Several years ago I was working as a Teaching Assistant with the British Council in Seville, Spain. The job was great fun teaching high school children different classes in English ranging from Maths, Geography and History. It gave me an opportunity to enrich myself culturally, widen my horizons and travel extensively in Western Europe and Morocco. This short series travel log is following my footsteps from Marrakech back to Spain. An unconventional decision I took years back to backpack alone from Marrakech back to Europe over the Christmas holidays. A one-way ticket finds your way back situation which set off a number of follow-up similar trips which always had a hint of adventure and uncertainty.
24 December 2012
The Christmas show I organised in the school of Seville finished with great success and I was ready to run back home, grab my backpack and jet off. The same evening I was about to embark on my solo one-way backpacking trip to Marrakech, to Morocco, to Africa. A place I have never been to, heck, a whole continent I haven’t been to where people and customs were so much more different than what I was used to. A place I was hoping to learn more about and get a different perspective on life.
I got myself on a Ryan Air flight without issues, previously I had paid a massive fine on overweight luggage. Hey, we learn as we go, so this time I was prepared and flew in Marrakech without any hindrance. Flying over the Gibraltar straight and seeing the transition of landscapes in contrast from the green South of Spain to the rocky and desert Northern Africa was stunning.
I arrived at Marrakech’s Menara Airport on a Sunny and hot day considering it was December. I was picked up by a friend of a friend who I met through an online hospitality exchange website called CouchSurfing. The website lets you meet and stay with locals around the world. In exchange for their hospitality, people get to become friends with other people around the world where the trust and mutual goodness is assumed for everyone throughout the globe. So I got picked up by my host Yassine’s friend Mounir who drove me through the crazy streets of Marrakech with a scooter without a helmet buzzing through the hoards of cars where seemingly chaos was the norm. This was just the beginning though, as we picked up Yassine and we ended up three people on the small scooter heading off to eat lamb burgers from a street shack and play pool “Moroccan style” in the city centre.
25 December 2012
It was a cold morning in Marrakech, as I found out that the temperature varies greatly in the desert between the day and night. While the weather might have been cold I was surprised by the warm hospitality of the people as a traditional breakfast was prepared for me made of bread, honey, butter, cheese, olive oil and coffee. Yassine’s friend Mounir was waiting for me outside after breakfast where we headed off to explore the old town of Marrakech. Mounir was always smiling and keeping a positive attitude about everything that was happening around him. We went for traditional Moroccan Mint tea in a rooftop restaurant overlooking the bustling Jemaa El-Fnaa square with the Koutoubia Mosque tower behind. This was the first time I tried the famous Mint Tea which the locals say sharpens your senses and opens your brain to new knowledge. We spoke about many different things, I was learning a bit of Arabic, talking about the Economy of Morocco, the royal family and Islam. I learned that my Arabic name is Mustafa, the currency of dirham, the King of Morocco is Mohammed VI, among many other bits and pieces.
In the afternoon, I stepped on my own through the city exploring the Menara gardens where Olive Trees and fish ponds are protected by guards on camels at the front gates. The Royal Theatre was close by as well where I paid a guide to take me through its unfinished halls with a mix of Moroccan, Egyptian and Roman architecture. My walk through the city was soon coming to an end with the sun setting down behind the Koutoubia Mosque Tower. I was supposed to meet my host in front of the mosque after he finished work at an Architecture company in the business district of the city. The Tower of the mosque carried such a high resemblance to the Giralda Tower of Seville. This is due to the fact that both structures were actually built by the same person. The design of these structures was bridging the gap between two cultures and religions so distinct.
In the evening, Me and Yassine hit it off in a gym nearby where he tried the present I bought for him – a pair of boxing gloves. As it is customary to bring a present to your hosts on Couchsurfing to reciprocate for the hospitality shown. The gym session was finished off at Yassine’s house where his sister surprised us with a traditional Moroccan fish tajine. The most interesting experience of Marrakech came about in the evening afterwards where Mounir joined us and we visited a Hammam. A hammam is the traditional public hot baths where the whole process of visiting them is a ritual. The whole place was like a giant sauna, where you put a sticky brown substance on yourself and scrub away. The scrub removes the layer of the dead skin which is followed by a soap shower to wash things off. The whole experience took an hour and a half where a lot of socializing and discussion are done inside. At the end of the night, Mounir invited me to stay at his place as I could use the internet to send some Couchsurfing requests for Casablanca which was my next destination.
26 December 2012
I slept like a baby until late after the rejuvenating Hammam experience. The Moroccan hospitality never seems to stop as I was greeted by Mounir’s mother in the morning with a freshly prepared breakfast. Chocolate cakes and mint tea made a star appearance on the breakfast table while Mounir was telling me about the teachings of Islam and his job as a Web Designer. He had become a Web Designer teaching himself through YouTube videos and reading articles on the internet. He was even running a profitable website that was giving him a steady income each month. The Moroccans are one of the most resourceful people on the planet.
Once I was full of the delicious breakfast I headed off to explore the city again. This time I was going to explore the old Medina shops. The Souks are the old shopping areas of the city which were dotted with shanty shops through a maze of small streets where merchants try to get you buy anything. The Moroccans are also one of the best salespeople I have met, pushy and reasonable at the same time they manage to get you into a sales funnel buying one thing after another. The most common type of products in these markets are clothes, spices, trinkets, and different types of food. I managed to get lost numerous times through the maze of small streets. Every 2 minutes a local Moroccan would try to offer his services to guide me through for a retainer. Apart from the guides, there were the street musicians and the hashish dealers, everyone was offering what they have. In the middle of the souks, there is small palace hidden from the public sights where you can find a lush garden and geometric art covering the ceiling of the buildings.
The wander around the Souks was a great experience which reminded me a lot of the Prince of Persia video game and movie which I subsequently learned was actually filmed there. As it appears Morocco is a place where many of the Desert/Arabic themed Blockbuster Movies have been filmed.
At one end of the Souks was the train station where I met Yassine and we went to an art gallery. Different paintings covered the walls and the floor inspired by North African Islamic Culture. As the day went by, we had some street food of Moroccan Fish burgers and finished off the night with some drinks on a rooftop bar with a swimming pool and views of Marrakech. The wander around this city was coming to end as I was travelling to Casablanca the next day.