Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Day 124: Evan In Morocco

I've been procrastinating writing this blog post for a while now. Not because I didn't have an amazing time, in fact Morocco was one of the best life experiences I could of had, but because I knew how much writing was going to go into this post. There is an inner fight, write for hours upon hours and a get it all down as soon as possible or take your time and write it slowly and risk the chance of forgetting something. I picked the latter any way so lets see how this goes.

This trip from the beginning was always going to be a different trip from any trip I've been on before. I have never fully created an adventure before. The dates, the places we went, the navigation, where we ate. All of my past trips I either had some or no parts in the decision making process of these things. My recent trip to Barcelona I feel like was a nice dry run to reflect on how well I could do something like this on a much larger scale. As read in my previous post Evan In Barcelona, it went very successfully. Even so there was so much more room for error. It was a longer trip, the travel during the trip left where we started in, a new language, completely different way of living in general. There were definitely some risks involved with taking this trip which I think in the end reflected on how well the trip ended up being.

There were three decently big components to making this trip work as well as it did.

1. RyanAir
2. The App City Maps 2Go
3. Lots of travel guide PDFs

So for those of you who don't know RyanAir is a european airline that travels to specific destinations for next to nothing prices. Smaller plane, nothing special comes with it, smalls bags allowed only, and checking your bag isn't cheap but it will get you to your location and back for 1/3 of the price you'd pay with any other airline and when you're traveling on a budget that is everything.

I had discovered City Maps 2Go when I first moved in Madrid. The big thing about this app is that it allows you to download a map of the city or country you are in to your phone so that you can access it without wifi later. Which mean when you're lost and have no 3g you're gps will still work on the map (this is not the case for google maps). When I really started planning out the trip I started to mark all the locations on the map that I was trying to see, this proved to be EXTREMELY useful for not only getting around but avoiding getting lost.

As you will see later on in the pictures, Marrakech is one big maze with some my small winding street it is so easy to get completely lost. Without a good working map the only way to figure out where you're going sometimes would have been to pay someone to take you around. Unfortunately all the physical maps that were given to you were not that useful, especially because of all the street Marrakech had they just simple weren't detailed as much as they needed to be to get around. I think for future trips I will be bringing my own physical map with me as well. This app was 100% perfect for my needs but I would also prefer to have something that didn't require a charge to use to get around.

I can't stress enough how smart it was to read a couple travel guides because enter a totally different land with a totally different culture. I really think I gained a better grasp about things that were going on their and the way of life that occurred.

Day 1

The airport to Marrakech was someone of an interested experience. The Ryanair flights are in their own smaller section of the airport that feel like they are purposely being kept hidden away from the rest of the airport. When we arrived to the Marrakech are there was a row of chairs among the wall to sit at and that was about it. The rest of the people had to just stand and wait because the waiting section for the flight was small. To kill time Alicia and I grabbed food at the Burger King in the airport where I grabbed a triple bacon cheeseburger with a beer (spoiler alert: I totally regretted eating that in less than an hour). This was my first time buying a beer with fast food so I guess that was kind of cool and we figured why not splurge on one last meal because everything else was gonna end up being a lot cheaper. We had also decided that it was gonna be a good idea to buy alcohol at the duty free store. Morocco is a Muslim country and because of this most practicing Muslims do not drink alcohol, so while it isn't impossible to find alcohol in Marrakech you could imagine it's not the easiest nor is it the cheapest. The plane itself was an interested experience. It was a fairly big plane with two rows each with three seats on either side. They were letting people on and off the plane through both the front and the back of the plane. I had never exited a plane from the back before but let me tell you when you're sitting in the back of the plane there is nothing more convenient. Our flight was suppose to be two hours long but we made good timing and got there in an hour and a half. Quickest I've ever flew from one continent to another.

We arrived in Marrakech at night time which we later found out was the best possible time to arrive in Marrakech. The reason being that during the day the streets are packed and hectic which makes it a lot harder to navigate when you have your bags to travel with and figure out what street you need to be on when there are no street signs. That's right besides some archways having street names there are no street signs so if you don't have a map you're kind of fucked. Even with a map it can be very confusing luckily with some time and patience I was able to get us to our Riad safely in the dark.

