Morocco: Getting my Head Around Marrakech

"Adding a simple `shukran’ - thank-you - to your daily vocabulary will take you a long way!"

If I thought a short spell in the steamy Moroccan sun during an English winter was going to be relaxing – I was wrong! Marrakech is a complete head-trip. As for that insane market square, Djemaa el Fna – you’ve just got to see it to believe it. And while it’s true that it’s one of the most stimulating experiences on the planet, with its orgy of sights, delights and smells and experiences, you’ll also get a massive dose of `in yer face’ from the spruikers, traders, hustlers, sellers, beggers – you get the picture.

Having said that, if you go, expecting to get hounded within an inch of your life and you’re psyched for that – you’ll be just fine. Word of warning though, things do have a tendency to become quickly aggressive wherever money is involved – and it’s always involved. Especially if you’re being guilt-tripped into giving money, even more so when it’s to a young homeless mother. These are what I would classify as ‘harrowing moments’.

Just off the main square, is where you’ll find the real jewel of amongst the craziness. Put aside a few hours to lose yourself in the maze of dizzying alleyways crammed with traditional shops rammed with all sort of treats and treasures – and hello, this is where the OMG stuff is lurking. Especially if you’re looking for the most beautiful craftsmanship on the planet and divine artifacts; the goods on offer are simply irresistible.

I’d also recommend learning at least a few words of French or Arabic, the locals speak both, and a little will take you a long way. Keep in mind that most of the locals are all too aware of the power of charm. Forget the snake charmers in the market-square, it’s the traders who are the real charmers, Read up before you go. Learn a few words of the local lingo to help you through the maze. Adding a simple `shukran’ – thank-you – to your daily vocabulary will take you a long way! Because basically, unless you know what’s going on, or you put up a damn good pretence, you’ll get done over before you can say Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves!

Interestingly, I never felt worried or threatened for a moment when I was mooching around the alleyways and markets by myself. It’s the same as any big city really, if you tend to look a bit streetwise, don’t look anyone in the eye, and try not to act like a generally dippy tourist, you’ll be fine.

At the end of the day it’s nice to have a nice quiet sanctuary to go back to which is easily achieved since accommodation is available at every price and every level. Take your choice of flea run hostels which mysteriously turn into sex dens come the midnight hour, to the most dazzling luxurious riad hotels with rooftop views to make your head swim. As does the food, the exotica, the sights and sounds and the generally incredible atmosphere of Marrakech, oh and the incredible bargains. So if sightseeing, shopping and stuffing yourself silly with sumptuous food is your thing – this should be right up your alley. Would I say I loved Marrakech? No, to be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t. But I would say, if you psyche yourself up for the experience and do your homework, you could well love it.

Photos:

Moroccan National Tourist Office and http://www.flickr.com/photos/michalo/

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