lost in moroccoJul 10, 2015
A world like no other.
Freshly squeezed orange juice (with a serving of racial ignorance): ten dirham.
Three bottles of Moroccan argan oil: fifty dirham.
A treacherous hike in the Atlas Mountains, cat-calling vendors in the Souk, and ferocious (read: very, very sassy) camels: priceless.
One weekend, infinite memories—this is a feat that the magnificent city of Marrakesh has successfully mastered. Entering this unfamiliar realm is truly one of wonder. The hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle—an environment I've long grown accustomed to on American soil—is non-existent. In place is the historic Medina, home to snake charmers, donkey-drawn wagons, and of course, the inevitable tourist (aka yours truly). The last time I stepped foot on Africa was in 2009: a day trip to Tunisia which remains a murky blur. Marrakesh on the other hand? One could even say it is too memorable, leaving the traveler with stories so rich it'll eventually form into plane ticket number two. With that being said, I would return to Marrakesh in a heartbeat. For a chance to yet again discover the new and experience the awe? Count me in.
As an inexperienced globetrotter slash college student on a budget, traveling to Morocco meant two things: tour groups. My friends and I booked our weekend getaway through Bus2Alps, a tour company designed especially for study abroad students. Expect to indulge in the art of small talk as you meet fellow intellectuals. Expect to share a six-person chamber in your exquisite riad (hands-down the most five-star "hostel" you'll ever encounter). Expect to get five hours of sleep in your bunk beds because it will be impossible to call it a night when there is so much to see (also: Free WiFi). And if you want to jetset around the globe in true Kelsey-style, you'll book a 25 euro flight while fearing for your life (spoiler alert: this will be a reoccuring theme throughout the trip).
- Arrive late at the Marrakesh Menara Airport. Nervously shuffle through immigration. Exchange precious Euros for the equally colorful dirham (then proceed to wonder why US dollars can't be as pretty?)
- Board the van to the Medina, the central square of Marrakesh. Past the Souk marketplace, follow a serpentine maze of dark alleyways. Check-in at the Equity Point Hostel, your humble abode for the weekend (note to self: you will be forced to find your way back later on. Remember the route accordingly)
- Claim bunk bed (top, please). Marvel at the exquisite beauty of your hostel, which is actually a riad—a traditional Moroccan palace, complete with a swimming pool and gazebo.
- Head up to the rooftop terrace for dinner. Be forced (and rather awkwardly) to join another table, but tension will smooth over once the food arrives. Fresh cucumbers and tomatos will be the first real vegetables you've eaten in days (for Spain was not kind to your health). Treat yourself to multiple servings of couscous. Add chicken and beef, marinated to perfection. Learn that mint tea (thé à la menthe) is the unofficial dessert. Pair with biscuit cookies.
- Enjoy traditional tunes from a Moroccan band. Become anxious when they start selecting people to dance. A conga line will form. Get dragged into said conga line
- End the evening with a dose of star-gazing.
- Embark on the rocky, hour-long jaunt towards the Ourika Valley. Visit the traditional home of a Berber family (later discover that the Berbers are people indigenous to North Africa).
- Witness a dazzling tea ceremony performed by the (very adorable) Berber grandmother. Drink your 10th cup of mint tea. Experience the heaven that is homemade butter and olive oil. Drench bread in all its oily, buttery glory.
- Make your first purchase in the jewelry shop downstairs: a silver cuff bracelet. Forgo the change because the seller does not have enough dirhams.
- Hop on the van yet again. Stop alongisde a stretch of road deep in the valley. Realize this is where you'll be camel-riding. Set sail on your beloved camel—an extremely tall mother accompanied by her sweet-tempered calf. Hang on tightly as your camel is guided on a short trail. Drink in the sweeping view of the mountains and hills that alarmingly look similar to the landscape back home in Southern California. Congratulate yourself on avoiding a nasty injury or tragic fall.
- Attempt to sneak a selfie with a fellow camel. Realize this was a terrible mistake when you are whacked in the side of the face. Resort to observing others meet their unfortunate fate.
- Board the van. Arrive at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. Begin the hike to the famed waterfalls (feel sympathy for the other girls in sandals and skirts). Discover this isn't your typical hike. Cross unstable, crooked bridges over rapid water—and multiple of them. Climb up countless stairs. Trek over rocks and boulders. Pray that you don't slip. Gladly accept the help of the sherpas, who heroically transport you across narrow walkways and river streams. Witness a woman hiking in wedges. Manage to get your feet soaked—too many times. Almost suffer a dangerous fall while ascending up a slippery trail. Mount up one ladder.
