Last month I visited Marrakech and it touched my heart. Marrakech, or Marrakesh, is the capital of Morocco, and fourth largest city of the northwest African nation. It is located to the north of the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, and is a cultural, religious and trading hub. Made visually distinctive by its red sandstone buildings and walls, it is nicknamed the “red city.” These huge and seemingly endless walls, drew me in and brought tears to my eyes. If they could speak I can only imagine what tales they would whisper – stories of oppression and hardship, poverty and blood shed, and accounts of rich cultural history, joy, prayers and peace.
1. It’s only a short flight away from Europe. My boyfriend and I took an easyJet flight from London on a Friday evening and in less than three hours, we landed in Marrakech. We were invited to a friend’s 30th birthday party there, and I had never been to Marrakech, or anywhere in Africa, so that, plus the fact that it was such an easy, quick flight from England, made it almost impossible to say no.
2.Stepping off the plane in Marrakech is like stepping into a whole new world. A driver from our villa met us at the airport and as we followed him to the car I noticed men staring at my blonde hair and bare shoulders. I was warm in the desert evening but I quickly grabbed my scarf I had put in my purse for this reason, and wrapped it around my exposed shoulders and chest. Modesty is valued very highly and Moroccan women are not allowed to wear clothing that exposes their bodies in public. So it is pretty much the total opposite of Santa Barbara where I have spent the last 10 years of my life running around in flip-flops, jean shorts and bikinis.
As our driver navigated the dusty, busy evening streets, teaming with small rickety cars, scooters, and pedestrians, I sat back and imagined what my life would be like if I was born here. We passed through several massive sandstone walls which our driver said were built to protect the cities from invasions. I later came to realize that they were also built to protect the wealthy from the poor.
We passed carts being pulled by donkeys, strays chickens and dogs roaming the streets, a butcher on the corner cutting a pig’s head off. I winced in disgust as I could see and smell the fresh blood. I saw small restaurants, corner stores and houses, all of which were only four walls with dirt floors, with old men sitting outside drinking beer and watching cars wiz by. I saw kids with torn, dirty clothing playing in the streets and women walking in packs together, each concealed from the world by a vail.
3. You feel the distance between the poor and the rich, and that pain is good for your soul. After 25 minutes we turned down another dirt road and pulled up to a gated estate with armed guards. They whistled to each other, then quickly opened the gate to let us in, and just as quickly closed it behind us. Within moments we went from the poor dirt streets of a land half forgotten by the modern world, to an expansive and opulent private villa fit for a king. This contrast between the have and have-nots is so painfully striking that I found myself overwhelmed as we stepped out of one world and into the next.
4. Luxury is cheap in Morocco. The gorgeous Luxury Retreats “Villa President,” which became our home for the next two days and nights, boasts 8 bedrooms and 8 bathrooms, on an expansive plot of well-groomed land. It has a large outdoor pool and an indoor pool and a spa area located in the underground level. The villa also comes with a concierge and private chief who cooked us breakfast and lunch each day. Upon arrival, we were led to our room, that ended up being an entire end suite with a private living room and terrace. I later found out that every room looks much the same, and all of this came at a price of around $2,000 a night, split between 12 people. More info>> here.
Enjoying the pool at Villa President in SUMMERLOVE SWIMWEAR
5. The restaurants are fantastic. I was thoroughly impressed the first night by Bo & Zin, with its expansive outside dining areas, gorgeous foliage, water features, and chic decor. The temperature in Marrakech in April is perfect. We found ourselves lingering outside, enjoying cocktails in the evening glow of scattered terrace fires and a beautiful starry night. The food was delicious. (I had the veggies and couscous. YUM!) Our group drank a lot, got up and danced around our table halfway through the meal, and nobody seemed to care!
But even more impressive was our meal at Djellabar on Saturday night. You step into this place (which is located in a 100-year-old palace), and you really feel like you’re in Morocco with all the plush red colors the all-over-stencil design making beautiful patterns across the walls. The food was very good, and the cocktails were delicious, but the ambiance was the best part of all. It was sexy and lively. And there was a rocking, live saxophone player! We started dinner at 10:30pm, and by 12am, pretty much every person in the entire restaurant was up dancing! So fun!
6. The Souk is overwhelming and amazing. The Marrakech Souk (market place) is insane! I have never in my life experienced so many crazy things happening all at once, in the same place! Our driver dropped us off near the souk entrance and within minutes, we were surrounded by snake charmers, panhandlers, beggars and street vendors. I loved all the pottery and beautiful rugs. I hated the poor baby turtles and Chameleons caged up by the dozens. (I grew up with a mother that wanted to rescue every living creature on earth so we had Chameleons living in our shower when I was little! But that is a story for another time.)
Wandering the corridors of the market place, I felt like Alice in Wonderland in the desert. There are new shops around every bend and delicious food and music and people everywhere. Girls, be sure to wear long sleeves or a scarf to cover your chest and shoulders, and keep an eye on your purse at all times. (*Note: Ladies you can wear whatever you want when you go out to nice restaurants, but you have to cover yourself in public areas.) And be sure to take at least a half hour from the chaos, to enjoy tea or a cocktail at rooftop bar and watch the sun go down over an amazing, bustling city.
7. Go to Marrakech because it will make you appreciate what you have, and question what you think you need. While driving the streets of Marrakech I couldn’t help but feel like it was just chance that I wasn’t the one sitting there cutting up the pig, in the dirty butcher shop on the corner. I felt like I somehow I got lucky not to be one of the prostitutes standing around inside PACHA, looking for a quick job for the night. And I literally said a prayer thanking God for not letting me be a women living in 90 degree heat, forced to hide her body and face under a veil every day.
And yet at the same time I couldn’t help but feel like maybe I got it wrong. In Marrakech they sit in the streets and just talk to each other. And do you know what I noticed? None of them were staring down at their phones. I am sure most of them didn’t even have phones. And that is probably a blessing for their culture because they still share stories in person. They look into each other’s eyes. They share their days with their loved ones, instead of spending them behind a computer screen like many of us. Marrakech is a powerful place, rich with culture and history. They have managed to hang on to who they were, and that is what makes them “wealthy.”
Go to Marrakech because there are few places where you can’t help but feel raw, human, and alive. When I was there I felt like all of this we’ve built up around us (lavish houses, cars etc), doesn’t really matter. I felt like we could all be happier living much simpler lives because in the end all we have is each other and the love we give and receive. So love big and let Marrakech and other places like it touch your heart, because that is what life is all about.