On April 26 at 3:30pm, Victoria and I left my dorm to
Heathrow via tube.
We were initially scheduled to arrive at Marrakech Menara Airport
around 10:20 that evening but our flights were delayed and by the time we got
out of the last plane it was close to midnight and the airport was nearly
Luckily, we ran into a lone backpacker from China who was
camping out at Menara for the night for his morning flight. He was kind enough
to negotiate a price with the predatory cab drivers outside with us. Turns out
he is also a study abroad student in Paris, so Victoria, who is also studying
abroad in the suburb of Paris, ended up exchanging contact information with
The taxi ride wasn't too long but because of the extremely
narrow alleyways the driver couldn't drive us all the way to the doorstep of
our riad - a traditional Moroccan/Maghrebi style B&B. He dropped us off at
a small square/parking lot and pointed at an abstract direction and told us to
"go straight and you'll find it."
The alleyways were badly lit, compared to those of big
cities like London, Tokyo and Shanghai. They seemed to stretch and meander way
beyond our limited eyesight.
The next thing we know, a bunch of local young fellas
emerged. They are (probably) unlicensed, self-described "guides", surrounding
us, cackling, and nudging, exchanging knowing gazes among each other. Two of
them "volunteered" to show us the way to Riad Zayane Atlas, even after we
refused and tried to ignore them, frolicking around us.
One of the "guides," a man in early 30s was not happy about
how we didn't smile back to them as much as they would have liked. They did
take us to our riad, after all, and after arguing a while they begrudgingly
settled for a single dirham bill. It wasn't a long walk at all from the parking
lot in fact, the only reason we "hired" them was because it was just dark and
we weren't familiar with the area.
One of the hosts, whose name I cannot recall, a man in his
late 50s, responded to the doorbell in his pajamas. He was slightly surprised
at our late arrival but was patient with us while Victoria explained the
situation. Because he doesn't speak English, all of the conversations we had
with him had to be in French so I could only understand his words through other
people. He told Victoria the riad was not expecting us until the next day but
we showed our copy of the reservation confirmation email. He retreated to the
office and came back downstairs saying it was Hotels.com through which we
booked the accommodation that messed the dates up. He offered his(?) bedroom
for us to sleep in for the night and promised us that he will have a room on
the second floor ready in the next morning.
The first night, as
well as the following few nights, I had trouble sleeping. But I wasn't
surprised because I'm just the kind of person who goes insomniac when overly
excited. At about 5 in the morning, I heard the morning prayers. It brought to
my mind the memories of Turkey. At the same time I realized there are only 3
hours until the breakfast is served.
With my adrenaline being pumped inside me at the maximum
level, I rose from bed and enjoyed the breakfast thoroughly. The riad served us
freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee, warm pastries and bread with sweetened
butter and apricot jam. Half way through breakfast, mint tea made a grand
entrance. Unlike other dishes which were brought by Fatima the chef and other
female housekeepers, mint tea was always brought by a male host - serving tea
to guests is considered an art form and is a traditionally masculine task in
Morocco. According to internet sources, the base for mint tea is gunpowder
green tea, alternatively known as Zhu cha in Chinese meaning "pearl tea", which
is imported from China. To produce foam on top, the tea is poured from a tiny
metal teapot into delicately painted glasses at a distance.
All it took was a single sip for me to fall head over heels
in love with Morocco's favorite beverage. I've done a few quick "research" on
mint tea before I embarked on the trip and I had very high hopes for the tea
and every glass I had never disappointed!
Being from China and all, to say I am a huge tea lover is a
mere understatement. Growing up, I have always enjoyed good tea and tasting
teas from different countries is one of my favorite things to do when I'm on
Ok, enough with tea now.
We were told that we still have a couple hours until after
the previous guests leave and the room is cleared. So we decided to take a
stroll down the street and see where we'd end up.
And voila! Before we know it, we were at the famed Djemaa el
Fna!! And it was just as crazy as our forerunners have told us. Donkeys carrying
baskets and people, horse-drawn carriages, and early-bird merchants - water
sellers, orange juice stalls, henna artists, cafes - were already there, trying
to earn some extra dirhams from confused tourists.
We went to explore some of the souks. The merchants, mostly
teenage to middle-aged men, came off as slightly pushy. They were actually more
aggressive than the Shanghai merchants! It wasn't just once or twice that I got
my arm pulled. Most young female tourists were heckled from dawn to dust and
the fact that Victoria and I are both of Chinese descent didn't help either. Instead
we got A LOT more attention than others. From time to time we got called names -
racially specific names, Gangnam Style references, the randomest combinations
of Japanese words they could think of and something to do with having flowers
in the hair (because while I was out and about in Marrakech I wore a flower in
my hair). There were also unofficial "guides" here and there but not everyone
of them wanted us to pay.
Then we walked toward the tallest building, the minaret of
La Koutoubia Mosque until we were at the edge of a busy intersection. We took a
couple of pictures of the mosque with the azure sky on the background and since
it was close to noon, we decided to buy us each a large bottle of water and go
back to our riad.
After we returned to the riad, we were greeted by Kamal, the
other manager-slash-guide, who cordially invited us to rest at the sitting area
on the first floor while the staff finished up clearing our new room upstairs. Kamal,
to my delight, speaks English so that was the first time in about 48 hours I had
long conversations with anyone other than Victoria.
He sat with us and gave us a map of the city and explained
how things work in the riad and beyond. He also made suggestions for our
one-day excursions and offered to accompany us to a hike up the nearly Atlas Mountains,
which we gladly accepted. He assured us that he will contact a tourist agency
to take us to Ouarzazate, which is one of many scenic filming locations for The Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia and Game of Thrones, on our fifth evening. We
then arranged a dinner to be had at the riad on our last day. He also
recommended us to dine on a balcony table at Café de France and watch the sun
set on Djemaa El Fna.
We did - we went early to the restaurant and sat all the way
up on the third floor which gave us a spectacular panoramic view of Djemaa and
The food was great. We both ordered two-course dinners. I had
a plate of beef tagine with roasted almonds and prunes and Victoria had a plate
of couscous with chicken (I think) and vegetables. Thanks to the cone-shaped
earthenware it was cooked and served in (the dish's name tagine also refers to the multi-tasking pot/container), the beef I had
was among the most tenderly cooked and juicy. The broth was spiced with
perfection without being oily. The beef-and-prune combo sounded odd at first
but they went along very well together. The almonds added a fragrant touch to
Victoria's couscous was tasty too. Even the veggies were
heavenly. It made really me want to learn how to cook tagine dishes (that's how
Moroccan parents get their kids to eat their veggies, I suppose!). For desserts,
we both had sliced fresh oranges with cinnamon sprinkled on top.
The sun didn't set until nearly 8 in the evening but once it
disappeared, the entire square lit up with candles, bare light bulbs, candles,
Maghrebi lanterns and unparalleled enthusiasm of its merchants and street
performers. Food stall workers yelled, snake charmers blew oboes and dancers
sang. It was amazing. We could see that Djemaa El Fna truly is the heart of Marrakech
and its energy the blood. We could almost hear its strong pulse.
Overall, It was a day we felt quite in touch with the local
lifestyle and got to know a little bit about Marrakech before our adventures
For pictures, follow the link here: http://krazzykitty.tumblr.com/#50172773939