Lessons from Marrakech

Lessons from Marrakech

Africa, Marrakesh, Morocco
Wednesday, April 01, 2015

As my taxi entered the old center of Marrakech, I knew I had just arrived to a place I could not compare to anywhere I had been before. The town was bustling, cars were zipping past, people, so many people, carrying groceries, selling their wares, even leading donkeys down the streets… It was hectic to say the least, a bombardment of smells and sounds. I stepped out of the car into the sun and heat that I’d been hoping to find on this trip and began to walk through the Medina. My guide, one of the managers of the hostel I was staying at who was surprisingly named Pedro, was giving me tips as we bustled through the crowded alleys. He would point in all directions, telling me about hammams and palaces hidden down this and that alley, and I would nod “yes” to hide the fact that I actually wasn’t listening. I was too consumed with the millions of things going on around me. We were walking down one of the main streets of the medina, which was completely lined in shops, and people were calling out to me — “Excuse me, miss!” — to take a look at their lamps or rugs while Pedro expertly evaded the motorbikes zooming down the eight foot wide alley while I almost lost my balance two or three times. Within five minutes of being in the medina, I was covered in nervous sweat, a bit in shock, and felt a little in over my head. Maybe I’d stepped a liiiittle too far out of my comfort zone on my first solo trip… Maybe I wasn’t ready for this big of a challenge. Luckily, as we walked into the calm and quiet interior courtyard of the hostel, I was greeted by huge couches and tried to regain my composure while sipping some mint tea.

Marrakech is a place that is full of surprises, but you have to be willing to change your mindset to find them. Just as with every destination, you do have to adjust to the customs and beliefs of a place, but here it’s a little more drastic. As soon as I finished my tea, and told myself it was now or never, I ventured back out into the city to search for I came to this city to find… What exactly it was I wasn’t totally sure at that moment, but I was down for an adventure! As a solo female traveler, my adjustment was particularly marked by the fact that I had to basically avoid all eye contact, ignore anyone calling out to me, or offering help. At first I fell for people calling out “excuse me” in my direction, thinking I might have dropped something, when in reality it was a merchant hoping I would take a look at his shop. This took a little while to get used to. On that same afternoon that I arrived in Marrakech, I was also taken for a wild ride by a teenage boy who led me to the tanneries. Before I knew it, I was pretty much lost in the medina with no one to show me how to get back to the ‘big square’ except for this young man, leading me from place to place in the hopes of getting a commission. Once we finally got to a spot near the square, and after he demanded 100 dirham – – 10 euro – – for his job as a guide, I head straight back to the hostel, my pride and confidence totally shot, and seriously wondered if I could last a whole week in this crazy place…

But of course, I made it through the week, and I came to love the medina, the people, the food, and all of this city’s eccentricities. As soon as you get over the catcalling and start to get a hang of bartering in the souk, you will begin to feel truly welcomed to the city. (Barter well and you might even get a great compliment like “You barter like Berber!” Also, aim to get down to 25% of their original asking price… I never made it that low, maybe only 45% but you can do it!) Marrakech is a beautiful place and Moroccan people are incredibly pleasant, helpful, and welcoming people, and they really just want you to have the best time while in their country.

Just a note for women and other solo travelers: I never felt I was in any kind of physical harm or danger while in Marrakech, even at night. The alleys might be a little deserted compared to midday, but I was never afraid for my safety. Of course, I was never by myself but walking with two other girls.

This whole trip was a challenge to say the least, but incredibly fulfilling because I learned something about myself. I realized that I can be vulnerable, but through this leap of faith, I have gained so much more belief in myself. I have learned that I can trust myself, my intuition, and count on my inner strength when I am feeling unsure of myself. Being a solo female traveler is more than just about exploring a new place, it is about learning a bit about yourself and realizing you can achieve so much more than you think… I guess that’s “what” I came to find in Marrakech…

Wander the medina, the big square, and the souk with me as you scroll down…

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