The main square in Marrakech, Jemaa el-Fnaa

The main square in Marrakech, Jemaa el-Fnaa. Photo by Nellu.

Morocco may be the only place in the world where tourists approach people who are clearly also tourists to ask for directions. (If you didn’t read my last post, visitors are warned not to ask local kids for directions because they’ll often lead you around in circles and a demand a hefty tip for their time.)

In Marrakech, a much more touristy city than Fes, Nellu and I were approached on two occasions by fellow tourists. One time, it was a group of three teachers from the Netherlands, who had gotten lost on their way to meet their students. When we ran into them on our way back to our riad, they had already been marked by a few teenagers, who continued to circle their prey.

Since we couldn’t figure out where the teachers were going, we brought them home with us. I thought our host, Samata, would be able to give them directions they could count on. It was at least a five minute walk through winding streets and a few dark narrow alleyways, but they chatted happily to us as we led them.

Samata was there when we walked in. He pulled out a prepared map and highlighted various landmarks on a path crossing the main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, on the way to their restaurant meeting place. Nellu and walked with them again, just to make sure they got there.

On our way back for the second time that night, Nellu asked, somewhat in disbelief, “Would you have followed us up down these dark alleys?”

To be honest, I don’t know if I would have followed him, but I would have definitely followed me. I’m approachable. Nellu’s intimidating. We’re an oddly effective combination.

There is one group of people in Marrakech who did find Nellu approachable, however…the drug dealers. He must have been approached four or five times during the few days we were there. (He swears it happened every time we went out.) But what was truly fun about these encounters was the way they told him what they had to offer. Instead of whispering in Nellu’s ear, it looked like they were trying to whisper into his mouth. “Hashish,” they would say directly at his mouth as he walked by. It was awkward to watch because Nellu actually walks quite quickly. These guys had to keep up with him, try to whisper into his mouth, and avoid running into people, bikes, carts, walls, etc.

A wall. Photo by Nellu

I know at this point in the story you’re probably thinking, “And, why would I want to go to Morocco.” It’s not as sketchy as it may sound. These are just the quirky stories I write before the paragraphs where I talk about how great everything is to keep it interesting. Great = boring. Dealers whispering into the mouths of potential customers—interesting.

I highly recommend Morocco for all of our U.S. friends (and European friends) because it’s close enough for a week-long trip, yet exotic enough to make you feel like you’ve really traveled.

Here are a few other things I loved about Morocco:

1) You can write off a visit to a Hamman/spa as a “genuine cultural experience.” A hammam is either a steam room or a bath. The steaming is usually followed by an intense black soap exfoliation, which was much appreciated after our months on the road.

2) They tolerated my bad French and even pretended to understand my small talk regarding the weather.

3) Everything is beautiful. Seriously. In the States our neutral decor is beige, in Morocco it’s elaborate colorful patterns.

The console in the entrance to our riad.

And in Marrakech, Jemaa el-Fnaa Square is a must visit, especially when it comes alive at night. (Nellu wants me to let you know it is a recognized cultural space within the Marrakech Medina, a UNESCO World Heritage site.) It has all the stereotypical thrills you’re looking for including snake charmers, monkeys on a leash, and women waiting to henna tattoo you. Here’s what it sounds like:

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So go, bring an extra bag to fill with all the leather you buy and maybe a side table for me, and ask other tourists for directions to the best souks.

~ Molly

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