Into Africa – Marrakesh, Morocco!

Our first step into Africa continent and also our 29th country we visited – Morocco! Our first stop in Morocco was Marrakesh – the famous thousand years old market – Jemaa el-Fna and the gateway into the Sahara Desert. Our Lufthansa flight landed at 2:50 pm and the first thing we did was filled out the arrival card and walked to the currency exchange desk to exchange €200 into Moroccan Dirham right inside the luggage claim area.  Moroccan Dirham is a closed currency which has a limit of how much you can take in and take out of the country: 1000 Dirham. I was aware of that so I don’t want to exchange too much and can get from the ATM as we go. The exchange rate was okay, at least not a rip off like other currency exchange desk in other airports that I had been to outside of Morocco. Remember to keep the receipt, with the receipt, you’ll be able to exchange back at the same rate to your original currency.

Our first glimpse of Marrakesh where it looked dusty, reminded me of the air pollution in Lima, Peru:

We walked out to the arrival area and there were girls handing out free SIM card with 100MB? free data and 10 minutes of talk time that you can reload credit when needed upon the proof of non-citizen; they’ll take a photo of your passport. Jason and I got one just in case we are separated that we can call each other. We waited for few minutes for another friend – Sokunna- joining us for the trip; her flight landed few minutes after ours. When I was waiting for her, I checked out there are ATM machines (better exchange rate) at the arrival hall blahhh! Sokunna was about to get money off from the ATM machine but she realized she left her debit card home LOLLLLL! I’ll be her bank for the trip 😉

The airport looked modern, nicer than I expected

Afterward, we walked out of the entrance and tons of people there waiting for arriving guests. I saw the guy holding the sign: Riad Fleur d’Orient which was the hotel we stayed for 2 nights. We “checked in” with him and he said to wait for few minutes for another couple. Then, he walked us all to the parking lot to get the car and off we go into Marrakesh old town! We had our first glimpse of Marrakesh inside the van – everywhere looked red; the buildings, the roads, etc.

We were dropped off at the “King’s Square” and a guy with a cart picked us up and wheeled our luggage through narrow allies:

It was definitely worth the fee of €20 to arrange the transfer through our Riad; we can never find the Riad (house converted into a small-sized hotel) by ourselves!!! Morocco is known for its maze-like medinas (old city center) and poor street signs and even Google map couldn’t accurately determine our location in the maze; my friend has Google’s Project Fi so she has wireless reception in Morocco.

We arrived at the Riad, the receptionist greeted us and brought us into the living room and prepared for us Morocco mint tea. The mint tea was absolutely refreshing, wow didn’t know mint with tea can blend this well with just the right amount of sugar! We filled out paperwork, each hotel in Morocco requires each guest to “register”, the form was quite long with one field that asked for some number that we had no clue what it referred to. The receptionist (sorry forgot his name now) showed us the number stamped in our passport; we didn’t even realize that passport control stamped that unique number on our passport LOL. After the paperwork, he asked if we would want to purchase a detailed map (3 Dirham only) so we said sure. He wrote direction on how to get back to the Riad from the “King Square”. I wasn’t paying much attention since I arranged a half day tour with the tour guide. It turned out the tour guide did not show up; this tour guide was referred by the Riad and few months ago they terminated the relationship or something. However, I wasn’t notified by either party so I had no clue grrrrrr! Because of this, I asked the receptionist to see if he can find us another tour guide for a full day tour tomorrow. For tonight….we’ll have to venture out ourselves…yikes! He also asked if we are interested in a dinner show, I asked for price before I commit to anything, especially in Morocco! He was kind enough to recommend a few places to us at various pricing points….the most expensive one was like 500 Dirham for “buffet and show” which I thought way too expensive. I asked if there’s any a-la-carte one, he called his friends and found one – Dar Essalam and give an idea of average 200 Dirham per dish, not bad! He reserved the dinner for us at 7 pm and marked on the map of where the restaurant located, near Jemaa el-Fna as well!

He showed us around the Riad and our rooms. Like many houses in Morocco, it has a central courtyard; this is beautiful garden-like and a small swimming pool as well:

Seating areas with a bookcase in case you want to read some books 😉

Our room…the Dar Sultan Suite with the beautiful Moroccan decors – Moroccans are also known for its craftsmanship!

The spacious restroom:

Jason noticed the furnitures in the room are expensive wood…look at this desk:

Our room was located at the 2nd floor while our friend’s room was on the ground floor, right next to the pool. We stopped by the living room for some photos. Those colorful lamps caught my eyes – Arabian style!!!

The hallway:

Alright we better head out before it gets dark, I followed the direction from the map, I paid extra attention to every single turn we did and took a picture at each corner so we can find our way back.

But we made one wrong turn and then realized something wasn’t right there. As I was examining the map, two kids came over…yes those infamous kids who target tourists who looked lost to offer “help” and then will harrassed you for money!!! I was aware of this “scam” and couldn’t believe it within 3 minutes of stepping out our Riad, we encountered them!!! I politely said no thanks and tried to dodge them! They went to harassed Sokunna instead and I told Sokunna not to talk to them, they are here for money! I navigated backward to get back to our Riad, phew, and those kids were following us along the way OMG they are so annoying!!!!!!!

We rang the door bell, the receptionist came out and told those kids to leave us alone, thank you! He showed us the turns again and we took the turn too early that was why. Alright, 2nd attempt and it was a success!!! Once we got out of the narrow allies into the King Square, it was the straight forward main road to Koutoubia Mosque:

Then, we turned into the famous Jemaa el-Fna and it smelled due to those horse carriages; I really think horse carriages ruined all those beautiful landmarks!

Souvenir shopping started right now!

