Relationship Status with Morocco: It’s Complicated

Morocco is giving me mixed signals.  It’s like a one-sided relationship. I love Morocco. Like LOVE Morocco. But I’m really bad at Morocco.  Morocco doesn’t love me back. In fact, Morocco likes to pick me up, pretend we’re friends, spin me around a few times, throw me into a pile of chewed gum and goat heads, kick me in the gut, and throw a bucket of hot water on my head. And then I just willingly overpay for the service and come back the next day asking for more.

Maybe I should explain.

I arrived in Marrakech having read too many blogs advising to be wary of people who try to give you directions, and then demand money angrily after they lead you to your hotel, or whatever monument you were looking for.  So I was paranoid to begin with. Then, arriving in Marrakech was an experience unlike any other.  I would try to do something normal, like walk down a pedestrian street, and then have to leap out of the way of a motorcycle or horse cart. I would try to go out to a restaurant for dinner… and be faced with no less than 100 restaurant workers shoving a menu into my hands and yelling at me: “you’re so skinny, come to my place, same shit everywhere!” I would try to buy a gift for a friend back home and have to barter rather than paying a posted price (I’m obviously not used to doing this and it doesn’t help that I’m pretty sure that I paid quadruple price for one of the first things I purchased).


Marrakech at Night

Night Market

Katie at Booth #97, one of the night restaurants on the square

But the confusion and the fact that I’m out of my element 24/7 adds to what is so enchanting about Morocco. By day two in Marrakech I was a bit less paranoid but it’s still an assault on the senses to just walk outside. Everything is so different!  The crowds of people, the snake charmers (yes, real snake charmers!). The monkeys on leashes. The maze that is the medina. The dichotomy of smelling horse manure in one breath, and amazing food and spices cooking with the next.  The call to prayer five times a day. The Arabic and Berber languages.  And every shopkeeper you pass yelling “hello hello what are you looking for come into my shop very good price!” One of the great things about Marrakech is that after being completely out of my element in the hustle and bustle, we can always escape back to our Riad, which is a quiet sanctuary — an introvert’s dream, really — in the middle of the madness.


Rooftop sitting area at our first Riad in Marrakech



In the Yves St Laurent Garden



Yves St Laurent Garden


Spices in the Marrakech Medina


Rooftop Cafe


Thankfully we’re here with cousin Katie who speaks French- so we’re flailing that much less. It still doesn’t mean we ever know what’s going on.  One day Katie and I went to a hammam- or a spa- with one other girlfriend who we met on our camel trek, Libby.  Imagine experiencing this:

We walked into the spa (which looked nothing like a spa- many more exposed wires and cement- and the attendant told us to undress and just keep our underwear on. She then handed us plastic mats and towels and pointed us to a spot inside- to a corner on a tile floor. There we sat and waited. Until, without warning, she threw a bucket of water on each of us. She then gave us some goopy stuff (it was soap, but ‘apricot jam?’ was Katie’s guess) to rub on ourselves. Then we sat there for a while. And then we sat there some more. And then we keep sitting there. And then we started to wonder if we were supposed to be doing something so we tentatively started to wash off the apricot jam. Then the attendant reappeared and dumped more water on us, and motioned for us to get up and follow her and then sit back down. For some reason I went first so poor Katie and Libby got to witness my shock and surprise with each subsequent event! The attendant shampooed my hair and then scrubbed me with what felt like sandpaper. She rubbed about 10 years worth of dead skin off my body (Katie and Libby: “omg is that skin? Gross!” The camino probably didn’t help). Another bucket of water dumped on my head. Then attendant number two picked me up and sat me back down on another plastic mat and gave me a soap massage on the tile floor. It was nice. Actually it was really rough. Maybe it was a little of both. After the soap massage she dumped more water on me and sat me in a different tile corner with a bucket of water and just left me there. Like I was supposed to know what to do. So I sat there for a bit longer. Then Katie and Libby were sent in my direction and we all sat there together. And we waited. And we waited some more. And we splashed more water on ourselves because it seemed like the right thing. And then we got up because we felt like we were maybe supposed to be done. But then the attendant stopped us in order to dump more water on our heads before we were allowed to dry off.

See what I mean? All in all, an amazing experience! We got rough soap massages and exfoliating peels all for about $12 USD!  But at the same time, we were utterly confused and obviously out of our element. We recommended it to the boys afterwards but they wanted nothing to do with it.


Katie and Libby recapping our spa experience

We’ve been here for about a week now and I’m still waiting for Morocco to love me back. And then out of nowhere I’ll hit my head in a doorway and step in chewed gum. Just another day in the life.




6 thoughts on “Relationship Status with Morocco: It’s Complicated

  1. Marrakech is so so cool! There’s a spice vendor in the market who I’m technically engaged to…he promised 5000 camels (I know!) to my sister-in-law who told him sure, but I had to finish college first. (This was when I was like 19.) Sooo, if you run into a very friendly spice vendor at the market that might be my future husband.

  2. Oh man…
    Bartering – you’ll get the hang of. It’s a REALLY awesome skill to develop, it just takes a while to realize it’s truly not considered rude at all. A great rule I was given to use in Thailand: Start at the posted or offered price, and offer 1/2 of that. Then they look at you like you’re crazy and offer a new price. Take the amount they jumped down, and jump up that same amount. Continue until you both seem to be content or have reached the middle. For example: Posted at $200, I offer $100, they laugh and say $175. I agree to $125 and we all feel comfy cozy exchanging $150.
    And your spa experience reminds me of a massage I had while lying naked under my own little blanket on the floor with several others (all strangers save my 1 friend) and she then peeled back the blanket to start rubbing down my exposed breasts. I was like ‘uh, no thanks – I’m good there’… She laughed at me.

    • Katharine, thanks for the comment- I am getting better! We are in Ghana now and I have had a bit more practice- also they are less pushy here so it makes it a bit less stressful.

  3. I had a similar experience when we were in India…I never knew where we were, what was happening, when I would eat next, what I would eat, when I could go to the bathroom, when I would be able to relax, what people were saying to me, what was happening! It was exhilarating but thoroughly exhausting at the same time.

    We need to skype before I go back to work….let me know when/where works for you and I will make it happen on my end—I miss you (Sarah, not Cale). JK

    • I remember you mentioning that! Alex is trying to convince us to go to Nepal or India with him this winter, so perhaps I’ll be re-living your experience there.

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