arrondissement de Marrakech-Medina مراكش المدينة, Morocco - Polarsteps
We're strategic about our entry into Marrakech and get ourselves to a campground on the outskirts, just 13km away from where we're going to be staying; Marrakech traffic has a reputation that precedes it, and we don't want to tack those 13km onto the end of a full cycling day. The campground is nice and very touristy, and we pitch our tent in a spot surrounded by mobile homes, a weird, whiplashy turnaround from the previous night in the garbage shed.
Things we end up loving about Marrakech:
-The Madrassa Hostel is a little haven at the edge of the medina; the staff are lovely, the rooms open onto a central courtyard, and there's a rooftop patio with cozy couches. It's not a party hostel, and it's quiet at night. For four nights, it's our home base.
-For timing-and-communication reasons we don't manage to arrange a stay with Warmshowers hosts Ibrahim and Sanna in the city before we've locked in our hostel beds, but they still host us at their house for an amazing couscous lunch while we're in Marrakech; they're extremely wonderful, and planning some upcoming long adventures with their kids, and they give us some good route advice for our time in Morocco.
-Kini's been wanting to get a haircut but looking for a place with the right vibe, and walking through the medina we suddenly find it in Jacques' hole-in-the-wall barber shop. We step out of the noise and chaos into a quiet space laid out with his tools, and the haircut process starts with waiting for mint tea to boil on a gas burner while local news radio hums in the corner, then drinking the tea, then Jacques smoking his pipe for a bit, and then, with little to no consultation on the haircut, diving in and doing it, and somehow completely nailing it. Then his friend from the cafe across the way comes by and Jacques asks him to bring over harira soup and egg sandwiches for all of us, and we eat in the back of the barbershop. He tells us about his yoga practice and his daughter's wedding and his time cutting hair in Marrakech and how much he loves riding his motorcycle into the mountains, where the air is clean.
-We visit a Moroccan photography museum, filled with old pictures from city medinas and Berber villages and the camel caravan routes; it's fascinating and deepens our context for where we are.
Things we don't end up loving about Marrakech:
-It is, these days, a city where the only dominant industry is tourism; walking around the city centre, so much is built around the dynamic between western tourists with money in our pockets, and locals trying desperately to make a living by extracting said money from tourists. Every interaction becomes transactional; someone strikes up a conversation because they want to bring you into their business, any helpful advice is an attempt at guiding for money, you can order a cup of juice and have a vendor place a second cup in your hand and then demand that you pay for something you didn't ask for. In the main square, before you know what's happening someone can put a snake on you and then charge you for the experience; same if you watch the snake charmers for more than a couple of seconds. At one point we're waiting in a line and there's music playing, and an older woman comes up beside us, bobbing to the music and goofily crossing her eyes and darting them back and forth; we laugh a bit because we think maybe she's a visitor expressing, "Isn't this a crazy place?" and then she holds out her hand for money. Staying in the medina, there's nowhere we can go without walking through corridors of this, in all directions, for quite a long time.
-This is compounded by heavy motorcycle and scooter traffic in all the tight alleyways of the medina; drivers speed into crowds of pedestrians and lean on their horns, narrowly missing people, almost toppling vending stalls. Dodging them requires constant, full engagement. We saw some really frazzled-looking parents of toddlers walking through the city.
-I mean, obviously cycling in Marrakech was an insane experience. We did it carefully and alertly. We followed a donkey cart through a highway roundabout. We dodged around animals, kids, car doors, wheelchair users, bicycles, and motorbikes going the wrong way on the side of the road. We joined the chaos and held our own space within it and made it through.
Overall, four days was more than we needed for how little planning we did around our time in the city; a couple of things that probably would have been great to do, we were too late finding out we needed to reserve tickets online beforehand. We'd had the idea of trying to tap into a bit of the underground queer scene in Marrakech, landed on the name of a bar to go to, and then looked into it and realized it was the sort of place that specializes in $25 cocktails, part of the luxury experience you can have if you arrive in Marrakech with a lot of money to burn, and not the place for us on our bike budget with our bike grease-stained cycling pants.
We were relieved to leave; the city was a jarring change from our time in rural Morocco, where so much is given with genuine kindness and the payment we offer for a night of tenting, or a coffee in the morning, or an impromptu lunch in someone's yard, is, more often than not, flat-out refused.
🚲 Bike Jaunt 🚲
arrondissement de Marrakech-Medina مراكش المدينة