For this whole journey minus a night in the desert we stayed at two separate Riads. A Riad is what I can best describe as a mini-mansion with an interior courtyard. All the Riads in Marrkech were turned into hostels so that travelers would have a place to stay and let me tell you, these are probably the most luxurious looking hostels I might ever stay in. For the first four days of our trip we stayed at a Riad called 'Equity Point'.

The the road to the hotel lead us down some shady looking dark allies in Marrakech that made me wonder what we were getting ourselves into the first time around. Little did we know that Marrkech is full of long mazy streets that all look shady at night time but happen to be entirely safe. Winding left then right then left etc.

 Until we stumbled upon this beautiful looking door. After knocking you would hear a long chain, not like one someone uses to unlock an apartment door but one that stretches from one side of the door to another. 

The Riad just felt like a giant comfy place to chill throughout.

It was very big and the architecture throughout was beautiful. Which maybe me question how we ended up paying on 7.50 euros a night.

I had mentioned earlier that Riad usually had an interior courtyard. Well this one had a big pool and some nice lounge chairs and tables with each room surrounding it on the outside. It was too cold to actually go in the water but it was very peaceful when you were out smoking or eating.

I couldn't get my camera to capture stars (still learning how to use it!) so you'll just have to use your imagination here. When you were to look up in the courtyard you could see a couple beauties shining bright above you.

There were three floors in this place. the main floor which had the courtyard and the rooms we stayed in, the this floor which is the second floor where you can come and chill and talk to all the other travelers.

Usually Alicia and I would come here to wind down for our busy days with a nice hookah session.

The third floor is where we came for breakfast every morning (if we could wake up in enough time) it had an indoor section but you could also walk right onto the roof and have your meals outside as well.

This was what the typical free breakfast at the Riad was. A delicious yellowish pancake with a side of fresh bread. Along with a coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice, and Moroccan tea.

This right here is the drink of the Moroccans, no matter where you are you will find it. Coined as 'The Moroccan Whiskey' it is actually an extremely delicious mint tea (since Muslims don't drink alcohol). Anyone who knows me knows I don't care for tea at all so if I tell you that I drank this multiple times a day throughout my trip you should know that it is extremely delicious.

Before I show you my journey day by day I'm going to show you pictures I took throughout my trip of Marrakech so that you can understand how what it is like to be in the city.

The Streets

Marrakech is essentially split into two sections: old Marrakech and new Marrakech and boy is there a difference. As previously mentioned, old Marrakech is filled with maze type streets where walking a couple feet will bring you too a decision on where you need to turn right or left and you seriously never know what you'll find around any corner.

This is the calm before the storm aka late night in Marrakech. Everything you see here is a store that is shut down at night time. Almost every street has dozens of these places selling 100s of different things and at night time the street gets packed with venders and people that you need to squeeze by to get through.

A lot of the streets are filled with small corridors that will lead you to all sorts of small hidden adventures.

The streets are a very strange sight for what you may find in a means of transportation. If you stand anywhere for more than 15 minutes this is what will pass you by: A guy moving some food or material by means of donkey riding, horse drawn carriages, TONS AND TONS of motorbikes, cars, and vans. There is nothing like seeing a guy riding a donkey next to a Mercedes to really confuse your senses let me tell ya.

Motorbikes is the most popular form of transportation in old Marrakech. There are 100s of guys on bikes flying pass you and let me tell you, and trust me when I say this is not an exaggeration of any sorts, if you don't  move out of the way they will hit you. There is no pedestrian right of way in Marrakech you get the fuck out of a vehicles way because they will not stop for you. Doing research on this subject matter will bring you to this fun little fact: "Traffic accidents are a major concern when traveling. On average, more than 11 Moroccans die in motor vehicle accidents every day. The fatality rate for motor vehicle accidents is approximately nine times that of the United States" Yea, it's no joke but if you're not a stubborn and just let them pass it really isn't a big deal.

