, local men getting into heated arguments and throwing a few punches, hooded women calling out to do henna, children laughing and bouncing around the swarms of groups.
At one point, we walked into a smaller souk, and the owner of one of the stores chatted us up. He was friendly and kind, complimenting both of us on our different physical attributes.
Lauren an American blonde Queen, naturally.
He then told me that I looked like I could be from the desert; women from the desert are apparently highly favored. He proceeded to tell me I would be worth 500 white camels — the color to match my teeth, which I found highly amusing.
Aching feet begging for rest, we retired to our chamber; the next day returning to Madrid.
Note to self: life happens outside of the comfort zone. Take a risk with your heart, buy the plane ticket, do something for the first time, love the work you do — always feed the soul new experiences. This is how you grow.. this is how you learn.