Palace Hopping (Marrakech, Morocco)


I explored Marrakech on a searing, hot afternoon. I had a few bamboozling maps, which still got me incredibly lost, but that was part of the adventure!

Exploring Marrakech has a particular challenge. You have to find where it is that you want to be and you absolutely cannot look like you have no idea whatsoever. A lot of the time, you're strutting down a road, eyes fixed forward, without a clue where the fuck it leads. You get to a dead end - no problem - pretend like you wanted to be at that dead end. Act like that dead end is where it's at. Own that fucking dead end.

So don't look lost. It's a skill. Really, it's almost an art.

The moment you stop, a local will smell you out instantly and harass you into being shown the way, for a small fee. Teenage kids are usually the most keen, because they want some pocket money, though grown adults will offer too. It's a nice gesture, it really is, but you cannot be too trusting. As I learnt...

I was 2 minutes away from finding the Ben Youssef Madrasa - an ancient Islamic school hidden in Marrakech, and a dwarfed man offered to show me the way for 10 Dirhams. I went with it. I knew it wasn't far. I thought I'd make life a little sweeter for the both of us. After walking and talking, next thing I knew, he led me to a leather tannery. 'Whatever', I thought. I guessed it was probably a friend's business, and he probably wants me to buy an ugly purse or two and make him a quick buck. The boss of the tannery showed me around the factory. After 5 minutes of nodding and making excuses to leave, they weren't letting me go. I lost patience, and simply went to leave. Three stacked workers darted to me, wearing chemical-stained rags and demanded that I hand over 2000 Dirhams to their boss (about £150) for their 'leather-making co-operative'. The sneaky, little dwarf that led me here had long fucked off.

So I was tricked. Either side of me were trenches filled with different chemicals and aqueous lime for treating the animal hides. All I could think about was being blinded with lime, or them dramatically murdering me and dissolving my body in acid never to be found. I gave them a 20 Dirham note - fortunately the only note I had - and they were incredibly pissed off. They wouldn't take it. I simply placed it on the floor, remained as hard-faced as I could, looked them in the eyes and left. Once I was out, I legged it. If I had more money, I probably would have given them it.

Now I write about it, it just seems like another silly experience, but really that was a dangerous situation to be in. All because I was too trusting from the start. Always maintain your guard. The best tricksters will be enormously polite and will have a particular way of distracting you from your instincts. These people are everywhere: Thailand, Kenya, Jordan, etc.

Indeed, some people do genuinely want to be your friend. You need to be careful though. You can be both cautious and respectful - it's tricky but it's certainly possible.

I eventually found the school. The ordeal at the leather tannery was quickly forgotten. It was beautiful.

Carved wooden ceilings. Chiselled walls. Dazzling mosaics. Ben Youssef Madrasa - beautiful work!

I sat here for a while. I watched tourists wander around. It's always interesting to see what other people like to take photos of in a place like this. Some people zoomed right into the stonework details while some people tried to take the perfect, symmetrical shot.

My next stop was the Dar Si Said Palace. An old palace restored as an open museum. It's slightly out of town, though absolutely within walking distance.

It was so quiet here. I don't think many people think to come here. Apart from cats, which roam the corridors and courtyards.

It was a sweet afternoon.

Despite getting into a sticky spot at the start, I really settled into a relaxed, holiday mood in just a few hours. Rummaging through leafy courtyards, breezing through airy corridors - the whole atmosphere was restoring on the body. You knew it was hot here, but you really noticed the breeze in these spaces. The cool, tiled floors drew all the unwelcome heat out of your body. It's almost like the place was nurturing you. That's what a holiday is about, and this particular palace was really doing the work.

Here, I felt like I could wander anywhere in the city. Nothing seemed too intimidating anymore. I felt comfortable in my own skin. This is the beauty solo travel: I could spend however long I wanted just sitting in a corridor, admiring the decor, with nowhere to be and nobody to please but myself. This whole experience was totally on my terms.

Thanks for reading!




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