Horse drawn carriages are a really big thing in Marrakech. We call these "tourist traps". 1. They bring you unwanted attention of being a tourist. 2. They will surely try and rip you off on price. 3. All the horses smelled bad all of the time. It is pretty obvious that horses don't like doing this.

The Doors

Marrakech is filled with these old school huge and beautifully crafted looking doors. 

There is not much street art in Marrakech, my guess is because a lot of the people find this land and buildings sacred to them but I was able to find this gem that I really dig.

Just in case you were curious what the Moroccan Dirham looked like here it is!

Djemma El-Fna

Djemma El-Fna is the center of old Marrakech and it is pretty much a whirlwind of crazy, fascinating and everything in between. I'll get back to this place later.

New Marrakech

It's like day and night telling the difference between old and new

The streets had wonderful designs to walk on. You don't even find this stuff in Madrid!

Day 2

This was our first real day in Marrakech so our two big goals were to see some sites and to explore the city. Both weren't too hard to accomplish.

Before we did anything though we had to start with our first official meal in Morocco. I got Shawarma with fries and seasoned rice. I had been very familiar with Shawarma in the past seeing as both times I've been to Israel it was practically all I ate. Back in New Jersey you can't find this meal and when you ordered in NYC it just didn't have the same taste/flavor like you would find in Jerusalem. This is why I was very pleased when I could have an authentic and extremely delicious middle eastern shawarma meal here. It did lack hummus as that isn't as popular in Morocco but it didn't stop the meal from being absolutely excellent.  

Saadian Tombs

Our first stop was the Saadian Tombs which were the tombs of the Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur of the Saadi dynasty. He was the most famous ruler of the dynasty and an important figure in both Europe and Africa in the sixteenth century. 

You would enter the area through the courtyard and gaze upon the different parts of the tomb through different doors. Due to what I assume was preservation you weren't actually allowed inside the tombs. The doors were big enough for one to look in and see everything. 

Another shot of the courtyard itself. 

Here's Alicia helping to model the size comparison so you can understand how big this building was.

The courtyard itself was filled with different patches of flower gardens.

Besides the tiling everything throughout the tombs was hand carved wood or stone. Producing some of the most beautiful patterns.

A lot of the patterns seen here were ones that were going to end up occurring in other famous buildings we went to later on. Not quiet sure why though.

Next to the tombs was a wonderfully delicious cafe as well.

El Badi Palace

Half ruin and half palace, the palace was created by the sultan Ahmed Al-Mansur (previously mentioned) as his show of victory for defeating the Portuguese in battle. After the fall of the Saadians, the new sultan stripped the palace of its essentials to help build his own new palace. What we saw was what ended up being left of the palace that remained untouch through the years. Now a days the palace looks half like a ruin and half like a glorious place to hold a summer party with multiple swimming pools and multiple orange trees being grown. In the back of the palace is a Museum/Mosque which is only accessible to the muslim people as well as a working bathhouse. This palace was one of my favorite places we went to in Marrakech because it was just so visually appealing. It was less about the etched in designs and repeated tile art that we saw in other places and more about the beauty of it being half a palace. It instantly made you feel like it was summer time, with his bright vibes and if you worked your way to the top you had a nice panoramic view of Marrakech.

Nuff said.

Day 3

Koutoubia Mosque

A big attraction to old Marrakech lies with the very large Koutoubia Mosque, the largest mosque in Morocco. The Mosque, which is still in use today, can only be accessed inside by Muslims much like most of the mosques in Morocco. Five times a day Marrakech would have a loud speaker blasting from this Mosque a thing called a 'Call To Prayer'. Never being in a predominately Muslim country before nor being too familiar with the Islamic religion I had never heard of this before. It was very jarring experience the first time it happen, admittedly I thought it was a warning that something bad was about to happen to Marrakech but as Alicia quickly explained what was going on I quickly embraced what was going on and grew to really enjoy it as part of the atmosphere of the town.

The mosque is lit up beautifully every night

Medersa Ben Youssef

Medersa Ben Youssef was an Islamic College in Morocco before it was closed down in 1960 later to be refurbished and reopened as a historic site. The place had a very cool atmosphere to it. The architecture was beautifully carved like a lot of things we ended up visiting on our trip and the rooms ranged from various sizes and shapes. I do have to say though, that the students didn't have much personal space back then for themselves in their living quarters and I'm glad things have evolved since then.

