My journey from San Diego to Morocco was a long one. I had a flight to Russia where I was for 16 hours, then a 24 hour layover in Madrid where I left the airport for a bit, a short 2 hour flight to Marrakech and then entered a completely different world. As soon as I arrived to Marrakech and stood in the customs line for about an hour I was met outside by my taxi driver and heard the call to prayer for the first time in my life. Before I continue I should start by saying that I wasn’t sure what my accommodations would be like. A few hours before I left for the airport I got a message from my Airbnb host saying that they had some construction problems and I wouldn’t be able to stay in their home. They did offer other accommodations and the taxi driver to meet me at the airport. With not much time left I decided to go with their option and hope all would be good. Fast forward back to Marrakech, my driver drove through one of the gates of the medina and instantly everything seemed to speed up, the streets got narrower and the mopeds got faster. A few moments later we were parked in an area where I would be met with someone to take me to where I would be staying. A few moments later a man with a bike met me, took one of the suitcases and we were off through the winding labyrinth of the medina. Along the way multiple areas were pointed out that I would want to remember; “at this market make a right, at this blue door make a left”, the list went on and I eventually lost track.
I followed along the windy alleyways and was feeling the Moroccan heat with my head covered and camera bag stuck to my back for the past 72 hours. Finally one more turn and all the way at the end of the alley was a door that read Riad Safa.
The door opened and I was immediately transported to another world where every single worry, moment of anxiety and feeling of exhaustion in preparation of this trip immediately melted away. The experience was completely overwhelming and unlike anything I had felt before, the feeling of relief and the moment of having arrived completely washed over me. I remember walking through the door, taking off my camera bag and looking at the bright space with an open courtyard and an orange tree growing in the middle. The sound of opera music mixed with the trickling of water from the white rose laden fountain drifted through the home and into my ears and the scent of orange blossom (a scent I didn’t know at the time) filled the air. Jacques met me and sat me down to enjoy my first glass of Moroccan mint tea IN Morocco and review the map and some things to be aware of. After my mint tea I took a shower right away and the familiar scent of the orange blossom body wash cleansed and soothed me.
The feeling from that moment is a common theme during my time in Morocco and even more in Marrakech. It’s this constant contrast and difference from the hustle, chaos and constant feeling of being lost but when you least expect it there is always a place that awaits holding a sense of peace and serenity. Sometimes this is found in the comfort of a beautiful riad, a restaurant, an artsy haven or even more beautiful, the hospitality from a stranger. These are things I not only found in Marrakech but throughout my time in Morocco, and especially traveling by myself, the feeling that I’m not actually lost, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be
My first day in Marrakech I experienced this type of hospitality for the first time. Before I ventured out into the medina I was given a map and a list of warnings and things to look out for. The map was no help and I wasn’t about to be that tourist holding a map in front on me. I walked along the souks and different shops of spices, rugs, oils and leather.
I decided to look through some of the leather goods to see if there was anything that would work as a camera strap for my 35mm camera. In this shop was a man named Mohamed and he said he didn’t have anything leather that would work but would try something else. He invited me into the larger shop across from him. At this point, I was thinking maybe this was a bad idea as I had been warned of the shops that force you to by something before leaving. We went up a staircase down a few hallways and then before me were large rooms full of rugs from the floor to the ceiling. There was a group of individuals in one room and they looked like some very serious savvy shoppers so my mind was put at ease PLUS the scene of rugs surrounding me was so gorgeous I left my worries behind. Mohamed invited me to have mint tea and sat next to me as he started to embroider a camera strap right in front of me; at first it looked flimsy but as he continued to braid the yarn together I could tell how tough it was. As he worked on that he told me about the Berber people, the nomadic tribe of Morocco, and how the word “ber-ber” means “place to place”. We also discussed the negative view people have of Morocco in general and he seemed grateful and thankful for travelers that come to visit despite the negativity surrounding Morocco. The mint tea arrived and he had one of the workers lay out a few small rugs and shared the meaning of the symbols with me. At no time did I feel pressure to buy anything and he even left me in the room to look at all the beauty surrounding me by myself. This may have been a sales technique and one I would probably adopt if I were selling rugs in Morocco but since it was my first day there I didn’t end up leaving with one. I left the shop, thanked Mohamed for my camera strap, mint tea, his kindness and was on my way. I didn’t think I would see Mohamed again but a few days later I saw him again, in what I felt like was a completely different part of the medina, so I asked him for his photo and he obliged.
