Lost & Scared in Marrakech

In 2014 I treated The Wife to an exotic birthday weekend away in Marrakech. I had planned to stay in a beautiful Riad, organised a tantalising Moroccan spa and arranged a fancy lunch at Winston Churchill’s favourite holiday retreat, the luxurious La Mamounia. I had such high hopes for this secret trip but little did I know that it would start out as being one of the scariest adventures we’d ever take…

Our cheap and convenient Easyjet flight had landed on Moroccan soil late on a Tuesday evening. I had emailed ahead to our guesthouse and arranged for their taxi to meet us at the airport’s arrival gate.

It’s dark, it’s late and we’re tired. There’s no sign of our taxi driver and the crowds leaving our flight all disappear into the night. One shady, scary man comes and offers us a ride. He is dressed head to toe in a long dark robe, completed with a hood that falls over his forehead and finishes just below his eyes. We politely decline. We are hassled by several more taxi drivers all vying for our custom. The airport is quiet now and the cleaners are out in force mopping the airport concourse in its entirety. It is clear to us that we are the last flight of the day. The taxi drivers hawk and circle us, watching our every move, knowing full well that we could be their last dollar for the day.

I reach for my phone and dial the number of Orangers d’Alilia, our home for the next 3 nights. No luck. I’m not sure if my phone wasn’t happy with being abroad or the number I was dialing was missing a code or whatever… but there was simply no connection. We slide across the freshly licked floor to withdraw a small amount of cash from the ATM, fully aware that we are the focal point of a dozen or so taxi drivers.

We nervously head over to the door and breath in some hot, muggy, foreign air. No sooner has the moonlight struck our faces before the hooded man from earlier returned. “You need a ride”. This time it was a statement not a question. The shadiest, darkest, dodgiest looking of all the circulating taxi sharks was now upon us…. and he was wheeling our bags towards his vehicle. Before we could say ‘stop’ the bags were in his boot. He had our bags…. he had us.. All the other taxi drivers turned a blind eye and packed up their wares for the day.

“where are you going?” he probes.
Riad Les Orangers d’Alilia. 216 rue Tadla, Derb Chtouka I say as I hand him a map I had printed earlier.
He looks at the map and looks away into the horizon.
“I don’t know it” he says as he starts up the car, lights his cigarette and The Wife and I turn around to watch the airport shrinking into the distance behind us through clouds of car fumes.

We hit the medina, Marrakech’s ancient, walled, sandy labyrinth. The car twists and turns down streets that are overflowing with people, horses and abandoned shelters. The air is strong with the smell of cooking, the sound Arabic prayers fills the car and the road signs are unreadable to Western eyes.

The streets become narrower but by no means quieter until the car grinds to a halt. We are at a dark, dusty crossroads. There are roads in all four direcions which are much less roads and more like lanes or even alleyways. The locals stare at us as we alight from the taxi. Clearly strangers from a foreign land.

The taxi driver unrolls his window and shouts at some local kids.

“this is it.” said the driver.
“this is it.” said the voice inside my head.

The driver unloads our cases, speaks to the children in Arabic and tells us to follow the kids as he points towards the darkest, narrowest of the four corridors. I grab my wife’s hand tight and we lock eyes. We’re going in.

As we walk down this alley I can literally touch the buildings on each side of the lane; it was not much more than 5 foot wide. I look for escape routes in case things go nasty but it looks like we’re beyond help. Our fate is only a few steps away.

This children try to speak to us. We ‘talk’ in broken  English about football with the kids and I naming players or football teams and then giving them the thumbs up, thumbs down. Chelsea? Booo! Manchester United? Yayyyyy!

Turns out the kids aren’t so bad… We’re a little calmer now. They’re harmless. And tiny. We can avoid this trap if needs be.

We stop at a big, heavy, oak door with decorative iron studs and gated windows either side.

This was it. Or it was something, at least…

 

The door opens to a lovely French lady. “Bonjour! Bonsoir! Come in, come in! I’ve been waiting. Madam, Monsoir, please, enter”. We step inside the warmth of luxury and the lady leaves the small boys a few pennies as a tip. “Don’t mind the boys, they help the tourists down the lanes for a little bit of pocket money…  I’ve set up some welcome food and drinks in the atrium and your room is ready in the first floor”

A sigh of relief. We made it to our paradise.

A Pause For Thought…

Later, the hotelier explained the apprehension that we experience was normal. We were in an ancient city with ancient customs. The buildings look poor and shabby from the street but the inside are often pristine and luxury; they do not like to brag openly about their wealth. The people hanging out on every street corner were simply waiting for the mosque to open. The loud Arab chanting we heard in the car was the call to prayer (one of the 5 per day). The fragrant food was being shared. People were happy and embracing each other. Our initial prejudices were all wrong.

All of our fears were relinquished. We were not settled in our Riad for long before we decided to venture out on our own. Now that our eyes were open to the different culture the whole experience felt very different from where we arrived. The busy streets were filled with peaceful people. It was midnight andwe felt more than safe.

We went on to have an absolutely brilliant time in Marrakech and found the hospitality to be beyond excellent. We bumped into the young boys several times when venturing in and out and we would always shout out football players names to hear their cheers or boos. I couldn’t recommend Marrakech highly enough and look forward to writing more about our experiences there soon…. watch this space!
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Whats the most scared and afraid you’ve felt whilst abroad? Have you ever gotten into a Taxi that you really wish you hadn’t? Ever feared that a small harmless group of locals were secretly plotting to rob you of all your money and internal organs whilst slowly slicing, dicing and torturing you for fun? .. I mean… no me, either… they were only kids… jeeze!

 

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6 thoughts on “Lost & Scared in Marrakech

  1. This is great! I’m going to forward this to my boyfriend, I really want to go to marrakech, but he is a little scared – probably for the reasons that you mention; the shabby buildings, the crowds of people the maze of streets… I love this post!

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    1. Hey, it’s an unbelievable place. It was beautiful. There is also a newer part of town outside of the media with modern hotels but for the real experience you need a Riad in the medina. You have the atlas mountains and endless opportunity for excursions and adventure. Highly recommend and a real ‘out of this world’ experience 🙂

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