It is really hard to grasp through photo but this ceiling is all carved and has a great depth to it. It was hard to take my eyes off this piece.

This is how big the living quarters were in this school.

Random shot of some dude as I play around with my awesome ultra zoom on my camera.

Musee De Marrakech

Getting a ticket for Medersa Ben Youssef also gave us free access to Musee De Marrakech. The museum is housed in a palace and filled with beautiful architecture along with classic example of Marrakech's deep rooted history.

Don't know what was going on here but I loved this picture so much not to take another for myself.

The was the center of the palace. Very beautiful with lots of fountains with different rooms to enter. 

Hanging in the center of the main room was this awesomely epic looking chandelier. 

Day 4

Christmas day in Marrakech is just a day like all the rest for most since Muslims don't celebrate Christmas so the only real mentioning of the holidays is really hostels or clubs trying to cater to the visitors of the country. Alicia had mentioned before we took the trip that she would like to do something nice for Christmas day so that she didn't feel like she totally missed out on the Christmas spirit. Even though I don't celebrate myself I could understand where she was coming from so we decided the best point of action was to go to a beautiful botanical garden and hit up a club at night time.

Majorelle Gardens

The Majorelle Gradens are a 12 acre botanical garden and artist landscape which was designed by French artist Jacques Majorelle in the 1920s. In 1980s, famous fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent took over ownership and added some nice esthetic touches to the area.

We had a nice walk to the garden since it was in New Marrakech. Stumbled upon this nice chill area, never found out what it was for other than relaxing but we took a moment to embrace it.

So I have this thing where no matter where I am in the world I need to try their pizza. Morocco was no different, so before we went into the gardens we stopped for a bite. Pizza was pretty good, better than any I had in Madrid but nothing quiet touches NYC's $1 slices yet.

The first thing you see when you walk into the botanical gardens.

The gardens hosted 30 members of the cacti family from around the world.

A really expensive cafe as you would expect in a botanical garden in New Marrakech.

A small love museum dedicated to Laurent.

Oh hello everyone!

We stumbled upon a nice koi pond.

 Pacha Marrakech

I had mentioned in my Barcelona post how I wasn't too big into clubs that much any more but hey it's Christmas and we wanted to celebrate so with limited options clubbing seemed to be the right thing to do! I've now been to three different Pacha locations: New York, Barcelona, and now Marrakech. If I am gonna continue to try clubbing in different countries I think I will try to continue this tradition of hitting up Pacha just to see the differences in location, atmosphere, etc. We went out to this club knowing that it most likely wasn't going to be that busy even if it was Christmas for us. We pre-gamed pretty heavy before walking all the way to New Marrakech to try and find this club that someone had given us directions to. Drunk and completely lost we had asked directions from this guy who we had assumed was a security guard for this hotel but now looking back he was definitely just a crack head trying to make money off of us. Ohps! 10 minute taxi drive later in a completely different direction and we finally made it. It was pretty noticeable already from the outside that this was going to be bigger than the two previous Pacha clubs I had been to in the past.

It was very jarring to see a very old looking building with a bright Pacha sign glowing on it.

The club itself was extremely aesthetically pleasing. Everything looked brand new and top of the line including the dance floor set up which included lasers which is a first I've ever seen at a Pacha. Which made the next part even weirder, the place was dead. I'm talking maybe 35 people at the most. Now we knew there wasn't gonna be a lot of people but damn that was a small amount. Alicia and I though were determined to make the best of it and we danced to our own drum to the radio style music you'd expect to hear at a Pacha anywhere in the world. We continued until I got a little too drunk and we left for 3 mile walk home. If you ever get a chance to walk 3 miles while drunk, don't.

Day 5

Dar Si Said Museum

Consider to be one of the finest museum collections in Morocco, it houses jewelry, hand made material like carpets, pottery, oil lamps and much more. It was a visually wonderful way to dive deeper into the past history of what Morocco had to offer.

Like most places in Marrakech it also housed a very nice outside terrace in the middle of the museum.