Rule of thumb so you won’t get rip off:

  1. Always bargain
  2. Make sure the price the vendor offer and you counter offer is in “dirhams”, some vendors are tricky that after the final price they’ll say in USD
  3. Start with low and then work the price up
  4. If it’s your first counter offer and they accepted it then you are paying too much
  5. We found on average, 1/3 of the original price, they’ll sell!
  6. If they say no, walk away, either the vendor will call you back or you’ll find similar items in the next shop!
  7. Don’t get a hard feeling if you get insulted or name callings, no need to argue, just walk away!
  8. Don’t believe if the vendor said something is authentic…it’s most likely NOT!
  9. If you are heading to Chefchaouen, do your souvenir shopping there instead, those vendors are more honest in price without the need to bargain!

Those glasses and teapots are so pretty but not sure about the quality and I’ll be wary of putting tea in them…you never know if they have harmful chemicals or not!

Traditional colorful leather slippers but they aren’t comfortable to wear, we tried it on 😦

We ventured into the souks (markets) wah my eyes got dizzy by those scarves……the vendor asked for 200 dirhams and we bargained down to 50 dirhams! Note: in Chefchaouen, the vendors asked for 50 dirhams straight up front that we don’t even need to bargain!

Traditional wedding gowns, aren’t they pretty but they are expensive like 500+ dirhams and I figured I wouldn’t be able to wear them again so not worth it!

The floor was dirty and sometimes you’ll see donkeys as the mode of transporting heavy items even in this crowded alley way so look out!

Due to our trip went through different weather from cold/rainy Switzerland to hot desert to southern Italy, my suitcase already stuffed with both winter and summer clothes that we couldn’t buy big piece of souvenir 😦

Locals shop there too!

Reminded me of the village market back when I was little so I didn’t think it was weird or surprised to see something like this:

After browsing through the souks, we walked out to Jemaa el-Fna and surprisingly we didn’t get lost! Once in the square, it took a while to orient ourselves to know which “exit” street to get to the restaurant: Dar Essalam. We kept walking down but it took so long to reach it so we had a doubt if we were in the right street, Sokunna pulled out her Google map and it showed it should be down a few more blocks. Yes, we found it! Look at how grand its doorway is!

We walked in and walked through this long hallway, I felt like we were in a maze again and then there is the receptionist. I told him we had a reservation and from Riad Fleur d’Orient, he checked and brought us into another rooms after rooms to reach this dining room. It was like an Arabian palace, the colorful but dark lighting inside added a mysterious mood to it. Arabian Night? Oh yes!

The two musicians were part of the show, you’ll need to tip them for a photo with them; nothing is free in Morocco, remember that!

The wood work, the mosaic tiles, everything looked amazing!!!

We ordered our food – each of us got a different meat type tagine – one of the famous Moroccan dishes that is cooked in a terracotta pot. I ordered a beef, Sokunna ordered a chicken, and Jason ordered lamb tagine. Each dish around 200 dirham ($20). Jason ordered Fanta, it tasted the same as the Fantas in Europe and it cost 10 dirham ($1) and you can see that its retail price in markets in 3.5 dirhram haha!

The dining room started to fill up….and of course, all of them were tourists. While waiting for the food to arrive, I walked around to navigate this “palace”:

 

Another dining room:

In one of the display case near the reception, I saw this set of teapot and cups, they are so much prettier than the ones sell in the souks. The ones in the souks are all silver tone without colors so I bet this is “real”!

The hallway of rooms:

The tagines finally arrived, it was our first time having tagine and…….not impressed! They were too dry, I wish they had more sauce and the meat were all overcooked!!! The veggetable were tasteless, sigh I thought cooked like this, the veggy should absorb all the meat sauce but no!

When we finished our food, I asked the waiter for the bill and he said stay a little longer, the show is about to start….alright…..the first performer was this lady carrying a plate of candles on top of her head dancing along the way. She has some serious balancing skill there!

The place was so dark and I didn’t bring the flash with us on the trip so it was very hard to get a sharp photo to capture the movements (I cranked up the ISO really high!).

After the candle lady, the belly dancer arrived! I heard the belly dancers are not from Morocco since Morocco is a Muslim country, ladies wouldn’t dress this revealing! They are from neighboring African countries.

After the show, it was already 9:30 and we left to walk our long way back to the Riad. Along the way, we see the lamps lit up in this store wow!!! I did not dare to take out my DSLR so those photos were taken by Jason’s Samung Galaxy S6 Edge phone:

The thousand-year-old market – Jemaa el-Fna came to life at night with food stands and souvenir stands!

We stick together, holding on tight our bags and walked through the market; surprised that we made it through without any harassment yay! We managed to navigate back to our Riad safely, those narrow ally ways were dark and we prepared for it by bringing a flashlight with us, it helped a lot! I entered the passcode and open the front door to get in, supposedly the front desk is 24 hours but the 2nd shift guy wasn’t there. We took some photos inside the Riad, it looked lovely and very peaceful away from the busy market.

I backed up the photos and Jason took this photo of me on this “executive” desk haha! Working hard 😉

My first impression of Morocco – crowded and full of scammers but as long as you are aware of your surrounding and those scams, it wasn’t as scary as I thought…..so far in Marrakesh. I was expecting the kids and yes they arrived within 3 minutes and they were super annoying. On the other hand, we didn’t get any verbal harassment from young men in the square. There were vendors trying to get your business but it was the same as in other bargaining markets in 3rd world countries. The architecture in the Riad and that restaurant were so beautiful and luxuriously comfortable for the price we paid – $186.78 including city tax for 2 nights in that suite; it was on sale at orbitz.com. It was the cheapest suite we ever stayed in!

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