My second day in Marrakech was one of my more difficult days. I had heard and read the warnings about being a solo woman traveler in Morocco and the warnings are completely accurate. Everyday you will constantly have men trying to talk to you, trying to sell you something, trying to overcharge you for something, this day was a combination of this with the more blatant comments like “f you” for not responding to a man I walked past, a “nice tits” even though I was completely covered up and then a man singing some version of “get jiggy with me” as I walked down the street, which sounds comical but after a day of comments like this is not at all. I also got majorly ripped off paying way too much for something that was half the price just further down; you’re told that it’s going to happen to you and YOU KNOW it’s happening to you but sometimes you just get in to deep and let it happen. I may have still been jet-lagged as well but was feeling a little low in spirits and kept my head down to try and avoid any further attention. Also I hadn’t figured out my Google Map trick yet to know where I actually was at so I just kept walking; I turned to my left and I found a door entrance with what looked like a webbed yarn entrance. I didn’t know what I was entering but I went in anyway and stumbled upon The Kech Collective. The entire building had different rooms and in each one was an art installation. I walked through a few of the rooms and then towards the back was a courtyard with art, cozy seating and a beautiful tree spreading its dappled light across the space. It seemed like a good time to have some mint tea and enjoy my peaceful surroundings.
Stumbling across a place like this is exactly what I needed and was appreciated even more because of what I was feeling outside its walls. I immediately felt at home in this place that inspired and encouraged creativity and felt like a safe haven for the people that enter through its webbed hallway. One of the rooms I enjoyed the most was completely blacked out with colorful fabrics all around, a mirrored floor and soothing music playing. I sat in there for a while, closed my eyes and let the good vibes run through me. After a few minutes my energy was transformed and I too was at peace and ready to venture back into the unknown of the medina.
My third and final day in Marrakech before departing on my desert tour I was feeling much more confident. I had just discovered a trick on Google Maps that completely saved me and continues to help me and others that look lost. I didn’t sleep well the night before, I was up until the call to prayer around 5am without any sleep, had breakfast around 8am and debated whether or not to take a nap. I decided to nap and sure enough felt like a champ when I woke up around noon. I was walking towards Jemaa el Fnaa “Big Square” when I saw 3 women asking for help with the way to Jemaa el Fnaa. The man they were speaking with offered to take them there, I had already gone through this myself; they will offer to show you the way but will expect to be paid once you reach your destination. The women spoke English so I told them I was heading in that direction and offered to show them the way using my new Google map trick (will share this later!). Malayeka, Beena and Taz were from the UK and before I knew it I was on a new adventure with 3 new friends. We made it to the square and we drank mango juice, that tasted like orange juice, and then did a few errands we all needed to do in the square (ATM, cash exchange, phone call). These women were so much fun and had me laughing so hard. I realized at that moment that I had been so serious, my head down and hadn’t really smiled or laughed in a few days We continued to walk around the medina and stop in a few shops here and there, it was starting to sprinkle so they invited me to their riad that was nearby and we enjoyed some mint tea. I was so grateful for my time with them and finally smiling and laughing which was definitely needed!
I would be leaving for the desert the next day and my time in Marrakech was coming to a close for the time being. Night was falling and it was time for another call to prayer, Riad Safa was beautifully lit with lanterns, and I sat to think about the beautiful moments I already had in such a short time and the next adventure that awaited!