- Deflect an uncomfortable conversation with another hiker. He will call you his "little sister" and promise "to take care you on the hike" (he will also be shirtless, sport a beer belly, and wear D&G boxers)
- Wonder how you managed to finish the hike safe and sound. Collapse at the riverfront restaurant for a much rewarding lunch (chicken and couscous part deux). Accept some more mint tea. Realize that Moroccan salads will always triumph Caesar salads. Nourish on orange slices and cinnamon. Proceed to catch a few zzz's on the ride back home.
- Wash up and zip over to the Jamaa El Fna Square in the Medina for a group dinner. Snap a requisite picture of you and your kebab. Eat too many fries. Swap study abroad experiences with tablemates. Allow yourself a curt stroll around the Medina before retreating back to the riad—as you will learn, the square is a hectic (and slightly intimidating) zoo without your trusty tour guides. Keep an eye out for pickpocketers lurking in the crowds. Avoid the ominous huddle of men gambling in the center of the square.
- Utilize the morning to explore the famous souk marketplace. Imagine sacks of endless spices. Quality leather goods, ranging from printed satchels to handcrafted sandals. Tins of Moroccan teas. Lamps and carpets for the home. Racks of patterned harem pants. Lots of cliche postcards and too much Comic Sans. Stray cats devouring scraps. One tiny kitten.
- Browse the tantalizing array of silver jewelry. Fork over a significant amount of dirhams. Walk out with one necklace, two rings, and four bracelets. Purchase your dream Moroccan scarf—made specially in Marrakesh.
- Pretend to ignore the ogling eyes of vendors and the occasional cat-call. Panic amidst the crowds of shoppers when you discover that a vendor has followed you down several shops. Take a breather once you manage to disappear into a sea of tourists. Tirelessly answer the same question posed by every vendor: "Where are you from? China?" Become accustomed to the soundtrack of men hollering out "ni hao" as you pass them. Realize you've taken America—the ultimate melting pot—for granted.
- Reunite with your tour group at Medersa Ben Youssef, an ancient Islamic college teeming with intricate mosaics and sprawling archways. Prepare to experience complete architecture porn. Follow-up with a stop at the Museum of Marrakesh. Educate yourself on the history of Morocco's royalty.
- Spend the afternoon at a local herb shop. Learn about the multiple remedies and products that Moroccans have relied on for centuries. Sample mint tea. Spontaneously buy pure black kohl eyeliner—favored by Moroccans as the kohl is thought to cleanse the eye. Purchase a jar of rose cream, promised to cure under-eye circles. Stock up on argan oil—a true multi-purpose elixir that can benefit both hair and skin. Give into three tubes of "magic lipstick"—a green, henna lipstick that delivers a different shade on every skin color (bonus: it will also be long-lasting, beating out your average YSL)
- Surrender over thirty dirham for your first henna experience. Get your name written in Arabic. Shopkeepers will believe you are Indonesian (not Vietnamese). Snap an unnatural amount of photos featuring your new henna tattoo (it will live a long, hearty life—that is, until your trip to Greece)
- Conclude the evening with dinner at the majestic Cafe Arabe. Nostalgic American middle school hits will play—think Kanye West oldies and the like. Order beef tajine for the main course and chocolate soufflé for the dessert. Blissfully die in food heaven. Enjoy the unforgettable Moroccan sunset from the rooftop lounge. Bid Marrakesh aideu and make a vow to return.
Marrakesh is certainly no jaded, monochromatic NYC. This is a destination of remarkable culture and vibrant hues—warm colors that range from coral pinks to tangerine orange. Naturally, an outfit inspired by the streets of Marrakesh must mimic the palette. Save the all-black for London and break out a pair of striking printed trousers. It's always safer to err on the modest side when it comes to dressing in Morocco—so reserve the racy cut-outs and bandage frocks for another day. A more appropiate option? Consider a textured lace top complete with lasercut detailing. Mix in a distressed denim jacket for the evening breeze—especially essential if you're traveling in the spring. Deter friendly thieves with a simple, understated bag that can be worn across the body for extra security (and make sure to always zip). Opt for comfortable walking shoes to fully maximize your explorations; a pair of sling-back flat sandals does just the trick. Your vacation uniform has never looked better.
So long, Marrakesh. May we meet again.