How I survived the madness of Marrakech

  
Having visited Marrakech and India in the short space of two months, I feel as though I am able to conquer most countries as a solo female traveller now.  They may not be the destinations of choice for many first time female travellers around – and understandably so.  In both places, I have experienced and seen some of the craziest things.  But rest assured, both are safe and stress-free destinations once you’ve got the lowdown on a couple of things.

Here’s a little summary of what my sister and I learned whilst in the Red City in January.

1. Accept that you will get lost in the souks when walking around without a guide. My sister and I found the souks slightly disorientating and we ended up lost one afternoon. It would have been handy to have a guide, but finding untouched corners was fun too.

2. Dress appropriately and act very confident when walking around – especially on your own or nearing dark. Morocco is a Muslim country so it is very appropriate to cover up – and avoid/lessen the staring (which, by the way, is just harmless curiosity most of the time).

I also found some vendors/touts had aggressive sales tactics.  Walking around like you own the place helps.  It makes you feel less vulnerable, and it makes it easy to politely decline or ignore their pitches. 

4.Moroccans love their mint tea very sweet. Staying at a Berber household for one evening, we had a mint tea competition; my sister won (just) purely due to the high amounts of sugar laced in her tea. Sans sucre was a helpful phrase.

5. Haggling my way down down down.  Marrakechi store owners would be selling items at ridiculous prices – though it may not seem so at the beginning – so taking it down a notch by 50% would always mean a good transaction for us. Something we are not used to back home, I feel as though haggling becomes more about the principle of being overcharged than the money saved from each sale (well, most of the time, anyway!).

6. It helps if you know the ‘Moroccan prices’ beforehand. From bus tickets, tea pots and the appropriate tip amount, the haggling part of a transaction was made easier for us knowing the ‘actual’ prices from locals. And yes, even for the local buses, you’d have to haggle down prices if you’re a foreigner. We got a tagine pot for the equivalent of 10 p and a teapot for 90 p.

Asking a friendly local (hostel staff, for example) for prices help – but be weary that hotel/hostel staff may get commission on the sale, too.

7. Souks are divided accordingly depending on the items they sell/make. There are special areas dedicated to leather goods and spices, for example. Having this knowledge ensured that we bought good quality items at fair prices.

8. Just like any other fruits, dates are seasonal. I think it was easy to be fooled thinking Medjool dates were in season in January (when I visited) as there were carts and carts of the stuff. At 160 dirhams per half kg, however, they were not the cheapest – and probably not organic too.

9. The fresh juice from the stalls is okay to drink.

10. Marrakechi rooftop bars and restaurant are the perfect way to escape the city’s madness. I cannot recommend Nomad highly enough – by the end of our five-day stay in the city, we were recognised regulars. Their avocado and date shake, salads, and sorbets were delicious (and vegan-friendly).

11. Escaping into the countryside for a little while was a refreshing change. Day trips from Marrakech organised by our hostel, Riad Dia, was recommended by a lot of fellow backpackers (such as Ouarzazate). We visited a Berber household near Imintanoute and briefly experienced the sea breeze at Essaouira.

12. A visit to Marrakech will not be complete without a visit to a hammam! The experience and treatments we received made the rest of our evening more peaceful. For once, we also managed to shut off the noisy stalls that lined the square. 

13. Lastly, we overcame our fear of getting food poisoning by cooking our own Moroccan meal. The Rouge Hostels group has its own cooking class in its café, Café Rouge, which was a fantastic way to learn about the local cuisine. We picked up the fresh ingredients from the market and headed towards the café to mix up some spices and learn a thing or two about tagines. This was the first instance I used preserved lemons in cooking too, which has changed my life ever since.

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