I took a three-hour flight from London to Marrkech. Although it was a short flight, the two locations couldn’t have been further apart culturally. A taxi dropped me off at the entrance to the medina, and I was quickly immersed in a culture unlike any I have experienced before. I spent the first night in a riad (guest house with a courtyard) inside of the medina. Here are some of my first impressions about Morocco.
- Morocco is crazy. Crazy in a really great way. Crazy in a people everywhere, winding streets through a medina, motor vehicles and bikes zipping by you, animal carcasses hanging in the butcher stall, bright colors, heckling vendors, and old-world architecture kind of way. It’s like taking a step back in time.
- Driving is chaotic. Crossing the street in Marrakech feels like a game of Frogger. I usually just position myself behind an elderly person or a mother with children since I know they will take less chances (hopefully!). Out in the countryside, aggressive taxis speed and pass on blind turns and hills. It feels like a free-for-all, but somehow everything seems to work out.
- Morocco’s history as a major trading route has led to a melting pot of cultures. The Berber people were the original inhabitants, but over time, Arab, Israeli, and African immigrants migrated in. In the early 1900s, the French established a protectorate in Morocco to protect the besieged sultan. French influences still remain, and can be seen throughout the country in the language, the food, and the newer architecture.
- Islam is a very big part of the country. Mosques can be found everywhere, and multiple times a day they will play a chanted prayer over speakers that can be heard throughout the cities. If you are not prepared, this can be a strange experience the first time you hear it.
- The colors and designs all around Morocco are incredible. Walking through a medina, like in Marrkech, you will come across some of the most beautiful and colorful patterns adorning the doors and windows of homes. Intricate tiling and wood carvings can be found everywhere. It’s a photographer’s dream.
- Morocco has awesome fresh-squeezed orange juice. And it’s cheap. Very cheap. You’ll see orange trees everywhere, and I try to have the juice as often as I can.
- Prepare to haggle while you are in Morocco. Part of the country’s culture involves bargaining on the price of goods and services. Every taxi ride and every brightly colored scarf or piece of pottery you wish to buy will involve a bidding war. They will laugh in your face if you give a low-ball offer, but ultimately it is really just a game, and the merchants will sometimes even share a glass of tea after the sale. As a tourist, you will almost always pay more than locals unless you are really good at the game. I personally am terrible at it, but at the end of the day “getting ripped off” usually means I paid one to three dollars more than I should have.