Marrakech might be the largest collection of beautiful hand carved architecture I've seen so far. Vastly different then the buildings I found in Barcelona.

El Bahia Palace

The palace was built in the 19th century with the intent to be the greatest palace of its time. Although I'm not familiar with other palaces from the 19th century to compare it to, I will say with it simple but vibrant color structure it was definitely a beautiful building to look at.

Doesn't this blow your mind?

What I found really remarkable about this ceiling in particular was not how the architect added a three dimensional depth element by carving inward but also having pieces of the ceiling sticking outward as well. I remember specifically staring at this piece in owe for a good ten minutes trying to wrap my brain around how this was accomplished as it is important to remember that this was built two centuries ago.

To help you grasp just how large the palace actually was.

Day 6


This day was one of the most anticipated parts of our journey for both Alicia and I. We left our hostel to spend a night in Zagora desert. Home to the traveling Northern African indigenous people known as the Berber, it lies at the beginning of part to the Sahara desert. The trip required us to be up and out of our hostel by 8:00am to start our 8 hour journey from Marrakech through the Atlas Mountain to the desert where we would then ditch out transportation vehicle to ride camels into the desert until we got to the Berber camps we would be staying at for the night.

Marrakech is known for its wonderfully freshly squeezed orange juice and while we were waiting for others to get onto the bus so we could leave, Alicia and I bought a gigantic bottle of orange juice. Not a single regret.

Prepare for a lot of bus traveling pictures.

There were about 5-6 stops on the way to the desert which is why it took about 8 hours to get there instead of 5 1/2. The first one was at this cafe that was halfway between towns and nowheres land but was our first overlook of the mountains.

On the road again..

The bus pulled over so we could take pictures at one point and he parked waaaayyy to close to comfort. I guess when you drive these roads everyday for years there is some bold confidence that grows in you. A couple feet more and we would have been rolling downward for quiet some seconds.

Some dude taking his cow for a walk. No biggie.

The zoom on my camera impresses me so much sometimes. This was taken inside the bus quiet some feet away

I've always found beauty and fascination with towns that are literally built into mountains. They feel so much more natural and to me let alone amazing to look at. From what I can tell and what you'll see in this picture, Morocco has quiet a few mini housing areas spread out through it's country.

There I go again, as stated in my previous posts, I have a weird fascination with the strange bathrooms and their sign I come across on my journey abroad.

Where we stopped for our bathroom break was also a picture opportunity for the Atlas Mountains since we were currently 2,200mt. high.

Throughout the journey to the desert every where we went had a very isolated feel to it but strangely enough I never really felt isolated until I came upon places that had actual people living there.

We stopped at a beautiful town called Ouarzazate on the way for lunch. This was the cafe they suggested we all ate it. Seeing as it was more money than I was looking to spend I decided to leave and get a kebab at a local stand and take some pictures of the town.

Right next to the cafe was a film studio that is used to film location spots in Morocco. Currently being used to film parts of the new season of the show Game Of Thrones.

As you can tell for the most part the town had one main color which was tan which gave it this very old stone vibe.

This was the kebab I got. Or their version of a "hamburger"


Our next stop was this very large valley.

Oh hello!

Alicia contemplating the wonders of life.

Another stop for a bathroom break.

Our second to last stop was this town next Zagora where we could go and buy stop to prepare us for our night in the desert like water and snacks.

Casual donkey rides.

And then there was the desert..

This was my camel. His name was Kimbo and I miss him.

Such a good camel! Although I do have to say the ride itself while amazingly fun destroys your crotch and thighs because the saddles themselves are extremely uncomfortable.

Some photos I took of awesome friends Alicia and I made on this journey. All the way from Australia, China, South Korea, and India.

The next couple shots are taken while I'm riding Kimbo to the camp so if some of them are blurry that's why.

One of the most jaw droppingly beautiful skies I've ever seen.

Now kiss!

Yea I might have taken a lot of pictures of the sky but lets be honest.. how could you not!?

This is what the outside of the Berber tent we were staying in looks like.

And this is the inside. Lotttsssss of blankets which we needed and we definitely used all of them.

