A Singaporean in Marrakech

by Clemens Chay

Let me start off by being clear: this article will not be giving you an exhaustive description of what you will find in Marrakech, Morocco, or directions to get to a certain place in the city. You can find all of that while surfing the internet. This article is about my personal experience in the city, alongside certain anecdotes that might help you decide whether you choose to visit Marrakech. Bear in mind that this trip was done alone, and I will try to keep my recollection as short and informal as possible, to aid you in understanding what I went through during my four nights stay in Marrakech.

Moments before the plane touched down at Marrakech Menara Airport, what I saw outside the window was a sea of brown, and a few hours later, I was in awe of the ravishing colours from rows and rows of local shops that displayed many exquisite and intriguing products for the wandering traveler. Well, at least it was delightful enough for a Singaporean’s first time in Morocco. To me, this city never sleeps; it is lively, vibrant and full of character, waiting for someone to discover this exotic, foreign beauty.

Yet, for a tourist it is never easy to navigate through the intertwining narrow passageways that resemble one another, especially at night. I was lost several times, and I had a few local teens show me the way and upon reaching my desired destination, they asked for ‘a present’ or money. Fishing out some coins from my pocket, which amounted to about 30 dirhams (close to 3 euros), I was taken aback when they shook their head and told me that it was not enough. One of them even rejected my five‐dollar Singaporean note and asked for ten euros.

According to a Moroccan passenger I spoke to on the train, he said that in general, the Moroccan people are pretty laidback and would rather spend their days doing nothing than working to earn money. I would not go to the extent of generalizing the typical Moroccan mentality but I must say there are many reasons to be cheerful and many opportunities yet to be developed. It is, after all, a country with exciting prospects in the tourism sector. The harassment did not put me off or dampen my spirits, because I found many more reasons to be happy in Marrakech.

One of them was the hospitality shown by the Moroccans I have met during the trip. Firstly by the owner of the riad I stayed in, Abdou, who spent late nights chatting with me, exchanging our experiences, and even had someone to ensure that I was well taken care of when he was away. I was moved by such a warm welcome. When I first wandered off into the maze of souqs, I was bent on finding some pretty tablecloths. I found this shop displayed many different coloured fabrics, from scarves to hats. The owner, Rachid, took the trouble to alter this huge piece of cloth according to my desired dimensions. We agreed on the price, I paid for the two pieces of cloth, but it did not end there.

It was more than just a simple transaction between seller and buyer. Rachid went the extra mile to alter the cloth, something most sellers would not do. He invited me for some mint tea, went off to buy some traditional Moroccan bread and we sat down in front of his shop chatting away. Each time a trolley of cakes passed by, or when a man with a kettle of coffee with spices came by, he would stop them and treated me to these Moroccan delights. At ten in the evening, he took me on his motorbike to the Djemaa El Fna (El Fna Square) for supper, and we tried out some Moroccan soup and sausages. That was not all. On my last day in Marrakech, Rachid took me through the scores of stalls in the souqs to find the list of things that I wanted, at reasonable prices and of better quality! He took me to the local lunch point in one of the souqs to have brochettes of lamb lungs. At night we went for dinner at the Square with his friend, Zouhair. From snail soup to lamb brains, I tasted whatever that was new to me. They accompanied me to see the Koutoubia Mosque, listened to some Moroccan music, went all the way up to the terrace of the Café de Paris to take pictures, and then accompanied me back to my riad by foot, pushing their motorbikes beside me as I walked. Can money buy such hospitality, such unconditional friendship?

Of course not and at the end of my stay in Marrakech, I was extremely happy to have been there, despite being a solo traveller.

Another reason why I loved this place was its proximity to the desert. I went on a two‐day excursion to Ouazarzat (a small town between Marrakech and the Sahara), and into Zagora (a desert full of Palm trees known as the door to the real Sahara). From the Berber markets to camel rides, it was truly an experience from the Arabian nights. I shivered under my blanket as I slept outside the Berber tents, in the middle of the desert, just to look at the myriad of stars above me. It was a truly priceless experience. As the fire died off that night, I could only smile to myself, thankful to have experienced North Africa. Moments later, one of the men pointed out Cassiopeia in the sky. The last time I heard of this constellation was from the movie ‘Serendipity’ and I gazed at the sky dreamily before drifting off to sleep.

Four nights in Marrakech and my spirits are higher than ever. Maybe you should try it out too.

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