africa, travel -


Written by Jason Sarvis, digital nomad and daydreamer

This piece is really about the mentality of travelling to such a diverse, intense and often uncomfortable place such as Marrakech. 

It was my first experience travelling to North Africa back in 2015. This sort of journey comes with doubts, most pressing of all; will the internet work? how is the security situation? I fully understand that this might not be that important for many travellers, but as I work on the get the picture. 

So a week and a half in Marrakech! I was alone and had the luck of staying in a cool place just off the Djemaa el Fna (main plaza) home to all manner of intense interactions, tempting sounds and mouth-watering smells. Trust me on this, Djemaa el Fna is completely overwhelming, especially when you arrive at night and are particularly unaware of where to go. A young lad approached me and asked if I needed help to which I offered him a business proposition. He takes me to my hotel and I will pay him on what I think his time is worth. He grinned, looked at the booking confirmation I gave him and told me his name was Ahmed. I set the pace and he set the direction, and within 30 seconds we were outside of my Riad (beautifully designed old merchant house with an open central courtyard). I held two hands out, both closed and told him to pick. He grinned again and chose my left which contained a dollar bill, unaware that the other contained $10. He thanked me in Arabic and buzzed away, saying that he'd be back tomorrow for the tour. I realised I had just inadvertently hired him and silently praised him for his business acumen.

Djemaa El Fna Plaza

Now Marrakech is about letting yourself drift into it all, relinquish that control you are used to and not challenge everything. This way, you will enjoy the experience much more. Befriend hawkers who try to sell you something, answer honestly, practice Arabic, French, Spanish, Catalan, German (I heard literally every language being spoken), eat things you wouldn't normally eat and most of all - drink the fresh orange juice, it is stunning!

I would start the day with mint tea followed by a continental style breakfast with a twist, in the luminous and fresh central area of my Riad. Basking in free and super-fast internet, I got my orders and writing done before the sun had reached its zenith every day, giving me ample time to explore this fascinating city. My best friend Ahmed had decided now that I was to learn Arabic, so he would patiently repeat basic words again and again to inundate me with their meaning. I have never said 'thank you' so much in my life. Ahmed's presence was an interesting one, for several reasons. I am aware that many people coming to places such as Morocco ignore the Ahmeds, or see them as peddlers or hawkers after a quick buck. This has some truth to it but, in my opinion, it is only a small part of the greater picture. It is as if a tourist comes here with blinkers on, much like a horse, actively ignoring some parts of the experience to focus and 'enjoy' other parts, which are oftentimes more comfortable and easy to accept. I saw other tourists losing their tempers with shop keepers or swatting away another young Ahmed as if he were a dirty fly. This fear of interaction is a protection mechanism for that tourist and actually inhibits a true experience being formed in this place. It is also a big lack of respect. From my side, Ahmed was with me for 5 days and became a teacher, student, guide and friend. We swapped facebook and I gave him 100Dirhams at the end of the time on the calculations that he was always patient, friendly and attentive. Moreover I feel that there is a middle ground between local currency and home currency - and if one is acting locally, they need to think locally. In this case in terms of the currency. Ahmed left with a word of thanks, a right hand briefly touching his heart and a shriek of what I can only imagine was an upcoming purchase (he always said he wanted a pair of nike trainers). 

I would urge anyone with doubts about visiting a place as different and intense as Marrakech to just get up and go. You will love it. Take two days to assimilate into the pace and essentially 'localize' yourself then act like it and be decisive in what you want.

Say 'YES' to things, eat what you normally don't, barter as much as you possible can and smile at people! The key rule in negotiation in a shop: don't show any interest in that thing you want to purchase and most of all, enjoy the art of strategic haggling!

Check out my kit list of Marrakech if you do decide to go!



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