Morocco: My First Taste of Africa

I did intend to update this blog sooner but things got in the way, then those things multiplied into other things and here we are in February. It’s no bother, as I’m fresh back from my first venture into Africa after spending a week in the crazy city of Marrakech. I’m so used to jetting off on long haul flights to escape the UK, that it’s strange that a place which is so wildly different to home is just a mere 3 and a half hours away. Marrakech couldn’t be more different to nearby Europe and I don’t think you’ll find anywhere in such a close radius which so radically contrasts UK life as Morocco.

Marrakech rooftops with the Atlas Mountains behind

It felt quite liberating to be back in a country with crazy roads and motorbikes which knew no bounds. I was travelling with Little Mother who hadn’t had much experience in mad traffic (and isn’t a great passenger at the best of times) so she was having palpitations by the time we arrived at our riad.

The riad (a more traditional Moroccan B&B) was fantastic – Riad Johonboy – situated just on the edge of the walled Medina and within a 15 minute walk one way to the central square and the other way to the more modern shopping centres. It was a quiet little place on an alleyway near a covered market. I was glad we’d got the airport pick-up since there wasn’t a chance in hell I’d have found the place with my hopeless navigational skills. Like most riads, it had a fantastic roof terrace so we could bask in the morning sunshine and then enjoy the clear nights in the evening. We got free use of the kitchen, which was handy given Little Mother’s unaccommodating palette, and also allowed us to have some great chats with the manager, Abdul. Plus, it was just £15 for a twin room. We couldn’t have asked for much more during our stay.

In terms of its location, the riad was a real eye-opener. We had to walk through the nearby covered market multiple times a day and yet it was a walk that was never dull. Carts filled to the brim with chickens would whizz past us, a man selling sawn-off donkey legs greeted us one morning when we wandered out then, just to add to the adventure, half of the already narrow road was being completely dug up by workmen, leaving a tiny passageway for the multiple motorbikes, pushbikes and people (including us!) to traverse whilst trying not to plunge headfirst into the giant hole they’d just dug.

It was such a thrill to get that market buzz again. On one hand you half expected James Bond to whizz through in a high speed chase on a motorbike and on the other you expected to see Han Solo and Chewbacca offering us a ride in the Millenium Falcon. It truly was like a film set.

Koutoubia Mosque

Although the pavements got decidedly wider after this, the madness didn’t end. Little Mother likened crossing the road to a game of Frogger, whilst donkeys trundled past constantly with carts filled with goods. Even when you get to the main tourist area of the Medina, there’s a real authenticity about Marrakech which doesn’t make it feel like tourists have taken over. In fact, you get the impression that, even if we weren’t there, life would carry on as normal.

What’s great about Marrakech is that you always have a focal point in the form of Koutoubia Mosque, which can be seen from most places across the city. Whilst the above image might give the impression of a peaceful mosque in a tranquil garden, it’s still just a few steps away from one of the busiest Medina roads. Still, it’s a sight to behold and a real architectural feat. It’s particularly photogenic around sunset and of course the clear blue January skies helped make for some great photos too. There’s also a cafe just across the road from it which makes for a nice sitting out place with a drink as you watch the hustle and bustle of the Koutoubia Square. Non-Muslims can’t go into the mosque but are free to roam the grounds and take pictures. There are also a number of similarly designed mosques scattered around the city.

Sunset at Koutoubia

On a more general level, it was quite nice to stay in the same place for a whole week. Marrakech acts as a great base for exploring the Atlas Mountains or going into the desert but, since we were there for Little Mother to run the Half Marathon, we just stuck to the city itself this time. I was worried we were going to run out of things to do but when even walking just to buy some bread is an adventure, there wasn’t much chance of us getting bored.

I’ll get another post up soon about the other stuff we got up to, including the more tranquil parts of the city to escape the madness and the unparalleled chaos of Djemaa el Fna Square.

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