Browsing Category


Africa, Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, long term travel, Marrakech, Morocco, Travel

My First Footsteps in Africa

The “Hand of Fatima” believed to bring good luck

I’m not going to lie, Morocco has me quite apprehensive. My latest travels have been to what I consider easy places. I classify those as first world, English speaking, relatively clean countries that have running water, and don’t worry you with stomach bugs and other life threatening ailments. Spending the Spring in Hawaii, and most recently, traveling through Iceland, England and France – it’s all been a cake-walk. Now, I need to get into a different mindset for Morocco.

I try not to carry stereotypes with me when I travel to a new place, but as a solo-female traveler, I do tend to keep my guard up in a place until I can get my bearings as well as a feel for a place and its people.

I had originally hoped to travel by train from Paris to southern Spain and then take the boat from Algeciras to Tangiers, but it was over double the cost of a plane ticket, so I booked a one-way ticket from Paris to Marrakech, and 4 hours later, I find myself in the craziness of this busy city. My first two reliefs when I arrive in a somewhat chaotic place- one- my bag thankfully arrives and two- I find transport at a decent price to a decent place to stay. The rest will fall into place. With my bag in tow, i hit up the ATM for some Dirham and make my way to the taxi line to haggle the price of a taxi to town. I know from research it should cost between 70-100 dihram for the journey. The first guy quotes me 13 Euro, double what it should be. Then it’s 250 dirham- price just went up. I tell him no, and that I want to pay what everyone else pays, so he tells me to wait, while he telephones another taxi. I wait, the taxi arrives, we agree on 80 dirham. I now understand what Morocco will be like.

I am dropped outside Djemaa el-Fna, the main square, and to say it is a maze is an understatement. The cars can go no further, so the taxi driver drops me and tells me to walk straight and then right and I will find my hotel. The streets are swarmed with vendors, diners, people out for an evening stroll, tourists and hagglers. I dodge the hagglers and walk straight, trying not to make eye contact with anyone who wants to sell me a hotel room, a henna tattoo or anything else he has up his sleeve. I do however need directions, cause I have no idea where the hell i am, so I pop into a pharmacy and using the French I so thankfully remember, I get somewhat clear directions to where I’m going. I only have to stop another three times to clarify. After multiple turns down hidden lanes and alleyways, I see Hotel Essouira on a signpost ahead. I feel a sense of relief, but when I arrive, there are no rooms, sorry, try next door.

Hotel Medina’s courtyard

I get a little room in Hotel Medina next door for $10 a night. I drop my bags and venture out for dinner. I haven’t eaten since breakfast so I head to Snack Toubkal, a makeshift cafe created out of plastic garden furniture. I have to wait for a seat, so I’m assured it’s a decent place to eat. I order my first authentic vegetable couscous. I get halfway through the dish, and I can eat no more- it didn’t look like a lot of food, but it sure is filling. I head back to Hotel Medina for a good night’s sleep, and wonder what Marrakech has in store for me.

A typical storefront near Djemaa el-Fnaa


The following morning, I head to Bahia Palace to start my tour of Marrakech. I study the map closely and confirm directions with the guy at the hotel. He says, “it’s easy, takes 10 minutes.” I walk away from Djemaa el-Fna, passing stall after stall of shoes, lanterns, leather bags, spices, plates, ornaments, postcards and pashminas. I reach a main road and bear left dodging cars, mopeds, motorcycles and horse-drawn carriages. I do a little victory dance when I reach Bahia Palace.


Bahia means beautiful, and it’s appropriately named. Even just stepping onto the grounds of the palace, I feel like I’m taken away from the craziness of Marrakech. Traffic and congestion and the throngs of people are outside the walls of this palace, and I feel like I’ve found some respite. I spend about an hour here, taking my time to study the beautiful architecture, colors, marble and wood carvings that adorn every inch of the palace. I find a spot to sit in the sun in the outdoor courtyard and soak in the silence. This is what I pictured Morocco to be like…this is the old Morocco.





I resist leaving because I know I have to re-enter mayhem. I consult the handy guidebook and make a plan. I will head to Badia Palace nearby next. I stroll through a courtyard and make my way to Badia. A few men on mopeds tell me I’m heading in the wrong direction. They are quite used to the number of tourists who inundate this city on a daily basis. One kind man stops, gets off his moped and walks with me, telling me the palace is closed until the afternoon, but he will show me a shortcut. “A shortcut to where?,” I think. I almost feel like I am given no choice but to follow. He says, “no money, just help you.” He leads me through the entrance of a hammam and on the other side, is the Mellah, the Jewish area of the old city.

He leaves me in the good hands of his friend, a spice seller, and before I know it, everything from saffron to sandalwood is being thrown under my nose. He then hands me a box with a pile of white crystals in it and I take a whif… the menthol smell brings me back to reality. “Mint,” he says, “the cocaine of Morocco.” I stroll on down the alleyway, trying my best to ignore the calls of other vendors, and the handfuls of tea being forced into my hands.

Just a handful of the many spices you will find in Marrakech

Although, I’ve enjoyed the olfactory journey through Marrakech’s collection of spices, I decide to head to the northeast side of the old city and visit Maison de la Photographie. I have heard good things about the collection of work here, and being a photography lover, I’m looking forward to seeing Marrakech’s history through pictures. The museum occupies a 3-floor riad and houses a collection of photographs from all over Morocco, dating back to as early as 1870. These include original photographs of the Berber people, the Jewish settlers, the African, as well as the local Arabic people.

On the top floor of the museum is a cafe as well as panoramic views of the old city. I savor the view, and the silence, before rejoining the masses below. I’m hungry and it’s getting quite late in the day, so I decide to head back to where I’m staying for a tagine and some tea. This means walking back through the winding alleyways to Djemaa el-Fnaa, passing all the shopkeepers and snakecharmers, tour guides and spice sellers. I’ve covered some distance today, and I feel tired, But I know it’s not just from the walking and the traveling but from the energy I’ve exerted just being here. Marrakech is revealing itself to be a place of craziness with pockets of hidden beauty. My outlook going forward is to savor that beauty as and when I find it.


Djemaa el-Fna