Probably one of my favorite shots I took this whole trip. Picture of the moon in the middle of the desert. I'm still surprised how well it came out.

The friends I made :)

Out of this world tangine they served us that night.

Our Berber guides led us in ritual song and drum around the campfire after we ate. It was wonderful and embracing.


Another photo I'm quiet proud of taking.

Camel's working on his stretches before we leave. See those brown spots? Yep you guessed it! Poop everywhere.

Every wanted to know what a camel looks like while smiling?

There ya go!

On the way back from the desert we stopped at this Berber shop where these guys buy items that either the Berber people made or found along their journeys and buy it off them so the people can afford to eat. Then they store them here to sell to anyone who might be interested. I'm pretty sure I wanted almost everything in this store.

Especially this staff. I really wanted this staff. It was really expensive though and no expert bargaining could bring it down to a price I could afford.

So this shall do for now. You shall not pass!

Our second to last stop on the way back was to have lunch at this town which I can't remember the name of. We could also go and explore it for a bit too.

And there was a Casbah. ROCK THE CASBAH, ROCK THE CASBAH.

Overall the trip to the desert was absolutely wonderful. The journey there, the things we got to see and eat as well as the people I met and the desert itself. I felt more in touch with nature and the earth in those couple hours then I had in a very long time. Especially the moments late at night where Alicia and I were laying on the sand looking at the countless amount of stars in the sky and watching the shooting stars pass us as we froze our asses off. Really puts life into perspective. I will always be thankful for this trip for especially that moment in time.

Day 7 & 8

Riad Dia & The Hammam

Day 7 and 8 kind of mashed together because we came back from the mid day on the 7th from the desert and we were moving into a new Riad. By the time we got all settled the only thing we really wanted to do was eat, relax and sleep. The Riad itself is a lot smaller then the previous one we stayed at but so much livelier feeling and had a lot of color to it as well. The staff were very chill and would often come hang out with us and drink, play chess, smoke hookah, or even share their Moroccan hash with us. They really helped make the experience of staying in Riad Dia fun.

What the place didn't have in overall size it definitely had in bathroom size.

The next day while still in recovery mode from our journey into the desert and the whole trip itself we decided we were going to treat ourself to Marrakech's world famous spas known as Hammam. These are turkish style baths that offer a multitude of different spa treatments. Specifically, we got an 30 minute Hamman treatment that basically they takes a large exfoliated pad and turns it into a glove and scrub down your whole body pulling off all the dead skin you're covered in. I was pretty shocked to see how much dead skin was all over my body to be honest.

Since I decided that I wanted to full relaxation and I was going to leave my camera in the Riad you'll have to make due with this really odd picture I found through google images. If you notice the glove on the guys hand in the picture, this is exactly what the hummam treatment was like. Hurt a little bit but how smooth and clean your skin felt afterwards was very enjoyable.

After the Hammam treatment, Alicia and I both enjoyed an hour long full body massage. It was very blissful and boy did I need it.

Although I don't have any pictures of the one we went to this is essentially what the hammam looked like.

Day 9

Cascades D'ouzoud

What I find incredible about Morocco, specifically around Marrakech is that if you go a couple hours in any direction you'll find a different type of terrain. The day before we were in a desert and this day in which we only had to travel about three hours we get to a beautiful waterfall.

Cascades D'ouzoud is the largest waterfall in Morocco and it is Berber for "the act of grinding grain"

There was a nice small and secluded town that lead up to the waterfall

The Cascades had an adorable monkey population that roamed around the area.

Life's tough for a monkey.

The waterfall was just breath taking.

Random horse riding next to it.

Making new friends

Sometimes you just have to let out a good yell when you're in nature

At the bottom of the waterfall a couple of dude were offering paid rides in these interesting looking makeshift boats. They looked like they just found random material and put it together to make a boat.

We thought for the purpose of conserving money for this trip and because we thought it would be peaceful we would make our own lunch and eat it at the waterfall. Since the waterfall was so packed we found a smaller one hidden away that we climbed to. Sitting there eating and taking in the surrounding nature was truly amazing.

Also, Peach Fanta is amazing.