From the alleyways to the Atlas mountains, my trip to Marrakech was one of astounding beauty and culture. I was inexplicably lucky to have my parents take me to Morocco to celebrate my 21st birthday, and although it took off on a rocky start, it’s safe to say I had an amazing time absorbed in the culture and traditions of the city. My parents really outdid themselves with the choice of Riad and its location, as well as a perfect birthday dinner. I couldn’t have been happier.
On our first day in the city, we visited the captivating Secret Garden: it was beautifully tranquil, surrounding us with trees and plants of every kind. As you’re all probably well aware, I am no stranger to intense heat, and I absolutely loved the climate. It reached roughly 30 degrees by the time we arrived at the garden, so whilst my parents climbed up the tower, I sat in on the terrace overlooking the gardens and it was absolutely perfect. The gardens were kept in perfect, pristine condition with seats scattered across the grounds and quaint water features here and there. Did I mention the heat?
Unfortunately, as a result of relatively unmanaged asthma and weak lungs, I landed myself in hospital that same evening with an asthma attack, and spent the better part of that evening and the following day attached to oxygen tubes and a nebuliser. My dad was adamant we ought to leave back home for England so I could receive proper treatment, since my breathing was incredibly laboured but I refused to leave only 24 hours into our trip. With some IV steroids and 18 hours of oxygen tubes and nebuliser treatments, I recovered and discharged myself with albeit fragile lungs, over the moon to finally be able to breathe again. That night we ate in a picturesque Riad courtyard (a traditional, Moroccan house) relieved after the events of the previous night.
On our third day in Morocco, we visited The Majorelle Botanical Garden. Walking around in 30 degree heat is no small feat, but the gardens were beautifully landscaped. It didn’t take us long to explore the whole place, plus there were no places to really sit down once we’d finished but other than that, it was a fantastic experience and made one forget where we were.
The fourth day brought us to the Atlas mountains, one of the adventures which really heightened our cultural exploration of the country. The air was fresh and cooler, with a perfect breeze and the views were like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was a picture-perfect landscape of rolling snow-capped mountains amidst green hills, with small Berber villages dotted all over. Visiting the Berber villages really took my breath away; a 9000 year old heritage preserved within the mountains, where they live a life of complete simplicity. No one had phones, computers, or any electronic device and the children were blissfully happy playing with each other amongst the animals on the hillsides. The feeling of content was contagious despite their minimalistic style of living, and it saddens me that they rely solely on tourism to preserve this historic, authentic heritage. We visited a Berber household, and I cannot describe just how accommodating and hospitable they were. We were greeted with warm smiles, fresh bread and mint tea without any hesitation. What struck me the most was seeing young, perhaps six-year olds, begging for money for to buy essentials since they only relied on tourism to get by, and the look of sheer pleasure and happiness on the ladies’ faces when we gave them money made my heart hurt. I urge as many of you as possible to visit the Berber villages if you travel to Morocco – it puts things into perspective and makes one realise the luxuries and privileges we, in the West, take for granted.
(A quick note – buying gifts from the Berber community itself is much more beneficial for their livelihood than in stalls and markets in the alleyways in Marrakech. Of course there is plenty of choice in the alleyways and it’s an enriching experience but the Berber communities make all their gifts by hand, from carpets to plates to jewellery. Buying from the communities will help preserve their heritage and support the families.)
We explored the city on our fifth day, wandering through the markets and alleyways and venturing into the square. There’s quite an exciting buzz in the square, whether it be during the day or at night, with countless events taking place across the area. I personally, however, do not approve of the treatment of animals in the square, where monkeys were kept on chains for entertainment for the tourists. Other than that, it was rich in culture and a fantastic visit. We travelled by horse-drawn carriage across the city, passing the old and new town. I highly recommend it as it’s a brilliant way to see the sights of Marrakech without trekking in the humid climate. The only downside is to be weary of the pollution, especially if you have asthma or a lung condition: the majority of Moroccans travel on motorbikes and travelling on a carriage will result in the inhalation of these fumes.
The final day took us through the alleyways one last time and we immersed ourselves in the art of Marrakech, from hand-painted plates to canvas paintings. I was beyond excited that my dad bought me a canvas – the artists capture the essence of Moroccan culture and landscape perfectly in their choice of colours.
It was with a heavy heart that we left Marrakech and it’s intertwining of Eastern values with Western influence. The people were so accommodating and polite, always looking to help us in any way they could and offering us the best bargains as well as little gifts and presents along the alleyways. The only hiccup was the pollution, as it does hang heavy in the air, but I’d love to explore more of the new and old towns if (or when!) I return. A special thank you to Patrick and Caroline at Les Trois Palmiers El Bacha Riad for taking such great care of us, and to their staff for their overwhelming hospitality and kindness, always ensuring we were happy and well looked after. I’ve never come across such lovely people.